Summer Conventions '97
Denomination: United Church of Christ.
On July 5, another step was taken toward a four-denomination ecumenical agreement by delegates of the United Church of Christ's General Synod.
The UCC voted unanimously to approve "A Formula of Agreement," which would place the denomination in full communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Reformed Church in America, and the Presbyterian Church (USA). The latter two denominations had already approved the formula during their summer conventions, although the Presbyterian vote must be confirmed by its regional units.
The UCC delegates spent time debating two controversial aspects of the formula: the treatment of gay ministers and understandings of the Eucharist, the rite celebrating the last supper of Jesus. The UCC allows the ordination of practicing homosexuals, but these ministers will probably not be allowed to serve congregations in the other three denominations. In addition, Lutherans stress the presence of Jesus at the Eucharist, a doctrine which makes some UCC members uneasy.
These concerns, though, did not prevent the UCC from approving the agreement. "Either our denominational motto ‘That We May All Be One' is the truth or a lie," delegate Dave Plant said before the vote, according to the UCC One Newsroom. "I hope it's the truth." After the vote was passed, the delegates rose to their feet for a standing ovation, then sang the hymn, "Praise God, from Whom All Blessings Flow."
A vote to form a partnership with the Council of Churches of Cuba proved more controversial. Florida's 16 delegates opposed the partnership, saying that the council has not done enough to oppose religious persecution and stating that the partnership would hurt UCC-Latino relationships. The partnership was approved by the UCC, but the Florida delegation abstained from the vote; the UCC One Newsroom reported that this was the first time in memory that a delegation has abstained from voting during the General Synod.
The issue of homosexuality surfaced once more when the synod voted to take no action on a resolution that would have encouraged "fidelity in marriage and chastity in singleness" as a standard for ministers. Instead, the delegates voted to "reaffirm that the standard for sexual and relational behavior for members of the United Church of Christ is fidelity and integrity in marriage and in other covenanted relationships, or singleness, and in all relationships of life." The resolution went on to condemn adultery, promiscuity, sexual violence, and pornography.
"These are not easy topics," said the Rev. Jana Norman-Richardson, whose committee recommended the approved resolution, and who regarded the resolution as a celebration of committed, "diverse" relationships.
A Formula of Agreement (1997)
Summer Conventions '97: Quit Complaining, Disabled Preacher Tells Southern Baptists. By Daniel Walker Guido.
©1997 Heather Elizabeth Peterson