Rev. John Buehrens—A Prophetic Calling
July 25, 2011
It all began in Knoxville, Tennessee with a death. It was in the early 1970s, at the beginning of his ministerial career, when a congregant came to Rev. John Buehrens with a request. She asked him to perform a private gravesite service for her neighbor and “good friend”. He knew little about this congregant when she called him with the request. She was a professor at the nearby university. She was always alone on Sundays. The woman who had passed away was also a professor at the university. The two women had been neighbors for decades. But he discovered at gravesite ceremony that these women were in fact much more than friends.
“As I stood there, on that lonely cemetery hillside, and read the poems she had selected, and heard her read from a letter, and said a final, tearful prayer, it became clear to me that they had been married, totally, though no one had been allowed to know it,” Rev. Buehrens reflects. “And I stood there, saying, inwardly, “This is not right. This must be changed. Both in the church, and in society.””
And Rev. Buehrens has been working for the change ever since.
Over the past forty years, Rev. Buehrens has become a religious leader in the both Unitarian Universalism and in the larger world. Rev. Buehrens is the currently the Minister of First Parish in Needhham, Massachusetts, a Unitarian Universalist congregation. He has also served as minister in Knoxville, Dallas, and New York City. For eight years, Rev. Buehrens served as the President of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations (UUA). As President of the UUA, he led the General Assembly of the UUA to pass a resolution in support of the freedom to marry in 1996, making Unitarian Universalism the first religious denomination to come out in support of the freedom to marry. He led the General Assembly to pass this resolution by telling the story of that congregant from Knoxville and inviting dozens of same-sex couples to stand with him in front of the assembly as he described why marriage matters.
He has served leadership roles in several other organizations such as the World Conference on Religion and Peace, the Foundation for Individual Responsibility and Social Trust (FIRST), and the Religious Institute for Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing. He also serves as the Vice Chair of the Freedom to Marry Board of Directors.
For Rev. Buehrens, marriage is a basic human right. And as a person of faith, Rev. Buehrens finds it difficult to understand why other faith leaders condemn marriage between same-sex couples. As Rev. Buehrens states, “Why on earth would [my wife and I], as a clergy couple, deny any loving couple the chance publicly to enroll in the great school for spiritual growth known as marriage?”
When reflecting on how the freedom to marry relates to his faith, Rev. Buehrens does not believe that God would condemn marriage between same-sex couples today. “The God I worship is a dynamic force of love and justice, not a force that stays on a single position forever.”
Rev. Buehrens now celebrates the victory for the freedom to marry in New York, the state he was born in and continues to work to win the freedom to marry across the country.