Love trumps all. The Rev. Eliza Buchakjian-Tweedy, pastor of First Church Congregational United Church of Christ, wants to spread that message far and wide as a way to say thank you to supporters around the world. Her Rochester, N.H., congregation, which received more than 70 LGBT rainbow flags from all over after its flags were stolen, will recognize the support and solidarity it received by commemorating those gifts.
First Church Congregational will celebrate a welcoming love for all people on Sunday, Sept. 7, when the church hosts a "Sunday of Extravagant Welcome" to recognize diversity within the church and around the Rochester area.
The event comes after First Church Congregational was victimized twice in July by the theft of rainbow flags that symbolize the church's Open and Affirming commitment to welcome people of all races, classes, nationalities, genders, gender identities, and sexual orientations. Since the thefts became public, replacement rainbow flags and banners have streamed into First Church Congregational from across the United States and around the world from places such as Canada, France and Germany.
The world-wide support has left Buchakjian-Tweedy feeling "overwhelmed."
"To see this outpouring of love and support — the Gospel promises that loves trumps all, that love wins over hate, love wins over anger, and love wins over death — what we have is God's kingdom shining through this small church in a small state," she said.
The Sunday of Extravagant Welcome will also reaffirm First Church Congregational's commitment to welcoming all people without exception, and thanking those who generously supported the church. Buchakjian-Tweedy will say a few words to mark the occasion, and then those assembled will gather on the church lawn to decorate the church with the six dozen rainbow flags it received. The event is open to the community.
First Church Congregational, which was founded in 1731, became an Open and Affirming Congregation in 2002. The first theft of a rainbow flag occurred in 2013, during the week of Fourth of July. When it happened again multiple times this summer, she reported it to local police. The story eventually went viral, prompting the donations of dozens of rainbow flags.
"I've gotten handwritten notes from people I've never met, flags from complete strangers," Buchakjian-Tweedy said. "To take something they read on the internet and respond in a physical and tangible way, this speaks to something profound within people."
Buchakjian-Tweedy plans to share a few donated rainbow flags with nearby churches, who are "changing their signs to say, 'We stand with First Church Congregational,'" Buchakjian-Tweedy added.
"If we can reach just one teenager, scared and alone, contemplating suicide, we will have done our job," Buchakjian-Tweedy said. "The United Church of Christ — a denomination with a long history of social justice work — holds that 'God is Still Speaking' and that churches are still called to strive for a just and compassionate world for all of creation, most especially for those who have been historically marginalized and excluded from the Church."
To strengthen the commitment to its Open and Affirming program, the United Church of Christ Coalition for LGBT Concerns will undergo a name change next year. However, that change won't alter the Coalition's core mission and identity as advocates for and with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer communities in the UCC. In fact, the name change will hopefully lift up the ONA movement as a broader justice issue extending beyond church congregations and into society.
The Coalition's 12-person leadership team voted unanimously at its annual retreat in late April to rename the UCC Coalition for LGBT Concerns to the Open and Affirming Coalition of the United Church of Christ.
"We wanted to strengthen the Coalition's identification with the Open and Affirming program, which continues to be the priority to which we devote most of our financial resources and staff time," said Andy Lang, executive director of the Coalition. "We wanted to make this identification clear, and at the same time open up space in which UCC members can explore together the future of the ONA movement."
In 1985, the General Synod of the UCC adopted a resolution calling on congregations to declare themselves "open and affirming." In the almost 30 years since, the Open and Affirming (ONA) Program of the UCC Coalition for LGBT Concerns has worked to encourage congregations and other UCC settings to live out that call to welcome LGBT people as full participants in the life of the church.
The change to the new name will be phased in before General Synod 2015, which in late June next year, but Lang invites the wider church to begin using "ONA Coalition" or "Open and Affirming Coalition" in its conversations.
Ammon Ripple, vice president of the Coalition's leadership team, believes the new name allows the Coalition to reframe the ONA mission as a broader work for justice.
