Religion
2:00 pm
Sun November 25, 2012

Gay Wedding Was A Trial For The Reformed Church

Originally published on Sun November 25, 2012 2:18 pm

After Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage in 2004, Norman Kansfield's daughter asked him to perform her wedding ceremony.

Kansfield, a respected pastor, scholar and lifelong member of the Reformed Church in America, agreed to marry Ann and her long-time girlfriend. He informed the New Brunswick Theological Seminary in New Jersey, where he served as president, of his plans.

"I had thought that there would be a request for my resignation," Kansfield says. "Nobody did that."

It was a June wedding.

"I'm a very emotional person, so I was quite pleased that I had not choked up or teared up throughout the service," Kansfield says. "And then afterward, two women came to me and said that that was the first service in which they had felt genuinely part of church in years. They were a lesbian couple, and, at that point, I wept."

The First Trial In Church History

Though no attempt was made to stop Kansfield from officiating his daughter's wedding, the seminary's board decided not to renew his contract the next year.

Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, who served as general secretary of the Reformed Church for 17 years before retiring in 2011, says Kansfield left the church no other option.

"Up to that point, it had kind of been don't-ask-don't-tell," Granberg-Michaelson says. "It was clear that while this certainly was a father's love for his daughter, it also was an intentional statement that Norm was trying to make."

Kansfield wasn't just a pastor or a seminary president; he was also a professor of theology, an elected position that only about a dozen members within the church hold.

"Norm, as one whose responsibility was to be a teacher of the church, and as one who was the leader of one of our seminaries, took an action directly contrary to the vows he had made to uphold," Granberg-Michaelson says.

One year after officiating his daughter's wedding, Kansfield was put on trial by his church. It was the first trial ever held in church history.

The Reformed Church in America found Kansfield guilty of violating church law. Kansfield wasn't excommunicated, but his right to teach and pastor within the denomination was taken away.

A Father's Sacrifice

"It's really a wonderful thing to know that your parents love you so much and are willing to make such sacrifices for me," says Kansfield's daughter, Ann. "But it isn't just a sacrifice for me, it was a sacrifice for all LGBT people and for the church itself."

Ann Kansfield says the trial changed the Reformed Church. Before the trial, she says, the church was one of a handful of Protestant churches that didn't have an LGBT advocacy group. Now there is one — a group called Room For All. Gay-affirming pastors within the church have become more outspoken, too.

"I could have counted on my hand the number of out gay people I knew in the denomination and of people who supported out gay people," Ann Kansfield says. "That changed radically."

Despite her father's trial, Ann Kansfield hasn't left the Reformed Church. In fact, she leads a congregation in Brooklyn, N.Y. As a lesbian, she couldn't be ordained in the Reformed Church, so the larger and more liberal United Church of Christ ordained her.

"I'm proud to say, 'Hey, not all Christians think the same way,'" Ann Kansfield says. "And here's the actual proof."

'It Felt Absolutely Right'

Late last year, Norman Kansfield issued an apology to the Reformed Church and was reinstated as a pastor. Although he says he's forbidden from sharing the details of that apology, he does say that his views on LGBT rights have not changed.

"I'm very convinced that there is nothing in scripture which speaks against the kinds of dedicated, same-sex relationships that people are struggling to have in our day and age," Kansfield says. "Paul didn't know anything like that, that's not what Paul was writing against. That's not what Leviticus was writing against."

When asked if he ever regrets performing his daughter's wedding ceremony, Kansfield doesn't hesitate.

"It felt absolutely right to do it. It felt right before the wedding, it felt right during the wedding, it felt right after the wedding," he says. "It felt right in the trial and after the trial."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

JACKI LYDEN, HOST:

As families gather together this holiday weekend, we bring you this story of what some believe was a father's sacrifice for his daughter and others, a calculated political statement. Dr. Norman Kansfield is a respected pastor, scholar and a lifelong member of the Reformed Church in America. In 2004, Kansfield officiated at the same-sex marriage of his daughter Ann and her partner Jen.

The official doctrine of the Reformed Church doesn't allow for same-sex marriage. The following year, the church held a trial and found Kansfield guilty of breaking church doctrine. He was removed from his position as seminary president and no longer allowed to pastor or teach. NPR's Lily Percy has this story.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LILY PERCY, BYLINE: In the study room of their home in eastern Pennsylvania's countryside, Norman Kansfield sings softly while his wife Mary follows along on the piano.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

PERCY: The hymn is called "In Every Age, God Calls and Shapes the Church," and Kansfield wrote it for his daughter Ann's ordination last year. Neither thought they would ever see Ann ordained. Ann was ordained by the more liberal United Church of Christ, even though, like her father, she's a member of the Reformed Church in America, a protestant denomination that was founded in the early 1600s by Dutch immigrants. But unlike her dad, Ann could never be ordained in the Reformed Church because she's a lesbian. Kansfield remembers when Ann came out to him.

