On June 19, 2006 a letter was sent to our church membership declaring that our clergy were empowered on behalf of First Congregational to perform civil union services for same-sex couples. On June 26, 2015 the US Supreme Court struck down the statues of any state forbidding same-sex marriage as unconstitutional.
Because the terms of what is at stake here have changed, we need to update our position regarding the consecration of the relationships of same-sex couples. And I propose we do so now as I preach on the subject this Sunday and invite you to join us afterward in the Morehouse Room for an open hearing of all views. Trust me, every point of view will be heard and every person will be valued in that setting, very much as we spoke of racial reconciliation under the sacred canopy.
Why now? It is something how our journey unfolds, isn’t it? I meant to lead us in this discernment a year ago, but then the roof threatened to cave in, and we got busy. Then after we returned to the Meetinghouse I decided it was time, and a lesbian couple united with us, to confirm that timing. God speaks in such ways to signal our engagement with and discernment around the vital issues of our time.
In 2006 we arrived at our discernment on civil unions by group consensus rather than congregational vote. I like that approach again this time round and believe it augurs well as we look to the future. Voting can get political and divisive, making some feel like winners, others like losers. Building and sharing in consensus is where not all of us necessarily agree, but we can agree on finding a way forward.
What might we achieve? The United Church of Christ has an activist-based Open and Affirming process all about affirming the rights of gays and lesbians. The churches opting in eventually get designated as “Open and Affirming Churches.”
As for me, I don’t see folks coming to us wanting us to affirm their rights so much as offer a blessing. Rights are the language of the nation-state. Such talk tends to politicize an already difficult issue. But blessing is the language of the church. So I want us to consider the nature of the blessing we have for same-sex couples.
My hope is that we will become what I call a Full Blessing Congregation. And let me tell you what I mean by that. For nearly 2,000 years, the Christian church had zero official blessing for gay people. These relationships found no sanction in the services of the church. Sometimes gays were actively persecuted by the church.
Then in the Seventies, some pastors performed services of commitment on the sly for gay couples, sometimes in our sanctuaries, but more commonly outside of them. Church authorities couldn’t stop us clergy from acting on our consciences, but kept this from occurring in their buildings, lest these services be construed as approval or complicity. We might call this phase of our history “partial blessing.”
I’m asking for same-sex couples desiring the church’s blessing, and willing to submit to marriage as a time-honored covenant, and to model their love after the self-giving love of Christ, whether anything is to prevent us from offering them not only the sanction of our services, but even the full blessing we offer every couple.
For me, this is a matter of moral and spiritual discernment, not rights activism. So will you come and be with us on Sunday and help us see God’s way forward?