"We do not only seek Open and Affirming congregations. We strive for open and affirming societies across the world as well," he said.
"Instead of focusing specially on LGBT concerns and justice, we are working to include LGBT people in God's expansive vision of justice," Ripple said. "It's our hope that by expanding the vision that all people in the church, straight and LGBT, will feel welcome in this community."
The Coalition's leadership team is sharing a letter on its website explaining the change. "We have begun to see that Open and Affirming is not just part of what we do at the UCC Coalition for LGBT Concerns," they wrote. "Open and Affirming is who we are."
The ONA Coalition has worked to equip UCC congregations to become witnesses for extravagant welcome, and helped the denomination reach milestones on the journey towards acceptance and justice for its LGBT and same-gender-loving members.
"We want to continue to remind our members that ONA covenants are a commitment to a broad vision of a church and a world in which everyone is wanted and needed, no one is excluded," Lang said. "This means our work emphasizes, but is not limited to, the full inclusion of LGBTQ people in our church. And we want to build on the progress we've made in the past three years in deepening our partnerships with communities of color, with the Widening the Welcome movement, and especially with the national setting of the church."
The ONA Coalition, founded in 1972, welcomed its first ONA church in 1986, and its 1,000th in 2012. To date, there are 1,150 ONA congregations in the UCC, representing almost 23 percent of the churches in the denomination.
The ONA Coalition has also seen a growth in the membership of ONA churches, in particular young heterosexual parents raised in other traditions who want their children to learn faith in an LGBT-inclusive church.
"They're looking for the values that ONA represents," Lang said
That growth correlates with recent research from the Public Religion Research Institute, with data that shows significant numbers of Millennials, people ages 18-34, who felt alienated from organized religion left their churches primarily over the perception that their teachings or behavior towards LGBT people were "negative."
Lang estimates that 27 percent of the UCC membership belongs to an ONA church, and said that the Coalition hopes to have 30 percent of the denomination's membership as part of an ONA church by General Synod 2015 — in time for the organization's 30th anniversary.
"But 30 percent isn't where we want to stop," Lang said. "Over the next decade we'd like to be at 50 percent. Our ultimate goal is to be at 100 percent. Our perspective is that LGBT youth are growing up in [UCC] churches that are not ONA. We want every LGBT youth to be part of a church that offers a confident and well-informed welcome, and supports their relationships."
United Church of Christ leaders on Thursday (Feb. 12) expressed outrage at the perceived discriminatory treatment of a local UCC pastor by the Oklahoma State House of Representatives.
In what legislators are calling a first, one-fifth of the Oklahoma House voted Feb. 11 to strike from the record a prayer offered on the chamber floor by the Rev. Scott H. Jones, pastor of Cathedral of Hope UCC-Oklahoma City. Jones had been invited to deliver the prayer and serve as chaplain for the day by Rep. Al McAffrey, D-Oklahoma City.
Following the prayer, McAffrey asked that the session vote to include Jones' prayer in the House journal, the official daily record of the chamber. An objection was raised by Rep. John Wright, R-Broken Arrow, who called for a vote on the prayer's inclusion.
"It was a pretty chaotic moment," said Jones of the procedural points of order that ensued following Wright's objection. "My understanding was that [an objection to a prayer] never happens."
The vote took place once order had been established, with 64 representatives voting to include the prayer, 20 opposing it and 17 abstentions.
Jones is a constituent of McAffrey's Oklahoma City district. Both believe the objection was raised because of their sexuality. Jones leads the largest predominantly LGBT congregation in Oklahoma City and is himself gay. McAffrey is Oklahoma's only openly gay legislator.
"As the leader of Rev. Jones' denomination, I am deeply offended by the treatment he received from the legislature and dismayed by the message of intolerance it sends to the citizens of Oklahoma and beyond," said the Rev. John H. Thomas, General Minister and President of the UCC. "It is comforting, however, to remember that our prayers are judged at the throne of grace and not in the halls of petty principalities."
