Denominations and homosexuality
The United Church of
|1972: the Church's General Council commissioned a comprehensive study of human
|1980: a task force on sexuality presented its report In God's Image...Male and
Female. It concluded: ..."there is no reason in principle why mature,
self-accepting homosexuals, any more than mature, self-accepting heterosexuals, should not
be ordained or commissioned.". The General Council called for more study. |
openly lesbian candidate applied for ordination to the Hamilton [ON] Conference, but was
turned down because of her sexual orientation. The Hamilton Conference later asked the
United Church to specifically bar homosexuals from the ministry.
|1982: Representatives of homosexual groups across Canada formed Affirm, a
mutual support group of United Church homosexual members. |
The Church established a task
group to study sexual orientation and the ministry. They received input from the newly
created Affirm group. They also listened to the United Church Renewal Fellowship
(UCRF) a conservative group which was formed in 1966 to promote a return to traditional
values within the church.
|1984: Their task group's report, Sexual Orientation and the Eligibility for
the Order of Ministry was issued. Section E, Recommendation 7.1.2 recommended:|
Response from the church membership (to judge by letters to the editor of their official publication The United Church Observer) was over 85% negative. The UCRF prepared an article Healing for the Homosexual, Healing for the Church which argued that the solution to "The Issue" was to convert homosexuals to heterosexuality.
At the General Council of 1984, a motion was presented to recognize two members of
Affirm as non-voting, corresponding members. It was narrowly defeated. This triggered the
creation of a new group within the United Church Friends of Affirm. Council decided
to postpone a decision on "The Issue" until a subsequent meeting (1986
or 1988). The National Coordinating Group for the Programme of Study and Dialogue on
Sexual Orientations, Lifestyles and Ministry was created.
|1988: Many hundreds of local discussion groups had debated "The Issue".
About 90% of their reports were opposed to ordaining non-heterosexuals. The National
Coordinating Group... issued its final report in early 1988. They deviated from the
clear message sent by the local groups by recommending:|
The reaction by members and their congregations was explosive. A conservative Community of Concern was organized to oppose the report; they issued a Declaration of Dissent. A poll taken by the Church revealed that only 28% of the membership favored the admission of active homosexuals into the ministry.
At the General Council, two members of Affirm and one member from the Community of Concern (COC) were elected as non-voting corresponding members (delegates). A group of Christian, anti-homosexual fundamentalists from the United States crashed the meeting and attempted to disrupt proceedings. They were gently ejected. Their open display of hatred for gays and lesbians may well have changed many delegates' minds in favor of homosexual ordination; it is impossible to tell. After much heated debate and maneuvering, Council passed a resolution with approximately a 3:1 vote:
A strange event had happened. The majority of delegates had come to the Council with a bias against ordaining homosexuals, but with an open mind. They heard the heart wrenching testimonies of devout gay and lesbian church members. Many delegates probably met an openly homosexual person for the first time in their life. They debated little else among themselves. They searched their souls and prayed to learn God's will. And most changed their mind!
The resolution was subsequently amended to include:
Another resolution was passed that called for more discussion and examination of "The Issue" and to urge the church to fight discrimination against homosexuals both in and beyond the church.
The CBC Archives contain TV news coverage of the events of
Status in 1998: In common with most liberal Christian churches in Canada, membership within the United Church has been continuously decreasing for 3 decades. Active churchgoing has also declined in the country generally. Polls show that only about 20% of the adult population say that they regularly attend church. The reality of the situation is probably a great deal worse, because close monitoring of some counties in the U.S. and Canada have indicated that twice as many people who say that they attend church regularly than actually so so.
It is difficult to determine how much of the decline after 1988 was due to "The Issue". Some congregations have left the United Church; others have split. The Community of Concern, Church Alive, The National Association of Covenanting Congregations and the United Church Renewal Fellowship have criticized the headquarters staff for ram-rodding radical legislation through council and for stifling freedom of speech. These conclusions are difficult to support: Of the almost 400 voting delegates to the 1988 Council, half were clergy and half laity; only 5 were from the Church headquarters. No minister seems to have lost his/her position by speaking out against the decision.
Many subsequent Councils have passed' all left the resolution intact. An openly gay candidate for the ministry has been
ordained. The four conservative renewal groups listed continued to hold national Faithfulness
Today meetings. In 1990, they attracted 700 participants; in 1994, there were 400. In
1996, about 225 people attended.
