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Religious Tolerance logo

The United Church of Christ & homosexuality


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Structure of the UCC:

The United Church of Christ (UCC) is a liberal American Protestant denomination which was created in 1957 with the merger of the Congregational Christian Churches and the Evangelical and Reformed Church. Their 2006 yearbook states that the UCC has about 1.2 million members, and about 5,633 congregations. 1 

Groups of congregations in a defined geographical area are linked together in regional bodies called Associations. Local churches are also members of a one of the denomination's 38 Conferences. 2

The General Synod is the denomination's deliberative body. It meets on odd-numbered years. It speaks to local churches, Associations and Conferences, but not for them. Thus, the churches, Associations and Conferences have considerable freedom of belief and practice.

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Opposition to discrimination:

The UCC and its predecessor denominations had an impressive history of opposition to discrimination based on race, gender and sexual orientation. Some members of the church's predecessors defended the rebels of the Amistad slave ships. They provided extensive leadership in the abolition of slavery, the fight against racial segregation, and the current battles for equal rights for homosexuals, bisexuals, and transsexuals -- including same-sex marriage.

They were the first American mainline/liberal Christian church to:

bulletMake a public declaration against slavery (1700)
bulletOrdain a black person (Lemuel Haynes, 1785),
bulletOrdain a woman (Antoinette Brown, 1853), 
bulletLaunch a lawsuit to force end to racial discrimination in broadcast employment (1959)
bulletOrdain the first openly gay man (William Johnson, 1972), and 
bulletElected the first African American as leader of an integrated denomination (Joseph Evans, 1976)
bulletOrdain the first openly lesbian woman (Anne Holmes, 1977).

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The UCC symbol:

The symbol of the United Church of Christ is composed of:

bulletA crown, which represents the sovereignty of Christ
bulletA cross, which represents the suffering of Christ and
bulletAn orb "...divided into three parts, reminds us of Jesus' command to be his 'witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth' (Acts 1:8)." 3

The component symbols are surrounded by a double oval which contains the name of the denomination and a prayer from the Gospel of John: "That they may all be one" (John 17:21).... The verse from Scripture reflects our historic commitment to the restoration of unity among the separated churches of Jesus Christ."

In recent decades, the quotation from John might be regarded as having a second meaning: that all are welcome in the UCC, regardless of their race, sex, sexual orientation.

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The journey towards equality for sexual minorities:

In 2005, the UCC became the first major Christian denomination in the U.S. to promote same-sex marriage. They confirmed this position in 2007. However, their journey to this point started in the 1970s.

John H. Thomas, General Minister and President of the UCC wrote:

"It was not an 'issue' or the alleged 'gay agenda' that caught the attention of the church. It was the presence of gay and lesbian persons in our churches, as well as their families, who began to be unwilling to be silent about their sexual orientation, and who began to say to us that it is wrong to ask our gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender members to choose between their baptismal identity and their sexual identity. 4

During the 1970s, the General Synod commissioned a study of human sexuality. Their final report "Human Sexuality" was controversial; its support fell far short of a consensus. At about that time, many congregations engaged in the "Open and Affirming" process that usually lead to a declaration that they are open and affirming to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual persons. Several hundred congregations have now taken this step.

In the early 1990s, the General Synod recommended that that candidates for ordination should not be automatically rejected on the basis of their minority sexual orientation. Committees on Ministry of the various Associations in the UCC largely followed this recommendation.

More recently, same-sex couples have approached their ministers and asked that their relationships be blessed in a formal church ritual.

John H. Thomas continues:

"Over the years the church has heard the scripture speaking in new ways. There was a time when Christians believed the Bible condoned slavery. There was a time when Christians believed the Bible prohibited women from offering certain kinds of leadership in the church. In each case a few passages were identified to 'prove' the point. But as Christians began to listen more carefully to the whole of Scripture, new insights emerged. ..."

"Not every new theological and biblical insight is true or valid. But we must recognize that interpretations change in light of new understandings, that to embrace new insights is not necessarily to abandon scripture but rather to read scripture in the light of life’s new challenges and opportunities under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. And it is to read every text in Scripture against the highest law which is the love of God and the love of neighbor." 4

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Site navigation:

Home > Conflict > HomosexualityReligious groups > Christian > here

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  1. The UCC home page is at: http://www.ucc.org
  2. "United Church of Christ," Wikipedia, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
  3. "What is the meaning of the UCC symbol?," United Church of Christ, at: http://www.ucc.org/
  4. John H. Thomas, "Reflections on 'Marriage Equality'," 2005-SEP, at: http://www.ucc.org/ This is a PDF file. You may require software to read it. Software can be obtained free from: 

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Copyright 1997 to 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally published: 1997-SEP-19
Latest update: 2007-JUL-10
Author: B.A. Robinson

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