O&A History and Sermons
Rock Spring Church voted to become an Open and Affirming (O&A) congregation on June 4, 2000. The vote reflected decades of “a search for understanding.” One of the first sermons affirming gays and lesbians was preached more than 30 years ago in January 1982.
In June 2005, the 25th General Synod of the United Church of Christ voted to adopt the resolution “Equal Marriage Rights for All.” This prompted a process to affirm marriage equality at Rock Spring, culminating in the congregational vote in March 2007, this time to explicitly proclaim marriage equality and our commitment to witness to the full civil rights of all people.
Throughout this process, we have tried to be as faithful as we can to the prayer so eloquently expressed by the then President of the United Church of Christ, the Rev. John Thomas, immediately after the historic vote at the 25th General Synod,
Lord Jesus, to you we live, to you we suffer, to you we die. Yours will we be in life and in death. Today, as in ancient Bethlehem, the hopes and fears of all the years are met in you. We give thanks for your presence during these days of prayer and discernment, and especially for your presence here this morning. We have felt your warm embrace, stilling us as we tremble with joy, with hope, with fear, with disappointment. Remind us that as we are tempted to run from each other, so too we run from you. We know that every choice confers a cost, so let us attend in the coming hours and days to those for whom this decision confers a particular burden. Let us find words that comfort rather than congratulate; let us seek to be a community of grace and forgiveness rather than organizing constituencies of protest, let us use our hands not to clap but to wipe away every tear. And in all this may we know in surprising new ways the comfort of belonging to You. This is our prayer. Hear us, Lord Jesus. Amen.
To find out more on how Rock Spring has come to be the church it is today, please click below:
Original O&A statement (June 2000 – March 2007)
IN LIGHT OF OUR
UCC Statement of Faith, the Covenant of Rock Spring Church, and our steadfast belief in Christ’s message of healing love;
Deepening appreciation of the mystery of God’s creation, in all its marvelous complexity;
Long-standing advocacy of the principles of peace, justice, and equality, as evidenced by our designation as a “Just Peace” church;
Mission of support and healing to those in need or pain;
Abhorrence of hatred and violence against people based on sexual orientation;
WE, THE CONGREGATION,
Declare our church to be Open and Affirming, and we welcome people of every race, nationality, ability, sexual orientation, gender and age to join us in the full life and ministry of Rock Spring Church.
We invite all people to share fully in our life together; in worship and service, in employment, in lay and professional leadership and in affirmation of personal life passages, including ceremonies of traditional marriage and of committed union.
We promise our support to all individuals, children and families - traditional, extended, single-parent, gay, and lesbian. We continue to affirm human relationships and behavior based on love, support, responsibility and trust.
We pray for God’s blessing and grace as we strive for renewal and, in the words of our Rock Spring Covenant, “the realization of our one human family”.
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Current O&A statement (March 2007 to present)
IN LIGHT OF OUR
UCC Statement of Faith, the Covenant of Rock Spring Church, and our steadfast belief in Christ's message of healing love;
Deepening appreciation of the mystery of God's creation, in all its marvelous complexity;
Long-standing advocacy of the principles of peace, justice, and equality, as evidenced by our designation as a "Just Peace" Church;
Mission of support and healing to those in need or pain;
Abhorrence of hatred and violence against people based on sexual orientation;
Prayerful consideration of the UCC 25th General Synod resolution “In Support of Equal Marriage Rights for All”;
WE, THE CONGREGATION,
Declare our church to be Open and Affirming, and we welcome people of every race, gender, nationality, ability, sexual orientation, and age to join us in the full life and ministry of Rock Spring Church.
We invite all people to share fully in our life together; in worship and service, in employment, in lay and professional leadership and in affirmation of personal life passages, including ceremonies of holy marriage for all couples regardless of gender.
We promise our support to all individuals, children and families -- traditional, extended, single-parent, gay and lesbian. We continue to affirm human relationships based on love, support, responsibility and trust.
We affirm Rock Spring Church’s commitment to witness to full civil rights for all people regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, including access to the rights, responsibilities and protections of legally recognized marriage, in broader public and political arenas.
