Sunday, May 29, 2005

UCC to Affirm Same-Sex Marriage?

From the United Church News:
At [the United Church of Christ's] biennial national gathering, about 1,000 elected delegates from the church's 39 regional Conferences and national Covenanted Ministries will debate three different marriage-related proposals. One from the UCC's Southern California - Nevada Conference asks the General Synod to affirm full civil and religious marriage equality for same-gender couples. If passed, the UCC's General Synod would become the first mainline Christian body to support such a measure.

A second counter resolution, offered by eight geographically-diverse congregations, asks the Synod to affirm "traditional" marriage as "between one man and one woman." A third proposal, by the Central Atlantic Conference, calls for a time of church-wide prayer, conversation and study on the issue.

The possible divisions over this are no joke. From the same story:
On May 21, the Penn Northeast Conference held a "day of dialogue" among its 156 churches (including its one and only ONA church) to discuss controversial issues facing the General Synod.

"Of the people who showed up," says the Rev. Alan C. Miller, Conference Minister, "by far the largest attendance was at the same-sex marriage discussion."

"Eighty percent of those gathered were against the same-sex marriage resolutions and offered support for the one-man, one-woman resolution," Miller says. "I think our General Synod delegates were surprised that the reaction - the percentage - was that great against the resolutions."

Miller says one church already has voted to leave the UCC simply because the issue is being considered. "And we've already been informed that three other churches will vote out if this passes," he says.

And from a related story:

The UCC's Calvin Synod says it might consider leaving the denomination if a proposed resolution affirming same-gender marriage equality is passed by the church's General Synod during its biennial meeting in Atlanta July 1-5.

...

However the resolution passed by the Calvin Synod, comprised of 29 churches and more than 2,500 congregants, claims the Bible records "the constant opposition of God-fearing people to all sexual relations outside the bonds of marriage" and calls unions between homosexual persons to be "unholy abominations, unfit for the sight of the Lord and the righteous."

It denies that same-gender marriage meets the definition of marriage, declares that such "heresy is intolerable" to its members and ministers and calls on the UCC to "disavow this heresy."

The Calvin Synod comes from Hungarian Protestants taken in by the UCC after the failed uprising against the Soviet occupation in 1956. If you didn't quite catch it, they're quite a bit more conservative than the church at large.

Oddly enough, in my own area, the reaction is somewhat more muted:

The Rev. Marja Coons-Torn, Penn Central Conference Minister, says she has received letters from concerned members about the marriage equality measure, but the tone has been civil.

"We certainly have opposition to it here and I am hearing from people who are opposed to it," Coons-Torn says. "But I have to tell you that it's in pretty respectful ways."

...

"If it came to an up-or-down vote on the [Southern California - Nevada] resolution, probably our delegation is not yet at the point where they will be able to support it wholeheartedly," Coons-Torn says. "Many, if not most people, might be able to support civil unions but can't go all the way in supporting the word `marriage.'"

For any of you who know Pennsylvania, this result is almost bizarre. Since when is Northeast PA more stuck in the mud than Central?

In any case, if the "pro" resolution passes, it will cost the UCC in division and lost revenue for the national church. It is, in other words, a live issue.

It would be easy to write down the controversy over the original resolution to stupid right-wing reaction. Easy, but inaccurate.

The UCC is generally more conservative than its reputation would indicate, and the Biblical Witness Fellowship, loosely affiliated with Richard Scaife and the Institute on Religion and Democracy, has managed to keep low level discontent simmering. But still, I'd estimate that only 5-10% of its member churches are so homophobic that they would actually walk out of the denomination over this debate. Perhaps another 10% are opposed to same-sex marriage, but would be content to simply vote "no". The remainder of the people, I think, would be fairly evenly divided between those who wonder if we as a church are ready to make this affirmation and those who think we should have made it years ago. And since General Synod tends to skew liberal, I'd call the vote pretty close to 50-50.

More generally, the difficulty with getting a resolution like this passed is the diverse nature of most mainline Protestant churches. Simply put, we've got that 5-10% still within the denomination. The corresponding 5-10% of liberal congregations has been all but pushed out of the Southern Baptist Convention, and it never did turn up in the non-denominational affiliations.

That lack of homogeneity may hurt mainline denominations politically, and it sure as hell frustrates any kind of progressive agenda they may have. But it's a price I'm willing to pay. Because for all that it doesn't take us in the direction I'd like to go in terms of policy, in the terms of faith, it's absolutely the proper direction. I'll take ideological impurity and faithful living over the abandonment of gospel tolerance and diversity any day of the week. Leave the political unity to the Southern Baptists.

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