By Barbara Sprung
Our Whole Lives K-1 supports parents, teachers and pastors in educating children about birth and sexuality. The program affirms all kinds of families and helps children identify and avoid sexual abuse. Activities include stories, songs, arts and crafts. Each session includes a Home Link message from The Parent Guide to Our Whole Lives that links classroom and home, promoting conversation between parents and children about sexuality.
Barbara Sprung is co-founder and co-director of Educational Equity Concepts, Inc., a national nonprofit organization that conducts research and develops programs and resources to eliminate bias due to gender, race/ethnicity, disability, and socio-economic status. She has authored childhood education resources including Learning About Family Life, a K-3 curriculum; Quit It, a K-3 teacher's guide addressing teasing and bullying; and two preteen books, Preteen Pressures: Stress and Preteen Pressures: Death. Sprung holds a B.A. in Early Childhood Education and an M.A. in Child Development.
Every person is entitled to dignity and self-worth, and to his or her own attitudes and beliefs about sexuality.
Knowledge about human sexuality is helpful, not harmful. Every individual has the right to accurate information about sexuality and to have her or his questions answered.
Healthy sexual relationships are:
consensual (both people consent)
nonexploitative (equal in terms of power, neither person is pressuring or forcing the other into activities or behaviors)
mutually pleasurable (both receive pleasure)
safe (no or low risk of unintended pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, and emotional pain)
developmentally appropriate (appropriate to the age and maturity of persons involved)
based on mutual expectations and caring
respectful (including the values of honesty and keeping commitments made to others).
Sexual intercourse is only one of the many valid ways of expressing sexual feelings with a partner. It is healthier for young adolescents to postpone sexual intercourse.
We are called to enrich our lives by expressing sexuality in ways that enhance human wholeness and fulfillment and express love, commitment, delight and pleasure.
All persons have the right and obligation to make responsible sexual choices.
Justice and inclusivity
We need to avoid double standards. Women and men of all ages, people of different races, backgrounds, income levels, physical and mental abilities, and sexual orientations must have equal value and rights.
Sexual relationships should never be coercive or exploitative.
Being romantically and sexually attracted to both genders (bisexual), the same gender (homosexual) or the other gender (heterosexual) are all natural in the range of human sexual experience.
All persons are sexual.
Sexuality is a good part of the human experience.
Sexuality includes much more than sexual behavior.
Human beings are sexual from the time they are born until they die.
It is natural to express sexual feelings in a variety of ways.
People engage in healthy sexual behavior for a variety of reasons including to express caring and love, to experience intimacy and connection with another, to share pleasure, to bring new life into the world, and to experience fun and relaxation.
Sexuality in our society is damaged by violence, exploitation, alienation, dishonesty, abuse of power, and the treatment of persons as objects.
It is healthier for young adolescents to postpone sexual intercourse.
La Misión Educativa de la Iglesia Unida de Cristo
A la Iglesia Unida de Cristo
La Misión Educativa de la Iglesia Unida de Cristo
Hacia una Visión de la Educación en la Iglesia Unida de Cristo
Medios Donde Ocurre el Aprendizaje
Educación a Traves de la Vida
Un Llamado al Diálogo
A la Iglesia Unida de Cristo
¿Cuál es el centro de la vida de la Iglesia? ¿Qué es lo que predicamos y enseñamos? ¿Cuál es el "corazón" del evangelio?
Predicamos a Cristo crucificado, a Cristo como el poder y la sabiduría de Dios."Porque lo insensato de Dios es más sabio que los hombres y lo débil de Dios es más fuerte que los hombres". (I Cor. 1:23-25). En la cruz de Cristo, Dios reconcilió al mundo consigo mismo. En el momento más obscuro de la historia humana, la luz fue revelada, las vidas transformadas y la reconciliación es un hecho.
¿Cómo predica y enseña la Iglesia, hoy? Allan Boesak el gran teólogo y líder negro de Sur Africa, ha dicho: "La reconciliación no es sentirse bién; es una lucha contra el mal.
Para poder reconciliar, Cristo murió. No podemos engañarnos. La reconciliación no significa tomarnos de las manos y cantar: "Negros y blancos unidos". Significa morir y sufrir; ofrecer nuestra vida por el bien de los otros. (Negro y reformado, Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1984, pág. 29).
No todo lo que enseñamos en las iglesias es correcto. No se escucha el mensaje de reconciliación y transformación; y sus implicaciones no se entienden. La gracia y la verdad no han redimido el sufrimiento de muchos seres humanos. La Iglesia, las congregaciones, incluyendo muchos ministros y muchas ministras, han perdido contacto con el lenguaje, símbolos y textos de la fe. Muchas personas se sienten faltos de conocimiento e inarticulados en su fe. Los sistemas educativos han fracasado debido a lo individualizados y fragmentados que son. Puede ser un fracaso de la Iglesia; ser precisamente la Iglesia—ser Cristo visible y encarnado, ser un agente de reconciliación en el mundo. Pero, parte del fracaso radica en los ministerios educativos de la Iglesia, y el pueblo de Dios está pidiendo un cambio.
Dentro de la "Iglesia Unida de Cristo (UCC)", la Junta de Ministerios Domésticos (UCBHM), a través de la División de Educación y Publicación, tiene la responsabilidad de los ministerios educativos de la Iglesia.
En 1985, la Junta de Directores de la Junta de Ministerios Domésticos, adoptó su posición sobre la misión; al hacer un llamamiento hacia una reforma profunda y creativa en los ministerios educativos de la Iglesia. Esta visión e intención nos hace pensar sobre lo inadecuado del sistema educativo, tanto en la teoría como en la práctica y el exceso de dependencia en la iglesia local como única responsable de la educación. Reconoce la necesidad urgente de las personas, iglesias locales e instituciones en redescubrir el lenguaje de la fe y en reclamar el poder transformador y reconciliador.
Durante el otoño del 1986, la División de Educación y Publicación comenzó a desarrollar "el concepto educativo; su programa y los recursos adecuados" para los ministerios educativos de la Iglesia Unida de Cristo.
Los siguientes pasos han sido emprendidos hacia ese fin:
Se han llevado a cabo estudios y discusiones para explorar necesidades y posibilidades para la educación.
Se desarrolló el lema de "Hacia una visión de la educación en la Iglesia Unida de Cristo".
Dicho lema será discutido en varios lugares durante la primavera de 1989, con atención particular en las preguntas sugeridas.
En mayo de 1989, el componente de la División de Educación y Publicación radicará propuestas para programas y recursos para la consideración de la Junta de Directores de la Junta de Ministerios Domésticos, y grupos subsiguientes tales como: instituciones e iglesias locales. La tarea asignada se completará en 1989 y comenzará el plan para su implantación.
Miramos hacia el 1990, como una década de reforma y renovación de los ministerios educativos. Bajo esa expectativa ofrecemos este documento para reflexión y discusión. Le invitamos a participar en el proceso, su respuesta a este documento, y sobre todo su compromiso con la educación equipa la Iglesia para el ministerio.
La Misión Educativa de la Iglesia Unida de Cristo
La División de Educación y Publicación, es la división programática responsable de los ministerios educativos de la Junta de Ministerios Domésticos. Está estructurada para que esta misión educativa produzca un alcance integral en la Iglesia Unida de Cristo. La tarea de la división es el desarrollo de un concepto educativo, el programa y los recursos adecuados basados en:
Conocimiento de cómo se capacita la Iglesia para educar las personas en su vida cristiana, su fe y discipulado, además de otros medios tales como: la escuela bíblica, vida congregacional y educación superior.
Alcances que no estén limitados al conocimiento sobre el ciclo de la vida humana o elementos culturales y ecológicos que afectan el aprendizaje humano.
El mandato anterior de la División de Educacióny Publicación adoptado por la Junta de Ministerios Domésticos de la Iglesia Unida de Cristo en 1985, provee el impulso y el contexto para el argumento que continúa.
La Iglesia como "cuerpo de Cristo", es una señal de sanidad y esperanza en un mundo fragmentado. Como miembros de ese cuerpo se nos ha confiado el mensaje de reconciliación y hemos sido hechos mayordomos de los misterios de Dios. (2 Cor.5:19; lCor. 4:1)
Hacia una Visión de la Educación en la Iglesia Unida de Cristo
El corazón humano esta necesitado de propósito y significado para sus vidas.
La Iglesia esta enmarcada por su visión, dirección y arrojo. La gente, tanto de adentro como de afuera, necesitan conocer las Escrituras, articular su fe y apreciar claramente la relación entre el evangelio y la realidad del mundo.
La Junta de Ministerios Domésticos de la Iglesia Unidade Cristo, al reconocer los cambios rápidos y radicales que ocurren en el orden natural y social, la ausencia de visión en la sociedad y el silencio frecuente de los cristianos y cristianas, llama a una renovación en el compromiso con la educación que equipe a los santos para el ministerio, (Ef. 4:12) Y señala la necesidad urgente en la transformación de las personas y nuestra vida común.
La Junta de Ministerios Domésticos, presenta una visión de la educación en la Iglesia Unida de Cristo, en la cual todos y todas se comprometan a aprender através de la vida en una variedad de medios.