We pray for God's blessing and grace as we strive for renewal and, in the words of our Rock Spring Church Covenant, "the realization of our one human family."
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First O&A process
The first ONA process was preceded by four evening sessions in October 1996, which constituted part III of a larger series entitled "And God Loves Each One—Search for Understanding."
I. October 6, 1996: Understanding Homosexuals
Gays and lesbians and parents of gays and lesbians will discuss their journey with homosexuality. What it is like growing up gay, to be “in the
closet,” and “coming out” will be explored.
Kirsten Kingdon, mother of a gay attorney, member of the NY Avenue Presbyterian Church Task Force on Sexuality, and PFLAG Metro (keynote—20 minutes)
James Fisher, Arlington Human Rights Commission, Counselor, Past President of Arlington Gay and Lesbian Alliance (10 minutes)
Rev. Linda Kaufman, Episcopal priest at Foundry United Methodist Church and former director of the Dinner Program for Homeless Women at First Congregational Church, Washington, D.C. (10 minutes).
What helps our understanding of homosexuality and what hinders it. An exploration of our inner struggles, perspectives, and feelings.
Dr. Suzan Stafford, psychotherapist and facilitator in private practice, Washington, D.C. (50 minutes)
II. October 13, 1996: Understanding Homosexuality
Current research on homosexuality will be discussed from the scientific (genetic, biological, environmental) and psychological perspectives. What
science can and cannot tell us about our sexuality, human nature, and why we think and feel the way we do, will be explored.
Chandler Burr, Author of A Separate Creation – The Search for the Biological Origins of Sexual Orientation (50 minutes)
Dr. Monica Baruch, psychotherapist in private practice, Washington, D.C. (10 minutes)
III. October 20: Understanding the Scriptures, homophobia, and our faith
We explore the theological underpinnings of our faith and the Bible as they related to homosexuality; how the practice of homosexuality and the church’s teachings can be compatible—all people in God’s image; what hate does; and how the church can reach out and build self-affirmation in the context of
Rev. William Johnson, Minister for AIDS Programs and Ministries Coordination, Division of American Missionary Association, UCC Board for Homeland Ministries, Cleveland, Ohio (50 minutes)
Individual and congregational concerns relating to homosexuality will be explored as well as the needs and opportunities for the church to serve the
Rev. Jean Alexander, Pastor, Bethesda United Church of Christ, Bethesda, Maryland (30 minutes)
Rev. Lin Ludy, Chair of the UCC Support Group for Parents of Gays and Lesbians, Arlington, Virginia (10 minutes)
IV. October 27: Understanding gays’ and lesbians’ issues
Issues affecting gays and lesbians, nationally and in Arlington, such as housing, employment, social services, partner benefits, commitment, etc., will be explored, along with possible options.
Steve Gunderson, US Congressman from Wisconsin and author of the recently published book, House and Home, and partner Rob Morris (30 minutes)
Jay Fisette, Director, Whitman-Walker Clinic of Arlington and community leader; and partner Rob Rosen (30 minutes)
Dr. Laura Young, Chair, Community Services Board, and psychotherapist in private practice, Washington, D.C. (15 minutes)
James Hunter, Chair, Arlington County Board and member of Rock Spring Church (15 minutes)
Rev. Charles Wildman, Senior Pastor, Rock Spring Church (10 minutes)
Ad hoc committee on Open and Affirming (ONA) created by the Church Council
Coordinating Committee on ONA Issues charged by Council to lead the congregation through a process of study of sexual orientation
The ONA committee met every week to study the issues and plan the forum series.
September 1999 – February 2000
ONA evening forum series: 5 sessions
Exploring sexual orientation and homosexuality, September 1999
Speaker: Dr. D.H. Hammer, National Institute of Health
Homosexuality and issues relating to youth and family, October 1999
Speakers: Del and Caroline Hufford-Anderson, Rock Spring, and Anderson couple, Silver Spring
Homosexuality and the Bible, November 1999
Speakers: Revs. Gregory Kenney and Jim Ross
What does becoming ONA mean? January 2000
Rev. Todhunter (Silver Spring UCC)
The Rock Spring Way – considering the church’s stance on becoming an ONA congregation, February 2000
Panel discussion at the fourth Sharing Our Rainbow of Light Celebration, presentation by the Rev. George Booth on homosexuality and our use
of Scripture, November 11, 1999.
