UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST
General Synod 25 in 2005:
Endorsement of same-sex marriage
First draft. This essay is being
Before the Synod:
Three resolutions were submitted on the same-sex
marriage issue to General Synod 25. It started on 2005-JUL-01:
||An 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.
||An 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.
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
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
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.
||Janell 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
||The 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.
||After 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."
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."
The text of the equality resolution:
The marriage equality resolution:
- 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;
- affirms equal access to the basic rights, institutional protections and
quality of life conferred by the recognition of marriage,
- calls for an end to rhetoric that fuels hostility, misunderstanding,
fear and hatred expressed toward gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender
- asks officers of the church to communicate the resolution to local,
state and national legislators, urging them to support equal marriage
- 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,
- 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
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
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"
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…"
Reactions to the resolution:
Within the United Church, individual
congregations have the freedom to accept or reject Synod regulations of this
||The 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
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."
||Rev. 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."
||At 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
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."
||CovenantNews, 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
The UCC Coalition for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Concerns has a web site at:
The Rev. P.H. Sherry, "Now, No Condemnation," at: http://www.ucc.org/
Errin Haines, "Church leader endorses gay marriage," Associated Press, 2005-JUN-29, at:
"The United Church of Christ and Homosexual Marriage," American Vision™ 2005-JUN-30, at:
John Blake, "Church president backs gay marriage," The Atlanta
Journal-Constitution, 2005-JUN-29, Page A3.
Irwin Smallwood, "General Synod overwhelmingly calls for 'full marriage
equality'," United Church of Christ, 2005-JUL-04, at:
http://news.ucc.org/ (Typo corrected)
"United Church of Christ backs gay marriage," Associated Press, 2005-JUL-05, at:
Pauline Chang, "UCC Becomes First Mainline Church to Endorse Gay Marriage," ChristianPost, 2005-JUL-05, at:
Brad Greenberg, "Panel votes to approve gay-marriage resolution," San
Bernardino News, 2005-JUL-03, at:
"UCC Abomination," CovenantNews, 2005-JUL-05, at:
Copyright 1997 to 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally published: 1997-SEP-19
Latest update: 2005-JUL-05
Author: B.A. Robinson