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Religious Tolerance logo

The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
and homosexuality

Gay/lesbian clergy; events from
2001 to now; public opinion polls.

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bullet2001: Committee report: A 16-member committee had spent three years listening to the positions of church members. They tried to assess whether the members supported a denominational affirmation of homosexuality. They made a presentation at the 2001 Assembly on the Process of Discernment on the Participation of Gays and Lesbians in the Life of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) They recommended that each local congregation undertake a lengthy, seven-step discussion process, called discernment. The steps are: an introduction, spiritual preparation, listening to stories, Bible study, telling personal stories, next steps in relating to gays and lesbians, and consecration.

As expected, there was a wide range of comments:
bulletSteering committee member Mary Smith said: "My position is that homosexuality is a sin, but one that will be forgiven in light of confession and repentance." She said she believes people can choose "to change from the homosexual lifestyle [to] serve the Lord as husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, in heterosexual relationships."
bulletPastor Rev. Alvin O. Jackson, formerly of Memphis, TN had believed that homosexual behavior was an "abomination in the nostrils of God." His church had a large counseling service to help gays and lesbian change  their sexual orientation. Jackson said: "It was done out of love and concern, but I have since concluded that those efforts were largely misdirected. If we have to err, isn't it better to err on the side of being too inclusive rather than being too exclusive?"
bulletRev. Mark Johnston, a Boston, MA, pastoral psychiatric counselor said: "To be honest, I'm tired of it. I'm tired of having my faith and my ministry questioned because I'm gay. I have learned that the support offered by the church is not trustworthy. I have learned to make sure I place my faith in God, not in the church."

Committee member Gregory Alexander of Lexington, Ky., told the  convention that: "Discernment always occurs in stages. This process cannot be an end in itself. Further reflection, prayer and spiritual examination will be required."  Leaders of the Church said that there is no timetable, nor inclination, to settle on a firm denomination position. 1,8


2002-DEC: Church performs same-sex unions: The National City Christian Church (NCCC) is a Disciples of Christ congregation in Washington DC. It has been the home church of many politicians including President Lyndon Johnson. About the year 2000 they began discussions about the inclusions of gays and lesbians into the congregation. In mid-2002, they began welcoming openly gay members. Agape Press stated that in 2002-DEC, the congregation's "... 20 elders voted unanimously to allow homosexual wedding ceremonies in the sanctuary." [This appears to be an error because same-sex marriages were not valid in DC at the time and still are not legal in 2009-JUL. However, the District began to recognize legal same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions. The "weddings" referred to were probably union ceremonies. Phil Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition said that it is just a sign of the "... decay and demise of this church." It is a church, Sheldon says, that has "left behind Christianity and the Bible." He is apparently referring to the conservative wing of Christianity, because other liberal denominations like the United Church of Christ and the Episcopal Church, USA have matched or gone further than the Disciples of Christ. 2

bullet2003: Over 50 "Open and Affirming" CC(DoC) ministries supporting equality for GLBTs in both the denomination and the rest of society have been recognized by the GLAD Alliance. At the time, the "Region of Northern California-Nevada" was alone in knowingly accepting sexually active gay and lesbians as candidates for ordination. 3
bullet2005: General Assembly: A resolution was approved that denounced hateful speech and action aimed at gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender (GLBT) persons. It also renewed a commitment to the continuing process of discernment within the denomination. 4

Opinion polls:

There has been considerable change in the beliefs of CC(DoC) over the past generation in a more liberal and inclusive direction:

bullet1987: A study by Wade Clark Roof and William McKinney showed that only 18% of CC(DoC) members agree that "homosexuality is not always wrong."
bulletCirca 1989: A study by Bruce A. Greer found that only 34% of CC(DoC) laity who frequently attended services would permit a gay or lesbian person to teach in a college or university.
bullet1991: A poll by James L Guth and Helen Lee Turner found that 79% of Disciples' pastors favored civil equal rights for GLBTs. 3

bullet2009-MAR: The Pew Research Center Forum asked over 35,000 American adults whether "Homosexuality is a way of life that should be accepted by society," or "... discouraged by society."

The question asked is curious because it is probably unclear to many people what the term "way of life" means. Are they referring to celibacy; cruising; dating; living together or married in a loving committed relationship; or something else? For what it is worth, the survey showed
that 43% of the membership of the CC(DoC) believe that the homosexual "way of life" should be accepted.

This is slightly greater than the response of American Baptist Church members at 40%, but significantly less than those of the United Church of Christ at 69% and the Episcopal Church, USA at 70%. 5,6
bullet2009-MAY: Public Religion Research reported the results of their sampling of the opinion of 2,658 clergy from the seven largest Protestant denominations. The found that:
bullet42% of the CC(DoC) clergy support same-sex marriage (SSM). This is probably slightly less than the National average among all adults.
bulletAn additional 24% support civil unions but not same-sex marriage.
bullet22% support no legal recognition at all for loving, committed same-sex couples. This would leave parents and their children without legal protections or benefits.
bulletSupport for SSM increased from 42% to 57% if provisions are added to same-sex marriage laws that protected clergy and congregations from any form of prosecution if they didn't want to  conduct same-sex marriages. This demonstrates the importance of same-sex marriage acts including a clause allowing churches and clergy to continue to discriminate against GLBT persons freely.
bullet64% support ordination of gays and lesbians.
bullet76% support gay and lesbian lay leaders.
bullet60% feel that the denominations should not oppose "making homosexuality acceptable." It is unclear whether the pollsters referred to homosexual orientation or same-sex sexual behavior.
bullet67% support adoption by gays and lesbians.
bullet77% support the federal ENDA law to combat discrimination in employment.
bullet72% support adding sexual orientation to the existing federal hate-crimes law, and thus protecting heterosexuals, bisexuals and homosexuals from violent attacks motivated by homophobia. 7


The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Scott Charton, "Church convention airs differing views on gays," The Star, Kansas City. See: http://www.kcstar.com/
  2. Fred Jackson and Jody Brown, "Pastor, Elders Roll Out Red Carpet for Same-Sex Weddings," Agape Press, 2002-DEC-10, at: http://headlines.agapepress.org/
  3. Douglas Allen Foster, "The encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell movement,"  Wm. B. Eerdmans, (2005). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store Parts of the book are online at: http://books.google.com/
  4. Judith Hoch Wray, "Disciples of Christ," in "Jeffrey S. Siker, "Homosexuality and Religion: An encyclopedia," Greenwood Press, Page 103-4, (2007). Online at: http://books.google.com/ Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
  5. U.S. Religious Landscape Survey: Views about Homosexuality by Protestant Denomination," Pew Forum, at" http://religions.pewforum.org/
  6. Randy Sly, "Mainline Protestants Affirm Homosexuality as a Lifestyle," Catholic Online, 2009-MAR-20, at: http://www.catholic.org/ (Article misquotes the Pew survey question as referring to "homosexual lifestyle.")
  7. Robert P. Jones & Daniel Cox, "2008 Clergy Voices Survey: Mainline Protestant Clergy Views on Theology and Gay and Lesbian Issues," Public Religion Research, 2008-MAY, at: http://www.publicreligion.org/
  8. Curt Miller, "Disciples enter discernment process on gays and lesbians," Disciple's News Service. Original no longer online. It is mirrored in Yahoo! Groups on 2001-JUL-19, at: http://groups.yahoo.com/

Copyright © 1997 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2009-JUL-09
Author: B.A. Robinson

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