January – March 2000
Further information sessions on January 21, February 18, and March 11.
Draft ONA statement approved by the Church Council as a basis for discussion
June 4, 2000
Vote on to approve the ONA statement: 94 yea, 12 nay.
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Marriage equality process
The process to amend the ONA statement to explicitly affirm marriage equality at Rock Spring followed the timeline below:
July 4, 2005 25th General Synod of UCC overwhelmingly passes a resolution affirming marriage equality.
October 23, 2005 Two sessions to discuss the Synod Resolution and options for Rock Spring’s response
February 2006 Marriage equality study committee begins meeting
March, April and May 2006 Congregation invited to attend three sessions to discuss books on issues related to marriage equality
June 25, 2006 Rock Spring Church holds a teach-in on Virginia marriage constitutional amendment
June and July 2006 Book reviews published in Rock Spring News
September - October 2006 Four forum sessions dealing with theological, pastoral, social and legal dimensions of marriage equality
January - March 2006 Listening and discussion sessions on marriage equality after each service
March 4, 2006 Mini-forum on social advocacy aspect of the proposed revised ONA statement
March 18, 2006 Congregational vote on the revised ONA statement. The votes are nearly unanimously in favor of the amended statement.
Same Sex Marriage? A Christian Ethical Analysis by Marvin M. Ellison
Same Sex Marriage, Prons and Cons by Andrew Sullivan
Forum series, September-October 2006
Forum 1: Open & Affirming at Rock Spring: the beginning for marriage equality discussions, September 24, 2006
On September 24, a group of 52 participants kicked off a four-part forum series on the Marriage Equality Resolution with a review of the process that led Rock Spring to adopt its Open and Affirming (ONA) Statement on June 4, 2000. The Statement “affirms human relationships and behavior based on love, support, responsibility and trust” and invites all people to share fully in the life of the church, “including ceremonies of traditional marriage and committed union.”
Masami Kojima described Rock Spring’s careful and in-depth study of issues related to sexual orientation and scripture leading up to the congregation’s vote by a large majority to become an ONA Congregation. Many who participated in opportunities for study and reflection afforded by the ONA process reportedly found their views affected in profound ways. Masami left us with this question: Does marriage equality follow from Rock Spring’s ONA policy? For the presentation, please click here.
We welcomed back Rob Peters, formerly Rock Spring’s Minister for Parish Life, to explain how the 25th General Synod answered that question in the affirmative on July 4, 2005, when 85–90 percent of the delegates voted in favor of the resolution, “In Support of Equal Marriage Rights for All”. Having served as a voting delegate to the 25th Synod, Rob walked us through the process by which the Synod prayerfully considered the views of both those supporting and opposing the Resolution. Alternatives that were considered but rejected include a proposal for thoughtful reflection on this issue and return to it at a later date, and another for equal rights but that stopped short of calling the commitment between the same-gender couples marriage.
How is it that the Synod took the bold step of affirming equal marriage rights for all couples regardless of gender even though only a minority of UCC congregations have officially adopted an ONA statement? Synod delegates are charged to vote in accordance with their conscience rather than with any mandate from those they represent. Rob described his own personal journey with the issue of marriage equality (“I had a long way to go”), a journey that ended with Rob holding up a green voting card in favor of the Resolution. Rob explained that he believed that the Spirit had moved the delegates to support the UCC’s decision to affirm equal marriage rights. For Rob’s full statement, please click here.
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Forum 2: Marriage in the Bible, History, and Tradition, October 1, 2006
On October 1, 46 people gathered to participate in Part 2 of the forum series on the Marriage Equality Resolution adopted in July 2006. Dwight Rodgers opened the session with “Marriage and Family in the Bible,” asking the participants to read 24 passages in the Bible related to marriage and report back their observations. The participants talked about changing understandings and practices of marriage and family over the centuries covered in the Bible. Dwight next summarized nine cultural areas from Western civilization, ranging from the Old Testament (where marriage was more about an economic and social binding of families together than about love between two people), through the Pauline view of marriage as a secondary state to be avoided if possible, to progressive Protestant traditions.