"The Oklahoman" newspaper quoted McAffrey on Wednesday, saying that "because most of Scott's congregation are gay people and Scott is gay himself, I'm sure that's the reason why there were negative votes on it."
But Wright sees it differently. In the same Oklahoman article, he stated his objection was procedural - that prayers were only entered into the official record on Thursdays - but later said his "actions were motivated by the faith."
Rep. Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City, was among those who voted to strike the prayer from the record. Kern is on record as calling homosexuality "the biggest threat our nation has, even more so than terrorism and Islam."
The Rev. Gordon R. Epps, conference ministry coordinator for the UCC's Kansas-Oklahoma Conference, delivered a letter to Speaker of the House Rep. Chris Benge, R-Tulsa, on Thursday (Feb. 12). Epps commended Benge "for the democratic way you led the house when an unusual challenge was made to vote on whether or not to enter into the record the opening prayer given by the Rev. Scott Jones."
Responding in support of Jones, the UCC's Executive for Health and Wholeness Advocacy, the Rev. Michael Schuenemeyer, said, "Once again, bigotry infects the Oklahoma statehouse by the vote of 20 legislators to reject the prayer offered by the Rev. Scott Jones. In this mean-spirited vote, they have demonstrated profound disrespect to a gifted pastor and a congregation dedicated to faithfully serving its community through a robust and vibrant ministry."
Schuenemeyer sees the proceedings as a clear indication of discrimination. "The action of these legislators has dishonored the core American values of freedom of religion and freedom of expression," he said. "The citizens of Oklahoma and this nation deserve better and ought not to tolerate such behavior from their fellow citizens, much less their elected officials."
The United Church of Christ is a denomination of 1.2 million members in 5,600 autonomous local churches that are joined together in Christian mission through local associations, regional conferences and the biennial all-church General Synod.
At their 2005 General Synod in Atlanta, UCC delegates voted overwhelmingly in support of a resolution calling for marriage rights to be extended to same-gender couples. The resolution, In Support of Equal Marriage Rights for All, "affirms equal marriage rights for couples regardless of gender and declares that the government should not interfere with couples regardless of gender who choose to marry and share fully and equally in the rights, responsibilities and commitment of legally recognized marriage."
Cathedral of Hope UCC-Oklahoma City began in 2000 as a church plant of Cathedral of Hope UCC in Dallas. In January 2007, they became a fully autonomous congregation within the United Church of Christ.
A United Church of Christ congregation in Texas has been told it cannot participate in an evangelical Christian program that assists children of prisoners because of the church's outspoken gay-friendly stance.
The Rev. Dan De Leon, pastor of Friends Congregational UCC in College Station, Texas, said he learned this summer that his church was disqualified from Prison Fellowship's Angel Tree program, which encourages churches to buy Christmas presents for the children of inmates.
Prison Fellowship officials said the church's stance on homosexuality, declared on its Web site, represented a disagreement about basic scriptural doctrine.
"For a church to qualify for Angel Tree, its beliefs must be consistent with our Statement of Faith, including being Trinitarian and accepting the unique authority of the Bible in all matters of faith and life," reads a July 24 letter the church received from Prison Fellowship.
The church provided a copy of the letter to Religion News Service.
"As we have looked at the doctrine and beliefs of your church in light of our Statement of Faith and partnering guidelines, we have determined that your church does not qualify as part of our program."
De Leon said he called the regional office of Prison Fellowship and was told his church was disqualified because it belongs to the UCC's "Open and Affirming" program that welcomes gays and lesbians as members.
"Personally it came as a shock and when it was shared with the congregation, it was equally shocking," said De Leon, whose church draws an average of 120 worshippers on Sunday. "The emotions ran from anger to confusion to just the wind being taken out of our sails as a community initially."
David Lawson, senior vice president of Prison Fellowship, called the situation "one unfortunate incident" and said "very few" of the more than 12,000 participating churches have been disqualified or disqualified themselves from the Angel Tree program. Such cases usually involve differing views about homosexuality or creation, he said.