DR. NORMAN KANSFIELD: Well, Ann told me in the car while I was driving on the New Jersey turnpike, so I had to keep at least one eye on the road. But I assured her that that didn't change anything. We loved her, and we would always love her.

PERCY: In 2004, after Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage, Ann and her longtime girlfriend, Jennifer, decided they wanted to get married. And Ann asked her father if he would perform the ceremony. Kansfield agreed and informed the New Brunswick Theological Seminary in New Jersey, where he served as president, of his plans.

KANSFIELD: I had thought there would be a request for my resignation, and nobody did that.

PERCY: So that June at the church in Northampton, Massachusetts, where theologian Jonathan Edwards first experienced his great awakening, Kansfield officiated Ann and Jen's marriage.

KANSFIELD: I'm a very emotional person, so I was quite pleased that I had not choked up or teared up throughout the service. Worked very hard at that. And then afterwards, two women came to me and said that that was the first service in which they had genuinely felt a part of church in years. They were a lesbian couple. And at that point, I wept.

PERCY: After the wedding, things stayed quiet for a while, but Kansfield's contract with the seminary was set to expire the next year. And when the board met in January of 2005, they decided not to renew his contract.

WESLEY GRANBERG-MICHAELSON: You know, up to that point, it had kind of been "don't ask, don't-tell."

PERCY: That's Wesley Granberg-Michaelson. He served as general secretary of the Reformed Church for 17 years before retiring in 2011. As general secretary, Granberg-Michaelson was the church's spokesperson, but he also happened to be Kansfield's friend. The pair had met back in their early days at seminary. He believes that Kansfield left the church no other option but to discipline him.

GRANBERG-MICHAELSON: It was clear that while this certainly was a father's love for his daughter, it also was a intentional statement that Norm was trying to make.

PERCY: You see, Kansfield wasn't only a pastor or a seminary president; he was also a professor of theology, an elected position that only about a dozen members within the church hold.

GRANBERG-MICHAELSON: And Norm, as one whose responsibility was to be a teacher of the church and as one who was the leader of one of our seminaries, took an action directly contrary to the vows he had made to uphold.

PERCY: So that June, for the first time in the church's history, they held a trial to judge Norman Kansfield.

GRANBERG-MICHAELSON: Both parties didn't feel like they needed to back down from a confrontation, and so it was very hard to figure out a mediated compromise that would prevent that. And at the end of the day, we couldn't.

PERCY: The Reformed Church in America found Kansfield guilty of violating church law. Although Kansfield was not excommunicated, his right to teach and pastor within the denomination was taken away.

ANN KANSFIELD: It's really a wonderful thing to know that your parents love you so much and are willing to go and make such sacrifices for me. But it isn't just a sacrifice for me, it was a sacrifice for all LGBT people and for the church itself.

PERCY: That's Kansfield's daughter, Ann.

KANSFIELD: And I'm proud of being able to say, hey, not all Christians think the same thing, and here's the actual proof.

PERCY: Ann says that her father's trial has changed the Reformed Church. Before Norman Kansfield's trial, the Reformed Church was one of a handful of Protestant churches that didn't have an LGBT advocacy group. But now there is one - a group called Room For All. And gay-affirming pastors within the church have become more outspoken.

KANSFIELD: I mean, I could have counted on my hand the number of out gay people I knew in the denomination and of people who supported out gay people. That changed radically.

PERCY: In an interesting twist of fate, Ann hasn't left the Reformed Church in America. In fact, she leads one of their congregations in Brooklyn.

KANSFIELD: And if you would have asked me nine years ago before I started here if I would have ever gotten a job in the Reformed Church in America, I would have said no. Like, there's no possible way.

PERCY: Ann has a contract with Greenpoint Reformed Church, but she's not officially their pastor. They would have to seek approval from the denomination to install her permanently. And as of right now, nine years later, they haven't chosen to do so. Late last year, Norman Kansfield issued an apology to the Reformed Church and was reinstated as a pastor.

Although he says he's forbidden from sharing the details of that apology, he does say that his views on LGBT rights have not changed.

KANSFIELD: I'm very convinced that there is nothing in scripture which speaks against the kinds of dedicated, same-sex relationships that people are struggling to have in our day and age. Paul didn't know anything like that, that's not what Paul was writing against. That's not what Leviticus was writing against.

PERCY: When I asked Kansfield if he ever regrets performing his daughter's wedding ceremony, he doesn't hesitate before answering.

KANSFIELD: It felt absolutely right to do it. It felt right before the wedding, it felt right during the wedding, it felt right after the wedding. It felt right in the trial and after the trial.

PERCY: Lily Percy, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.