The Rev. Janet Parker, in “Theological Reflections on Marriage Equality,” began by asking us to consider how our social location shapes the way we respond to the Synod Resolution. She presented common theological arguments that are made for defining marriage only as a union of one man with one woman. Among them were “procreative possibility” as an essential requirement for marriage, and complementarity of two genders as fundamental to human nature, thereby requiring that marriage be between a man and a woman. Janet also posed questions that the proponents of these arguments need to wrestle with, and concluded by presenting a theological case for the Synod Resolution. Scripture contains multiple models for marriage and family, and proponents of marriage equality highlight the importance of looking to the overarching themes of Scripture and applying them to the modern question of same-gender marriage. They argue that the message of Scripture evolves through the Old and New Testaments toward increasing inclusiveness, and we should consider who is the “excluded other” today. The great commandment calls us to love our neighbor as ourselves. This requires that we do justice to our neighbor. What does justice require in the realm of marriage, if we believe that gay and lesbian people are created in the image of God and gifted with sexuality and the capacity for love and commitment?
A lively discussion followed. Should we not separate out the question of seeking complete equality before the law for all couples regardless of gender from that of what we call the relationships? Or, if marriage is the gold standard in our society and in the church, would creating a separate category at this point in time in the U.S. attach a stigma to same-gender couples?
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Forum 3: Legal and Personal Dimensions of Marriage Equality, October 15, 2006
A discussion of legal and personal dimensions of marriage equality and testimonies from couples affected by the current as well as past legal restrictions on marriage.
52 people gathered in the Carpenter Hall to examine the legal and personal dimensions of marriage equality. The program began with an exposition on the legal aspects given by Mina Ketchie, a lawyer. Pointing out that Virginia was the last state to recognize inter-racial marriage, Mina said that her clients’ greatest concern was protection of their families. The legislation in Virginia does not recognize partnership contracts or other legal documents, raising serious questions. Are medical documents specifying who can decide what deemed partnership contracts? What about the power or attorney, is that a contract? Mina said that it was difficult to give a clear answer because the wording in the legislation is vague. But certain things are clear. Same-gender couples do not enjoy full estate tax exemption granted to married couples, nor social security benefits. It is particularly tragic when children are affected. Mina mentioned a couple who registered under Vermont’s civil union legislation and then separated after moving out of Vermont. The non-birth mother was denied all visitation rights because the couple’s civil union status was not recognized.
Reference materials made available:
Three couples gave testimonies of their experience. Peter Moll and Masami Kojima of Rock Spring were married by the church in South Africa in 1984 when the Mixed Marriage Act (forbidding marriage between people of different races) and the Immorality Act (forbidding sexual relationships between whites and members of other races) were still in effect. They were married by an Anglican priest who had refused to obtain the state marriage license as protest against apartheid. Masami stressed that marriage is as much a social institution as a legal one. Masami addressed the question asked by many—would it make sense for Rock Spring to perform marriage ceremonies for same-gender couples when it carries no legal force in Virginia—and replied that it was essential for the church to stand with those who cannot get married legally, because, in so doing, the church helps the married couple to be accepted by the wider community. Speaking of their own experience, Masami said that they were immediately recognized by their church community, colleagues, and friends as a married couple because of the action of this minister, even if the apartheid government did not.
Jamie Beckland and Michael Pope were married in Massachusetts in 2005. Jamie described how, before he realized that getting married was possible for him, he used to get upset when attending friends’ weddings because always in the back of his mind was the thought, “I can never have this.” The marriage ceremony was joyous and celebratory. They likened marriage to baptism; just as with baptism, all present are asked, “Do you as a community pledge your support to this couple?” Although some family members chose not to come to the wedding, there were surprises. Jamie’s grandparents from northern Wisconsin, devout Catholics, came at the advice of their priest. After the ceremony, the grandfather hugged Michael and said to Jamie, “I now understand why you wanted to do this.” Michael’s parents now say, “I wish your sisters could have the type of relationship you two have.”
