Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addressed the State of Michigan after a plan to kidnap her and other Michigan government officials was thwarted by state and federal law enforcement agencies. She started by saying thank you to law enforcement and FBI agents who participated in stopping this [...]
ATLANTA – The United Church of Christ became the first mainline Christian denomination to support marriage for same-sex couples officially when its general synod passed a resolution July 4 affirming “equal marriage rights for couples regardless of gender.”
It was both a theological statement and a protest against discrimination, said the Rev. John H. Thomas, the president and general minister of the denomination, which has 6,000 congregations and 1.3 million members. His statement was widely interpreted to be a challenge to the proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution to ban marriage for same-sex couples, which has the support of the Bush administration.
“On this July 4, the United Church of Christ has courageously acted 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 those marriages,” Thomas said at a news conference after the vote by the General Synod.
The synod’s decisions are not binding and the vote will not require pastors to provide marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples. Some United Church of Christ ministers already perform such ceremonies.
While the United Church of Christ has not had the widespread divisions other major denominations have experienced over LGBT issues, some member churches had said that such a vote could prompt them to leave the denomination, and one group called for Thomas’s resignation when he announced his support of the resolution.
Hector Lopez, a minister from a small Latino church in Southern California, said he was not at first enthusiastic about same-sex marriage. But after officiating at about a dozen such ceremonies in Oregon and seeing the respect and commitment of the couples, he was quoted by the New York Times as saying, “I experienced a passionate conversion.”
Reverend Gregory Smith at the Bethlehem United Church of Christ in Ann Arbor, who said he has never been asked perform a same-sex marriage, would prayerfully consider doing so after talking to the parties involved.
“I believe that God blesses committed loving relationships between people,” said Rev. Smith. “I do think it is appropriate for the church to bless long term committed loving relationships – whether you call it a marriage or something else.”
The United Church of Christ prides itself on being in the forefront of human and civil rights issues. On its web site, the denomination says it and its predecessors were among the first churches to take a stand against slavery, in 1700, the first to ordain a woman, in 1853, and the first to publish an inclusive-language hymnal, in 1995.
Its slogan, “God is still speaking,” is meant to suggest that the Bible is not the sole source of divine instruction, and that Scripture must be interpreted in today’s context.
The equal marriage rights resolution states, in part, “Ideas about marriage have shifted and changed dramatically throughout human history, and such change continues even today. In the Gospel we find ground for a definition of marriage and family relationships based on the affirmation of the full humanity of each partner, lived out in mutual care and respect for one another.”
Last year, two major TV networks refused to broadcast a United Church of Christ commercial that showed two bouncers standing in front of a church, allowing some people to come in and refusing others, including nonwhites and a gay couple. “Jesus didn’t turn people away,” the text said. “Neither do we.”