He said the Angel Tree program is not limited to Christmas presents but aims for a year-round "full relationship" between churches and prisoners' children, involving them in congregational programs.
"We want to make sure that the churches that we partner with are compatible with our values, our statement of faith," said Lawson, who is based in Lansdowne, Va.
The Texas church has participated in the program for five years and been "Opening and Affirming" since 1996. In recent years, Prison Fellowship has reviewed Angel Tree participants to ensure that churches are compatible with a recently revised mission statement that urges a focus on "transformation," he said.
The United Church of Christ has seen other repercussions from its stance on homosexuality. In July, an insurer refused to offer coverage to a UCC church in Adrian, Mich., saying its pro-gay stance put it at "a higher risk" of property damage and litigation. In recent years, major television networks have rejected UCC ads as "too controversial."
The Texas congregation has drafted a letter to Prison Fellowship, signed by more than 120 parishioners and supporters, to express its dismay at being removed from the program.
"We are disheartened that Prison Fellowship has chosen to lean more heavily on small matters of doctrinal disagreements than on much larger matters of theological authenticity and compassion, which demand that we Christians must love one another if anyone will ever believe that we truly follow Christ," the letter said.
UCC President John H. Thomas wrote a letter of support to the congregation, and encouraged them to respond to Prison Fellowship.
"I pray that those who receive your letter will be challenged by its message and, by God's grace, transformed," Thomas wrote.
De Leon said church members will meet to determine new ways to help children in the community.
Lawson said even though Prison Fellowship is no longer aligned with the College Station congregation, "we affirm them in their desire to serve these children."
Called Out eNews is the electronic newsletter on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender concerns produced by the the Health and Wholeness Advocacy Office of Wider Church Ministries.
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Open and Affirming (ONA)
Open and Affirming is a journey of building inclusive churches and other ministry settings that welcome the full participation of LGBT people in the UCC's life and ministry.
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Please note: Many UCC congregations which may not have adopted an ONA covenant for various reasons are nevertheless welcoming and safe communities for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Christians.
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You can't say the word transgender and people really know what you're talking about. But anybody who says the word transgender means something different by it anyway, so it really is a story and not just a label. - Malcolm
Call Me Malcolm is an amazing story of the human spirit and God's spirit, and the liberating struggle to realize and express with confidence the marvelous gift of one's truest sense of self. As Malcolm shares his own story and through the stories of others we meet, Call Me Malcolm offers us a glimpse into the real lives of real people who are transgender. But it is only a glimpse. There are many stories to be told and Malcolm helps us make connections to our own stories, encouraging us to share them. That can seem daunting in a culture which has done more to heap shame on persons who identify as transgender. The good news of Malcolm's story is the way in which shame and fear are overcome by grace, compassion and knowledge. Viewers cannot help but come to a deeper understanding of faith, love, and gender identity, and by doing so, arrive at a deeper understanding of their own journey.
Produced by the United Church of Christ and Filmworks, Inc.
To play video clips from the film, click here and then on "Clips" from the Call Me Malcolm home page menu bar.
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For more information about the film: www.callmemalcolm.com
by United Church of Christ National Bodies
Since 1969 various national settings of the United Church of Christ have addressed the concerns of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in church and society, calling for welcome, inclusion and justice. On this page you will find a comprehensive list of the pronouncements, resolutions and other actions adopted by the General Synod, Executive Council and other UCC national bodies. You will also find links to the texts of these actions.
List of Actions
2011, "Supporting International Human Rights Related to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity", 28th General Synod
2011, "The Right of LGBT Parents to Adopt and Raise Children", 28th General Synod
2009, "Affirming Diversity/Multi-Cultural Education in the Public Schools", 27th General Synod
2005, "Equal Marriage Rights for All", 25th General Synod
2005, "Equal Marriage Rights for All", 25th General Synod with the background text.
