Kristi Stokes was born and raised on the west side of Cleveland, Ohio. Her family was “dirt poor,” as she describes it, recalling times when her family lived without electricity or gas.
But her dad, who was radically saved when Kristi was eight years old, never let that stop him from serving others and sharing the love of Christ. Kristi recalls one instance where her dad only had two five-dollar bills in his pocket—money they no doubt could have used themselves—but he gave one away to someone in need. Kristi’s dad was also involved in a few local ministries where she would often join him to serve vulnerable communities such as the homeless and veterans.
It’s this upbringing that Kristi credits for her ability to empathize with others. And it’s also where her love of ministry has its roots. In her own words: “I live and breathe ministry.”
After graduating, Kristi became a missionary to share the Gospel far and wide. She participated in AIDS training in Zimbabwe, led a youth group in Panama as they built an addition to a church, and returned home to run a mobile ministry on the streets of Cleveland where she shared her faith with anyone who would listen. Kristi has since continued to serve others and to share her faith. She has long worked with those facing homelessness in Cleveland and has served in youth ministry, music ministry, and as an associate pastor in her church.
Kristi now owns her own business, Covenant Weddings, through which she officiates weddings and writes custom vows, prayers, and homilies for wedding celebrations. As with everything else in her life, Kristi’s faith informs her work. And she is honored to be a part of her clients’ wedding day, pointing them toward Christ and proclaiming God’s good design for marriage.
As much of Kristi’s work and ministry centers around publicly sharing her faith, she has long held an appreciation for the robust religious freedom that we have here in America. Our Constitution guarantees the freedom to peacefully live and work according to our religious beliefs without fear of government punishment. Unfortunately, as Kristi has seen firsthand in her missions work, people of faith in other countries often live with this type of fear in their everyday life.
That’s why Kristi was so shocked when she found out that a local law in Cuyahoga County (of which Cleveland is a part) threatens free speech and religious freedom. These freedoms are dear to Kristi, which is ultimately why ADF filed a lawsuit on her behalf challenging this law.
Under the law, if Kristi officiates weddings between one man and one woman, she must also officiate same-sex weddings. And if Kristi refuses to violate her faith in this way, she faces heavy financial penalties.
Kristi believes that marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman representing the relationship of Jesus Christ to His Church—thus the name Covenant Weddings. She sees marriage as a physical representation of the Gospel. And while Kristi would gladly work with anyone, she cannot agree to officiate and verbally celebrate weddings that promote messages contrary to the very core of her beliefs.
Yet under the law, she cannot even explain why she can only celebrate weddings consistent with her faith on her own website!
In America, we should have the freedom to participate in the ceremonies we choose, proclaim the messages we agree with, and practice the beliefs we hold most dear—all without fearing government punishment. Our Constitution demands as much.
But that’s not what is happening in Cleveland. And that’s why Kristi is taking a stand.
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