Dicha visión requiere reformar la misión educativa de la Iglesia, la trayectoria histórica del ministro y la ministra como maestro y maestra, el compromiso del laicado en los ministerios educativos de la Iglesia. Perseguimos clarificar esta visión a través de la discusión, reflexión y acción que involucre toda la Iglesia Unida de Cristo; sus congregaciones y parroquias, conferencias y asociaciones, agencias e instituciones, ministerios y misión.
Por lo cual, afirmamos los siguientes principios fundamentales:
La misión de la iglesia comienza con Dios, quien crea, sostiene y redime el mundo y la vida.
Las personas de todas las edades y condiciones están alimentadas por la continua incursión en la fe y la experiencia cristiana; como también, por la constante búsqueda de sabiduría, justicia y belleza en la sociedad.
Los fundamentos para la misión educativa de la Iglesia Unida de Cristo son:
El pacto de Dios con Israel y el testimonio apostólico de Jesucristo.
La naturaleza, propósito y fe de la Iglesia.
La presencia reformadora del Espíritu Santo.
La historia y tradiciones de la Iglesia Unida de Cristo.
El entendimiento cristiano del ser humano y la sociedad.
El milenio social y cultural del mundo en el cual nosotros vivimos.
En cada nueva era, la Iglesia debe buscar modelos y métodos educativos que respondan y dirijan el cambio.
Dios nos enseña a través de fuentes inesperadas. Por lo tanto, los cristianos y las cristianas debemos abrirnos a todas las personas que persigan y sirvan a la verdad.
La educación en la Iglesia Unida de Cristo está reforzada y formada por la diversidad racial, étnica, cultural y geográfica de sus miembros.
La educación en la Iglesia Unida de Cristo debe tener sus raíces en la historia bíblica de la fe cristiana, en el llamado al discipulado cristiano y en la revelación transformadora de Dios en nuestro tiempo.
A la luz de esta visión y principios, la Junta de Ministerios Domésticos de la Iglesia Unida de Cristo, insiste en la necesidad de una reforma y una renovación de los ministerios educativos; y que la educación de la vida, la fe y el discipulado cristiano surga de la atención a la variedad de medios y temas a través de la vida.
Medios Donde Ocurre el Aprendizaje
El aprendizaje surje en una variedad de medios. Invitamos a la Iglesia Unida de Cristo a estudiar los medios donde la educación pueda señalar las necesidades de nuestro tiempo y las esperanzas y posibilidades del futuro.
Hacemos un llamado a la Iglesia a observar los talentos que hay en las congregaciones como escuela de fe y a mantener y apoyar su energía vital.
Otros medios incluyen los hogares, comunidad parroquial, escuelas; así como lugares de trabajo, lugares de belleza natural y artística y de acción social. Nuevos tiempos y medios, pueden proveer oportunidades de enseñanza-aprendizaje en la fe cristiana.
Al invitarles, afirmamos:
Que existen muchos medios para educar integradamente; y variedad de oportunidades para que el Espíritu de Dios se mueva y transforme.
Atender seriamente, la amalgama de medios (lugares, circunstancias) a través de los cuales la gente vive, enseña y aprende.
Interrogantes constantes y urgentes surgirán sobre la existencia humana en los diferentes medios.
Nuevas disposiciones para la enseñanza-aprendizaje llevarán a respuestas educativas creativas.
Educación a través de la Vida
El aprendizaje es importante a través de la vida. Invitamos a la Iglesia Unida de Cristo a unirse a nosotros y a nosotras en el que hacer educativo necesario que lleve a las personas a vivir en el amor de Cristo y a discernir el discipulado en sus vidas.
Al hacer ésto, afirmamos:
La educación de los seguidores y seguidoras de Jesucristo, es un proceso a través del cual nuestras vidas se capacitan y se abren al presente y futuro dominio de Dios, al apoyar y promover el discipulado y al enriquecer la vida personal y social.
El aprendizaje ocurre en una variedad de formas: estudio y reflexión, en acción y meditación, en práctica y disciplina, en la adoración y los sacramentos, en oración y celebración.
Las realidades y necesidades de la vida, son momentos para aprender, p.e., al lidiar con las crisis sociales y personales de la vida; al luchar con problemas morales; al investigar el significado de la vocación cristiana, respaldar el impacto científico, tecnológico, económico y político de los individuos y naciones, y al reconocer y al oponernos a toda injusticia.
Un Llamado al Diálogo
Esta visión emergente y de reforma continua de la misión educativa de la Iglesia Unida de Cristo, requiere la imaginación y creatividad de todos y todas en la Iglesia Unida de Cristo y sus colegas en la educación. Puede haber reforma si proviene del sentido de necesidad y posibilidad. Por tanto, llamamos a un diálogo, así como vamos en pos de la visión.
General Synod pronouncement and proposal for action on the United Church of Christ as a 'Just Peace Church'
85-GS-50 VOTED: The Fifteenth General Synod adopts the pronouncement "Affirming the United Church of Christ as a Just Peace Church."
Affirms the United Church of Christ to be a Just Peace Church and defines Just Peace as the interrelation of friendship, justice, and common security from violence. Places the United Church of Christ General Synod in opposition to the institution of war.
The Thirteenth General Synod called upon the United Church of Christ to become a Peace Church and the Fourteenth General Synod asked a Peace Theology Development Team to recommend to the Fifteenth General Synod theology, policy, and structure for enabling the United Church of Christ to be a peacemaking church. This pronouncement is based on insights from all three of the historic approaches of Christians to issues of war and peace—pacifism, just war, and crusade—but attempts to move beyond these traditions to an understanding rooted in the vision of shalom—linking peace and justice. Since Just War criterion itself now rules out war under modern conditions, it is imperative to move beyond Just War thinking to a theology of a Just Peace.
Biblical and theological foundations
A Just Peace is grounded in God's activity in creation. Creation shows the desire of God to sustain the world and not destroy. The creation anticipates what is to come: the history-long relationship between God and humanity and the coming vision of shalom.
Just Peace is grounded in covenant relationship. God creates and calls us into covenant, God's gift of friendship: "I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; and I will bless them and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in the midst of them for evermore" (Ezekiel 37:26). When God's abiding presence is embraced, human well-being results, or Shalom, which can be translated as Just Peace.
A Just Peace is grounded in the reconciling activity of Jesus Christ. Human sin is the rejection of the covenant of friendship with God and one another and the creation and perpetuation of structures of evil. Through God's own suffering love in the cross, the power of these structures has been broken and the possibility for relationship restored.
A Just Peace is grounded in the presence of the Holy Spirit. God sends the Holy Spirit to continue the struggle to overcome the powers ranged against human bonding. Thus, our hope for a Just Peace does not rest on human efforts alone, but on God's promise that we will "have life and have it abundantly" (John 10:10).
A Just Peace is grounded in the community of reconciliation: the Just Peace Church. Jesus, who is our peace (Ephesians 2:14), performed signs of forgiveness and healing and made manifest that God's reign is for those who are in need. The church is a continuation of that servant manifestation. As a Just Peace Church, we embody a Christ fully engaged in human events. The church is thus a real countervailing power to those forces that divide, that perpetuate human enmity and injustice, and that destroy.
Just Peace is grounded in hope. Shalom is the vision that pulls all creation toward a time when weapons are swept off the earth and all creatures lie down together without fear; where all have their own fig tree and dwell secure from want. As Christians, we offer this conviction to the world: Peace is possible.
Statement of Christian conviction
A. The Fifteenth General Synod affirms a Just Peace as the presence and interrelation of friendship, justice and common security from violence. The General Synod affirms the following as marks of a Just Peace theology:
Peace is possible. A Just Peace is a basic gift of God and is the force and vision moving human history. The meaning of a Just Peace and God's activity in human history, especially the life and witness of Jesus, is understood through the Bible, church history and the voices of the oppressed and those in the struggle for justice and peace. Nonviolent conflict is a normal and healthy reflection of diversity; working through conflict constructively should lead to growth of both individuals and nations.
Nonviolence is a Christian response to conflict shown to us by Jesus. We have barely begun to explore this little known process of reconciliation. Violence can and must be minimized, even eliminated in most situations. However, because evil and violence are embedded in human nature and institutions, they will remain present in some form. War can and must be eliminated.
The State should be based upon participatory consent and should be primarily responsible for developing justice and well-being, enforcing law, and minimizing violence in the process.
International structures of friendship, justice, and common security from violence are necessary and possible at this point in history in order to eliminate the institution of war and move toward a Just Peace. Unexpected initiatives of friendship and reconciliation can transform interpersonal and international relationships, and are essential to restoring community.
B. The Fifteenth General Synod affirms the United Church of Christ as a Just Peace Church. The General Synod affirms the following as marks of a Just Peace Church, calling upon each local church to become:
A community of hope, believing a Just Peace is possible, working toward this end, and communicating to the larger world the excitement and possibility of a Just Peace.
A community of worship and celebration, centering its identity in justice and peacemaking and the Good News of peace that is Jesus Christ.
A community of biblical and theological reflection, studying the Scriptures, the Christian story, and the working of the Spirit in the struggle against injustice and oppression.
A community of spiritual nurture and support, loving one another and giving one another strength in the struggle for a Just Peace.
