- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 8, 2006

SUFFOLK, Va. (AP) — The United Church of Christ’s endorsement of same-sex “marriage” wasn’t the only disagreement Suffolk Christian Church had with the national group.

“Although for a lot of people, that was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” said the Rev. Michael D. Halley, minister of the 145-year-old church, which agreed by more than a two-thirds majority in the fall to leave the 1.3 million-member denomination.

The action was in response to the vote by the UCC’s General Synod, a biennial meeting of delegates from member churches, affirming “equal marriage rights for couples regardless of gender.”

Congregations also were asked to oppose campaigns that advocate constitutional amendments to limit marriage according to gender.

Virginia is among the states with such a campaign. If the General Assembly votes again this year, as it did last year, to ban same-sex civil unions, the measure could go before the state’s voters as a constitutional amendment this fall.

As many as 25 congregations within the UCC’s Southern Conference, which includes eastern Virginia and all of North Carolina, have left since the vote, said the Rev. Stephen Camp, the conference’s administrator.

Six new congregations have formed in the same period, leaving the conference with about 230 total.

The synod does not dictate policy to member churches, and ministers are not required to provide marriage rites for homosexual couples.

The synod’s action made the church the first major Christian denomination to endorse homosexual “marriage.” The United Church of Christ already was the only major Protestant denomination to allow ordination for homosexuals.

At Suffolk Christian, Mr. Halley said the synod’s decision led some congregants to conclude that their values diverged from the UCC. Some members questioned whether it was proper for the UCC’s national leadership to take politically themed stands, such as its opposition to the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

“Whatever they do, we have to wear,” Mr. Halley said. “If we carry the name out front, people are going to associate us with whatever actions our national church body had taken.”

Not every church unhappy with the synod’s action on homosexual “marriage” has quit the denomination.

At Windsor Congregational Christian Church UCC in Isle of Wight County, the board of deacons opted instead to send a letter of protest to the denomination’s president.

The church also cut financial contributions to the national church that might be used to promote the UCC’s stand on homosexual “marriage.”

“We won’t turn our back on the UCC,” said the Rev. Basil Ballard, the church’s minister. “We still feel we’re part of it, even though this is one little portion we can’t abide.”

At least 16 churches outside the Southern Conference have quit the UCC, said the Rev. J. Bennett Guess, the UCC’s national spokesman.

Mr. Guess said the losses are not catastrophic, noting that the UCC also has received overtures from existing congregations and groups of people who are interested in forming UCC congregations nationwide.

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