During the worship service at our church on Amistad Sunday, we received a new member, an African-American woman. Watching this, I thought of how our forebears—the New England Congregationalists—so greatly influenced society with their views. In 1839, the year of the Amistad incident, many Americans were opposed to slavery, but few beyond the Congregationalists maintained a belief in racial equality. Nonetheless, the ripple effect of their convictions would be felt through American history.
We now enjoy the results in the diversity celebrated in our churches, a legacy I witnessed again on Amistad Sunday. Like those Congregationalists of old, we have an opportunity today to influence our society on an issue of equality.
The UCC's General Synod passed a resolution in 1985 encouraging its churches to become "open and affirming" to the gay community. I didn't know of this at that time. In 1985, I no longer cared to belong to a church, feeling abandoned by mine years before, when I first realized I was gay. Its members made it clear that homosexuality was unacceptable to them, and therefore to God. I struggled with my sexual orientation alone, knowing of no place to go for spiritual help.
During that time, I looked for ways to be "cured" from homosexuality. When everything I tried failed, I sought escape in alcohol and drug abuse and eventually—like so many others who have felt the hurt and despair born of abandonment—contemplated suicide. Somehow, in that darkness, I would experience the hope that God of fers us and realize God's very real presence.
Still, for more than 20 years I struggled, unnecessarily, neither realizing nor living my full potential, in part, because of religious biases against homosexual persons. It became my passion to make sure that no other child of God is made to feel that way again. Ever.
With its open and affirming resolution, the UCC can provide a spiritual home for gay people. However, only about 5 percent of our churches take advantage of it, which is unfortunate. Christians of the gay community have much to share. We celebrate faiths born of social oppression, where we truly came to understand—as much from life experience as from scripture—that "nothing can separate us from the love of God as it is revealed in Christ Jesus."
The Congregationalists took an unpopular stand against conventional wisdom in 1839, in insisting on racial equality. They interpreted scripture differently than most people of their society. History proved them right and today we are a better people for it, celebrating the gift of racial diversity that God has given us. Someday, people will be just as accepting of God's homosexual children, as God's unifying spirit moves us.
We in the UCC need to act in the spirit of our forebears and lead in that direction now.
Ron Pedersen Jr. is a member of Smithfield UCC in Pittsburgh. For information about becoming an Open and Affirming setting (church, campus ministry, etc.), contact the Rev. Ann B. Day, ONA Program, The Coalition, P.O. Box 403, Holden, MA 01520-0403; phone: 508-856-9316; e-mail ONACoord@UCCcoalition.org.