Written by Donna Schaper
"How good it is when sisters and brothers dwell in unity." - Psalm 133:1
The United Church of Christ has always had a problem with its name. United? As though others are not?
Our self-description improved in the 1990s. That language was Open and Affirming. By that we meant that we not only tolerated homosexuals as members and ministers but also affirmed them. What follows is another history lesson. It will help us to unify.
I was the Western Area Minister for the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ for seven years during the 1990s. There I had episcopal responsibility for placement and discipline for 125 congregations and their clergy. I traveled 100 miles a day to these churches in four counties.
Because the Conference had adopted the Open and Affirming policy and done the study required to achieve that name, I was not allowed not to present openly gay candidates to congregations. In the beginning easily half of them said automatically no to these candidates. Eight years later we were down to about ten percent of premature negation.
The combination of the policy, adopted statewide, and the biblical study, which accompanied it, was powerful. The study was crucial. Many congregations agreed to be open immediately. They found it much harder to be affirming. Our refusal to compromise made the impact: who wants to just be tolerated?
Because the study materials were well written and profoundly biblical, we were able to pry people open. A secondary impact was faith formation and clarification of who we are and who we aren’t.
When history is written – especially about the UNITED Church of Christ – it will be very important to remember all the steps along the way.
O God, you who bless us with unity, bless us also with an understanding of the slow steady ways of change. Amen.