A community of honest and open conflict, a zone of freedom where differences may be expressed, explored, and worked through in mutual understanding and growth.
A community of empowerment, renewing and training people for making peace/doing justice.
A community of financial support, developing programs and institutions for a Just Peace.
A community of solidarity with the poor, seeking to be present in places of oppression, poverty, and violence, and standing with the oppressed in the struggle to resist and change this evil.
A community of loyalty to God and to the whole human community over any nation or rival idolatry.
A community that recognizes no enemies, willing to risk and be vulnerable, willing to take surprising initiatives to transform situations of enmity. A community of repentance, confessing its own guilt and involvement in structural injustice and violence, ready to acknowledge its entanglement in evil, seeking to turn toward new life.
A community of resistance, standing against social structures comfortable with violence and injustice.
A community of sacrifice and commitment, ready to go the extra mile, and then another mile, in the search for justice and peace.
A community of political and social engagement, in regular dialogue with the political order, participating in peace and justice advocacy networks, witnessing to a Just Peace in the community and in the nation, joining the social and political struggle to implement a Just Peace.
C. The Fifteenth General Synod affirms friendship as essential to a Just Peace.
1. We affirm the unity of the whole human community and oppose any use of nationalism to divide this covenant of friendship.
2. We reject all labeling of others as enemies and the creation of institutions that perpetuate enemy relations.
3. We affirm diversity among peoples and nations and the growth and change that can emerge from the interchange of differing value systems, ideologies, religions and political and economic systems.
4. We affirm nonviolent conflict as inevitable and valuable, an expression of diversity and essential to healthy relationships among people and nations.
5. We affirm all nations developing global community and interchange, including:
a. freedom of travel,
b. free exchange of ideas and open dialogue,
c. scientific, cultural, and religious exchanges,
d. public education that portrays other nations fairly, breaking down enemy stereotypes and images, and
e. knowledge of foreign languages.
D. The Fifteenth General Synod affirms justice as essential to a Just Peace.
1. We affirm all nations working together to insure that people everywhere will be able to meet their basic needs, including the right of every person to:
a. food and clean water,
b. adequate health care,
c. decent housing,
d. meaningful employment,
e. basic education,
f. participation in community decision-making and the political process,
g. freedom of worship and religious expression,
h. protection from torture, and
i. protection of rights without regard to race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or national or social origin.
2. We affirm the establishment of a more just international order in which:
a. trade barriers, tariffs, and debt burdens do not work against the interests of poor people, and developing nations,
b. poor nations have a greater share in the policies and management of global economic institutions.
3. We affirm economic policies that target aid to the most needy: the rural poor, women, nations with poor natural resources or structural problems, and the poor within each nation.
4. We affirm economic policies that will further the interests of the poor within each nation:
a. promoting popular participation,
b. empowering the poor to make effective demand on social systems,
c. encouraging decentralization and greater community control,
d. providing for the participation of women in development,
e. redistributing existing assets, including land, and distributing more equitably future benefits of growth,
f. reducing current concentrations of economic and political power, and
g. providing for self-reliant development, particularly in food production.
5. We affirm nations transferring funds from military expenditures into programs that will aid the poor and developing strategies of converting military industries to Just Peace industries.
6. We oppose the injustices resulting from the development of national security states that currently repress the poor in organizing society against an external enemy.
7. We affirm a free and open press within each nation, without hindrance from government.
E. The Fifteenth General Synod affirms common security from violence as essential to a Just Peace.
1. We affirm that national security includes four interrelated components:
a. provision for general well-being,
b. cultivation of justice,
c. provision for defense of a nation, and
d. creation of political atmosphere and structure in which a Just Peace can flourish and the risk of war is diminished or eliminated.
2. We affirm the right and obligation of governments to use civil authority to prevent lawlessness and protect human rights. Such force must not be excessive and must always be in the context of the primary responsibility of the state in creating social justice and promoting human welfare. Any use of force must be based in the participatory consent of the people.
3. We affirm that war must be eliminated as an instrument of national policy and the global economy must be more just. To meet these goals, international institutions must be strengthened.
4. We affirm our support for the United Nations, which should be strengthened developing the following:
a. more authority in disputes among countries,
b. peacekeeping forces, including a permanent force of at least 5000, able to police border disputes and intervene when called to do so by the U.N.,
c. peacemaking teams, trained in mediation, conflict intervention, and conflict resolution,
d. support for international peace academies,
e. a global satellite surveillance system to provide military intelligence to the common community,
f. international agreements to limit military establishments and the international arms trade,
g. an international ban on the development, testing, use, and possession of nuclear and bio-chemical weapons of mass destruction, and
h. an international ban on all weapons in space and all national development of space-based defense systems and Strategic Defense Initiatives.
5. We affirm our support for the International Court of Justice and for the strengthening of international law, including:
a. the Law of the Sea Treaty,
b. universal ratification of the International Covenants and Conventions which seek to implement the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and
c. recognition of the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice and removal of restrictions, such as the Connally Amendment, which impair the Court's effective functioning.
6. We reject any use or threat to use weapons and forces of mass destruction and any doctrine of deterrence based primarily on using such weapons. We also reject unilateral, full-scale disarmament as a currently accepted path out of the present international dilemma. We affirm the development of new policies of common security, using a combination of negotiated agreements, new international institutions and institutional power, nonviolent strategies, unilateral initiatives to lessen tensions, and new policies that will make the global economy more just.
7. We affirm the mutual and verifiable freeze on the testing, production, and deployment of nuclear weapons as the most important step in breaking the escalating dynamics of the arms race and call upon the United States, the U.S.S.R., and other nations to take unilateral initiatives toward implementing such a freeze, contingent on the other side responding, until such time as a comprehensive freeze can be negotiated.
8. We declare our opposition to all weapons of mass destruction. All nations should:
a. declare that they will never use such weapons,
b. cease immediately the testing, production, and deployment of nuclear weapons,
c. begin dismantling these arsenals, and
d. while the process of dismantling is going on, negotiate comprehensive treaties banning all such future weapons by any nation.
9. We declare our opposition to war, violence, and terrorism. All nations should:
a. declare that they will never attack another nation,
b. make unilateral initiatives toward dismantling their military arsenals, calling on other nations to reciprocate, and
c. develop mechanisms for international law, international peacekeeping, and international conflict resolution.
Proposal for action on organizing the United Church of Christ as a Just Peace church
85-GS-51 VOTED: The Fifteenth General Synod adopts the Proposal for Action "Organizing the United Church of Christ as a Just Peace Church."
Calls upon churches to organize themselves so as to be effective instruments of God's Just Peace. Calls for organizing the United Church of Christ regionally and nationally for more effective Just Peace witness. Calls for a two-year Just Peace offering and effective long-range funding.
This Proposal for Action builds on the proposed pronouncement, also submitted to the Fifteenth General Synod, "Affirming the United Church of Christ as a Just Peace Church." Like the pronouncement, the Proposal for Action has been developed in response to the request of the Fourteenth General Synod to recommend theology, policy, and structure for enabling the United Church of Christ to be a peace-making church.
The Fifteenth General Synod calls on all in the United Church of Christ to recognize that the creating of a Just Peace is central to their identity as Christians and to their Baptism into the Christian community.
A. Call To Local Churches
The Fifteenth General Synod calls on local churches to organize their common life so as to make a difference in the achieving of a Just Peace and the ending of the institution of war.
The Fifteenth General Synod calls for the development of four key components within local churches: spiritual development, Just Peace education, political advocacy, and community witness.
1. We call all local churches to the inward journey of spiritual nurture: prayer for a Just Peace, study of the Scriptures, theological reflection upon the work of the Holy Spirit, and celebration and worship that center the life of the community in the power and reality of the God who creates a Just Peace. We call for the development of Christian community that nurtures and supports members in the search for a Just Peace. We commend to all local churches the use of the World Peace Prayer, using the example of the Benedictine Sisters who pray this specific prayer each day at 12 noon:
Lead me/us from death to life,
from falsehood to truth.
Lead me/us from despair to hope,
from fear to trust.
Lead me/us from hate to love,
from war to peace.
Let peace fill our hearts,our
world, our universe.
2. We call all local churches to the inward journey of education. Knowing that there are no easy answers to the creating of a Just Peace, we call for churches to establish the climate where all points of view can be respected and all honest feelings and opinions shared in the search for new answers and directions. We call for a steady program of Just Peace education and a steady flow of information on Just Peace issues into the life of the congregation.
3. We call all local churches to the outward journey of political witness, enabling all members to join the search for the politics of a Just Peace. Just Peace is both a religious concept and a political concept, and participation in the political arena is essential. We call for each church to appoint a contact person for the United Church of Christ Peace Advocacy and Hunger/Economic Justice Networks to follow closely those political issues most critical to the development of a Just Peace and to alert members of the local church when it is most appropriate to write or contact their Senators and Representatives.
4. We call all local churches to the outward journey of community witness. We call for local churches to make their convictions known in their communities through public forums, media, and presence in the public arena. We call for local churches to help shape public opinion and the climate in which the issues of a Just Peace are shaped. We call for churches to explore with military industries the opportunities for conversion into Just Peace industries. We call for evangelistic outreach, inviting others to join in the search for a Just Peace.
