The United Church of Christ (UCC)
is a liberal American Protestant denomination which was created in 1957
with the merger of the Congregational Christian Churches and the Evangelical
and Reformed Church. Their 2006 yearbook states that the UCC has about 1.2 million members, and
about 5,633 congregations. 1
Groups of congregations in a defined geographical area are linked together in
regional bodies called Associations. Local churches are also members of a one of
the denomination's 38 Conferences. 2
The General Synod is the denomination's deliberative body. It meets on
odd-numbered years. It speaks to local churches, Associations and
Conferences, but not for them. Thus, the churches, Associations and
Conferences have considerable freedom of belief and practice.
Opposition to discrimination:
The UCC and its predecessor denominations had an impressive history of opposition to
discrimination based on race, gender and sexual orientation. Some members of the
defended the rebels of the Amistad slave ships. They provided extensive
leadership in the abolition of slavery, the fight
against racial segregation, and the current battles for
equal rights for homosexuals, bisexuals, and
transsexuals -- including same-sex marriage.
They were the first American mainline/liberal Christian church to:
Make a public declaration against slavery (1700)
Ordain a black person (Lemuel Haynes, 1785),
Ordain a woman
(Antoinette Brown, 1853),
Launch a lawsuit to force end to racial discrimination in broadcast
Ordain the first openly gay man (William Johnson, 1972), and
Elected the first African American as leader of an integrated
denomination (Joseph Evans, 1976)
Ordain the first openly lesbian woman (Anne Holmes, 1977).
The UCC symbol:
The symbol of the United Church of Christ is composed of:
A crown, which represents the sovereignty of Christ
A cross, which represents the suffering of Christ and
An orb "...divided into three parts, reminds us of Jesus' command
to be his 'witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to
the ends of the earth' (Acts 1:8)." 3
The component symbols are surrounded by a double oval which contains the name of the
denomination and a prayer from the Gospel of John: "That they may all be
one" (John 17:21).... The verse from Scripture reflects our historic
commitment to the restoration of unity among the separated churches of Jesus
In recent decades, the quotation from John might be regarded as
having a second meaning: that all are welcome in the UCC, regardless of
their race, sex, sexual orientation.
The journey towards equality for sexual minorities:
In 2005, the UCC became the first major Christian denomination in the U.S. to
promote same-sex marriage. They confirmed this
position in 2007. However, their journey to this point started in the 1970s.
John H. Thomas, General Minister and President of the UCC wrote:
"It was not an 'issue' or the alleged 'gay agenda' that caught the
attention of the church. It was the presence of gay and lesbian persons in
our churches, as well as their families, who began to be unwilling to be
silent about their sexual orientation, and who began to say to us that it is
wrong to ask our gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender members to choose
between their baptismal identity and their sexual identity.
During the 1970s, the General Synod commissioned a study of human sexuality.
Their final report "Human Sexuality" was controversial; its support fell
far short of a consensus. At about that time, many congregations engaged in the
"Open and Affirming" process that usually lead to a declaration that they
are open and affirming to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual persons.
Several hundred congregations have now taken this step.
In the early 1990s, the General Synod recommended that that candidates for
ordination should not be automatically rejected on the basis of their minority
sexual orientation. Committees on Ministry of the various Associations in
the UCC largely followed this recommendation.
More recently, same-sex couples have approached their ministers and asked
that their relationships be blessed in a formal church ritual.
John H. Thomas continues:
"Over the years the church has heard the scripture speaking
in new ways. There was a time when Christians believed the Bible condoned
slavery. There was a time when Christians believed
the Bible prohibited women from offering certain kinds
of leadership in the church. In each case a few passages were identified
to 'prove' the point. But as Christians began to listen more carefully to
the whole of Scripture, new insights emerged. ..."
"Not every new theological and biblical insight is true or
valid. But we must recognize that interpretations change in light of new
understandings, that to embrace new insights is not necessarily to abandon
scripture but rather to read scripture in the light of life’s new challenges
and opportunities under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. And it is to read
every text in Scripture against the highest law which is the love of God and
the love of neighbor." 4