On a sweltering New Orleans Thursday in July, my wife and three kids and I finished the last bit of loading our moving vans (we drove them ourselves) and traveled exactly 1,350 miles north, or just up river, to make our new home in Minneapolis. It was difficult to leave the Crescent City, the fun-loving people, the amazing food, and the thriving music scene. But we were ready for the new opportunities, to appreciate the Nordic influence, here on the edge of the prairie.
Like most Americans not from the Upper Midwest, I could fit all I knew about Minnesota on the front side of a 3-by-5 card: that it was way up there, snowed all the time, and everyone looked like they could have or did play for the Vikings. After we arrived here and began to see this wonderful metro area on its own terms, surprises upon surprises were revealed: the amazing park system, the wide-ranging and safe bike trails, “you knows” heard in the Catholic liturgy, the all-you-can-drink milk barn at the State Fair, the ubiquity of bookshops, and the diverse span of humanity to name just a few. The biggest surprise, and disappointment, however, has been the proposed amendment to concretize into the state’s constitution the definition of marriage solely as between one man and one woman.
I came here to accept the call to be the pastor of Judson Memorial Baptist Church in South Minneapolis. Judson is a community that is part of the progressive Baptist tradition, which Minnesota uniquely exemplifies. Names like Justin Wroe Nixon, Edwin T. Dahlberg, Harold Stassen, and Harriet Bishop may not be household names for most, but to progressive/liberal Baptists they are all-stars. I knew there had to be something in the water and the communities that cultivated and nurtured their particular type of religious courage, conviction and freedom. I wanted to be part of that tradition and to help define it for a new generation. I had hoped that tradition was alive and well, so when I read about the amendment my heart was crushed. I am confident the particular spirit is still alive in Minnesotans; I pray it is awake and not slumbering.
The language and determination of the amendment is that of our brothers and sisters “down river,” not what I expected from the North Star State. I have lived in the South and in areas of Appalachia where gay and lesbian friends and parishioners have had to either move elsewhere to live in the safety of progressive communities or had to choose to stay put and live a life of secrecy and second-class existence. One same-sex couple in particular, when visiting their parents in the South, wait to get out of the car until the garage door closes in fear of being seen and later ridiculed or even attacked by neighbors. My family and I chose not to live in those kinds of communities. We want to be in a community where we can be ourselves, where others can be themselves, and where we can all live in a free society — one that this state in particular manifests.
Passing the marriage amendment would unravel the core fiber of the civil compact this state represents. It would break my heart to think of my new home, the L’Etoile du Nord, as a place that does not live out its promise as the state leading and representing the home and the way of freedom.
The Rev. G. Travis Norvell is the pastor of Judson Memorial Baptist Church in Minneapolis.