Let’s turn on the news and see what’s happening in our world.
[Newscaster voice] The January 6 Committee continues to present its findings on our corrupt former president: how he attempted to convince the American people that our election system is rigged, how he claims that he actually won reelection, and how he called out thousands of his followers to storm the Capitol on January 6, 2020 in an insurrection. Over to you, Kate.
[Kate] Thanks, Tom. The Supreme Court handed down a ruling this week on people’s rights to carry concealed weapons, which comes in the wake of the racist killing of 10 people in a Black neighborhood grocery store in Buffalo, New York, and the murder of 19 schoolchildren and two adults in an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. The United States is unique in this level of gun violence, but gun rights advocates insist that the high death toll has nothing to do with the ubiquity of guns; rather, it must be mental health problems among the shooters. Back to you, Tom.
[Tom] Speaking of the Supreme Court, on Friday it released its long-awaited decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the nearly 50-year-old ruling regarding women’s right to have safe, legal abortions as they make decisions about their own bodies and their willingness to be parents. Anti-abortion Christians are jubilant. They have been harassing abortion clinic clients and murdering doctors who give abortions for decades, all in the name of life.
[Kate] In Ukraine, Russia has been blocking the ports to prevent Ukrainian wheat and other crops from being exported to countries in Africa and the Mediterranean that depend on them. There may be widespread famine if these crops do not reach their destinations. Meanwhile, Ukrainian farmers have struggled to get this year’s crops planted because of the war. And Russia continues to threaten to cut off gas supplies to Europe, which would throw European countries into turmoil. Gas prices in the U.S. are now around $5 per gallon. Our economy is experiencing a huge surge in inflation and may tip into recession. Poorer families in particular are struggling to afford food and gas and rent.
[Tom] On to the environment and climate change. The Southwest is experiencing an unprecedented drought, the likes of which hasn’t been seen in at least 1200 years. Lake Mead, a human-made reservoir that provides water to millions, is at dangerously low levels. Farmers in California, Nevada, Arizona, and elsewhere may end up abandoning their fields because there is no water for the crops. Climate change is also a factor in the wildfire in New Mexico and the meager wheat crop in Kansas.
Click. Off goes the TV.
It’s all very well for God to say, “Maintain justice and do what is right,” as we read a few minutes ago in Isaiah. But what is justice? What is right? There are so many different flavors. The people who showed up for the insurrection on January 6 were obeying the call of their president to decertify what they were convinced was stolen election. According to their moral compass, they thought they were doing the right thing. Most people disagree with their choices.
So from now through July we’re diving into a worship series on finding our moral compass in such times as these. When the world is falling apart around us, when our former president merits two impeachment proceedings and a January 6 Committee to investigate all his shenanigans, when formerly dependable institutions such as the Supreme Court have fallen victim to politics, when we are being taught to mistrust election results, when our landscape is drying out and burning, when women’s rights are under attack, when rightwing extremists are showing up with guns at pride events in Coeur d’Alene and Norway, where is our firm foundation? What is our moral compass?
We can’t possibly cover all the topics we just heard on the newscast. But I would like to lift up two of them: the rights of women to make decisions about their own bodies, and the LGBTQ community.
But both of these issues are about sex and sexuality and gender. So let’s think about the different ideas of what might be justice in these two situations. What does our moral compass tell us? What does God tell us? What does the UCC tell us?
If you believe that sex is solely for the purpose of creating the next generation, then your idea of justice and what is right says that marriage can only be between a man and a woman, and any other option is not the will of God. You may recall that a florist refused to provide the flowers for a wedding between two men because her faith told her this was not an okay kind of marriage. Her moral compass in this situation told her to disapprove of this wedding, and she used this Bible to hit people upside the head.
If, however, you believe that human sexuality is a spectrum, like all the colors in the rainbow, and that people should be able to love and marry whomever they choose, then your idea of justice says that we celebrate everyone, no matter their gender identification or sexual preference. More on the UCC’s history with this issue in a moment.
Then there’s abortion.
If you believe that every fertilized human egg must be carried to term no matter what, then your idea of justice says that it doesn’t matter what the owner of the uterus wants or doesn’t want: that embryo must be allowed to develop.