2004, "Call to Action and Invitation to Dialogue on Marriage", Executive Council
2003, "Reaffirming the United Church of Christ's Denouncement of Violence Against Lesbian and Gay People and Calling for the Inclusion of Transgender people within that Anti-violence Statement", 24th General Synod
2003, "The United Church of Christ and the Boy Scouts of America", 24th General Synod
1999, "Prevention of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth Suicide", 22nd General Synod
1999, "Affirming and Strengthening Marriage", 22nd General Synod
1998, "Passage of Hate Crimes Legislation", Executive Council
1997, "Fidelity and Integrity in all Covenanted Relationships", 21st General Synod
1996, "Equal Marriage Rights for Same-sex Couples", Directorate of the Office of Church in Society
1996, "Equal Marriage Rights for Same Gender Couples", Board of Directors of the United Church Board for Homeland Ministries
1993, "Resolution Calling on the Church for Greater Leadership to End Discrimination against Gays and Lesbians", 19th General Synod
1993, "A Call to End the Ban against Gays and Lesbians in the Military", 19th General Synod
1991, "Resolution on Virginia Privacy Laws", 18th General Synod
1991, "Resolution on Affirming Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Persons and their Ministries", 18th General Synod
1989, "Resolution Deploring Violence against Lesbian and Gay People", 17th General Synod
1987, "Resolution on the Right to Privacy", 16th General Synod
1985, "Resolution Calling on United Church of Christ Congregations to Declare Themselves Open and Affirming", 15th General Synod
1983, "Report of the Task Force for the Study of Human Sexuality", 14th General Synod
1983, "Resolution on the Institutionalized Homophobia within the United Church of Christ", 14th General Synod
1980, 81, "Equal Employment Opportunity Policy and Revision", Executive Council
1977, "Recommendations in Regard to the Human Sexuality Study", 11th General Synod
1977, "Resolution Deploring the Violation of Civil Rights of Gay and Bisexual Persons", 11th General Synod
1975, "Resolution on Human Sexuality and the Needs of Gay and Bisexual Persons", 10th General Synod
1975, "A Pronouncement: Civil Liberties without Discrimination Related to Affectional or Sexual Preference", 10th General Synod
1973, "Human Sexuality and Ordination", Executive Council
1969, "Resolution on Homosexuals and the Law", Council for Christian Social Action
Open and Affirming (ONA) is the United Church of Christ's (UCC) designation for congregations, campus ministries, and other bodies in the UCC which make a public covenant of welcome into their full life and ministry to persons of all sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender expressions.
UCC Resources carries ONA and other LGBT related published by the UCC, Pilgrim Press and the UCC Coalition for LGBT Concerns.
Open and Affirming Study Packet - a resource for the ONA study process!
Download a copy of the UCC Resources and Publications catalog related to LGBT concerns
Building an Inclusive Church - training and toolkit resources for preparing and facilitating the ONA process
United Church of Christ Office for LGBT Ministries
Wider Church Ministries/Justice and Witness Ministries
The Rev. Mike Schuenemeyer
Executive and Minister for LGBT Ministries, HIV & AIDS, and Sexuality Education
HIV & AIDS
Andy Lang, Executive Director
Rod Mundy, ONA Coordinagtor
Kathie Carpenter, ONA Listing Administrator
The Rev. Paul H. Sherry
United Church of Christ
"There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." (Romans 8.1)
In recent months we have witnessed the continuance of hate crimes against gay, lesbian, and bisexual persons, while in the church discussion about their civil rights and the appropriateness of their membership and ministry in the life of the church has intensified. Several denominations in the United States, as well as some churches and bishops around the world, have adopted or reaffirmed policies that exclude gay, lesbian, and bisexual persons from sharing fully in the ministry of the church. Other Christian leaders have harshly suggested that gay, lesbian, and bisexual persons have no place at all in the life of the church and that their human rights do not deserve the full measure of legal protection. In addition, some political leaders, usually claiming religious support, have vigorously opposed efforts to secure these very rights. Sometimes these anti-gay positions have been justified by flawed scientific understandings of the nature of homosexuality. Underlying many of these convictions is the assumption, frequently untested, that the Bible in general, and Christianity in particular, teach that homosexuality is a sin.
