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UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST AND HOMOSEXUALITY

General Synod 25 in 2005:
Endorsement of same-sex marriage

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First draft. This essay is being edited.

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Before the Synod:

Three resolutions were submitted on the same-sex marriage issue to General Synod 25. It started on 2005-JUL-01:

bulletAn inclusive resolution from the Southern California - Nevada Conference supported expanding the definition of marriage within the UCC to include same-sex couples; The resolution bore the endorsements of Claremont United Church of Christ, First Congregational Church UCC of San Bernardino, and Redlands United Church of Christ.
bulletAn exclusive resolution supported by eight conservative congregations from across the U.S. reaffirmed the restriction of the church's definition of marriage to opposite-sex couples.
bulletThe third resolution, from the Central Atlantic Conference, called for prayer and more study. The  backers of the third resolution endorsed the first resolution and condemned the "one man, one woman" resolution as discriminatory.

On 2005-JUN-28, Rev. John H. Thomas, president of the United Church, said that the General Synod "should affirm the rights of gay, lesbian and transgender persons [to have marriages] equal in name, privileges and responsibilities to married heterosexual couples." Later, he said: "I believe our local churches, as they are able, should move toward the development of marriage equality policies." 3 He called for "full civil and religious equality for same-sex couples." 4 He added: "Withholding a marriage certificate remains one of the few remaining ways of limiting full citizenship to some among us who are perceived to be alien or 'other.' How do we square this with the frequent biblical admonition to 'treat the alien in our midst as a citizen'? Not to tolerate. Not to grant second-class status. But to treat as citizens." According to an article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, many "...of the people in attendance wept during Thomas’ speech." 5

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Review by a committee:

On 2005-JUL-03, a 54 member committee of the Synod reviewed the proposed resolutions and commended that the denomination endorse same-sex marriage.

bulletJanell Swick, 16, from the Claremont United Church of Christ said: "I just find it amazing we have to be discussing this. It's about justice and it's something that should have been done a long time ago." Her congregation has been "open and affirming" of gays and lesbians since 1995. 9
bulletThe Rev. Bill Boylan, pastor of Byfield Parish Church in Georgetown, MA, had urged the committee to recommend the alternative resolution that restricted marriage to one man and one woman. He quoted Genesis 2:24: "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh." This verse from the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) was quoted by Yeshua of Nazareth (Jesus Christ) a total of four times in the Christian Scriptures (New Testament) Boylan said: "It's remarkable that those four scriptures are really the only words that define marriage in the Bible. He asked the committee to interpret these passages literally.
bulletAfter the vote was taken, Rev. Susy Gaffney of Iowa said: "I want us to know that there are people and churches who are going to be deeply wounded by what we have done. And, as we've heard, some churches will leave the UCC."
bullet Marla Butler, who is 36, and a lesbian who attends Victory United Church of Christ near Atlanta, GA, said: "There are teenagers who are dying committing suicide not because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender but because their churches are turning them away."

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The text of the equality resolution:

The marriage equality resolution:

  1. affirms equal marriage rights for couples regardless of gender and declares that the government should not interfere with couples regardless of gender who choose to marry and share fully in the rights, responsibilities and commitment of legally recognized marriage;
  2. affirms equal access to the basic rights, institutional protections and quality of life conferred by the recognition of marriage,
  3. calls for an end to rhetoric that fuels hostility, misunderstanding, fear and hatred expressed toward gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons,
  4. asks officers of the church to communicate the resolution to local, state and national legislators, urging them to support equal marriage rights,
  5. calls upon all settings of the church to engage in serious, respectful and prayerful discussion of the covenantal relationship of marriage and equal marriage rights,
  6. calls upon congregations, after prayerful, biblical, theological, and historical study, to consider adopting Wedding Policies that do not discriminate against couples based on gender, and
  7. urges congregations and individuals of the UCC to prayerfully consider and support local, state and national legislation to grant equal marriage rights to couples regardless of gender, and to work against legislation, including constitutional amendments, which denies rights to couples based on gender. 6

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Vote by the Synod delegates:

On 2005-JUL-04, Independence Day, about 80% of the 884 to 1,050 delegates [sources differ] to the General Synod voted to support same-sex marriage. The UCC website states that this resolution: "...marks the first time that one of the nation’s mainline churches has expressed support of marriages for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons." 6 The resolution calls on its congregations to consider wedding policies "that do not discriminate on couples based on gender." They also ask its congregations to support changes in state marriage legislation to give equal rights to same-sex couples.

