Considering that the majority of Christian churches still stand opposed to same-sex unions, it should come as no surprise that a pastor who supports these unions would clash politically with church leaders.
The Rev. Ken Kline Smeltzer over the past two months has experienced just that.
The Pennsylvania-based faith leader in an interview with the Centre Daily News said he was terminated by his church for marrying two men back in August.
Smeltzer declined to give the church’s name and said that “a few things have to play out” before he can do so, but his confirmation will certainly spark some debate about the right of churches to hire and fire on these grounds.
The faith leader married Joseph Davis and Gregory Scalzo in a ceremony that took place in State College, Pa., at the home of the local mayor, Elizabeth Goreham.
Smeltzer was aware at the time of his church’s stance on same-sex unions, Centre Daily News notes.
Nevertheless, he presided over the ceremony and delivered a typed statement explaining that he supports “marriage equality,” adding that Davis and Scalzo are “very much in love and obviously committed to each other.”
Following the wedding, reports began to circulate that Smeltzer’s job might be in jeopardy. At the time, the pastor’s wife, Pastor Bonnie Kline Smeltzer, told WTAJ-TV that church officials had met with her husband and that his dismissal seemed likely.
TheBlaze reached out to her Friday via phone and attempted to speak with her about the situation. Bonnie Smeltzer, herself a pastor, serves at the University Baptist Brethren Church in State College. The faith leader told us that her husband was employed at a different congregation, although she declined to say which one.
When asked if her house of worship would marry gay couples, she delivered a carefully-worded statement: “We’re a welcoming congregation to all folks, including the LBGT community — and we offer the rights and services to any member — to all people.”
However, she was unwilling to tell us what will come next in the case of her husband’s firing. The reason for her silence is unclear and it is likely the cause of some misinformation in media.
Bonnie Smeltzer’s church issued a press release in an effort to clear up some of the confusion:
A number of media reports have incorrectly identified University Baptist and Brethren Church (UBBC) at 411 South Burrowes Street as the church that fired Ken Kline Smeltzer for officiating a same-sex marriage on August 19, 2013 at the request of State College Mayor Elizabeth Gorham. This is not the case. Bonnie Kline Smeltzer is the pastor at UBBC, where the congregation has expressed appreciation to her husband, Ken, for an act of conscience consistent with the following statement of mission and welcome adopted in 1999:
Woven Together in love,
We seek like Jesus
to serve God’s world
TheBlaze also called the Burnham Church of the Brethren in Burnham, Pa., where Ken Smeltzer was listed as the pastor in past local media stories. While they would not speak publicly about the matter, they referred us to local news accounts to learn more (this is the church that many claim fired the pastor and, as of earlier this year, it is the house of worship where he served).
While most of us identify in some way with the Church of the Brethren, we are an eclectic group of individuals who are all wrestling with what it means to be people of faith in this time and setting. Where ever you are on this journey, we welcome you to join us and share in the goodness of a supportive and justice-seeking community.
Local mayor Elizabeth Goreham, a proponent of gay marriage, was the one who asked Smeltzer to perform the ceremony (which was held at her home). She expressed disappointment with the way Smeltzer’s church has handled the situation, but said she believes both parties were acting on their convictions.
“He’s acting on his belief and the church is acting on theirs,” said Goreham. “I respect him very much and wish him well. I’m sad that the congregation felt they had to do that and separate ways.”
If you’re confused as to how the marriage licenses were issued in Pennsylvania — a state in which gay matrimony isn’t legally permitted — consider the Huffington Post’s recap of events:
In July, [D. Bruce Hanes, Register of Wills of Montgomery County] began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), in spite of the fact that Pennsylvania does not have marriage equality legislation in place, the Associated Press pointed out.
“The American people probably have other things on their minds,” said Hanes, according to the Associated Press. “A lot of people are worried about jobs, they’re worried about poverty, they’re worried about medical care.”
The state’s Health Department and Gov. Tom Corbett feel differently: lawyers for both claimed Hanes’ decision to issue same-sex marriage licenses risked “causing serious and limitless harm” in Pennsylvania and beyond, the AP reported.
Licenses were no longer issued as of earlier this month, but hasn’t deterred the gay community from pushing for same-sex marriage legalization in the state.
The Smeltzer family has decided not to speak out against the church, although Bonnie Smeltzer wasn’t willing to say whether that will change in the near future. Legally, the church is within its rights under the federal ministerial exemption to hire and fire based on theological teaching.
EXIT QUESITON: Did Smeltzer deserve to be fired? While there’s an argument to be made that one should stand by his or her values, there’s also the importance of abiding by an employer’s rules and regulations.
The debate over this question is far from over and it’s a scenario that will likely become more common as views on same-sex marriage continue to shift, even within Christian church environments.
Let us know what you think in the comments section, below.
(H/T: Centre Daily News)