Because the times are so critical, we call for extraordinary witness as well as ordinary political involvement to break the power of the structural evils that prevent a Just Peace. We call upon local churches to be understanding and even supportive of persons who out of individual conscience take the responsibility for such nonviolent extraordinary witness. Examples of such witness might include: becoming a conscientious objector to war; refusing acceptance of employment with any project related to nuclear and biochemical weapons and warfare; refusing any and all assignments to use weapons of mass destruction as a member of the military; withholding tax money in protest of the excessively militaristic policies of our government;and engaging in acts of non- violent civil disobedience, willingly going to jail to call attention to specific outrages.
B. Call to Conferences and National Bodies
The Fifteenth General Synod calls upon Conferences and national bodies of the United Church of Christ to organize their common life so as to make a difference in the achieving of a Just Peace and the ending of the institution of war.
The Fifteenth General Synod calls for the development of four key components in developing the United Church of Christ so that it can make a real difference over the next years: regional centers, Washington advocacy, international presence, and national programs.
1. We call upon Conferences to develop regional centers able to link local churches into effective regional and national strategies. A variety of options are possible at the Association and Conference levels:
The development of regional United Church of Christ peace centers that resource local groups through educational, organizational, advocacy, and funding efforts;
The development of ecumenical regional Just Peace centers, in partnership with other denominations;
The funding of part-time, contract, or full-time Just Peace staff at the Association or Conference; and
The funding of ecumenical peace staff in states or metropolitan areas.
2. We call for the strengthening of our advocacy work in Washington, D.C., with more funding to develop the capacity of the United Church of Christ to make its witness known in the national political arena, to expand its capacity for policy analysis, to increase its presence on Capitol Hill in shaping legislation, to develop stronger communication links with churches around the country to share political developments and urge action, and to build coalitions.
3. We call upon the United Church of Christ Board for World Ministries to explore and develop new models of peace and justice ministries globally to address particular situations of injustice, oppression, and real or potential violence, and to develop communication links between Christians in these critical situations and Christians in the United States, developing global partnership and global awareness in the search for a Just Peace.
4. We call upon all national bodies to continue to develop effective programs of advocacy, empowerment, and education. We call for more resources to develop national strategies of advocacy and action to increase the witness of the United Church of Christ for a Just Peace. We call for the Office for Church in Society to facilitate the coordination of this work.
Churches, Conferences, and national bodies, including the Office for Church in Society, the Executive Council, the United Church Board for World Ministries, and the Stewardship Council, have been requested in this Call to Action to respond to various directions. These bodies are responsible for developing the strategies and programs to fulfill the goals outlined here.
Note: Implementation of this Proposal for action is subject to the availability of funds.
Written by Andrew G. Lang
A few years ago the Ramsey Colloquium—a group of Christian and Jewish scholars—published a sharp critique of "the gay and lesbian cause" which they titled "The Homosexual Movement." 1 As they predicted, their declaration was denounced as "a display of homophobia." "Such dismissals have become unpersuasive and have ceased to intimidate," they wrote. "Indeed, we do not think it a bad thing that people should experience a reflexive recoil from what is wrong." This "reflexive recoil" from homosexual behavior is not homophobia, they said, but the instinctive reflex of those who know that homosexuality violates God's natural law.
Among the authors were several academics at liberal strongholds like Amherst, Princeton, Oberlin, Yale and Hebrew Union College. It hardly needs to be said that entering the debate in this way exposed the Ramsey Colloquium to angry denunciation and was, for some of its members, an act of courage.
My purpose is not to criticize the declaration's reasoning but to draw your attention to one paragraph as the starting point for our conversation:
We believe that any understanding of sexuality, including heterosexuality, that makes it chiefly an arena for the satisfaction of personal desire is harmful to individuals and society. Any way of life that accepts or encourages sexual relations for pleasure or personal satisfaction alone turns away from the disciplined community that marriage is intended to engender and foster. [Italics added.]
This is a profoundly counter-cultural vision of human sexuality and one that can be helpful as we struggle with the moral question that is before us: should the church affirm faithful relationships between same-sex partners?
Calls Sexual Revolution into question
The Ramsey Colloquium, rightly in my opinion, calls into question the ethic of "sexual liberation." Thirty years after the Sexual Revolution, our culture still understands sexual freedom as freedom from constraint, namely, from the boundaries of discipline, order and structure. And who could be opposed to freedom? We always live in the tension between personal freedom and social discipline, so we want to liberate ourselves from this tension and live in the light of a pure freedom that never says "no" to human possibility. Defined in this way, freedom is the doctrine of personal sovereignty, the private property of the ego that has to be seized and defended. So words like "discipline," "order" and "structure" also provoke a "reflexive recoil"—the recoil of the individual ego when we encounter boundaries that limit our freedom of action. Naturally, in a culture that defines individuality as self-determination and self-assertion, discipline is at best suspect, at worst oppressive.
But this is not the church's traditional vision of freedom or individuality. Freedom, according to Christian tradition, is not only freedom from but also freedom for. Karl Barth saw it as "freedom for obedience" to the Word of God. Particularly in the witness of the Reformed churches, freedom cannot be understood as my self-liberation but only as the sovereign gift of God who, despite my opposition, rushes to my side and creates the right order that I have abandoned. So God places me in "disciplined community," as the Ramsey Colloquium puts it, or in a "community of disciples" who follow Christ as their Lord and whose lives are oriented towards this Lord as the source of their freedom and the measure of their behavior. It is in this community, and nowhere else, that God meets me through Word and Sacrament, and where I learn the boundaries and, paradoxically, the unlimited possibilities of the freedom that is mine only as gift, and never as self-determination.
The tradition defines God's sovereign gift of freedom in words that are familiar to all of us: covenant, election, justification, vocation, and sanctification. These are words I want to explore as we attempt to understand the morality of same-sex relationships among members of our church.
What is God's word on this subject? To begin with, I need to understand with you what we mean when we say that a "word" is addressed to the church, because there are many words to which you or I could appeal for authority. There are the words of psychology, sociology and genetics. There are the words of natural law and tradition. But all of these words are subject to the one Word whom we worship as Lord and to whom we owe obedience. So, in the familiar text of the Barmen Declaration:
Jesus Christ, as he is attested for us in Holy Scriptures, is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and in death. We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church could and would have to acknowledge as a source of its proclamation, apart from and beside the one Word of God, still other events and powers, figures and truths as God's revelation. 2
Jesus Christ is the one Word of God! Belonging to this Word, according to the Heidelberg Catechism, is our "only comfort, in life and in death." But what do we need to know, the Catechism asks, to "live and die in the blessedness of this comfort?" Three things:
First, the greatness of my sin and wretchedness. Second, how I am freed from all my sins and their wretched consequences. Third, what gratitude I owe to God for such redemption. 3
"Sin"—another counter-cultural word! But without the consciousness of sin the Gospel itself makes no sense. There can be no productive discussion of marriage and homosexuality, or really of any other moral question, unless we can agree that "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God."
Sin threatens our relationships with death. In the self-assertion of the ego against God not only our relationship with God but also every human relationship is brought into disorder. There is, in fact, no human covenant that is not wounded by our collective and individual rebellion against God's sovereign claim on our lives. This is certainly so in all the greater and lesser injuries that we inflict on each other—in heterosexual marriage, in celibate life, and in the partnerships formed by gays and lesbians. Sin distorts our life together as the Body of Christ, so that no contentious issue in the church can possibly be discussed without anger and mutual recrimination—particularly an issue like sexual morality, which exposes our deepest fears of alienation, loneliness and chaos. Sin distorts all of our relationships. Left on our own, we cannot live together as God intended.
But—thanks be to God!—God does not leave us alone. The Heidelberg Catechism affirms that we do have this "comfort, in life and in death," that we belong not to ourselves but to our "faithful Savior, Jesus Christ, who at the cost of his own blood has fully paid for all my sins and has completely freed me from the dominion of the devil."
Covenant: God's bridge to humanity
This brings us to covenant, defined by the Westminster Confession as God's "voluntary condescension" which bridges "[t]he distance between God and the creature." 4 "Covenant" is a critical concept in Reformed ethics, as you all know, and I cannot possibly say much about it a few minutes. But I agree with Max Stackhouse that "it is likely that nothing less than an understanding of and a commitment to covenantal mutuality under God can bring moral and spiritual coherence to what is otherwise experienced as a seething, chaotic mass of dominations and arbitrariness." 5
Moral and spiritual coherence! These are not empty words! We all sense that the scattered and broken pieces of our lives (and our relationships) belong together but we simply don't know how to re-build the structure we have demolished. But the Reformed tradition affirms that the coherence that eludes our best efforts has already been established definitively in Jesus Christ. How? Through the covenant of Baptism, our primal covenant, in which Christ's obedient "Yes" to God becomes our own "Yes"—and this is the starting point for our lifelong journey from chaos to coherence.