For a description of their wedding day, see “A Traditional Gay Wedding—At a same-gender ceremony, the new is made old again.”
Claire McCarthy and Rebecca Womeldorf of Rock Spring shared their experience as a couple raising two children. Claire spoke of the prejudice they encounter frequently. Their newly purchased home was vandalized—a hate crime on account of their being a lesbian couple. They need to be constantly vigilant so as not to invite hate speech and actions. This means deciding on vacation plans on the basis of whether the destination is “a safe place” rather than what the family enjoys doing, and not showing affection toward each other in public. Claire explained how painful it was to hear some people say that their relationship was “unnatural,” and “not in God’s plan.” She underscored that this forum was not about political correctness or strategy, but working to ensure that all gays and lesbians can participate in the full life of the church. Rebecca spoke of the most joyful day of her life when her two children were baptized at Rock Spring. This church did not view her family as being different. On that day, she felt God’s presence as never before. She urged us to consider what the church’s message to the world is, and said that her highest hope was that Rock Spring would speak out loudly and clearly on marriage equality with all the joy that we can muster.
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Discussion with UCC President John Thomas, October 22, 2006
Rev. John H. Thomas, General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ, delivered the sermon, "It's a privilege to bless, not the privilege of place," and remained for a question and discussion session after each service.
What does it mean for a minister to perform an act of blessing? This was the central theme of the sermon given by Rev. John Thomas. The one officiating a marriage ceremony gives the marriage the church’s blessing. This blessing is an act on behalf of the whole community of faith. For heterosexual couples, this blessing does not come with the church’s judgment; heterosexual couples have always known that there is a place for them at the table. At this table, spouses commit to mutual companionship and care, to sharing a new life with each other, and to a life of faithfulness and fidelity. Is there anything in all this that inherently precludes same-gender couples? Can we extend the invitation to sit at the table to same-gender couples?
Or must they sit at another table? Many gays and lesbians see the withholding of the blessing by the church as the church’s saying to them, you are good enough for holy unions, but not quite good enough for marriage. It is the privilege of blessing to which we are called. Jesus speaks of it as an entry into his own baptism. To bless means to allow others to sit at the table, even giving up our own seats to serve others.
The Puritans worried about offering sacraments indiscriminately, to the children of elect and non-elect alike, and not treating it with sufficient respect. The Puritans settled at a compromise, a halfway covenant. This compromise was satisfactory for a time, but not for long. Rev. Thomas called on us to end the halfway covenant of marriage. Sorting out the privilege of place is not what is asked of us. Withholding the blessing represents the church’s failure to see and acknowledge the sacredness that is already there, and such denial has the power to hurt and destroy. Do we deny the rite of marriage to some people because the church and the state are co-mingled in this one arena? Marriage is not simply a civil right. It is a covenant within the rite of the church. Its foundation is the faithfulness of God’s love.
The Rev. Thomas acknowledged that none of this was easy. With the privilege to bless comes an enormous challenge and responsibility. But blessing is the church’s vocation, not possession. We are to give our lives in the “service of a touch,” acknowledging sacredness and the power in the blessings that we offer.
During the discussion with the congregation, the Rev. Thomas stressed the importance of seeing this dialogue as being fundamentally about people, and not an abstract intellectual exercise. For this to be about people first and a theoretical question second, it is important that the church provide a safe and open space for gays and lesbians. Without providing a level of safety and openness, gays and lesbians will not come to church, or else they will conceal their identity even if they come, and the majority of church members will not have real-life encounters with gays and lesbians, making this question a theoretical one. While marriage equality is a justice and political issue in society, inside the church it is ultimately a profoundly pastoral question, one that is about faithfulness to the church community. The legal status of same-gender couples is one of the main stumbling blocks to extending blessings to gays and lesbians. But the clergy is asked to be an agent of the state only in this arena and in no other. It is surely not civil society’s role to regulate what the church can or cannot do, and in this sense the ban on marriage, to the extent that it is also affecting the behavior and response of the church to marriage equality, is an infringement on religious freedom. Rev. Thomas mentioned that there are UCC ministers who are refusing to sign marriage licenses until all are able to marry. Acknowledging that there will be pain and brokenness in the midst of joy for those churches that operate in a hostile legal environment, Rev. Thomas urged us to proclaim a wider sense of what ONA means.
