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United Church of
Christ backs gay marriage

United Church of
Christ backs gay marriage


The UCC leader says his denomination "acted courageously" when it passed a resolution endorsing same-sex marriage

The president of the United Church of Christ said his denomination "acted courageously to declare freedom" when it passed a resolution endorsing same-sex marriage on Independence Day. The resolution calls on member churches of the liberal denomination's 1.3 million members to consider wedding policies "that do not discriminate against couples based on gender." It also asks churches to consider supporting legislation granting equal marriage rights to gay and lesbian couples and to work against laws banning gay marriage. The endorsement by the church's rule-making body Monday makes it the largest Christian denomination to endorse same-sex marriage. The vote is not binding on individual churches but could cause some congregations to leave the fold. "On this July 4 the general synod of the United Church of Christ has acted courageously to declare freedom, affirming marriage equality, affirming the civil rights of same-gender couples to have their relationships recognized as marriages by the state, and encouraging our local churches to celebrate and bless those marriages," said the Reverend John H. Thomas, president of the United Church of Christ. Roughly 80% of the representatives on the church's 884-member general synod voted to approve the resolution Monday, a day after a committee recommended it. A small group of conservative congregations had proposed an alternative resolution by defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman and suggested that supporting gay marriage could lead to the church's collapse. The Reverend Brett Becker, who represents a group of more conservative churches, said it is possible his congregation at St. Paul United Church of Christ in Cibolo, Texas, will leave over the resolution. "I would like to see us stay in the denomination and network for positive change," Becker said. "However, many of my members have expressed very clearly that this decision would cause great consternation and that, if this happened, they would want to see us leave." Formed in 1957 and traditionally strong in New England, the United Church of Christ has a tradition of support for gays and lesbians. It is distinct from the more conservative Churches of Christ, which has some 2 million members in the United States. UCC churches are autonomous, meaning the general synod does not create policy for its more than 5,700 congregations. In the early 1970s the denomination became the first major Christian church to ordain an out gay minister. The church declared itself to be "open and affirming" of gays and lesbians 20 years ago. "This is a significant moment," said the Reverend Rebecca Voelkel, of Cleveland, coordinator of a church coalition addressing gay and lesbian issues. She said the decision emphasizes that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are "spiritual people who love and are loved by God." But Becker does not think Monday's vote was representative of the wishes of most church members. "If we had put it to a vote of the people in the pews, it would have failed overwhelmingly," he said. "This is truly Independence Day for the UCC--we have declared ourselves independent from the teachings of Jesus and the clear teachings of scripture." Homosexuality also has been a divisive issue for a number of other churches. The Anglican Communion has been divided since its U.S. branch, the Episcopal Church, consecrated an out gay bishop in 2003. The United Methodist Church is also debating a panel's decision to reinstate a gay minister who had been defrocked. This summer, a special task force of the Presbyterian Church is set to finish its report about how to overcome severe disagreements on gay relationships and other issues. (AP)

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