You may also question the moral correctness of providing women with birth control. Back in the Obama Administration, when employers were being told to cover birth control for their employees as a health justice issue, Hobby Lobby, a craft store chain run by Christians, sued the U.S. government and won the right to deny their employees coverage for birth control. For the owners of Hobby Lobby, that was how they understood they were to follow God’s teachings.
If you believe that women should have autonomy over their bodies and that we all have reproductive rights, including the right to not have children, then your idea of justice says that access to safe and legal abortions is paramount. This is the stand that the UCC has taken for some decades.
Different moral compasses. Often drawing from the same Christian roots. No wonder people who have only a superficial understanding of Christianity based on what they read in the papers are walking away from the Church in droves.
You likely recall that the concept of homosexuality as we know it today didn’t exist in biblical times. So what few glancing references there are to what appears to be same-gender sex can’t be understood through our modern lens. Really, we can’t say that the Bible talks in any definitive way about homosexual or non-binary relationships as we understand them today.
What we do know is that Jesus welcomed everyone to his table, no ifs, ands, or buts. He got in trouble for hanging out with people that those in “proper” society wanted to exclude and oppress. He welcomed women. He ate with tax collectors as well as Pharisees. He told a parable in which the supposed enemy, a Samaritan, was the hero. He offered free health care in the form of healings, including for those who had spent all their money on doctors who could do nothing. I am not saying that LGBTQ people are in any way second-class citizens; in fact, I’m saying the opposite. With God there are no second-class citizens. And I’m also lifting up the overarching message of love throughout the Bible: Love God with all your being, love your neighbor as yourself, and do unto your neighbor as you would have your neighbor do unto you. None of that is about judging or excluding or oppressing. It is about accepting, and loving, and including everybody.
Notice what God says in our passage from Isaiah today. The foreigner who worships God shall not be cast aside. The eunuchs who are incapable of fathering children but who follow God’s ways shall receive “a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; [God] will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off” (Isaiah 56:7). God says,
[A]ll who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it,
and hold fast my covenant—
these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.
Thus says God,
who gathers the outcasts of Israel,
I will gather others to them
besides those already gathered. (Isaiah 56:6b-8, my italics).
And in the New Testament, when Paul travels throughout the Mediterranean to bring God’s Good News to people there, he’s inviting the Gentiles to come into the fold. The Gentiles, the non-Jews, were supposed to be “other” and therefore excluded.
So if we are to follow God’s teachings, then we welcome everyone, no matter their sexual identity or orientation. And we know, deep in our cells, that God welcomes us, however and whoever we are. God’s love is that broad, that deep, that enduring, that steadfast.
The UCC has taken stands through the decades on LGBTQ rights. In 1969, the Council for Christian Social Action adopted the “Resolution on Homosexuality and the Law.” In 1972, fifty years ago, the UCC was the first mainline Protestant denomination to ordain an openly gay man, the Rev. William R. Johnson. Fifty years ago.
