My church has not been flooded, or struck by high winds, It’s faced no fire, flood, or other disaster. But it is being battered — by the same moral questions that are ringing through politics and churches nationwide.
My church is a United Church of Christ church. As many people are aware, the national body of the UCC voted earlier this year that member churches should not only allow gay unions, but sanction them as marriages no different from traditional marriages. However, just because the UCC national board says something, members (and member churches) do not always agree.
There’s nothing wrong with disagreement, even in a church — at least, I don’t believe there is — but this time, the ripples are still growing larger, and threaten to become waves that could overwhelm our small church.
Last Tuesday night, there was a meeting of the church to consider the issue. I regret to say that a funeral took me out of town, and I wasn’t there to speak in the meeting. However, I was very disheartened to hear, in reports of this meeting, not only that the discussion became very heated, but that it was very one sided. Despite being a UCC church, the majority of those present not only opposed the idea of sanctioning gay marriage, I think it’s safe to say they were openly hostile to the idea. More than one person went so far as to say that if our local church did not oppose this idea, they would leave the church. Others proposed that the church itself should leave the UCC and align itself with another church body.
All of the above makes my church sound very backwards, but that’s not really true. This is a very small church. We’re lucky to have 100 people in the two Sunday services combined. It’s an old church, populated mainly by old German families that have lived in this valley for nearly 200 years — the last generation of dairy farmers and rural workers, who are now finding themselves pushed out by the ever expanding radius of suburban commuters. The average age in the church is on the high side of 50.
However, this church has also been very good at taking in “religious refugees.” My family, and another of the Sunday school teachers, are both former Southern Baptists who left that church after the right-wing staged a takeover of the convention (a model for how the neocons came to control the Republican party). Two other couples in my adult class are former Catholics, looking to escape teachings there that they find ever more rigid. It’s a church that runs its own “meals on wheels” program, taking food to elderly and the disabled. We have a food pantry for the poor. It’s a church whose common prayer just this morning included:
In a couple of weeks, we are to have another meeting of the church and face those decisions. Will the church decide to follow the instructions of the national body? Will it stay in the UCC, but not follow these teachings (UCC churches have a lot of power to set their own beliefs), or will those most upset by the idea of gay marriage drive the church to leave the UCC?
As usual, it is the people who are most upset by the idea who are driving the agenda. I need words. I need words that are going to not only be effective in convincing the church that we should accept gay marriage, but do so without further ripping open the wounds this issue is causing.
I intend to say something like:
We should all remember, Jesus thought this issue was so important that he spoke on it… not at all. As we discuss it tonight, let us remember what is really important. Jesus taught us that all law came down to one statement: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Everything else should only be an echo of that one law.
What we’re doing here tonight will be remembered. We look back now on those people caught up in the debates over slavery, over the rights of women, and over interracial marriage and we wonder “how could they ever have doubted the answer?” It all looks so clear to us now. But they were caught in the tumult. They prayed for guidance, just as we do. They looked to the Bible, just as we do. And good people with good hearts, sometimes reached conclusions that now seem terribly wrong.
A generation from now, this issue will also seem clear to our children. They may think we’ve made the right decision tonight, or they may think we’ve made an error. But if we err, please let them think that we erred on the side of acceptance. That we erred on the side of understanding. Let them think we were too generous with our love. I believe they will forgive us for that.
That’s what I want to say, but it’s not enough. If someone else has been through this, I’d appreciate some insight. If someone has notes or comments form people who fought in those previous battles, I’d love some good quotes. If someone just has an idea what I can say to soften some hearts, I’m all ears.