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Every denomination needs one of these...

Some UCC churches stop marrying couples

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Churches that object to state laws prohibiting gay marriages are now taking action. From Yahoo:
Some churches have decided that until same-sex partners can have a civil wedding ceremony in the church, they will not hold any at all. It doesn't matter if you're gay or straight, you can't get legally married at Lyndale United Church of Christ.

The small, liberal church in south Minneapolis was the first of several Twin Cities congregations last year to stop performing civil marriage ceremonies as long as same-sex marriage is illegal. These churches, and a handful of others around the country that took the same step, will still hold a religious ceremony to bless the unions of straight and gay couples -- but straight couples must go separately to a judge or justice of the peace for the marriage license.

"If you feel that gay and lesbian people are loved and credited by God, then how can we continue to discriminate against our brothers and sisters?" asked Rev. Don Portwood, the reserved Nebraska native who's been lead pastor at the 120-member Lyndale United Church of Christ for 27 years.
Regardless of your opinion on gay marriage, this is a dumb tactic. While I respect the autonomy of local church ministers in the UCC to discern this for themselves how they can best serve their parishoners, this strategy deserves some scrutiny. It's also kind of cheap.

For starters, this is about a state law, not church policy. Instead of working through the legislative process or petitioning lawmakers to make changes to the law, the strategy is to deprive their own church of a privledge that clergy have had for a very long time. Functionally, it's not that strong of a statement since the impact doesn't reach beyond the local church itself which is probably supportive of gay marriage already.

For all practical purposes within the UCC, this is a political and legislative issue and not a theological issue since local UCC churches have the freedom to be "open and affirming" already.

It's also a cheap tactic since the consequence of their actions will not be a burden carried by clergy themselves, it will be carried by their parishoners.

Let's apply this tactic to other political issues that are frquently mentioned in the UCC. Take healthcare - how many clergy would be so bold as to renounce their health care coverage until every child is covered? Homelessness? How many ministers would throw themselves out of their parsonages until everyone in their city had a roof over their heads?

I don't think many clergy would go this far to make a political statement if they had to carry such a significant burden themselves... which why this tactic just seems cheap.
posted by UCCtruths, Wednesday, December 19, 2007


You know, there is a historical basis for this within the UCC (from the Congregational side). It's why there are civil ceremonies. In the early puritan/pilgrim churches marriage was strictly a civil affair and not a church affair at all. It's not far off from the tack they are taking.
commented by Anonymous Christina Cody, 1:52 PM  
The tactic makes a great deal of sense to me. It points to the fundamental problem with marriage: what I call the separation of church and state hangover.

We operate in this country with a separation of church and state -except on this one particular issue, where ministers are called upon to act as an agent of the state by signing a legally recognized document that confers legally recognized privileges. Why should I (as a minister) act as an agent of the state? Where was that in my ordination vows?

This congregation is doing its part to enact a strategy recommended by such flaming liberals as Jim Wallis and Tony Campolo -take the church out of the state marriage business altogether. Let the state offer civil unions that are equally open to all persons on the basis of 14th amendment protections and let houses of worship bless (or not bless) whichever unions they wish according to their own theology.

And I might add that your critique assumes the pastor of the church made a unilateral decision to enact this policy. I doubt that is the case. More likely, the congregation, after a process of study and discernment, elected to surrender certain legal benefits (i.e., the minister's power to legally marry)out of a sense of solidarity with their LGBT sisters and brothers.

And yet, for some reason, that bothers you. Why am I not surprised?
commented by Anonymous Matt, 3:15 PM  
Matt: I don't have any doubt that the congregation fully supports the decision and I re-worded the article a bit to reflect that.

A similar comment was just made on the UCCtruths message board as far as removing the church from a civil procedure. Philosophically, I agree with that and don't have a problem with that at all. In fact, I made that same suggestion on the UCC.org message board years ago and it was roundly rejected by openly gay members of the message board becuase, for them, it was further de-legitimizing a right for them within our churches.

Lets be honest... in this specific case, church/state concerns didn't drive the church to do this - reaction to the gay marriage debate did.

The bottom line is that the kind of statement doesn't really do anything - it's not going to change any laws and it's not going to change any minds becuase it's impact is self contained within a church that already support gay marriage. They are only punishing themselves.
commented by Blogger UCCtruths, 3:30 PM  
Accepting sacrificial punishment for something that one did not do...hmmm not much precident for that in Christian theology huh?