One amendment was also approved. According to the USS web site, it expresses "a spirit of concern for those who must deal with the resolution's impact in the months ahead." 6

A second amendment was proposed but was rejected because the delegates felt that it would have substantially changed the focus of the resolution. It would have substituted the term "covenantal relationship" for "marriage."

After the vote was taken, President Thomas offered a prayer which acknowledged the diversity of opinion within the denomination towards same-sex marriage: "Lord Jesus…We give thanks for your presence, especially here this morning. We have felt your warm embrace, stilling us as we tremble with joy, with hope, with fear, with disappointment…Let us use our hands not to clap, but to wipe away every tear…"

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Reactions to the resolution:

Within the United Church, individual congregations have the freedom to accept or reject Synod regulations of this type.

bulletThe Rev. Brett Becker, the minister of St. Paul United Church of Christ in Cibolo, TX said that his congregation may leave the denomination because the resolution was passed. He is the leader of a group of conservative congregations who proposed the second resolution mentioned above that defined marriage as restricted to one man and one woman. He said that it "...does not have the slightest chance of passing...I’m hoping God might use [the measure] to change some people’s minds." He is one of the few Evangelical Christian ministers left in the denomination. He said: "I would like to see us stay in the denomination and network for positive change. However, many of my members have expressed very clearly that this decision would cause great consternation and that, if this happened, they would want to see us leave." He added: "If we had put it to a vote of the people in the pews, it would have failed overwhelmingly.....This is truly Independence Day for the UCC — we have declared ourselves independent from the teachings of Jesus and the clear teachings of Scripture."
bulletRev. Rebecca Voelkel, of Cleveland, coordinator of the United Church Coalition for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Concerns said: "This is a significant moment." She added that the resolution recognizes that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are "spiritual people who love and are loved by God." 7,8
bulletAt a later press conference. President Thomas said: "On this July Fourth the General Synod of the United Church of Christ has acted courageously to declare freedom, affirming marriage equality, affirming the civil rights of same gender couples to have their relationships recognized as marriages by the state, and encouraging our local churches to celebrate and bless those marriages." He also said that same-sex marriage is "the source of great conflict" in both churches and the rest of society. His own denomination "is no exception.....there are clearly great differences among our own members over this."

Synod action, he added, "does not presume a consensus of opinion among our members or our local churches, which are free and responsible to come to their own mind of this as on any other (issue). The General Synod speaks to and not for our local churches."
bulletCovenantNews, a Fundamentalist news service, does not think highly of this resolution. They summed up their opinion of the UUC with the heading: "Heretic denomination endorses sodomite marriage." 10

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Site navigation:

Home > Conflict > HomosexualityReligious groups > Christian > UCC > here

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References used:

  1. The UCC Coalition for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Concerns has a web site at: http://www.ucccoalition.org
  2. The Rev. P.H. Sherry, "Now, No Condemnation," at: http://www.ucc.org/
  3. Errin Haines, "Church leader endorses gay marriage," Associated Press, 2005-JUN-29, at: http://hosted.ap.org/
  4. "The United Church of Christ and Homosexual Marriage," American Vision™ 2005-JUN-30, at: http://www.americanvision.org/
  5. John Blake, "Church president backs gay marriage," The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 2005-JUN-29, Page A3.
  6. Irwin Smallwood, "General Synod overwhelmingly calls for 'full marriage equality'," United Church of Christ, 2005-JUL-04, at: http://news.ucc.org/ (Typo corrected)
  7. "United Church of Christ backs gay marriage," Associated Press, 2005-JUL-05, at: http://www.usatoday.com/
  8. Pauline Chang, "UCC Becomes First Mainline Church to Endorse Gay Marriage," ChristianPost, 2005-JUL-05, at: http://www.christianpost.com/
  9. Brad Greenberg, "Panel votes to approve gay-marriage resolution," San Bernardino News, 2005-JUL-03, at: http://www.sbsun.com/
  10. "UCC Abomination," CovenantNews, 2005-JUL-05, at: http://www.covenantnews.com/

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Copyright 1997 to 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally published: 1997-SEP-19
Latest update: 2005-JUL-05
Author: B.A. Robinson

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