The UCC Coalition at 40: Leading the charge for LGBT inclusion
Written by Gregg Brekke and Jeff Woodard
January 10, 2012
As the UCC's
Coalition for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Concerns enters its 40th
year and prepares to receive its 1,000th Open and Affirming (ONA) congregation,
the mood is optimistic.
Andy Lang, the
Coalition's executive director, says 2012 will be a year for "looking
back" to the pioneers and events that have led to the growth and changes
in the organization, while "looking forward" to new ways of expanding
the Coalition's impact.
It’s all part of
the Coalition’s reassessment process, says Lang.
Coalition is focused on two strategic priorities," he says. "First is
to listen to voices around the church regarding the future of LGBT ministry. …
Second is to breathe new life into the Open and Affirming movement."
Leading up to
General Synod in 2013, the Coalition has invited a period of commentary, says
the Rev. Michael Schuenemeyer, UCC executive for health and wholeness advocacy
and national staff liaison to the Coalition.
Coalition is really asking the church what sort of LGBT ministries are needed,"
says Schuenemeyer. "How should we engage churches, individuals and the
broader church? How do we live out [the Coalition's] values and give witness to
them in our public life?"
Lang is hopeful
that the input and a focus on connecting ONA congregations will refresh and
renew their ministries.
a pretty good job at resourcing them and helping them along the journey, as
they consider the process of adopting an ONA covenant," says Lang.
"We haven't been good at nurturing and supporting their ministries after they
take that step. The result is ONA churches tend to be disconnected from each
other and from the Coalition.”
Among the most
exciting developments have been spontaneous regional ONA convocations, says
Lang. "In Conference after Conference, ONA ministry teams are coming back
to life, he says.” “The idea is that there will be an annual gathering that builds
fellowship among ONA churches and also provides workshops and resources for
LGBT youth are sometimes
learning faith in places where there isn't clarity that their sexuality is
normal and acceptable and what God wants for their life, says Lang.
just congregations where there might be implicit homophobia, but also
congregations where the subject simply isn't discussed because it's considered
too divisive," he says.
receive a damaging message if they grow up thinking that their capacity to love
isn't something they can talk about because it's too controversial or divides people,
realistic about what he calls the "myth" that the UCC is an ONA
"We have an
Open and Affirming General Synod, we have Open and Affirming Conferences and
the national offices of the church and nearly a 1,000 congregations – all that
is fantastic," says Lang. "But as a whole, when you have 80 percent
of your congregations and around 70 percent of your membership that aren’t in Open
and Affirming settings, that is a challenge for us."
The Coalition’s board
has ambitious goals for the future. These include: education and resources to
help ONA settings better understand and express transgender inclusion; a
continued focus on advocacy and LGBT rights; working with the larger welcoming
ecumenical and interfaith community; and helping ONA settings establish a more
effective presence in their local LGBT communities.
Working to broaden
the landscape of religious voices in order to reduce the monopoly of
fundamentalist influences is also key among the good work to be done by the
Coalition, says the Rev. Loey Powell, UCC executive
for administration and women’s justice.
“That’s a huge role for ONA churches,
around advocacy and articulating a position of faith that is consistent with
the inclusion of LGBT folks in society as well as in within the church,” says
their communities is essential –– not just to say, ‘Don’t bully LGBT youth,’ which
is also essential –– but [to communicate that] we, as people of faith, believe
everyone is created in God’s image," Powell adds. “We must work to understand
how we even got to a place where the fundamentalist religious perspective has
political currency now and we don’t.”
The Rev. Bill Johnson –– who founded the
Coalition and who, on June 25, will mark 40 years since his ordination as the first
openly gay man ordained by a mainline
U.S.-based Protestant denomination –– echoes Powell’s concerns.
“The diversity among LGBT people
enriches our UCC local churches in many ways, but we should not think for
a moment that the struggle is over, especially when anti-gay forces are vying
for political power,” says Johnson.
“I am proud of having founded the Coalition
and of the extraordinary work that has taken place in its first 40 years,
guided by many competent and committed leaders," he says. "I believe the best years are
still ahead, not only because Coalition leaders are active throughout the
church, but also because compassion and justice-making remain at the
center of the Coalition's service in the name of Christ."
The Coalition will hold its annual
gathering –– this year celebrating its 40th anniversary –– June 25-28 at
UCC-related Elmhurst College near Chicago.