Open Hearts event seeks marriage freedom for same-sex couples

by: VERN UYETAKE - Pastor Jennie Ott of Lake Oswego United Church of Christ ls leading her church to a new level of activism in its support of marriage equality.Has the time come for same-sex marriage?

The Rev. Jennie Ott wants to present an event that very much affirms the freedom to marry for all at “Open Hearts = Open Minds” on Feb. 9 at Lake Oswego United Church of Christ.

Ott, who is LOUCC’s pastor, will join Rabbi Alan Berg of Beit Haverim of Lake Oswego and Aubrey Thonvold, faith director for Oregon United for Marriage, in giving a forum for freedom and love and also taking issue with the view that faith is incompatible with gay marriage.

“The God versus Gays idea is not true,” Ott said. “We want the people of faith in this community to support gay marriage not in spite of their faith but because of their faith. We want this voice to be heard.”

The event is happening because gay marriage is expected to be on the ballot in November and its supporters will seek to reverse the result of 2004, when Oregon voters approved an initiative that the state would only recognize marriages between a man and a woman.

It is also the culmination of a long process where LOUCC not only expressed support for same-sex marriage but sought ways to articulate its support and provide a platform to present this belief. LOUCC has supported gays and lesbians for the past 20 years, but it was only recently that the congregation decided to push the issue of gay marriage to the forefront of its mission.

“Three years ago we approached the Community of Welcoming Congregations (an ecumenical and interfaith organization) for their help,” Ott said. “We wanted to give our public support for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) folks, but we had to have an answer ready for when people asked, ‘Why?’ We did a lot of preparation with research, speakers and panels. Last June we said, ‘Yes, we do want to take a stand on marriage equality.’ And we need people of faith in Clackamas and Multnomah counties to hear this message.”

The idea for a special event came after OUM asked Ott if it could have its photo exhibit “Coming Out as a Person of Faith” displayed at the church. Ott and Berg decided to turn the occasion into a community event. The program will include talks by Ott, Berg, Thonvold, and the Rev. David Alexander, pastor of the New Thought Center for Spiritual Living in Lake Oswego, as well as a performance by combined church choirs, and a teen music group. In addition, a local gay couple, who are members of Beit Haverim and Christ Church Episcopal Parish of Lake Oswego, will talk about their journey together as a gay couple and people of faith.

Gay marriage has been a bitterly divisive issue across the nation. Lines are not easily crossed. But Ott said that she has seen an increasing number of Christians, even some former anti-gay marriage activists, coming to support marriage equality.

“The number one reason they change is they know someone who is gay, like their child,” Ott said. “Second, they hear someone talking about it. The more we can get people listening the more we can change hearts and minds.

“This is the overall theme and ethics we see in the Scriptures — love, justice and inclusion. Jesus IS about love. Jesus IS about justice. All of our missions at this church are based on sharing God’s love with others.”

Ott believes that changing the church’s view on homosexuality is very much based on history, especially the evolvement of its stands on women’s rights and slavery.

“We have a saying here that ‘God is still speaking,’” Ott said. “Freedom of marriage is a perfect example of that.”

Open Hearts = Open minds will be held 1 to 5 p.m. Feb. 9 at Lake Oswego United Church of Christ, 1111 Country Club Road.

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