1998-NOV: The World Council of Churches (WCC) represents over
300 Protestant, Anglican and Orthodox denominations with a total membership of about 400
million Christians. They meet every 7 years. During 1998-DEC, the Council met in
Zimbabwe. Considerable tension was experienced at the meeting over homosexuality. 2
|2000-AUG: "The 37th
General Council affirmed that human sexual orientations, whether
heterosexual or homosexual, are a gift from God and part of the
marvelous diversity of creation."
|2003-AUG: The 38th General Council decided "to call
upon the Government of Canada to recognize same-sex marriages in
marriage legislation." 5|
|2005-FEB-01: The United Church
of Canada congratulated
the government of Canada on its proposed same-sex marriage (SSM) law
which the Church called a "win-win solution in the same-sex marriage
debate." Rev. Dr. Jim Sinclair, General Secretary of the General
Council, said: "Marriage will be enhanced, not diminished, religious
freedom will be protected, not threatened, and Canadian society will be
strengthened, not weakened, as a result of this legislation." |
Jackie Harper, as Church's program staff for Family Ministries, said:
"A significant, unique contribution that the United Church brings to this debate is the denomination's own experience of making same-sex marriage ceremonies available to its members and, at the same time, respecting the right of those within the denomination who are opposed to such services...Religious marriage is not, and cannot be, affected by the proposed legislation. All faith communities in Canada, whatever their views on same-sex marriage, have the absolute right to determine for themselves who will be eligible for religious marriage within their communities. This includes the right to determine whether the community will offer religious marriages to interfaith couples, to divorced couples, or to couples who are not members of the community." 5
Since 1977, the United Church has been publicly urging the Canadian Federal Government to amend Canada's human rights laws to extend equal protection against discrimination to gays and lesbians. In 1996, both the United and Anglican Churches supported the legislation proposed by the Government to do this. The four United Church renewal organizations urged that the human rights legislation be amended to define sexual orientation to mean "sexual attraction and inclination, but not any kind of sexual behaviour". This would mean that a gay or lesbian person could not be fired from their job by a mean-spirited employer because of their sexual orientation; but they could be fired if they fell in love and entered into a committed relationship with another person. The government ignored the efforts by the United Church's renewal groups and by many Evangelical religious organizations. In mid-1996, the legislation was passed by an overwhelming percentage of Members of Parliament in a free vote (i.e. a vote where the MPs could vote according to the conscience without regard to the position of their party).
In 1997-Fall, the United Church joined with the Canadian Jewish Congress to support Delwin Vriend, 31. He was a teacher in King's University College of Edmonton, a Christian college in Alberta, Canada. In 1991, he revealed that he was gay and was fired. When the Alberta human rights commission refused to hear his case, he launched a lawsuit intended to force such groups to hear cases based on sexual orientation and identity. The case was heard by Canada's Supreme Court on 1997-NOV-4. At the time, of Canada's 10 provinces, all but 3 (Alberta, Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island) include sexual orientation as a protected class (along with religion, race, gender, etc.) in their civil rights legislation. These three provinces are generally regarded as the most religiously conservative in the country. The latter two were planning to revise their legislation to protect persons of all sexual orientations. But Alberta had no such plans. The Supreme Court ruled in 1998 that the provinces could not exclude lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) persons from human rights legislation.
The United Church has made available to individual congregations a printed resource called "Together in Faith." It invites congregations to consider becoming an inclusive faith community - one which welcomes persons of all sexual orientations. Included in that resource are:
|material to help groups design workshops on the inclusiveness issue|
|sample liturgies for covenanting services for gays and lesbians|
As in marriages of heterosexual couples, individual ministers frequently create custom covenanting services to match the couple's unique needs. The denomination does not restrict the service to a specific format. Some congregations and their ministers decide to make covenanting services available to gay and lesbian couples; others do not.
The Rev. Dr. Gary Paterson (1949-) has been a UCC minister for over 35 years. He describes himself as a "passionate preacher" and a "closet poet." He is also openly either bisexual or gay. He is married to the Rev. Tim Stevenson, Vancouver BC city councillor, who has been his partner for 30 years. He has three adult daughters from his first marriage.
At the UCC's 41st General Council meeting in Ottawa, ON, he was elected Moderator of the United Church of Canada. He was selected out of a roster of 15 nominees and was elected on the sixth ballot. At a news conference after his election, he referred to his sexual orientation, saying:
"What some denominations or some parts of the world see as a huge dilemma and a problem has not, within our immediate community, been seen in that way at all,"
The Anglican Journal, a publication of the Anglican Church of Canada, reported Moderator Patterson's election, writing:
"... he said, he did not intend to make sexuality the focus of his job, but rather re-energizing the church amidst uncertainties about its future. The UCC has 2.8 million adherents, according to Statistics Canada and church figures, making it the largest Protestant denomination in Canada.
;I would see trying to enable the church to look realistically at what’s happening and not be frightened,' he told the press conference. 'We will find a way through. We will be changed and we will be faithful, and God will be with us.'
In a mission statement distributed to delegates, Paterson said the United Church has 'arrived at a whirlpool' due to factors ranging from growing secularism, a distrust of institutions, the 'brokenness' of church, and abuses at the Indian residential schools. The church is sometimes unsure or too afraid to respond, he said. And yet it must 'let go and enter the whirlpool.'
The challenge for the church is 'to live into this moment; not to get overwhelmed; not to get paralyzed; but to be people of hope'." 7
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
Copyright © 1999 to 2012 by
Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2012-AUG-17
Author: B.A. Robinson
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