Universal Notebook: Open and affirming in 2010

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On the first Sunday of Advent, I was typecast as a skeptic in a little church skit about watching and waiting for the coming birth of Christ. One of my lines, condemning the Black Friday holiday shopping frenzy, was “That’s not a religious celebration. It’s rampant consumerism. It’s the Church of the Almighty Dollar having its Annual Festival of Heating Up the Credit Cards.”

The line got a big laugh both because it’s true and because it sounds like something I might actually say. (In fact, I’m told it was something our associate minister’s husband actually said.) I’m also irreverent enough to enjoy laughter in church. I like to think I have other redeeming qualities as a congregant, but piety is not one of them. I stubbornly cling to the progressive Congregational faith I was raised with by my existential fingernails.

So I confess I was on pretty shaky theological ground during the gay marriage campaign when I lectured Biblical literalists about the Bible’s anti-homosexual pronouncements. Sometimes, even as I question it, I actually envy Bible-thumping Christians their certainty. To exist unquestioningly must be very reassuring.

“God said it. I believe it. That’s settles it,” as bumpersticker fundamentalism so neatly puts it.

I, on the other hand, belong to a United Church of Christ tradition that believes “God is still speaking…,” that Christianity is a dynamic, living faith, not a rigid and static dogma to be followed blindly. We believe in working for the transformation of this world into the kingdom of God and that “here on Earth, God’s work must truly be our own.” We believe that God loves everyone and, therefore, that God favors equal rights and marriage for gay and lesbian people.

Back in 1999, our church held a congregational meeting at which we voted to allow our pastors to perform same-gender covenanting ceremonies, blessing gay unions that would be marriages in the eyes of God if not the laws of the state. Unfortunately, unkind things were said by and about people on both sides of that decision. About two dozen people left the congregation, some because they could not abide the decision, some because they did not feel the decision process was fair to opponents.

Now, 10 years later, our church is in the process of discussing and discerning whether to become an Open and Affirming (ONA) church, a designation the UCC gives to congregations that have made a deliberate decision to welcome lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people into the full life of the church. Some people are concerned that we might lose some members if we become ONA. I am concerned that we will lose some members if we don’t.

I believe our church will decide to join the ONA ranks, but, if it does not, I will have to consider my options. There are already UCC churches in Bath, Cumberland, Falmouth, Gorham, Portland, and South Portland that are Open and Affirming. I could easily transfer my membership to one of them.

But then I would have to ask myself, am I a single-issue Christian? One of the things I value most about Congregationalism is that it is big tent Christianity. Its inclusiveness, lack of hierarchy, orthodoxy and dogma are appealing to a skeptic.

I know we have members who are Republican, Democrat, and Independent, conservative, moderate, and liberal, who are pro-choice and pro-life, who support the war in Iraq and who oppose it. I suspect we have members who believe in an afterlife and who don’t, who view the Bible as the literal Word of God and who view it as a divinely-inspired but badly flawed work of ancient men who could not possibly have imagined the range of human experience to which it would have to be applied millennia hence.

I also know we have members and friends who are gay and lesbian, who have sons and daughters who are gay and lesbian, who have sisters and brothers who are gay and lesbian. If UCC churches in Machias and Wilton can be Open and Affirming, how can a church in Yarmouth be anything less?

In the wake of the repeal of Maine’s marriage equity law, the least we can do here in communities that resoundingly supported equal rights is to make sure our gay brothers and lesbian sisters feel safe and affirmed – in our homes, in our businesses, in our churches and in our schools.

ONA in 2010.

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The Universal Notebook is Edgar Allen Beem’s personal look at the world around him.