By Bob Allen
An American Baptist church in Iowa City has announced it will perform same-sex weddings, presumably the state’s first Baptist congregation to do so since Iowa’s Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in 2009.
The Des Moines Register reported Dec. 29 that First Baptist Church in Iowa City, a 50-member congregation founded in 1840, recently joined the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists. It is the first Iowa church to affiliate with the group formed in 1993 to support churches that are welcoming and affirming of people regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.
“We see love as valued by God, whoever it’s between,” Pastor Dorothy Whiston told CBS News affiliate KGAN-TV in Cedar Rapids. “It’s always wrong to say that there’s some group of people, for whatever reason, by virtue of who they are, who are excluded from any opportunity. I would say that’s certainly true of marriage as well.”
The website of First Baptist Church, which is affiliated with American Baptist Churches USA, describes the congregation as an “open and inclusive community of faith” characterized by “radical hospitality.”
“People of all ages, cultures, personal backgrounds, political affiliations, socio-economic circumstances and sexual orientations are welcome and active in this church,” the website says. “God places a call on all of us to serve the causes of compassion and justice in our local communities and throughout the world. We are strong enough to respond faithfully to this call when we love and celebrate each person as God’s beautifully unique child. Together, we can live in covenant for the sake of the work we are called to do.”
Nine states and the District of Columbia now allow gay marriage. With their legal right secured, many same-sex couples now face a new challenge of finding someone to officiate at their wedding. Forbes Magazine recently explored the new dilemma facing same-sex couples who desire a wedding setting more romantic than in a courtroom before a judge but cannot find a clergy member who will officiate.
Whiston, who began as part-time interim pastor in July 2010 and became permanent pastor on Aug. 1, 2011, said allowing gays to get married in the church is the next logical step in the number of services the congregation already provides to the LGBT community.
“I think we are known in the community and gay community as being a friendly place to come,” she said.