The self-disclosure of God in the covenant of Baptism reveals that God's being itself is covenant. In the reciprocal relationship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we learn that God's nature is not solitude, but communion. God's inherent nature is to be with others. The Roman Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar says it better than I can:
God is not a sealed fortress, to be attacked and seized by our engines of war (ascetic practices, meditative techniques, and the like) but a house full of open doors, through which we are invited to walk. In the Castle of the Three-in-One, the plan has always been that we, those who are entirely "other," shall participate in the superabundant communion of life. Whatever we regard as the ultimate meaning of human life, be it giving, creating, finding or being given, being created and being found; all this is fulfilled in the original prototype: in the life of the eternal "With." 6
The triune being of God is therefore the primal form of all of our covenants. Here, God chooses not to be alone but with and for the humanity God created. Here, God elects humanity to be God's covenant partner. Here, God's love cannot be contained but pours itself out with incomprehensible majesty into the creation and reconciliation of humanity. Christian covenants must participate in this Trinitarian structure, so that the order broken by sin and restored by God's sovereign decision in Christ becomes an order of being "with" others.
The form of covenant
From our participation in this divine self-disclosure—as Christians who have been incorporated into God's Trinitarian being through Baptism and who meet the Triune God again and again through Word and Sacrament—we can begin to describe the form of Christian covenant:
First, God chooses each of us for covenant, calls us into covenant life and uses covenant to complete God's work of conversion and sanctification in our lives. Election, vocation, conversion and sanctification! Nothing less is at stake in Christian covenant than the overcoming of our opposition to God! So every Christian covenant is a means of grace that draws us into the covenantal life of the Trinity. God works through covenants to convert us to a life with God and with others.
Second, Christian covenants are accountable to the community, and therefore must be sealed by public vows. In contrast to the secular theory of "contract," in which two independent persons with equal rights enter into an agreement, Christian covenants are accountable to the Lord who comes to us in Word and Sacrament, that is, in the realized life of the Body of Christ in the Christian community. Jesus Christ is the Lord of every covenant, but the Covenant Lordship of Christ is mediated through his Body, the church. Therefore, covenant promises cannot be a private contract between two solitary persons but always a public demonstration of vows in the presence of the community.
Third, the community is accountable to the covenants made by its members. Because we are sinners, our covenantal relationships are always threatened by moral disorder. Covenant partners will turn again and again to the church which, as the Body of Christ, will call us back into relationship.
Fourth, Christian covenants create new life. Just as the triune life of God is not enclosed within itself but creates life in all of its forms, human covenants must also be creative. This is seen most clearly in the covenant of marriage, where (if it is God's will) a woman and a man extend life through the birth and care of children. But this creative vocation must be seen in all of our covenants. In some way, every Christian covenant must extend the boundaries of life. Every Christian covenant must be generative and generous. Every Christian covenant must say "Yes" to life.
Marriage: the oldest of human covenants
Heterosexual marriage is the oldest of human covenants, and every other relationship descends from this encounter of a man and woman in marriage. This is obviously so because we are born in families and we owe our existence to heterosexual parents. But the tradition also says that in the marriage of a man and a woman we have a type, or an image, of the covenantal love of God for Israel and Christ for the church.
There is much discussion about whether same-sex relationships also should be called "marriage," and, as you all know, this is a subject on which the church is deeply divided. There can be no question, however, that the Jewish and Christian traditions set heterosexual marriage apart from all other covenants. In my view, the confusion of marriage with other relationships can obscure the priority of heterosexual marriage in God's creative design and the Bible's orientation towards marriage as an analogy of God's passionate and faithful love for creation. And although I intend to argue that the church must grant equal dignity to same-sex relationships lived under vows—an argument I will save for the end of this paper, if you will be patient with me—I am not yet convinced that "equal dignity" is the same as "objective equality." In other words, heterosexual marriage and same-sex relationships are not objectively the same thing but each has its own inherent moral dignity.
In any case, the marriage rites of all Christian churches testify to the tradition that marriage is a covenant between heterosexual partners. So does the only gay and lesbian denomination, the Metropolitan Community Churches, whose rite for blessing same-sex couples is called "union," not "marriage." In its "Order for Marriage," the Book of Worship of the United Church of Christ reflects this ecumenical consensus:
The scriptures teach us that the bond and covenant of marriage is a gift of God, a holy mystery in which man and woman become one flesh, an image of the union of Christ and the church. 7
As the first human covenant revealed in scripture and the only human covenant present at the origin of the human race, I believe marriage has a privileged claim on the ministry of the church. Through the tradition's use of marriage as an analogy of God's covenant with humanity, marriage is prior to all other covenants but one—our primal covenant of baptism.
But although heterosexual marriage is unique, it also participates in the Trinitarian structure that is common to all Christian covenants. Marriage, if I may borrow from St. Benedict's well-known image of the monastery as a "school for sinners," is the school where those called into this covenant learn how to be with another and not alone. It is a means of grace, through which God calls a man and a woman away from the terrible solitude of the alienated self into a life of self-giving love. Like other covenants, marriage is not closed in on itself but open to others, first, to the gift of children and family, second, to the church whose liberating boundaries encompass every Christian marriage. Like other covenants, marriage is accountable to Christ, who is the Covenant Lord of the married partners and of their family.
The covenant of celibate community
Marriage is also a vocation, which means that to be a Christian marriage, God must summon a man and a woman into this relationship. But throughout its history, the church has also held an honored place for women and men who were called into a different covenant, but one by which they nevertheless were liberated by God to live a life with and for others. That covenant is celibacy, and to this we will now turn.
We are immediately in trouble here because most of us in this room are Protestant and we have had virtually no tradition of organized celibate community for more than 400 years—with a few exceptions, including one Augustinian monastery in Germany that transferred its allegiance to the Lutheran Reform in 1558 and somehow survived until 1675. 8
The disappearance of vocational celibacy, along with the organized structures without which any covenantal life is impossible, ought to be a serious concern among us. Luther's reaction to the abuse of monastic vows was so extreme that at one point he wrote that chastity is impossible outside of marriage. Calvin was equally contemptuous of the monastic way of life, writing that "the cloisters, the cells, the holes of the monkeries smell of nothing but excrement." 9 So there was no reform of celibate community in Protestant Europe, only a relentless attack on the monasteries that led to their dissolution.
Our break with 1,400 years of vocational celibacy has led us to believe that marriage is normative for all men and women, that is, the only vocation of relationship to which Christians can aspire. But it was not so in the apostolic church, as Karl Barth reminds us:
It is obvious that in the New Testament community marriage can no longer be an obligation. . . . This is the fact, too lightly ignored by Protestant ethics in its glad affirmation of marriage . . . , that Jesus Christ himself, of whose true humanity there can be no doubt, had no other beloved, bride or wife, no other family or domestic sphere but this community. Certainly, He expressed Himself very definitely about the divine basis, the indissolubility and the sanctity of marriage (Mk. 10:1-12, Mt. 5:27-31.) He did not command anyone to abstain from it in practice as He Himself did. . . . [But] there are those for whom entrance into the married state is not only not commanded but temporarily or even permanently forbidden. We certainly cannot say, in the light of these sayings [of Jesus], that entrance into marriage is universally the higher way, the better possibility. . . . Our true point of departure is that for Paul marriage is always a way (beside which he knows another and better) by which the Christian, becoming one body with his wife, does not deny the truth that he is one spirit with the Lord, but in his own way maintains and expresses it just as much as he who chooses a different path. 10
This "different path" is celibacy. So it is a mistake for us to see celibacy as either a compromise or a curse for those who, because of their sexual orientation or their situation in life, are unable to enter into the covenant of heterosexual marriage. Celibacy is a gift in which the person called into this life becomes fully human. Those who hear God's call to this life are not half-human. We cannot say they are incomplete because they have not fulfilled themselves in a union between a woman and a man. Nor should we understand celibacy as "asexuality" or merely as "abstinence" from a sexual relationship. Instead, celibacy is a particular disciplining of sexuality that liberates sexual energy for communion with others. We only have to look at the ecstatic visions of Roman Catholic mystics like St. John of the Cross or St. Therese of Avila, or the extraordinary creative energy of the Shaker communities, to see how sexual identity was not negated by celibacy but channeled into an intensely unitive relationship with Jesus Christ.
Celibacy therefore conforms to the Trinitarian structure of covenant. It is a life with and for, not a life apart from others. Like the covenant of marriage, it should be sealed by vows. We have no time to examine the arguments of Luther and Calvin against monastic vows, but by definition there should be no Christian covenant—including baptism, marriage and ordination—in which public promises are not witnessed by the community. By abolishing the vow of celibacy, the Reformers also abolished the possibility of celibate life as a normative vocation alongside heterosexual marriage. The result impoverished the church and denied any structured expression for those Protestants who were not called into marriage. A church without a covenantal vocation to celibacy is a church that is not fully oriented towards Jesus Christ—who, as Karl Barth reminds us, lived his life for others but not in the covenant of heterosexual marriage! Barth cannot be ignored when he writes that in Jesus "[t]he great example of a powerfully exercised freedom for celibacy is before us all." 11
On the other hand, the Protestant revolt against priestly and monastic celibacy was not groundless. Men and women like the monk Martin Luther and his future wife, the nun Katherine of Bora, were living under the burden of an enforced celibacy to which they were not truly called by God. We will take up this point again in a few minutes, because it will be a critical one in our discussion about same-sex relationships.
Are same-sex relationships a means of grace?
Do same-sex relationships conform to the Christian tradition of covenant? Can they become a means of grace through which God calls homosexual men and women to a life of conversion and holiness?