In my role as pastor to the United Church of Christ, and in this season of theological reflection on "The Inclusive Church," I offer this Pastoral Letter to remind all of us that the church is to be a place where all are welcomed, where the gifts of all are recognized and received, and where the rights of all are defended and promoted. When so many in our society would reject and exclude, it is critical that we of the United Church of Christ bear witness to the conviction that it is possible to be deeply faithful to the Bible, profoundly respectful of the historic faith of the church and of its sacraments, and at the same time support the full inclusion and participation of all God's children in the membership and ministry of the church. Likewise, there can be no compromise that all persons in this society must enjoy equal protection under the law.
I write in deep gratitude for the journey of discernment and action that the United Church of Christ has taken over the past several decades. For all our difficulties and challenges, I believe the United Church of Christ is uniquely equipped to take on this complex but crucial vocation both in the public arena and among our ecumenical partners. Informed by the actions of several General Synods, by Biblical and theological reflection, and above all by countless pastoral encounters with members of our church, I am convinced that there must be and will be no turning back from our commitment, especially in the face of the current prejudice and misunderstanding prevalent in both the church and the society.
Contrary to what some assume or allege, the conviction of the General Synod of the United Church of Christ, along with the witness of many conferences, associations, and local churches, is not a superficial response to changing cultural norms or an easy reaction to certain social opinions. At their best, our commitments have grown out of a profound reflection on the meaning of our baptism and our participation in the sacrament of holy communion. Our commitments have grown as we have responded pastorally to the needs of many of our members and their families who have been the victims of prejudice or who have experienced rejection in the church.
We have been confronted and gifted by the presence in our church of gay, lesbian, and bisexual Christians who have been baptized in our sanctuaries, confirmed before our altars, and ordained by our associations. We have been confronted and gifted by men and women faithfully attentive to the Word, diligent in their sacramental life, forthright in their Christian witness and compassionate in their service. We have been confronted and gifted by parents and grandparents, sisters and brothers, daughters and sons, faithful members of our church, whose embrace by a loving God has enabled them to accept a gay, lesbian, or bisexual family member, and who yearn for that same loving embrace to be extended by the church to their child, their grandchild, their brother or sister, their parent. We have been confronted and gifted by faithful, mature, and able members who have experienced God's call to the ordained ministry of Word and Sacrament, who have sought and received the recognition and authorization of the church. We have been confronted and gifted by ordained men and women who have served faithfully and well for many years and who now wish to minister among us with renewed vitality openly affirming their same gender orientation. We have been confronted and gifted by gay, lesbian, and bisexual persons who have found love in the physical, emotional, and spiritual embrace of another, and are living in committed covenantal relationships of fidelity and trust which they yearn for the church to bless and the society to respect and protect. And we have been confronted and gifted by members of our church and those of other churches who have known the pain of rejection, the anguish of exclusion, and the fear of abuse, yet who remain faithful to their baptismal vows, seek to be fed at Christ's Table, and desire to be engaged in the mission of Christ's reconciling love in the world.
Confronted and gifted by these baptized persons, members of the United Church of Christ have been challenged to read the Bible again with new eyes and listen to the Holy Spirit with new ears. We have had to reexamine long held assumptions about those few passages of Scripture that appear to speak about homosexuality in the light of transforming interpretations from widely respected Bible scholars and teachers, and we have begun to recognize how our fears of those who are different, and our society's deeply entrenched bias against homosexual persons has often distorted and nearly silenced the Bible's liberating and inclusive voice. At the same time, encounters with hurting and excluded sisters and brothers have caused us to look to the whole of Scripture which speaks of a God who continually reaches out for those who are cast out for any reason, those who live at the margins of our lives. We have been reminded of our identity as disciples of the One who often ate with those rejected by the religious norms of the day, the One who sets before us all the Table of God's inclusive love, mercy, and grace.
