Features

Read it and weep

National

Issue: "Daniel of the Year 1998," Dec. 5, 1998

There are few public skirmishes over the homosexual issue in the 1.4-million-member United Church of Christ these days. Way back in 1980, the church's general synod officially approved the ordination of active homosexuals-the first (and still the only) mainline U.S. Protestant denomination to do so. Rather than fight, many congregations quietly exited. Some departing pastors blamed the UCC's leftward theological drift toward universalism and unitarianism; a misplaced emphasis on inclusivism was only one of several devastating consequences, they complained. Of late, the rate of numerical decline in the UCC has slowed: The UCC lost fewer churches last year than the year before. But unrest remains among the conservatives left behind. And it doesn't help that UCC president Paul Sherry, who has presided over much of the decline, now wants a pastoral letter he wrote about homosexuality read from the pulpit in all 6,000 UCC congregations. Mr. Sherry said he wrote the letter because he was disturbed by recent "anti-gay" statements from political and religious leaders (he has been monitoring homosexual-related developments in the United Methodist and Episcopal churches), and by the highly publicized murder of Matthew Shepard in Wyoming. His letter underscores the church's official support of "the full participation of gay, lesbian, and bisexual persons in the membership and ministry of the church" and in society. He acknowledges prodding from homosexuals in the church to "read the Bible again with new eyes and listen to the Holy Spirit with new ears." "We have had to reexamine long-held assumptions about those few passages of Scripture that appear to speak about homosexuality in the light of transforming interpretations from widely respected Bible scholars and teachers," he says, "and we have begun to recognize how our fears ... and our society's deeply entrenched bias" against homosexuals "have often distorted and nearly silenced the Bible's liberating and inclusive voice." He insists the church's embrace of homosexuals is not "a departure from Scripture," and he claims that much good has been accomplished as a result. Mr. Sherry notes that the homosexual issue is "profoundly disturbing" to some church members, and that the church has "not always been properly respectful, or sought to understand with sincerity, those sisters and brothers among us who do not share our understanding or conviction or witness." "Many pastors won't read the letter from the pulpit," predicts retired UCC minister Ralph Geiman of Waynesboro, Pa. "A lot of our churches are on the brink; that letter would send them over the edge."
-Edward E. Plowman

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Edward E. Plowman
Edward E. Plowman

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