It is important to begin by acknowledging that homosexuality is most often experienced as inherent, as a "given," not a "choice." I know that some of us do not believe that the "givenness" of homosexuality is at all self-evident. But even the Ramsey Colloquium concedes—although rather reluctantly—that "some scientific evidence suggests a genetic predisposition for homosexual orientation," although it argues that there is no moral distinction between homosexuality and a predisposition towards "alcoholism or violence." The official Roman Catholic teaching on homosexuality is somewhat more generous. According to the U.S. bishops' Committee on Marriage and Family:
[I]t seems appropriate to understand sexual orientation (heterosexual or homosexual) as a fundamental dimension of one's personality and to recognize its relative stability in a person. . . . Generally, homosexual orientation is experienced as a given, not as something freely chosen. By itself, therefore, a homosexual orientation cannot be considered sinful, for morality presumes the freedom to choose. 12
But basing its argument on natural law, the Roman Catholic church prohibits the expression of love in a homosexual relationship because "only within (heterosexual) marriage does sexual intercourse fully symbolize the Creator's dual design as an act of covenant love with the potential of co-creating new human life." In the Roman Catholic view, a homosexual relationship is therefore "disordered" because it does not express the sexual encounter of a man and a woman and because it cannot be open to the procreation of children. For these two reasons, the church requires that gays and lesbians remain celibate.
The Roman Catholic teaching, in my opinion, is a reasonable attempt to struggle with a difficult problem in a way that does not dishonor or condemn the gay and lesbian members of the church. We can be grateful that the Church of Rome has broken decisively with the now widely-discredited model of homosexuality as a "disease." Instead, the church accepts that homosexual orientation is, at least generally, an inherent dimension of the human personality of gays and lesbians. The Roman magisterium therefore implicitly calls into question the ethics of so-called "transformation ministries" or "restorative therapies" that promise to convert or "cure" homosexuals into heterosexuals.
But the implications of the Roman Catholic teaching go deeper. Before 1975, Roman Catholic ethics assumed that homosexuality was a vicious choice. It did not acknowledge the concept of "sexual orientation." Since the only right expression of sexuality was either in heterosexual marriage or in celibate vocation, then every sexual relationship between two women or two men must have been a conscious act of rebellion against the will of the Creator—a rebellion, in other words, of persons who were naturally heterosexual but chose same-sex partners in violation of nature. This is clearly what Paul has in mind when he writes in Romans that "their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another." (Rom. 1:27 NRSV). Note the verbs "exchanged" and "giving up!" Paul clearly is condemning men and women who have a choice. The Romans described by Paul had freely chosen to "give up" what was natural to them for what was unnatural. 13
But Paul is not describing the homosexuals who are the subject of Roman Catholic ethics. Here, sexuality is not "chosen," but "given." One therefore has to ask who "gave" this orientation, and what is the nature of the gift?
One gift of homosexuality, from the Roman Catholic viewpoint, could be a consecrated life of celibacy. Since that church continues to maintain an entire infrastructure of organized celibate communities, it can at least offer this alternative with some credibility. But Protestants have less credibility when we impose celibacy on our gay and lesbian members. Our churches support virtually no institutional forms of celibate life and seem to have returned to the idea of permanent celibacy merely as a backdoor solution to the disturbing presence of openly homosexual Christians in the ordained ministry. Confronted with the ecumenical consensus that homosexuality is not chosen, some Protestant churches have rediscovered the vocation of celibacy several centuries after it was abandoned by Luther and Calvin. But the rediscovery lacks moral conviction, and the spectacle of married bishops and ministers—who have no personal experience of vocational celibacy and have never considered this vocation valid for themselves—imposing permanent celibacy on others is problematical, at least.
But enforced celibacy for homosexuals is equally problematical in the Roman Catholic tradition. Fundamentally, it violates the dignity of celibate life as vocation. There is no evidence in either scripture or tradition that God created an entire class of human beings who sui generis must enter into covenants of celibate community. Celibacy in the Catholic tradition is always seen as a gift, a way of life to which God elects and calls some, but not most, men and women. As any Roman Catholic vocation director will tell you, to live a life of enforced celibacy when that man or woman does not clearly hear the divine calling to this covenant is almost always destructive. Celibacy in the absence of God's call to celibate community is not necessarily a moral choice.
Protestants should know this well enough from our own history! One of the motors that drove thousands of Catholic priests, monks and nuns into the arms of the Reformation was the legal requirement of celibacy in the absence of a real vocation to this way of life. Eberlin von Gônzburg, a Franciscan friar who converted to Lutheranism in 1522, was speaking for the generation of Luther and Calvin when he described the moral agony of a celibate life divorced from vocation. Celibacy, he wrote, was
. . . a daily nagging of conscience and unrest of mind, by which all joy becomes suffering, all consolation saddening, all sweetness bitter. . . . [It] dulls and deadens the human senses, hardens the heart, and restrains natural honesty, leaving one in the end in so uncivil and inhumane a state, and so guilt-ridden and remorseful, that one hates salvation and the good in one's life and longs for misfortune. 14
Protestants should remember the spiritual and mental anguish of our own celibate ancestors before legislating permanent celibacy for lesbians and gays who may not be called to this exceptional (and demanding) way of life. Nevertheless, some homosexuals are called to the covenant of celibate community, and so are some heterosexuals. The Roman Catholic church acknowledges the presence of both sexual orientations in its ordained ministry. But we should recognize with Karl Barth that celibacy is a "special vocation" and it would be a serious error to prescribe it when the vocation is absent. When celibacy is imposed not by God's call but by ecclesiastical discipline on gays and lesbians, the result is precisely what Gônzburg described: the senses are dulled, the heart is hardened, honesty is restrained so that, in the end, one is left is "so incivil and inhumane a state, and so guilt-ridden and remorseful, that one hates salvation . . . and longs for misfortune." Today, we would describe this condition as a state of deep melancholy, depression or despair—and why should we be surprised? What else could be the result when a man or a woman who is capable of giving himself or herself to another in love is sentenced by the church to a life of solitude? This was obvious enough to the Reformers 475 years ago and it should be equally obvious to the church today.
The vocation of gays and lesbians in the church
So, if not celibacy, then what? Is there a vocation for those gays and lesbians God has not called to either heterosexual marriage or celibate community?
Like all other women and men, lesbians and gays are called by God to live a life not for ourselves, but for others. We are called to covenantal relationships in which our lives correspond to the inner life of God who is self-in-community, who in God's own being is self-for-others.
Gay and lesbian unions are covenantal relationships if they conform to this Trinitarian structure. Like heterosexual marriage and celibate community, these relationships are "schools for sinners," in which two partners learn how to live in the paradox of freedom that is unlimited precisely because it is limited by the other. The partner in a same-sex relationship is truly "other"—not through the complementarity of a man and woman, of course, but in the mutuality of two persons who in freedom choose each other and delight in being chosen. God creates these relationships because within the limits of our given sexuality we are always called out of isolation into community. Always. Always! Through these relationships we learn what it means to be truly human, to care for another as much as we care for ourselves, to learn that a life enclosed on itself is death, but a life opened to other lives is God's gift and command to those who believe.
Neither same-sex relationships nor celibate community are objectively "equal" to heterosexual marriage. The marriage between a man and a woman has its own distinctive and privileged character. But neither are they "second-class" marriages. They are moral relationships and they have a specific claim on the ministry of the church.
Same-sex relationships are broken by the same powers of evil that threaten heterosexual marriage. All relationships are wounded by sin. That is why God gave us covenants and why Christ is the Lord of each covenant. When the church offers its ministry to same-sex partners it is affirming the reality of sin and therefore saying "no" to the false doctrine that there was no fall from grace and no need for the Cross. We often speak about "affirming" or "celebrating" same-sex unions but I am convinced the real pastoral need in the gay and lesbian community is the ministry of the church when our relationships are broken by sin. Like heterosexual couples, we are adrift in the ethical chaos of a society that exalts freedom over commitment, selfishness over self-sacrifice, and the fulfillment of personal "needs" over mutual responsibility. The church needs to be a safe harbor for these relationships—encompassed by ethical boundaries, discipline, accountability and tradition. In other words, gay and lesbian couples need structure, and we need just as much structure as heterosexual couples.
Same-sex couples therefore have a claim on the pastoral care of the church. The church must not abandon us to the moral disorder of a fallen world that is in rebellion against God. But the church's pastoral concern for these couples necessarily requires the public, liturgical expression of the vows that bind them together. Pastoral care without the public recognition of their vows would undermine the moral accountability of same-sex couples to each other and to the church. The congregation cannot legitimately expect conformity to ethical norms for same-sex partners if it is unwilling to witness the vows in which those partners commit themselves—in the presence of the community—to fidelity and mutual obedience. If a congregation permits pastoral care but denies the public rite of union it is saying, in effect, "we expect you to honor your covenant but we don't want to hear about it outside the pastor's office." "Don't ask, don't tell" is a cruel way of life for same-sex couples and if that constraint were imposed on heterosexual partners, I doubt many marriages could survive. "Private" promises of fidelity apart from the community are like New Year's resolutions, easy to break. Moreover, the alienation of same-sex unions from the liturgical life of the community plays into the hands of the secular ideology that covenants are only private contracts between individuals who are accountable to no one but each other.
