Wednesday, July 06, 2005

come as you are...

The Congregational Churches were the fourth religious body to arrive in the North American colonies after the French Reformed, the Roman Catholic, and the Anglican churches. Congregationalism was the established church of the New England colonies until the revolution. It was the church of Connecticut until 1818 and of Massachusetts until 1833. Both Harvard (1636) and Yale (1701) were founded by Congregationalist communities dedicated to higher education.

I guess it is not surprising then, that a church so steeped in US history should choose the fourth of July to announce what it calls a "corageous declaration of freedom". Freedom is, after all, what we celebrate on Independence Day.

The Congregational Churches are, since 1957, part of a larger body that includes the remains of the 'Christian Churches' born of Methodism in the early 19th century, the German speaking Reformed Church, originally invited by William Penn to the state that bears his name, and the surviving communities of the Evangelical Synod of North America.

The whole conglomerate is today known as the United Church of Christ, one of the more socially liberal and theologically fuzzy components of the Protestant mainstream. The UCC has roughly 1.4 million members, over 6 thousand churches and about 10 thousand clergy.

On Monday, while many of us were gathered around the grill and the cooler, the 25th General Synod of the UCC, its chief policymaking authority, gathered in Atlanta and voted overwhelmingly to support equal marriage rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons. The vote constituted not only a protest against social discrimination but, in the Synod's own words, a theological statement.

"In the Gospel we find ground for a definition of marriage and family relationships based on the affirmation of the full humanity of each partner, lived out in mutual care and respect for one another."

I wonder if the UCC honestly feels that the New Testament provides a scriptural basis for same-sex marriages.

It's one thing to throw around social and legal arguments to justify our moral confusion and there will always be experts and analysts who can make even the most aberrant behaviour seem fashionable. But to reference the Gospel when making a case for allowing gay marriage hardly seems advantageous.

The UCC insists that the Jesus of the Gospel would not exclude or close the door on anyone. So, the alternative to exclusion is same-sex marriage? Not great logic.

The Gospel is generally not too useful for promoting social or political agendas. Jesus was not a social reformer. He did not embrace a political platform. He was about one thing only: revealing God to man. Even his preference for the poor and oppressed can only be completely understood in the context of his one mission: revelation.

The UCC has done Christianity a huge disservice by invoking the Gospel in its muddled capitulation to a harmful, though popular, stance on a purely political issue. But again, what could be expected from a church body whose most profound 'theological' concepts are hospitality and tolerance?