Religion and politics often intersect or even travel the same road in Mississippi.
This year Mississippi politicians, including many Methodist politicians, will be running for office as the issues of gay marriage and the ordination of gay ministers play out in the United Methodist Church.
According to the United Methodist Church Mississippi Conference web page, there are more than 165,000 Methodists in the state. There are probably more United Methodist politicians in the state than members of any other congregation except perhaps Southern Baptists. It is safe to assume Methodist politicians will be involved in the issue this election year.
While the New Orleans Saints were battling last week in the NFC championship game (i.e. getting hosed) several hundred Mississippi Methodists were meeting at Christ United Methodist Church in Jackson to discuss the explosive issues of gay marriage and the ordination of gay ministers.
For whatever it is worth, the Methodist meeting broke up about the same time the Los Angeles Rams defensive back committed the most blatant yet uncalled instance of pass interference in the league’s history (no hyperbole intended) to ensure a Saints receiver could not make the catch that essentially would have guaranteed the “who dat nation” a trip to the Super Bowl.
The Methodist gathering was handled much better than the NFL referees handled the Saints game. The diverse group of speakers, including members of the gay community, were treated with respect. No speaker was heckled or belittled.
People who spoke were giving their thoughts on the upcoming late February special session of the United Methodist Church in St. Louis where efforts will be made to try to reach an accord on issues related to whether gays can be married in the Methodist church and whether gays can be ordained as ministers in the Methodist church.
The speakers at the Sunday gathering were directing their remarks specifically to the Mississippi delegates to the special session, telling them their thoughts on the various options. A majority of speakers, not surprisingly, supported what is known as the traditional plan where gay marriage and ordination still would be prohibited in the church. Some supported a super traditional approach that would put more safeguards in place to ensure those events do not happen.
A healthy minority, supported what is known as “the one church plan” that would give individual churches more authority to decide how to address those issues.
No matter what is decided, there will be people who are upset. The one church plan, in particular, could place churches and in some instances politicians in position of taking positions that would upset many people – something politicians do not like to do.
What if a church where a politician was a member opted to soften its opposition on gay issues? That could place the politician in a difficult position in terms of his or her public comments.
After all, most Mississippi politicians on a state level have voiced opposition to gay marriage even though it is the law of the land.
Gov. Phil Bryant and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, both Methodist, for instance, have been vocal in their opposition to gay marriage.
It will be interesting to watch to see if any Mississippi politician’s stance on gay marriage ends up opposite of that of his or her church.
This column was produced by Mississippi Today, a nonprofit news organization that covers state government, public policy, politics and culture. Bobby Harrison is Mississippi Today’s senior Capitol reporter.