Conversion and sanctification
Ultimately, the purpose of same-sex covenants, like the covenants of heterosexual marriage and celibate community, is conversion and sanctification. Through these relationships we cooperate with God's design for human life. They are a means of grace, and we could not be fully human without them. St. Irenaeus, who heard God's call to the covenant of celibacy, says this about God's work of sanctification:
If you are the handiwork of God, await the Artisan's hand patiently. He does everything at a favorable time, favorable, that is, to you, whom He made. Offer Him your heart, pliant and unresisting. Preserve the form in which the Artisan fashioned you. Keep within you the Water which comes from Him; without it, you harden and lose the imprint of His fingers. By preserving the structure, you will ascend to perfection; God's artistry will conceal the clay within you. His hand formed your substance; He will coat you, within and without, in pure gold and silver; He will adorn you so well that "the Sovereign will delight in your beauty" (Ps. 44:12). But if you harden and reject His artistry, if you show Him your displeasure at being made a human being, your ingratitude to God will lose you both His artistry and His life. Making is the property of God's generosity; being made is a property of human nature. 15
What a glorious vision, for all of us! God is an artisan who will adorn our lives "in pure gold and silver." But you and I cannot ascend to this perfection alone. Not alone. Not alone. God takes us by the hand and leads us through the terrors of life, giving us companionship so we can learn how to live not for ourselves, but for others. Through these relationships of community and family, of heterosexual marriage, celibate love and homosexual partnership, God converts us towards the "life for others" that is the primal nature of the Trinity, towards the majestic generosity and creative power of the Three-in-One into whom we were incorporated through Baptism, and we know this is true because Jesus Christ has been revealed to us as the first of many chosen, justified, called and sanctified by God.
2. "The Theological Declaration of Barmen," United Church of Christ Web site at http://www.ucc.org/believe/barmen.htm.
3. "The Heidelberg Catechism," in The Living Theological Heritage of the United Church of Christ, v. 2 (Cleveland: The Pilgrim Press, 1997), 329.
8. François Biot, The Rise of Protestant Monasticism (Baltimore and Dublin: Helicon Press, 1963), 65-67. At this point the vocation of celibacy-in-community disappears from Protestant history until the first deaconess community was founded in 1836. Crossing the Atlantic with German Reformed and Lutheran immigrants, the deaconess movement spread to the United States, and its memory is preserved in the many "Deaconess Hospitals" affiliated with the United Church of Christ and the Lutheran churches. But today the deaconess movement in North America is only a memory. In Europe, there has been a modest revival of Protestant monasticism—most notably the ecumenical Taizé community in France. Unlike the deaconess movement, Protestant monks have met a cool reception in the United States, at best. The only alternative for North American Protestants called to this vocation are the small Anglican communities that are closer in spirit to Rome than to Wittenberg or Geneva.
12. Committee on Marriage and Family, National Conference of Catholic Bishops, "Always Our Children: A Pastoral Message to Parents of Homosexual Children and Suggestions for Pastoral Ministers" (Washington, D.C.: National Catholic News Service, Oct. 1, 1997).
13. Karl Barth at one time shared with Paul the belief that homosexuality is a choice, not a "given" condition. The two or three pages he wrote in Church Dogmatics on homosexuality assumed that gays and lesbians despise the opposite sex and choose partners of the same sex as a substitute for the woman or man they have rejected. Barth nowhere addressed the issue of sexual orientation or proposed an ethical response to it. Barth's assumptions were not unusual in the late 1940s and early 1950s, when he wrote his brief comments on homosexuality, and could have been a response to a pre-war homosexual movement in Germany that exalted the male as superior to women—not a popular motif in the male homosexual movement today. But it is not widely known that Church Dogmatics was not Barth's last word on the subject. "In light of conversations with medical doctors and psychologists," writes Barth scholar George Hunsinger, "Barth came to regret that he had characterized homosexuals as lacking in the freedom for fellowship. In the end he, too, found it necessary to interpret the plain sense of Scripture in light of advances in modern knowledge." George Hunsinger, "Thinking Outside the Box, Part 4: The Voice of 'Progressive Traditionalists'," The Presbyterian Outlook, March 13, 2002, online journal at www.pres-outlook.com/hun031302d.html.
About the author
Andrew G. Lang, who is a homosexual, is the theological reporter for the Proclamation, Identity and Communication Team, Office of General Ministries, United Church of Christ, and manager of the UCC's website at www.ucc.org. This paper was presented at a conference May 6, 1998, at the Acton, Mass., Congregational Church sponsored by the Massachusetts chapter of Confessing Christ. The views are those of the author. Copies of this paper are available at the United Church of Christ website, or call the UCC at 216-736-2173.
Last revision: Oct. 24, 2002
On May 6, 1998, the Massachusetts chapter of Confessing Christ sponsored a colloquy at the Acton (Mass.) Congregational Church on same-sex unions and the Christian faith. The event centered on papers presented by Andy Lang for and by Max Stackhouse against the proposition that the Christian church should support monogamous, vowed relationships between same-sex couples. We present both papers here, plus a list of links to other resources on the subject.
This special supplement to the Theology Page is a resource for congregations and seminaries using the 1648 Cambridge Platform as a tool for study in U.S. Christian history and polity. The Cambridge Platform was a transforming event in the life of 17th-century Congregationalism and is relevant to serious issues that concern all Christian churches today. In a global church that is becoming increasingly congregational, non-hierarchical and fragmented by culture wars, how do churches maintain bonds of love with each other? How can we resolve the tensions between unity and freedom, tradition and modernity, the integrity of community and the rights of the individual?
Papers at the Cambridge Platform 350th Anniversary Conference in Cambridge, Mass., explored these issues in depth. We are able to invite you to this feast of theological reflection through the courtesy of the Congregational Library in Boston, which granted us permission to reprint the conference papers. Also included are six audio files of an unprecedented conversation between leaders of the four communions that can claim descent from the Cambridge Platform—the Unitarian Universalist Association, the United Church of Christ, the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches and the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference. These groups represent the left, center and right of the American religious spectrum, and show how a defining moment 350 years in the past can produce strikingly different results. The audiotape was provided through the courtesy of the First Church in Cambridge, United Church of Christ. Papers are linked below.
Elizabeth C. Nordbeck writes that the heritage of the Cambridge Platform "heritage is immensely powerful, immensely compelling and still capable of shaping the present and future."
Social and Spiritual Roots
Francis J. Bremer explores the Platform's roots in the social and spiritual values of New England's Puritan community.
Relevance for Today
Charles E. Hambrick-Stowe asks what the Platform can teach divided and often warring churches in the 21st Century.
Looking Back, Forward
Harvard University chaplain Peter Gomes preaches the concluding sermon at Harvard's Chapel.
The Executive Council of the UCC recommends that local churches, associations and conferences "initiate programs of study and dialog with regard to the implications (meanings) of human sexuality, in all its mystery, at its broadest and deepest levels in the theological context." (EC, October 1973, Cited in "Human Sexuality: A Preliminary Study," 1977)
The Tenth General Synod asks the Executive Council "to commission a study concerning the dynamics of human sexuality...to be presented to the Eleventh General Synod." (75-GS-65, Minutes, 1975, p.68.)
The eleventh General Synod receives the report, "Human Sexuality: A Preliminary Study"; commends it to congregations, associations, conferences and instrumentalities for study and response; and asks the United Church Board for Homeland Ministries "to continue to provide leadership in developing resources concerning human sexuality for appropriate use by various age groups in local churches and to provide consultative services and training for conferences, associations and congregations who wish to sponsor programs concerned with human sexuality and family life." A minority report is also issued. (77-GS-64. Minutes, 1977, pp. 65-66. Also: pp. 75-76.)
Human Sexuality: A Preliminary Study—United Church of Christ is published by the UCBHM. (New York: United Church Press, 1977. ISBN 0-8209- 0341-6.)
The Twelfth General Synod forms a "National Task Force" on human sexuality to "encourage and facilitate the continuing study of human sexuality by all congregations, associations, conferences and other groups within the church," to "identify, test, and publicize various models of study" and to report to the Synod in four years. (79-GS-40. Minutes, 1979, p.60.)
The Thirteenth General Synod names "Family Life" one of four "priorities" in the UCC and designates UCBHM as coordinator of this work in the national setting.
The Fourteenth General Synod adopts the report of the National Task Force and asks UCBHM to "develop resources on human sexuality for use in local churches" and to "collect and continue to update information about the nature of human sexuality, including variations in sexual orientation and behavior, seeking to provide material appropriate for use with all age groups and making this information available for study by churches." (83-GS-34. Minutes, 1983, 47.)
At its January meeting, the Executive Committee of the UCBHM Board of Directors commits the UCBHM to a three-year initiative to fulfill the request of the Fourteenth General Synod.
A UCBHM survey, "Ask the Churches About Faith and Sexuality," receives responses from some 3,000 members of 75 local churches within 11 U.S. areas, chosen in cooperation with UCC conferences. Respondents answer questions about their sexuality-related needs, past and present; availability and adequacy of sources of help in meeting these needs; their beliefs concerning the role of the church; specific recommendations regarding helpful programs and resources; and desired kinds of assistance. Eighty-three percent say they want help from their church in addressing human-sexuality questions and concerns.
