Local clergy react to Supreme Court decision

Published 12:03 am Saturday, June 27, 2015

NATCHEZ — Rainbow flags flew high and cries of joy reverberated Friday as the Supreme Court ruled same-sex marriage is legal nationwide.

And while victorious feelings resonated for many, some local religious leaders shook their heads.

“I’ll say this, I am disappointed in our leadership in America today for ruling the way they did,” said Paul Sutherland, senior pastor of Highland Baptist Church in Natchez.

Email newsletter signup

The Baptist church — especially in the South — has historically opposed same-sex marriage.

On June 20, at the Southern Baptist Convention in New Orleans, the denomination passed a resolution reaffirming the church’s belief that marriage is “the exclusive union of one man and one woman.”

By making same-sex marriage legal, Sutherland said the church, and society, is put at risk for increasing “immoral behavior.”

“All we’re doing with this sort of decision is putting us down on a faster path to destruction, and that’s sad,” he said.

Like the Baptist Church, the Methodist Church also doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage.

John Kramer, senior pastor at Jefferson Street United Methodist Church in Natchez, said he stands by the Methodist Church’s stance on same-sex marriage.

“It’s not biblically compatible,” Kramer said.

However, Kramer was quick to point out that the Methodist Church welcomes all who step through its doors.

“The church still accepts all people and all conditions when they come to the church,” Kramer said.

Nance Hixon, pastor of Grace United Methodist Church in Natchez, said the Supreme Court’s ruling didn’t surprise him.

“I think everyone pretty much knew what way it was going to go,” Hixon said. “I’m not sure what the effects are going to look like here, though. We have a pretty large LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning) population in Natchez, but I don’t know how many people here are looking to get married.”

Hixon said he recently gave a sermon that addressed the topic of same-sex marriage.

His message, Hixon said, encouraged tolerance of the homosexual lifestyle.

“I hope that as Christians and churches react to the news, people will be slow to speak and quick to take care,” Hixon said. “If you want to condemn, or if you want to gloat, I hope people will stop and think ‘Is what I’m about to say gracious? Will it build people up? Does it sound like Jesus?’”

Hixon admitted much controversy surrounds the issue of same-sex marriage in the Methodist Church, but he hopes the issue doesn’t overshadow the church’s first mission — to love one another.

Stanley Searcy, bishop of New Hope Vision Center in Natchez, said Friday’s ruling has the potential to put religious leaders everywhere in a tough situation.

“I think a lot of pastors will be challenged with following the Word of God and what the Supreme Court says,” Searcy said.

From a biblical standpoint, Searcy said his church does not recognize same-sex marriage, and he will not be performing any same-sex marriage ceremonies.

However, Searcy said he condones civil unions of same-sex couples.

“We all have a choice, and if that’s someone’s choice — to cohabitate with the same sex — then that’s their choice,” Searcy said. “I think people who cohabitate should enjoy the benefits of Social Security and tax breaks, too.”

Searcy said making up his mind on the issue was simple.

“For me, I believe God is supreme in his Word, so I’m going with that,” he said, referring to the traditional biblical view of marriage being between a man and a woman.”

Father James Fallon, pastor of Holy Family Catholic Church in Natchez, said he had mixed emotions on the ruling, and he was neither for nor against the ruling.

Some churches that support same-sex marriage include The Unitarian Universalist Association, The United Church of Christ and the Reform and Reconstruction Judaism.

None of these religious sectors have established congregations in Natchez.