John Thomas: Press statement after marriage equality vote
July 13, 2005
On this July fourth, the General Synod of the United Church of Christ has acted courageously to declare freedom, affirming marriage equality, affirming the civil right of same gender couples to have their relationships recognized as marriages by the state, and encouraging our local churches to celebrate and bless those marriages. I believe the General Synod has acted both out of a concern for justice, demanding that the present discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons be ended, as well as out of a theological conviction that same gender couples are as capable of fulfilling the vocation of marriage as heterosexual couples, a vocation described in our marriage rite as one in which couples offer each other mutual care and companionship, bear witness to God's great gift of joy for them and for others exemplified in the story of Jesus at the wedding at Cana in Galilee, and in the intimacy of their relationship, represent the intimacy of Christ's love for the Church. This action continues the long trajectory of resolutions by the General Synod which have affirmed the full human dignity of all persons and the welcoming affirmation of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons as members and ministers in the church.
The issue of marriage equality is the source of great conflict in our society today, as well as in the churches. The United Church of Christ is no exception; there are clearly great differences among our own members over this issue. The General Synod's action does not presume a consensus of opinion among our members or our local churches which are free and responsible to come to their own mind on this issue as on any other. The General Synod speaks to and not for our local churches. It speaks a word of teaching, of encouragement, and of challenge. Today's word is not the last word in the United Church of Christ, but a crucial and groundbreaking first word in a difficult but important church-wide discussion. The resolution itself calls for a church wide discussion of marriage as part of what now becomes the critical process of receiving this General Synod's action in the life of our congregations.
I want to express my deep appreciation to the delegates for the thoughtful, prayerful, and respectful way they have sought to discern God's will on this matter during our time in Atlanta. I pray that the gracious spirit of our discussions here will set the tone for the conversations that will continue back home in our conferences and local churches. In a world that is deeply divided, the witness of a church that can express differences without division, that can be unified without demanding uniformity, can be a great gift.
Above all, I give thanks to God that this General Synod, like many before it, has been led by the Spirit to reaffirm God's extravagant welcome to all, and to act with evangelical courage on behalf of the vulnerable and the excluded in our midst. The days ahead will not be easy as we bear the cost of this decision. But the hope this action brings to so many in our world who have known harsh and bitter rejection surely is and will be a source of joy to us as well.