This decision though "self-contained" within one particular congregation as you state could very well spread elsewhere throughout that State (or the country). Let's say that it spread only to other UCC churches, or to UCC and other mainline churches, what if it spread to just 100 churches in that region? If it did spread it would indeed limit people's choices for where they might have their marriage blessed and therby bring to the fore the issue of equality in civil marriage.

If every movement for change viewed taking a stand the way you seem to do (i.e. pointless because it's one church, one person, one issue-won't change a thing, their only punishing themselves) then I suppose, abolition, suffrage, and the American revolution to name just a few would never have occurred.

It is ridiculous to assume that one person or one group of people cannot begin to make a change through their solo stand on any issue...
commented by Anonymous Chad, 9:30 AM  

Even if you had a thousand churches participate, all it would touch are those thousand churches who already support gay marriage - it would have no impact at all on society's view on marriage. It is one of those 'pat yourself on the back for doing nothing' statements that Protestants are famous for. Look at my post on the UCC's Sudan tent thing recently - what a waste of time.

And just so we are clear... My comments aren't pro or anti gay marriage - I think local UCC churches should be free to decide for themselves (as our polity dictates) whether or not they will perform gay marriages, celebrations, etc.
commented by Blogger UCCtruths, 10:04 AM  
I understand your point about other movements that started off small and grew... but it doesn't fit in this scenario. In contrast to MLK's March on Washington, this is the equivelent of marching in circles in your church parking lot.
commented by Blogger UCCtruths, 10:11 AM  
Why would that be the case. Do you think that MLK changed minds on the issue of civil rights? Most of those who marched were already pro-civil rights for African Americans...don't forget that the civil rights movement started internally with the Black community...the bus boycott...wide support cam later, but even then still mostly among people who already agreed with the premise that Blacks should have equal access and equal rights? Were they then just "patting themselves on the back"...

They surely didn't change the minds of the Southern leaders however(most of whom left their political party because it endorsed as a whole Johnsons civil right's program and produced a bill in favor of it) They fought de-segregation even after it was passed on the federal level...

But they did however change the LAW...and the minds of the lawmakers. Isn't that the point here? Changing what some veiw as discriminatory law? Your comment that the example that church is setting isn't or couldn't be compared with the civil rights movemnet or any other social change movement is incorrect.

Oh yea and unless I am mistaken it was mainline Protestant denomiations (ABCUSA & UCC especially)) and their clergy who spearheaded and brought major momentum to that movement.
commented by Anonymous chad, 12:47 PM  

"Do you think that MLK changed minds on the issue of civil rights?"

Huh? I don't know who's posts you are reading, but you are totally missing the point. MLK didn't march in a church parking lot, he marched on Washington. Closing off marriage ceremonies in your own church is akin to marching in your own parking lot - Thats why it's a meaningless event.
commented by Blogger UCCtruths, 2:36 PM  
Perhaps a comparable example would be a church in the 60's, already integrated itself, saying "If we have to provide segregated bathrooms in our facilities, we'll have no bathroom at all." Then sending a press release to that effect.
commented by Blogger Steve, 9:45 AM  
I'm not with the UCC - I'm not even religious at all - but the action taken by this church impresses me. I think they are doing something notworthy to call attention to an injustice. The are also addressing (or at least bringing to mind) the wider issue of whether marriage is a church or state activity and the proper seperation between them.

Actions (or inactions!) speak louder than words. Good for them!
commented by Anonymous Alan, 9:12 AM  
I have known Don Portwood many years. I know that this was a decision by the congregation made because many of the weddings which took place in the church could not be legally recognized because the couples were same sex. I don't believe that forcing a couple to go to the courthouse for a civil ceremony, something most people in the world must do anyway, is the same as forcing people to go without health care or housing.
commented by Anonymous Anonymous, 11:42 AM  
You call into question a church's decision to reject performing civil marriages that are not available to all of its members, on the basis that it won't make any real change. Even if that were true, the efficacy of the wider message isn't the fundamental purpose of this action: the primary function here is that a church may provide equal access to her members--instead of towing the government's line of mandatory discrimination.

Check out the "whites only" bathroom analogy above. Why should a church embrace an optional legal practice that runs contrary to its theology?
commented by Blogger Tom, 9:34 AM  

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