A United Church of Christ congregation has voted to leave the denomination over the issue of homosexuality. Suffolk Christian Church in Virginia decided to leave the denomination after the UCC adopted policies favoring the ordination of practicing homosexuals and the blessing of same-sex unions.
According to The Virginian-Pilot [Norfolk, VA]: Responding to the July vote by the UCC’s General Synod, the 145-year-old church agreed by more than a two-thirds majority this fall to leave the 1.3 million-member denomination. The gay-marriage issue was not the only disagreement members had with the UCC, said Suffolk Christian’s minister, the Rev. Michael D. Halley , “although for a lot of people, that was the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
As many as 25 congregations within the UCC’s Southern Conference, which encompasses eastern Virginia and all of North Carolina, have left since the synod’s vote, said the Rev. Stephen Camp , the conference’s administrator. Six new congregations have formed in the same period, leaving the conference with about 230 altogether. The UCC synod, a biennial meeting of delegates from member churches, affirmed “equal marriage rights for couples regardless of gender” in an overwhelming vote.
More: The UCC synod’s July action made the church the first major Christian denomination to endorse gay marriage. The United Church of Christ was already the only major Protestant denomination to allow ordination for gays and lesbians. The Unitarian Universalist Association also allows gay ordination and same-sex unions, but it is not a Christian denomination. Among many Protestants, the core of the debate lies in whether the Bible considers same-sex sexual activity acceptable. For the Rev. James Anderson of New Hope Congregational Church in the Berkley section of Norfolk, the answer is no. “I think that it’s a sin – Scripture says a man should not lay with a man,” said Anderson, whose congregation voted to withdraw from the UCC after the synod’s action. “Personally, I cannot go along in support of something I don’t believe is sanctioned by the Bible.”
In a related article, the paper also reported that the UCC’s Southern Conference expects more congregations to leave. From the article:
The Rev. Joseph M. Copeland , pastor emeritus of United Church of Christ congregations in Norfolk and Suffolk, predicted that at least some local congregations would continue to reject gay marriage. Copeland said he is among the United Church of Christ members who interpret Christian scriptures as opposing same-sex marriages. “It will not get my support,” he said. “This is Bible country.”
But the Rev. Nanette Hilliard of The Great Awakening United Church of Christ in Virginia Beach welcomed the resolution. “Equal rights is something that affirms our mutual respect for one another. I think it was a positive, progressive, courageous step for the general synod to have taken,” she said.
The issue of homosexuality has become the most divisive issue to confront the so-called “mainline” Protestant denominations in recent decades. The decision of the Suffolk congregation is but a sign of things to come — and not only within the United Church of Christ.
In reality, the issue of homosexuality is forcing these denominations — and churches — to make crucial decisions on the basic issues of biblical authority and interpretation, along with a host of related theological concerns. The endorsement of homosexual behavior and relationships requires a rejection of clear and unambiguous teachings of the Bible. Furthermore, the endorsement of what the Bible clearly identifies as sin corrupts the Gospel itself.