Arizona pastors rally to oppose anti-gay amendment

Spearheaded by the Rev. Briget Nicholson, pastor at First Congregational UCC in Tucson, the gathering at Tucson’s Rincon Congregational UCC included 24 clergy representing at least half a dozen different faith communities.

“We don’t believe that this measure is reflective of our faith,” Nicholson said.

The proposed amendment to the Arizona constitution, which would also prohibit state and local governments from giving legal status to any unmarried couple, is being sponsored by the Center for Arizona Policy (CAP), a Christian-based family policy council whose goal is to “strengthen Arizona families through policy and education.” The proposal is also being supported by the Arizona Catholic Conference, the public policy agency for the Roman Catholic Dioceses in Phoenix, Tucson and Gallup, N.M.

But Nicholson said one of the primary goals of the gathering was to show that groups like CAP are not necessarily representative of the Christian faith and that there are faith communities who do not share their outlook.

“Out of the 100 people who showed up, we didn’t have a dry eye in the house,” Nicholson said. “So many of those in attendance said that they had never heard of a faith community that says ‘you are welcome here’ despite all of the work that we have been doing since 1974. They have heard a lot of other things in the name of God that are condemning and exclusive. This is long overdue, but we are not going to stop here. This is just a start.”

Both First Congregational UCC and Rincon Congregational UCC are Open and Affirming churches with significant gay and lesbian populations, Nicholson said, something that makes the work of both churches to oppose the proposed amendment all the more imperative.

“There are people in my community and in my congregation that stand to lose their health insurance and their hospital visitation rights,” Nicholson said. “Our faith is not one that takes rights away, I don’t believe. Our faith is about uniting people together through the Spirit.”

The Rev. James Lumsden, senior pastor at the 600-member Rincon Congregational UCC, said his church’s history as the first congregation in Arizona to declare itself Open and Affirming 10 years ago compelled it to “step up to the plate” and serve as host for the gathering.

“I think that for Rincon and for myself as a pastor, we understand ourselves in this moment of history as having to provide an antidote to religious hate mongering,” Lumsden said. “We talk about ourselves as being an alternative to that, but at this point we are way past just simply being an alternative. We want to present to the public a very clear antidote to the hate that groups like CAP are building their careers around. These careers are being built on the backs of the most vulnerable. We believe that we have to stand with the voiceless.”

Nicholson has been named chairperson of a committee that will coordinate opposition within communities of faith to the proposed amendment — one of 10 different committees that will work closely with Wingspan, Tucson’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community center, the Arizona Coalition for Fairness and the Arizona Human Rights Fund, who are organizing opposition statewide.

In order for the proposed amendment to qualify for the 2006 Arizona general election ballot, supporters must gather close to 184,000 signatures — a mark Nicholson fully expects them to reach.

“But we plan on winning come the election,” Nicholson said.

Nicholson, 34, a 1999 graduate of St. Paul School of Theology in Kansas City and in the first year of her first pastorate, said being actively involved in issues like this one is central to her understanding of her call to ministry.

“I can’t look at my congregation and talk about the Sermon on the Mount or the feeding of the 5,000 or what it means to love the neighbor or embrace the stranger if I myself am not embodying that struggle,” she said. “I want to be in the struggle for all of God’s people. For us, that is working to oppose this initiative every single day.”

Categories: United Church of Christ News

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