UCC sees donation gain after supporting same-sex marriage
by Heather Tirado Gilligan
Donations to the connectional ministries of the United Church of Christ increased by over a million dollars in 2007 following its endorsement of same-sex marriage in 2005.
UCC's controversial decision a few years ago was a move that some said would lead to financial ruin for the national church. But instead, the opposite has happened, national church leaders said. During 2007, voluntary contributions to Our Church's Wider Mission, the denomination's shared fund for connectional ministries, totaled $29,637,048, up from $28,409,202 during the previous year, according to year-end financial reports.
The UCC General Synod approved a nonbinding resolution in support of same-sex marriage by an overwhelming margin in 2005, with the support of 80 percent of elected church representatives. The resolution called on UCC churches to study and support the need for equal liturgical rites and civil marriage laws for same-sex couples.
When the resolution passed, the UCC became the first mainline Christian denomination to call for the legalization of same-sex marriage. That decision led to more than 200 of UCC's 5,900 congregations leaving the denomination, according to the national UCC. Eighty-five other congregations, however, took steps to join UCC.
"There had been speculation by some that this would spell financial disaster for the national church. We didn't see the significant decline that many were predicting," said the Reverend J. Bennett Guess, director of communications for UCC.
Instead, 2007, which was also the 50th anniversary of UCC, was "a year of significant celebration," according to Guess. The modern denomination formed in 1957, but has existed in various forms in the U.S. since the colonial period.
Guess said that the church experienced rejuvenation rather than decline last year, which he described as a time of "good feelings, [and] a sense of unity and support for the denomination."
"Giving to the national ministries in historical mainline denominations has been decreasing steadily since 1960s," Guess said. "Anytime we see a reversal in that trend," such as the 1.2 million increase in donations in 2007, "it's something we note as significant."
Guess dated UCC's support for same-sex marriage to the mid-1990s. UCC's efforts on behalf of the LGBT community began in 1985, when the Synod approved a resolution making UCC open and affirming to gays and lesbians.
Guess placed UCC's endorsement of same-sex marriage squarely within the denomination's history of advocating for social justice. "We see ourselves as a justice church and we wrestle with the issues of the day," Guess said.
This view was echoed by the Reverend Dr. Wilfried Glabach, pastor of the First Congregational Church of San Francisco, United Church of Christ, who emphasized that "church is not just for straight people."
"The United Church of Christ is focused on a lot of social issue questions," Glabach said. He added that UCC is "very concerned about things that are not in the right perspective, where people are marginalized for their race, gender, sexual orientation or abilities."
Glabach said that UCC has been "very interested in helping gay, lesbian, transgender people in the last century." His congregation welcomes same-sex couples. "We hope that same sex-couples will be coming to get their relationships blessed by us. This is something that we would like to do, and I would like to do, in our church," Glabach said.
"It doesn't make life easier for our church," Glabach said of the denominationÕs support of progressive causes.
Guess noted, "The trajectory that the UCC claims encourages us and inspires us to take steps that may be difficult but feel necessary." He cited among the church's historical milestones ordaining the first African American and first woman pastor in the 1850s.