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Forum 4: Marriage in the Church: Ecclesiastical and Pastoral Issues, and Rock Spring's response, October 29, 2006
What does it mean for the life of the church and its ministry to offer, or withhold, the rite of marriage for same-gender couples? The session included consideration of what steps, if any, Rock Spring might take in response to the Synod Resolution.
On October 29, 44 Rock Springers gathered in the Carpenter Hall to participate in the final session of the four-part forum on the UCC Synod Resolution, “In Support of Equal Marriage Rights for All.” The first speaker, Rock Spring’s Senior Pastor Chuck Wildman, addressed four issues: the ecclesiastical landscape, breaking the tie that binds, our responsibility for advocacy, and accepting differences.
The ecclesiastical landscape. Chuck said that we should correct the injustice we wrote into the ONA statement of June 2000. After careful study and reflection, he has come to conclude that there is no biblical justification, no acceptable ecclesiastical rationale, for Rock Spring to make a distinction between heterosexual and same-gender couples and perform “ceremonies of traditional marriage” for one and of “committed union” for the other. What was reasonable and rational then is now neither. Performing marriage ceremonies for all would be consistent with Rock Spring’s Constitution and By-Laws as amended in 2005 (“Jesus taught and lived an inclusive faith”), Articles of Faith (“be servants in the service of the whole human family”),
Covenant (“ways of the Lord, made known or to be made known to us”), Just Peace Resolution, and ONA Statement.
Breaking the Tie That Binds. Chuck argued that there is no reason for the clergy to become agents of the state for any reason, but particularly in the current situation in Virginia which is at the forefront of the fight against gay rights. To represent the state in civil marriage in this state would present a crisis of conscience. Should Rock Spring’s pastors decide to sever ties with the Commonwealth of Virginia and no longer sign marriage licenses—in so doing, Rock Spring will join other churches that are breaking state-church ties—there would be virtually no inconvenience for heterosexual couples getting married. They would have to go to the country courthouse to collect the marriage license paper anyway, and, in Arlington, all they would have to do is to go to another room, answer two pro forma questions, and pay a fee of $25. Although there is no clarity on the legal implications of “marrying” same-gender couples in church, since Rock Spring is not proposing to sign any legal documents, chances are excellent that nothing will happen, unless the state wants to make an example of Rock Spring. But that, continued Chuck, should not be a deterrent.
Where the Gospel hits the streets. Pointing out that Rock Spring was founded on the belief that sincere faith is activist by definition, Chuck stressed the importance of advocacy for equal rights before the law and acceptance by society of same-gender couples. Advocacy could begin with Rock Spring’s pastors refusing to sign marriage licenses, our working to defeat regressive legislation, publishing articles and letters in the media, issuing press releases, and holding press conferences.
What about those who disagree? In the true congregational tradition, we do not require agreement, but rather respect for all people and honest dialogue. Chuck said, “We first love all people, and then accept our differences.”
After a lively discussion that included testimonies by gays, lesbians, and their parents, Peter Moll presented the Marriage Equality Study Committee’s recommendation for revising the 2000 ONA statement. The phrase “ceremonies of traditional marriage and committed union” would be replaced with “marriage ceremonies.” In the preamble which begins with “In light of our …”, a sixth bullet will be added, which reads, “Endorsement for the UCC 25 General Synod resolution entitled ‘In Support of Equal Marriage Rights for All’.” Peter briefly described the reasons why the Committee believes that marriage equality follows from ONA. Rock Spring’s ONA statement already recognizes the right of all couples to a committed, life-long, relationship. This is equivalent to marriage in all but name. Permitting heterosexual couples either marriage or holy union, while permitting homosexual couples only holy union, would amount to discrimination. Lastly, none of the literature consulted distinguished between ONA and marriage equality. All arguments against marriage equality were based on pre-ONA assumptions, and the available literature on this topic has not been helpful in this regard.