Here are the titles of some of the resolutions that the UCC has passed on this issue starting in 1969:
2011, “Supporting International Human Rights Related to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity”, 28th General Synod
2011, “The Right of LGBT Parents to Adopt and Raise Children”, 28th General Synod
2009, “Affirming Diversity/Multi-Cultural Education in the Public Schools“, 27th General Synod
2005, “Equal Marriage Rights for All“, 25th General Synod
2004, “Call to Action and Invitation to Dialogue on Marriage“, Executive Council
2003, “Reaffirming the United Church of Christ’s Denouncement of Violence Against Lesbian and Gay People and Calling for the Inclusion of Transgender people within that Anti-violence Statement“, 24th General Synod
2003, “The United Church of Christ and the Boy Scouts of America“, 24th General Synod
1999, “Prevention of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth Suicide“, 22nd General Synod
1999, “Affirming and Strengthening Marriage“, 22nd General Synod
1998, “Passage of Hate Crimes Legislation“, Executive Council
1997, “Fidelity and Integrity in all Covenanted Relationships“, 21st General Synod
1996, “Equal Marriage Rights for Same Gender Couples“, Board of Directors of the United Church Board for Homeland Ministries
1993, “Resolution Calling on the Church for Greater Leadership to End Discrimination against Gays and Lesbians“, 19th General Synod
1993, “A Call to End the Ban against Gays and Lesbians in the Military“, 19th General Synod
1991, “Resolution on Affirming Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Persons and their Ministries“, 18th General Synod
1989, “Resolution Deploring Violence against Lesbian and Gay People“, 17th General Synod
1987, “Resolution on the Right to Privacy“, 16th General Synod
1985, “Resolution Calling on United Church of Christ Congregations to Declare Themselves Open and Affirming“, 15th General Synod
1983, “Resolution on the Institutionalized Homophobia within the United Church of Christ“, 14th General Synod
1977, “Resolution Deploring the Violation of Civil Rights of Gay and Bisexual Persons“, 11th General Synod
1975, “Resolution on Human Sexuality and the Needs of Gay and Bisexual Persons“, 10th General Synod
1975, “A Pronouncement: Civil Liberties without Discrimination Related to Affectional or Sexual Preference“, 10th General Synod
1973, “Human Sexuality and Ordination“, Executive Council
1969, “Resolution on Homosexuals and the Law“, Council for Christian Social Action
There are over 1,700 churches in the UCC that call themselves “open and affirming,” which is our lingo for saying that we welcome LGBTQ people fully and joyfully into the pews and the pulpit. Because “they” are “us,” and “we” are incomplete without “them” in all their glory and diversity.
The top leaders of the United Church of Christ put out the following letter of support on Friday in the wake of the Supreme Court decision to repeal Roe v. Wade.
Long before the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, the United Church of Christ, by action of the General Synod, affirmed the right of every individual to follow their personal religious and moral convictions regarding their reproductive healthcare. We continue to stand by this conviction today. This religious and moral agency includes the autonomy of birthing people to decide whether to complete or terminate a pregnancy.
Our Synod resolutions, which represent the will of the church in light of scripture, highlight the importance of ensuring access to the full range of reproductive health care regardless of race, religion, or economic status. We do not take this stand in spite of faith, but rather because of it. Throughout sacred text humankind is tasked with care of self and others. Bodily autonomy is a human right given by God.
Today’s Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, discarding nearly 50 years of precedent, will endanger the lives and well-being of birthing people who do not choose to continue pregnancy. God loves and cares for people who have abortions, and so does the United Church of Christ. We believe all people have the right to make their own decisions about their bodies and medical treatment. We believe women have an inalienable right to shape the direction of their lives as they see fit, and no institution established by humankind should supersede such freedom.
The Supreme Court’s decision to vacate Roe v. Wade and return the protection of a woman’s human right to states represents a continual effort to oppress women and people who can give birth. Such uniform repression targeted at one specific class of people, namely those who have a uterus, creates yet another stark division in a country that so desperately needs unity. In addition to gender bias, such a rendering also disproportionately effects birthing people of color and women in rural or low-income areas who face challenges in access to safe and medically supervised reproductive health care, including abortions. The gravity of this decision and the devastation of its impact cannot be overstated.
Through the prophet Isaiah, God offers these words of comfort to the Israelites during a challenging time: “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10) These are not words that assuage us with easy answers and shallow promises. There is no declaration that things will be better tomorrow. They will not be. But they do promise that we are not alone in our struggles.
We, the officers of the United Church of Christ, want those feeling the pain of today’s decision to know that you are not alone. God has not abandoned you and neither will we. We will do what we always do when the law loses its love. We will grieve with you and offer space for lament and mourning. We will work with you until the rights of every person are honored in this land. We will stand with you in protest. We will kneel with you in prayer. And we will maintain our commitment to educate people about abortion access and safe medically supported reproductive healthcare. Now and always, we remain firm in the knowledge that all are beloved of God, and this cause is right and holy.
The Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer, General Minister and President
The Rev. Traci Blackmon,
The Rev. Dr. Karen Georgia A. Thompson
Associate General Ministers
[Opened up for general discussion among those present.]