Written by Bennett Guess
Two years after becoming the first major denomination to support same-gender marriage equality, the UCC General Synod took no action on Tuesday, June 26, on a pair of resolutions meant to revisit, and in one case overturn, the action.
In hearings prior to the decision, Ginger Brasher Cunningham of the Massachusetts Conference said a majority of her committee assigned to review the measures "could not affirm" the actions, saying the discussion among members was "hard and seasoned with mixed emotions" though all members were "faith filled and with generous hearts."
"A Reaffirmation of the Historic and Ecumenical Christian Perspective on Marriage" recalled the historical and ecumenical tradition which holds marriage as "a God-ordained relationship between one man and one woman." It also asked that the UCC "reaffirm the ultimate authority of Scripture" and acknowledge the "error" when General Synod 25 stated "it is not possible to rely exclusively on scripture for understanding marriage today."
The resolution "A Reaffirmation of Marriage Based on the Word of God" asked the General Synod to reverse its action taken in Atlanta in 2005 when it endorsed equal marriage rights for all.
In taking "no action," Synod delegates declined to discuss the resolutions.
Though the resolutions were not discussed, the idea of no discussion generated considerable debate. "Although we claim to be inclusive, we are still uncomfortable with those who are different," said William Thwing of the Penn West Conference who spoke against taking no action. "We are rapidly becoming a church that is monolithic and one dimensional." David Kaden from the New York Conference and a member of the committee also voiced concern about taking no action. "I hoped for these resolutions to come before the Synod and get soundly defeated."
Neal Watkins of the Florida Conference, recalling the words spoken previously during the synod by journalist Bill Moyers, Senator Barack Obama, and activist Marian Wright Edelman, worried that taking "no action" would imply the church was content being a "silent witness," standing on the sidelines rather than speaking with a prophetic voice.
Donald Niederfrank of the Wisconsin Conference disagreed. "To take no action is not an empty statement." he said.
Pennsylvania Southeast Conference Minister also agreed for the call to take no action. Noting that at least one church bringing the resolutions to Synod has already left the denomination, he claimed that, "Sometimes actions are brought to General Synod for the specific reason for it to be defeated," suggesting groups would use this vote for their own purposes.
During the committee process, Indiana-Kentucky Conference Minister Rev. Stephen Gray spoke as a courtesy, not as a proponent of the resolutions. He stated that the churches which initially proposed the two actions have either left the denomination or are divided about their intentions of remaining with the UCC. The Conference itself refused to take action on the measures at their annual meeting and no member of the Conference delegation wished to be associated with the resolutions.
Gray did confirm that the intent of the resolutions was genuine concern for the denomination, not to test the will of the Synod on these issues by presenting measures doomed to fail.