The Fifteenth General Synod of the UCC called upon United Church of Christ congregations to declare themselves open and affirming by encouraging congregations to adopt a policy of non-discrimination against lesbian, gay and bisexual people, and to adopt a Covenant of Openness and Affirmation of persons of lesbian, gay and bisexual orientation.
UCBHM develops and field-tests a new human-sexuality learning program for adults, Created in God's Image—A Human Sexuality Program for Ministry and Mission.
Sensing common ground and overlapping needs for resources on human sexuality, the UCBHM and the Unitarian Universalist Association convene a Sexuality Education Task Force "to create a vision for a positive and comprehensive life-span sexuality education program." Throughout its work, the Sexuality Education Task Force was guided by these words from its philosophy statement: "We come together as representatives of two denominations to create a vision for a positive and comprehensive life-span sexuality education program... a safe environment within which people can come to understand and respond to the challenges facing them as sexual beings."
At the Eighteenth General Synod, a Resolution is voted, affirming the ministries of gay, lesbian, and bisexual Christians. An amendment, offered from the floor by a conference minister and approved, "urgently calls upon the local churches, associations and conferences to engage in a disciplined dialog" on the biblical and theological foundations for being open-and-affirming, and requests that instrumentalities "provide study resources for the United Church of Christ." (91-GS-66, Minutes, p. 71.)
Staff reports of UCBHM's Divisional Committees for the Division of the American Missionary Association and Division of Education and Publication begin to include updates about action concerning the work of the ecumenical Sexuality Education Task Force.
After drafting, field-testing and revision, Created in God's Image—A Human Sexuality Program for Ministry and Mission is published and in consultation with conferences, UCBHM continues to offer regional and conference trainings for the teaching of this resource. Copies of the resource are mailed to all UCC resource centers. The program, for adults, is led by trained facilitators.
The original UCBHM-UUA Sexuality Education Task Force completes its work and issues its findings. It recommends that the two denominations jointly publish a life-span learning program in human sexuality for use in local churches. In the UCC, the recommendations are shared with the Executive Vice President, General Secretaries, and Boards of Directors of the American Missionary Association and the Division of Education and Publication. Reports of findings, and/or announcements about a new sexuality education program in development, are shared at Created in God's Image regional and conference trainings.
UCBHM Board authorizes staff to pursue a jointly published human sexuality learning program with the Unitarian Universalist Association and grants permission to seek outside funding sources.
A new UCBHM-UUA Sexuality Education Task Force is formed to develop new materials which eventually come to be identified as Our Whole Lives. Funds are raised (including grants from the Martin Foundation, Ford Foundation, Turner Foundation and others); authors are interviewed and hired; and details of production, field testing, revision and other steps are planned.
Program Values and Assumptions are shared in a workshop at the UCC "Children and the Church" event at Eden Theological Seminary, Webster Groves, MO.
An author is engaged to write Junior High and Senior High religious companion materials.
Two presentations are made to the Educational Advisory Committee on Our Whole Lives and religious companion materials, concerning its implementation and future plans. Among the committee members present for the presentations are two UCC conference ministers.
An author is engaged to write religious companion materials for Grade K-1 and Grades 4-6.
Thirty-four local church people received training and 10 UCC congregations field-test the Grades 7-9 and Grades 10-12 portions of Our Whole Lives. The learning programs are revised, based on evaluations from the test sites. Updates are given in many settings of the UCC using various methods of communication: Calendar of Prayer, United Church News, brochures, workshops, letters, General Synod, etc. A selection procedure to find trainers begins. Ethnic ministries and conferences are contacted for suggestions. The pieces of the resource are developed and continue to be revised.
Communication with conferences continues, United Church News carries an in-depth article (May 1999, p. 5.) Twenty-six UCC trainers are carefully selected and trained in all grades of the resource. In addition, several community people and UUA members are trained. The final training is held in March of 2000.
May—the children, youth and adult resources of the comprehensive Our Whole Lives—Sexuality and Our Faith program are published and training of local churches begins. July—Justice and Witness Ministries of the United Church of Christ becomes the ministry that continues the work of UCBHM in the area of human sexuality education. August—all Conference Ministers received a full set of Our Whole Lives—Sexuality and Our Faith. They are encouraged to house these resources in a resource center where folk could review them. September—Minister for Children, Families and Human Sexuality Advocacy, Justice and Witness Ministries, begins work in the national setting of the UCC.
Communication continues between all settings of the UCC—training continues for UCC churches. Interested people are encouraged to be in dialog with their associations and conferences in organizing training events. Trainings are held and more are being planned. The UUA and UCC continue to work together to facilitate trainings and have had additional trainings for trainers.
The Young Adult Our Whole Lives Resource (ages 18-35) is published by the UUA. Six UCC people are trained as trainers as well as 16 UUA. The Young Adult Our Whole Lives UCC companion resource, Sexuality and Our Faith, is written by Rev. T. Michael Rock and Ms. Lynn Young.
The Adult Our Whole Lives UCC companion resource, Sexuality and Our Faith, is written by Rev. T. Michael Rock and Ms. Lynn Young. Over 1100 UCC adults have been trained as facilitators in the use of Our Whole Lives resources.
"To offer sexuality education in a congregation is to acknowledge that human sexuality is simply too important too beautiful and too potentially dangerous to be ignored in a religious community." - Rev. Lena Breen, Mt. Vernon, WA
We live in a culture that is deeply conflicted about sexuality.
Our religious heritage compels and guides us in creating a safe environment where people can come to understand and respond to the challenges facing them as sexual beings. As faith communities, we promote justice for all people and we affirm the dignity of every individual, the importance of personal responsibility, and the essential interdependence of all peoples.
The United Church of Christ holds that sexuality is a God-given gift, and offers the following resources:
- Our Whole Lives/Sexuality and Our Faith: Our Whole Lives is a series of sexuality education curricula for six age groups: grades K-1, grades 4-6, grades 7-9, grades 10-12, young adult, and adult. The program and its religious companion books, Sexuality and Our Faith, provide an opportunity for children, youth, and adults to learn about sexuality in the affirming and supportive setting of our faith communities. Learn more.
- Created In God’s Image: a ten-week program for adults that focuses on integrating sexuality into the ministry and mission of the church. Learn More.
- Affirming Persons, Saving Lives: the comprehensive HIV and AIDS awareness and prevention education curriculum published by the United Church of Christ. Learn more.
In 1932—while many Americans were reacting to reports of atrocities committed by Japanese forces in China—two leading Protestant theologians debated in the pages of Christian Century whether U.S. military intervention in the conflict would be a "just" or "unjust" war. The theologians were H. Richard Niebuhr of Yale University and his brother, Reinhold Niebuhr of Union Theological Seminary in New York. Both were members of the Evangelical and Reformed Church, one of the UCC's antecedent denominations, and both influenced many members of the first and second generations of UCC pastors who studied under them.
The rising tide of conflict in Asia and Hitler's imminent seizure of power in Germany were stirring renewed fears of war, and motivated both men to reexamine Christian traditions regarding war and its moral consequences. We present these papers because they are relevant to the international debate over terrorism and the use of armed force in self-defense.
H. Richard Niebuhr argued for a principled "inactivity" based on radical trust in God. He wrote: "The inactivity of radical Christianity is not the inactivity of those who call evil good; it is the inaction of those who do not judge their neighbors because they cannot fool themselves into a sense of superior righteousness. ... It is not the inactivity of the noncombatant, for it knows that there are no noncombatants, that everyone is involved, that China is being crucified ... by our sins and those of the whole world. It is not the inactivity of the merciless, for works of mercy must be performed though they are only palliates to ease present pain while the process of healing depends on deeper, more actual and urgent forces." But Reinhold Niebuhr disagreed: "Love may qualify the social struggle of history but it will never abolish it, and those who make the attempt to bring society under the dominion of perfect love will die on the cross. And those who behold the cross are quire right in seeing it as a revelation of the divine, of what man ought to be cannot be, at least not so long as he is enmeshed in the processes of history."
Also linked from this page is the 1985 General Synod pronouncement on "Just Peace"—an alternative to traditional "Just War" doctrine—and UCC theologian Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite on the relevance of the Just War tradition to the war against Iraq.
The UCC Office of General Ministries, which sponsors this page, thanks the Rev. John Deckenback, Conference Minister of the Central Atlantic Conference, and his staff who provided us with the original text of this debate. We also thank you for your congregation's financial contribution to Our Church's Wider Mission, which makes this service possible.
Radical trust in God
H. Richard Niebuhr argues that radical obedience to God requires Christian nonviolence. Any other response would mean distrust in God and God's promises.
In a fallen world, Reinhold Niebuhr replies, Christians cannot act as if the reign of God has already been established, and must sometimes use force to protect the innocent.
A final word
In a letter to the editors of Christian Century, H. Richard Niebuhr sums up the debate.
Turning to Tradition
In making moral judgments about the war in Iraq, says UCC theologian Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, Christians can find help from a "1,500-year-old tradition."
The "Just Peace" doctrine commended by the UCC's General Synod in 1985 is distinct both from "just war" theory and traditional Christian pacifism.