Stances of Faiths on LGBT Issues: United Church of Christ
Founded in 1957 with the joining of the General Council of Congregational Christian Churches and the Evangelical and Reformed Church, the United Church of Christ (UCC) is recognized as one of the most welcoming and affirming Christian denominations, celebrating same-sex marriages since 2005 and ordaining LGBT pastors since 1972. Numbering more than 5,000 churches and close to a million members, the UCC core values include an “Extravagant Welcome,” and the affirmation, “No matter who you are, or where you are on life's journey, you're welcome here.”
While individual churches remain autonomous, they also hold membership in regional associations and conferences and are represented at a General Synod convened every two years. Synod resolutions provide guidelines for all UCC churches but do not dictate policy. Experiences can, therefore, differ between congregations. A central headquarters in Cleveland, OH, oversees a range of national ministries, including that of Justice and Witness. Among other accomplishments, the Ministry of Justice and Witness partnered with the Unitarian Universalist Association to create Our Whole Lives, a sex education curriculum that offers unbiased content on heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual and transsexual health.
As early as 1969, the UCC voiced its commitment to civil rights for LGBT people. In 1975, the General Synod passed resolutions denouncing discrimination based in “affectional or sexual preference.” By 2005, the Synod had passed a resolution that called “for an end to rhetoric that fuels hostility, misunderstanding, fear and hatred expressed toward gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons.” The resolution further directed officers of the church to share that resolution with legislators at the local, state and national level. Recognizing that not all congregations would be in agreement, the Synod asked dissenting churches, “to engage in serious, respectful, and prayerful discussion,” and provided a study guide to prompt healthy, responsible discussion. The General Synod of 2011 extended its focus on LGBT discrimination to encompass international concerns. According to the UCC website, “The message of love and compassion, justice and peace are at the very core of the life and ministry of Jesus. Open and Affirming ministries and resources are rooted in that Gospel message.”
The UCC is fully welcoming and affirming of transgender persons. Resolutions of the General Synod passed in 2003 invite all members to, “learn about the realities of transgender experience and expression, including the gifts and callings and needs of transgender people.” Transgender and intersexual people are welcome as clergy and in lay leadership roles.
On Marriage Equality
In 2005, the General Synod passed a resolution, noting that the, “Bible affirms and celebrates human expressions of love and partnership,” and stating that the church, “affirms equal marriage rights for couples regardless of gender and declares that the government should not interfere with couples regardless of gender who choose to marry.” It further urged, “The congregations and individuals of the United Church of Christ to prayerfully consider and support local, state and national legislation to grant equal marriage rights to couples regardless of gender, and to work against legislation, including constitutional amendments, which denies civil marriage rights to couples based on gender.”
The UCC ordained its first LGBT minister in 1972, making Rev. William R. Johnson the first openly gay minister in a mainline Protestant denomination. Ordination is open to transgender and intersex people. Women have been ordained in the UCC since its founding in 1957, with the history of ordination dating back through preceding denominations to 1853.
The UCC supports that Employment Non-Discrimination Act and has advocated on the issue of since 1975 when it passed a resolution stating, “discrimination related to sexual orientation in employment, housing, public accommodations, and other civil liberties, inflicts an incalculable burden of fear into the lives of persons in society and in the church whose orientation is toward persons of the same gender.”
The UCC stands in the vanguard of LGBT inclusion in the Christian faith, and has set a standard that might serve as an inspiration to other denominations. However, there is still work to be done, with roughly one-fifth of UCC congregations self-identifying as Open and Affirming. With fully inclusive national policies, it is now up to individual congregants, clergy and lay leaders to ensure that their churches are places where LGBT people can thrive in worship and community. For more information on finding your place as an LGBT congregant, or on finding your voice as a straight ally committed to creating an inclusive church community, download the HRC resource Coming Home: To Faith, To Spirit, to Self.
Resources for LGBT UCC Members
Open and Affirming Coalitions UCC, a journey of building inclusive churches and other ministry settings that welcome the full participation of LGBT people in the UCC's life and ministry.
United Church of Christ
700 Prospect Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44115