Peter also gave potential counter-arguments, and a brief response. One commonly cited argument against is that marriage is primarily for procreation. But same-gender couples do “procreate,” in what is arguably the most generous act through adoption of children. And stressing procreation invites such questions as what about those heterosexual couples who choose not to have children, or those who are not able. Another argument is that marriage has always been between one man and one woman in the church almost all the time. But if we go on the basis of tradition, then the church also condoned slavery for 1600 years and sanctioned homophobia throughout its history until about 30 years ago. What has been is not necessarily what should be. A third argument is that marrying same-gender couples would be pointless because it carries no legal recognition in Virginia or in most U.S. states. But we heard in the third forum that marriage is much more than just a legal institution. Social acceptance, which can be facilitated by the church’s marrying same-gender couples, is just as important, if not more. Children with same-gender parents want to know, as all children do, how their parents got married, and especially if their friends raise doubts in their minds, they ask, “Are you married?” The church’s action can enable these parents to say, “Yes sweetheart, we got married in Rock Spring Church.” Finally, some argue against it because it is a bad strategy. Rushing to marry same-gender couples could arouse conservative opposition needlessly and put the cause back many years. But in many socio-political fights, a perfectly well-accepted strategy is to state your position clearly from the outset, rather than give concessions and then be forced to compromise even further down the line. As an example of a compromise solution that failed, Peter spoke of the tricameral system introduced by the apartheid government in South Africa, whereby Africans, who made up the majority, were excluded but “Indians” and the so-called “Coloreds” (mixed race) were given their own parliaments to give the
appearance of equality. This system lasted just ten years.
There was general consensus among the participants that Rock Spring should marry same-gender couples and that, if our pastors so choose, Rock Spring should not longer be involved in civil marriage. Some expressed reservations about endorsing the Synod Resolution, including concerns about pursuing equal marriage rights in Virginia. Others pointed out that the Resolution does not require that equality before the law be pursued under the name of marriage, but that the Resolution “encourages” UCC congregations to engage in serious, respectful, and prayerful discussion on equal marriage rights, including wedding policies, and “consider and support” equal marriage rights and work against discriminatory legislation. The meeting concluded that there should be further discussion by the Marriage Equality Study Committee to examine the wording with respect to the Synod Resolution in the proposed ONA revisions before taking the statement to the Social Action Board for its action and submission to Church Council.
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Listening and Discussion sessions, January - March 2007
Four listening and discussion sessions were held on January 21, February 11 and 18, and March 11, prior to the congregational vote on March 18. In parallel, an explanation of the proposed amendments to the ONA statement, and questions and answers—legal implications of performing same-sex marriage ceremonies in Virginia, questions about the voting procedure—were circulated.
Mini-forum on witnessing statement, March 4, 2007
The Church Council on February 24, 2007 endorsed addition of a paragraph on committing the congregation to witnessing to full civil rights for all people. The marriage equality study committee organized a mini-forum on March 4 to address any concerns raised by this addition. For the outline of the forum, please click here.
Press release after the vote
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The Ties That Bind — Winner of the Pride Service Sermon Award, Rev. Janet Parker, Pride Sunday, June 10, 2007. The award is sponsored by the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice and Healing and cosponsored by HRC, GLAAD, NGLTF, the Black Justice Foundation, and the Institute for Judaism and Sexual Orientation. Text.
Costly engagement, Rev. Janet Parker, March 4, 2007. Text.
Homosexuality & The Use of Scripture, Rev. George Booth, November 11, 2006. Text.
People of the Comma, Rev. Charles Wildman, October 29, 2006. Text.
It’s the Privilege to Bless, Not the Privilege of Place, Rev. John H. Thomas, October 22, 2006. Text.
Civilization and Its Malcontents, Rev. Janet Parker, September 24, 2006. Text.
Open and Affirming Faith, Rev. Phil White, January 30, 2000. Text.
What Would Jesus Say? Rev. Charles Wildman, January 9, 2000. Text.
Open and Affirming - Journey to Understanding, Rev. Charles Wildman, September 19, 1999. Text.
Pilgrimage to Understanding, Rev. George Booth, ground-breaking sermon delivered on January 31, 1982. Text.