In these encounters, we have remembered our own history, recalling ways we have been led to expand the church's welcome to others who have been excluded. We remembered the Amistad and the story of our forebears, both enslaved and free, who rejected Biblical interpretations that supported slavery and whose new appreciation for the Gospel's mandate led them to fight for freedom for all. We remembered Japanese Americans driven from their homes during the Second World War, and those of our churches who spoke out for their rights. We remembered many women who refused to submit to a misuse of the Bible that denied them places of leadership or that conspired in their abuse, and who found affirmation and encouragement in our churches, our colleges, and our seminaries. We remembered ancestors of our Hungarian sisters and brothers whose witness to the Reformed faith led to their persecution as galley slaves and martyrs, as well as those who fled oppression in 1956 to find safe haven among our churches. More recently we remembered our church's call for self-determination for Puerto Rican people, the championing of the rights of Chicano farm workers, the call for respect for the dignity of Native American people demeaned by caricature and stereotype, the recognition of the rights of Indigenous Hawaiians deprived of their land and culture, and solidarity with those who declared that the apartheid system erected and supported by other Bible reading Christians was idolatry, a denial of the very integrity of the church's confession. All of this has helped us discover that our church's concern for the rights and dignity of gay, lesbian, and bisexual people is not a break from our past, or a departure from Scripture, but is informed by our moments of greatest fidelity to the prophetic voice of the Bible and the Gospel's embrace for those who, with Christ, have been despised.
The encounters in our own church with each other over the subject of sexual orientation have not been easy and, for some, remain profoundly disturbing. We have experienced conflict; the covenants that bind us together have been tested. At times we have felt isolated from and misunderstood by some in the ecumenical community. But we have also experienced marvelous surprises:
- the growth and vitality of many local churches that have declared themselves open to and affirming of the gifts of gay, lesbian, and bisexual persons;
- the gracious perseverance of The United Church Coalition for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Concerns which, for twenty-six years, has been a prophetic presence in our church, clarifying concerns, challenging stereotypes, providing leaders for every setting of the church's life, gently and persistently changing hearts and minds, providing a refuge for those who have suffered wounds of prejudice and exclusion in church and society;
- the gratitude and encouragement of Christians in other churches who have found in our church's journey to new understandings a sign of hope amid discouragement;
- the growing self-esteem of lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth in our church who are able to worship in congregations that respect their full humanity, as well as the heterosexual youth in our churches who have found themselves called to confront the anti-gay prejudice so prevalent in their schools;
- the renewal that springs forth as we discover, again, that we are not trapped by the past but are part of a living tradition that is "reformed, yet always reforming," a people whose only comfort in life and in death is that they belong to Christ.
In these days we dare not be arrogant. The story of our pilgrimage with our gay, lesbian, and bisexual members at times has been marked by hesitation, fear, and frequent failures of nerve. At times prophetic voices, whether heard from inside or from outside the church, have been resisted. We have not always been properly respectful, or sought to understand with sincerity, those sisters and brothers among us who do not share our understanding or conviction or witness. At the same time, we have sometimes failed to recognize how the Bible has been used by some to perpetuate prejudice and to justify violence against homosexual persons.
But in these days we dare not be silent, either. I believe our voice among the churches and within our society is urgently needed, bearing witness to the belief that God cherishes all and dignifies all, and to our experience of gay, lesbian, and bisexual persons as gifts of God, called with us by their baptism into the fullest participation in God's mission of reconciliation in the world. I am convinced this voice will have power insofar as it is a voice shaped by the language of faith and the experience of worship, a voice in which the liberating truth of the Bible can be heard, and the courageous spirit of the saints will be echoed. By that voice, I believe, our churches will be renewed. More importantly, in that voice, I believe, the lonely will be called to companionship, the frightened will find comfort, the abused will know safety, and those sisters and brothers in Christ who have lost hope will rediscover the blessing of their baptism: Child of God, disciple of Christ, member of Christ's Church.