Congregations find each other
December 4th, 2013
There’s an interesting story out of Minnesota about a pastor of a predominantly African American church who lost most of his congregation after voting for recognition of marriage equality in the United Church of Christ denomination. (Star Tribune)
[Oliver] White’s struggling, nearly 20-year-old congregation saw its situation worsen in 2005 when he voted with a majority of delegates in favor of a resolution supporting gay marriage at a national UCC assembly. His vote didn’t go over well with most of the 320 Grace Community members, White said. Membership dropped to nearly 100, he says.
Last July, the church White led for 22 years — Grace United Community Church of Christ in St. Paul — closed its doors after two thirds of the congregation left because White voiced his support for same-sex marriage.
For more than a year and without much success, White searched for a place for his remaining members to worship. Then, he called Clark Memorial United Church of Christ in South St. Paul –where the older, shrinking congregation was looking for ways to save its building.
“She said, ‘We need you and you need us. Quid pro quo,’” White recalled. “I said, ‘They got a building and I got a young congregation. Maybe this could work.’”
White’s predominantly black congregation, Grace Community, now worships alongside the mostly white members of Clark Memorial Church in South St. Paul in an unusual partnership that grew out of both congregations’ advocacy for gay rights.
“I have to scratch my head and wonder, ‘Oliver, what are you doing there?’ ” said White, 71, during a recent interview. “Then I come to realize, we’re all people and if I can be an advocate for the LGBT community, then why can’t I be an advocate for bringing people together in one accord, which is what I’m trying to do.”
I’m sure the very different worship traditions are new and challenging to both congregations, but also probably quite exciting.
What Mainline Clergy Believe
May 22nd, 2009
“Mainline Christianity” has deep roots and wide branches. With about 18% of Americans (and 24% of all voters), the denominations that makeup this more-liberal end of the Protestant Christian world trace to the founding of our nation. When Americans think of church – the steeple, the stained glass windows, the minister in a clerical collar – these are probably the Christians that come to mind.
However, in today’s sound-bite driven media and take-no-prisoners politics, moderate Christians with nuanced positions and non-combatant values don’t make for good television. Instead the fire-breathing “Bible believing” family values culture warrior gets to speak for all of Christianity. So to non-believers, the impression is that Christianity is at war with the rest of the world, and gays are enemy number one.
But a recent survey of Mainline ministers finds quite another Christian response to gay and lesbian Americans. On most issues, these denominations are quite supportive.
The six denominations included, in order of support are:
- United Church of Christ
- Episcopal Church
- Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
- Evanglical Lutheran Church in America
- Presbyterian Church (USA)
- United Methodist Church
- American Baptist Churches (USA)
(for those unfamiliar, American Baptist Churches is a smaller Baptist organization that is not affiliated with the very conservative Southern Baptist Convention)
Mainline Protestant Clergy Views on Theology and Gay and Lesbian Issues: Findings from the 2008 Clergy Voices Survey was released this month. And it provides us with better understanding of the beliefs of clergy in Mainline Denominations.
In general, these ministers are supportive of gay civil rights. Additionally, they are fairly supporting of the inclusion of gay persons into the body of the church – though that differs by denomination.
Some of the more interesting public policy issue findings are:
- 79% agree with the statement “Homosexuals should have all the same rights and priveleges as other American citizens”
- 67% support passing gay-inclusive hate crime laws
- 66% support employment non-discrimination laws
- 55% support adoption by gay persons
The one area where there is not majority support is for marriage equality. Only 33% support gay marriage with another 32% supporting civil unions. However, as I discuss in another commentary, support for marriage goes up to 46% when religious assurances are given.
There is also a large variance between denominations on this issue.
- 67% – United Church of Christ
- 49% – Episcopal
- 42% – Disciples of Christ
- 38% – Presbyterian
- 37% – Lutheran
- 25% – Methodist
- 20% – American Baptist
After clergy were reassured that churches and ministers would not be forced to conduct such marriages, support for civil marriage laws were over 50% for all denominations other than United Methodist and American Baptist.
The report goes on to break Mainline Christianity into three camps in relation to gay and lesbian issues; 29% are a supportive base, 30% are an opposing base, and 41% are in an uncertain middle. They find that on most issues the middle tends to side with the supporting base.
They also found that 45% of mainline clergy report that they are more supportive than 10 years ago. Only 14% are more conservative. The following is how those who became more supportive explain the change.
Among clergy who reported becoming more liberal on gay and lesbian issues, the top factors they cited as being very or extremely important to this change were discernment through prayer and reflection (66%), having a friend, congregant or colleague who is gay or lesbian (58%), and additional Bible study (55%).
