Two week before the opening of the United Church of Christ General Synod in Atlanta, I expressed my hopes for the coming deliberations:
May the Holy Spirit lead our church as we struggle with difficult issues, as we seek to know the mind of Christ. May we act with all boldness, and love each other with all humility …
It seems that my wish has come true. Reports from General Synod describe an especially solemn and respectful and careful deliberation on the issue of same-gender marriage, from committee work through the floor debate and the final delegate vote. The UCC Newsroom gave this report of the proceedings:
Delegates wrestled with the resolution for about an hour before casting a decisive vote in favor of the resolution that was refined and recommended late Sunday by a 54-member Synod committee. The document was altered by only one amendment, which delegates readily accepted, that expressed a spirit of concern for those who must deal with the resolution’s impact in the months ahead.
When debate was closed — with only a whimper of opposition — a hush fell over the great hall of Atlantaâ€™s Georgia World Conference Center. The Rev. Bernice Powell Jackson, executive minister of Justice and Witness Ministries, then asked moderator Eric C. Smith, who led the proceedings, for a moment of collective prayer. Delegates prayed silently.
Moments later, when voting began, a horde of raised hands — holding green voting cards — told the world that the resolution had passed overwhelmingly. Afterwards, instead of loud applause, there was a dignified moment of stillness broken only by the voice of the Rev. John H. Thomas who offered a prayer.
â€œLord Jesusâ€¦We give thanks for your presence, especially here this morning,â€ the UCC’s general minister and president prayed in a soft, pastoral voice. â€œWe have felt your warm embrace, stilling us as we tremble with joy, with hope, with fear, with disappointmentâ€¦Let us use our hands not to clap, but to wipe away every tearâ€¦â€
I am glad for the dignity and spiritual sensitivity of the process … even when I would have voted against the resolution itself. This issue has such power to divide, and that, I think, is what is most dangerous for the church as we struggle to be faithful. I can live with a church that has disagreements, even serious diagreements, among its members, as long as we are together genuinely seeking the mind of Christ and acknowledging our oneness with brothers and sisters who are doing the same.
Unfortunately, the grace and dignity of the Synod process has not been followed by the many of the folks offering their post-vote commentaries. Two examples from the UCC Blog:
One response: God is still speaking, but the General Synod of the UCC by passing the Resolution in Support of Equal Marriage Rights for All, has arrogantly supposed to speak for God. Marriage between one man and one woman is a reality established by God in creation and reflected in the church itself. This resolution does not validate same sex relationships but only invalidates and de-legitimizes the UCC as a religious body. This decision will force many congregations to disassociate and will cause the further decline of this historic denomination …
Another response: To those who want to continue hating, misinterpreting Scripture and selling our Lord short, see ya! Those of us who have taken on the mission of love, intelligence, acceptance and fair-mindness our Church will be stronger and our faith will be stronger!! We don’t need judgmental hate-mongers and homophobes in our midst. Go join those who can’t and don’t think for themselves. There are plenty of “leaders” like Dobson will will take your money and teach you how to hate even more.
There it is — “us” and “them” … the “good guys” and the unchristian heathens. Now matter where you come down on the issue, stooping to such name-calling is the real travesty. God forgive us. And God help us to continue to struggle together … with boldness and humility.