- The Washington Times - Friday, February 10, 2006

The United Church of Christ’s endorsement of homosexual “marriage” — a lone stance among the largest Christian denominations — has stirred debate and divided dozens of its churches. Some have stopped sending money to the church’s national office; others have left the denomination.

A prime example occurred last month at Pilgrim United Church of Christ in Toledo, Ohio, where, after the last votes were counted, some members applauded the decision to end their 45-year affiliation with the denomination. Others wiped away tears and walked out in protest.

“It has caused people to really think hard about their faith,” said the Rev. Stephen Camp, administrator of the UCC’s Southern Conference, which includes eastern Virginia.

“I think we’re on the right side of history,” said Mr. Camp, who backs the denomination’s position. “We’re seeking to be faithful to what Jesus Christ is saying, that we should all be one.”

The Cleveland-based church has a tradition of support for homosexuals, in 1972 becoming the first major Christian church to ordain an openly homosexual minister.

Some conservatives, however, were angered by a UCC campaign that started about a year ago to reach out to homosexuals. Some of those same conservatives say leaders of the church crossed the line this time by supporting homosexual “marriage.”

The “marriage” of homosexual couples “isn’t what we preach, it isn’t what we teach, it isn’t what we believe,” said the Rev. Lawrence Cameron, the pastor at Pilgrim UCC.

It’s not clear how many churches have left since the UCC’s rule-making body in July endorsed homosexual “marriage.” The UCC puts the number at 49 while a group opposed to the stand on “marriage” says at least 77 churches have withdrawn.

And although either number represents just a fraction of the denomination’s 5,725 churches, the issue has sparked debate and divisiveness in many more congregations, especially conservative ones in the South and Midwest.

“The leadership knew this would divide the church,” said the Rev. Bryan Moore, pastor at Shepherd of the Hills Church in Bechtelsville, Pa. “How could they not know that?”

Members of the eastern Pennsylvania church have spent time debating whether to remain in the UCC and fight against the homosexual “marriage” policy or start anew. For now, they won’t give any money to the denomination, sending it to orphanages or other charities instead.

Members of the Bradford Congregational Church in Zephyrhills, Fla., voted to leave the denomination within a month of the homosexual “marriage” endorsement.

The Rev. James Owens said UCC leaders should have surveyed the churches before voting on such an important decision. Mr. Owens said his congregation regards Scripture as clearly saying marriage is between one man and one woman.

Members of the Toledo church spent two months debating whether to stay in the UCC before voting twice on the question. The second vote was 156-77 in favor of leaving — just the required two-thirds majority needed.

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