The United Church of Christ (the UCC) has done it again. The mainstream Protestant denomination of some 1.2 million in the U.S., the modern incarnation of its Plymouth Rock and abolitionist Congregationalist forebears, passed two more historic resolutions at its biennial national conclave yesterday calling for international human rights for all people, rejecting systematic discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people anywhere on the planet, and affirming support for all families, including LGBT ones, to “adopt and raise children.”
The latest affirmations from the church’s Synod follow on its biggest bombshell, a resolution in full support of marriage for all couples, including LGBT, in 2005. That made national headlines, as did efforts by the CBS TV network to censor UCC advertisements that illustrated the denomination’s “open and affirming” posture toward LGBT folks.
(Unfortunately, it needs to be noted that, after censoring the UCC ad, CBS went on to approve the airing of an ad by an anti-LGBT rights religious group, Focus on the Family, at the Superbowl earlier this year).
Now, truth be told, for many LGBT people, such positive pro-affirmation developments by the UCC or any Christian group comes as “too little, too late,” citing hundreds of years of religious persecution and suppression. The reality is that “church” is not a popular thing among LGBT persons these days, and not for a long time. This does not mean there is any lack of spiritual hunger, because there’s plenty of that.
In the late 1960s, when the “counterculture,” so called, swept over the nation like a tsunami, the organized churches and synagogues were surprisingly caught up short. Many of them, including those that united to form the UCC in the 1950s, had been champions of the progressive causes that helped to lift a despairing nation out of the Great Depression and to defeat the unspeakable horrors of Nazi Germany and other tyrannies globally.
Their post-World War II efforts extended to the delicate subject of providing comfort and expanded social acceptance of LGBT persons, as well. The Council on Religion and the Homosexual in San Francisco, for example, played a major role in protecting LGBT persons from police harassment and social repudiation, helping to build bridges between straight and gay communities through the mediation of religious institutions.
I joined the UCC in 1964 before I knew about this. It filled my need for a spiritual connection, and faced with all the options out there, I chose the UCC because it allowed me maximum latitude to use my own mind to decide on matters of religious doctrine. I then enrolled in a UCC-affiliated seminary, the Pacific School of Religion, in the San Francisco area in 1966.
But the moral leadership the UCC provided then went silent as the counterculture – led by anarchistic proponents of the drug-laced “turn on, tune in and drop out” mantra, crazed by obsessions with unbridled “sex, drugs and rock-and-roll,” undermined the enthusiasm of the nation’s young for civil rights and economic justice, and instead turned it into an self-absorbed, hedonistic morass.
While the wide acceptance of LGBT identity was a positive outgrowth of the civil rights movement, the drugged, radically-hedonistic counterculture rapidly dragged the LGBT cause toward a dizzying obsession with relentless impersonal sex, and by 1973 the preconditions were being laid in major U.S. cities for what would become the AIDS epidemic. It wasn’t just the excessive sex, it was the depersonalization of intimacy, the shift from viewing others as “meat” instead of “lovers” that was the worst of it.
The deafening silence of the progressive church in the midst of this led to the major disillusionment of an entire generation. It was just at that point that young people needed guidance, but the church stepped aside and let the values (the lack of them) of the counterculture go unchallenged. The silence also allowed the religious right to arise with its hateful condemnations.
Recovering a rightful role by progressive churches and synagogues among LGBTs who are spiritually hungry requires a moral leadership beyond the mere advocacy of rights and protections. It must articulate new guidelines for edifying human relationships and for identifying divine sparks in romances, families and creative pursuits, alike.