We have long known that coming out is a valuable way to influence public opinion. Those who have real life examples from which to draw – rather than lies and stereotypes from anti-gay activists – are more likely to find that gay men and women are a valuable part of the social fabric.
But those within the Christian fold will also find it interesting that prayer, reflection, and Bible study can yield greater support for gay persons. Religion, when applied by devout and sincere people seeking to find meaning from sacred Scriptures for real life situations, need not be the enemy of freedom and equality.
As for the inclusion of gays and lesbians into religious life, the study found
- 94% – welcome gay persons in their church
- 63% – believe that the gospel requires their full inclusion in the church
- 51% – believe the church should not work towards making homosexuality unacceptable
- 45% – support ordination of gay and lesbian ministers without special requirements
- 13% – lead congregations that have formally become “open and affirming congregations”
These denominations have the potential to become strong allies in our question for civil equalities. Already many ministers from these denominations are active in showing legislators and voting citizens People of Faith who do not agree with the political agenda of “Christian” and “Family” groups that seek the exclusion of gay persons from civil equalities.
As time goes on, it is increasingly likely that Mainline Christianity is going to move in the direction of fuller acceptance, inclusion, and support. We should, as a community, be appreciative of their help and proactive in efforts to build bridges to these churches.
Separating Religious and Secular Marriage?
June 20th, 2008
One doesn’t expect that Baptists in Texas would be particularly balanced in their discussion of same-sex marriage. But this article in the Baptist Standard, the Texas Baptist news journal, was surprisingly informative.
If featured a the viewpoints of Barry Lynn, a minister in the United Church of Christ and the head of Americans United for Separation of Church and State and Maggie Gallagher, an orthodox Catholic and the president of the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy.
Gallagher argues that the government should recognize only such marriages are are determined by religions:
“A real alternative would be for government to recognize and enforce religiously distinctive marriage contracts so long as they serve the government’s interest—say, permanent ones for Catholics,” she continued. “But what people who talk about ‘separating marriage and state’ really propose to do is simply to refuse to recognize religious marriage contracts at all. This is not neutrality; it is a powerful intervention by the government into the lives of religious people.”
Oddly, I could be persuaded to support this idea. If the government were to allow churches to define marriage and then recognized and enforced those religiously distinctive marriage contracts, gay people could marry in every state of the union and in any nearly every city that had a Unitarian Universalist fellowship, a Quaker meeting, or a United Church of Christ congregation.
Of course, Gallagher really means that the government should recognize and enforce the contracts of her denomination and not those who disagree with her.
Lynn believes that the government should be out of the marriage granting business and instead should offer civil unions to all and let the churches provide marriages to whom they wish.
“Everybody recognizes that you don’t have to have a religious marriage. State legislatures write out the rules of marriage, the rights and responsibilities of this civil institution,” he said.
“If people have to sign documents or register before an official, it in no way impugns the integrity of the religious promises that are made during a sectarian or religious ceremony
Kudos to the Baptist Standard for providing a clear presentation of two differing views on this subject.
United Church of Christ Pastors Celebrate Marriage Equality
May 17th, 2008
The United Church of Christ, along with the Reform Jewish movement and many other religious organizations, believe that their morality their desire to know God requires that they serve justice to those around them. They believe that denying equality to gay persons is not just bad politics, it’s bad religion.
In my review of recent news stories, especially those about the intesection of sexuality and religion, I’ve noticed that there is an increasing willingness for pastors, rabbis and other persons of faith to step forward and declare that religious conservatives do not speak for God. Often these voices for equality come from the UCC.
The General Synod of the United Church of Christ was among the hundreds of churches, pastors, synagogues, and other religious organizations that attached their name and their support to this lawsuit. And they joyously report the news on the UCC website.
The Rev. Kevin A. Johnson, pastor of Bloom in the Desert Ministries (UCC/United Methodist) in Palm Springs, Calif., emphasized that today’s ruling is a continuation of the ways in which marriage has been redefined for the better over the centuries.
“Because of the positive ruling today in California, progress continues,” Johnson said. “Marriage equality for all continues our historical progress toward recognizing that love and responsibility are the keys to quality marriages, not unfair laws based on racial integrity, which were struck down in 1967 but remained in some states until 2000, and sexual orientation, like we have now.”
This is indeed a good week for gay individuals and couples. The decision by the California Supreme Court is monumental and not quickly forgotten.
But in our joy, let us recall that this victory does not just belong to gays. This is a time of jubulation and celebration for all persons who fight in the battle for dignity, equality, and justice.