Homosexuality and the United Church of Canada

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LGBT issues have resulted in a divide within the United Church of Canada in the latter part of the 20th century.

Old and New Testament teachings[edit]

The question of accepting homosexuality has been a controversial issue for the United Church in the latter part of the 20th century — insofar as many conservatives involved with the church, on the one hand, have regarded its denunciation as essential to Old Testament biblical teachings.

"More conservative denominations and Christians tend to view homosexuality as a profound evil; they generally believe it is changeable, chosen, abnormal, unnatural and immoral behavior, regardless of the nature of the relationship."[1]

People of a more liberal understanding, on the other hand, have regarded it as essential to New Testament understanding to be accepting of individuals which do not appear to harm others. Indeed, many focus on the person of Jesus and his command to love God and love each other.

"More liberal denominations and Christians tend to view homosexuality as a civil rights matter; they generally believe it is fixed, unchosen, normal, natural, and morally neutral sexual orientation for a minority of adults."[2]

Conservative laity and liberal clergy[edit]

The United Church of Canada has within its members those whose values may be somewhat more conservative than those in higher levels of Church governance. It also has members whose values are somewhat more liberal than those in the wider levels of Church governance. The Church has taken a rather difficult middle road. Its increasingly inclusive stance has lost it many conservative congregations and members and has gained some of more liberal attitude.[3]

37th General Council[edit]

The 37th General Council, 2003, affirmed that "human sexual orientations, whether heterosexual or homosexual, are a gift from God and part of the marvelous diversity of creation." On the other hand, many United Church people take a rather more conservative position and many congregations decline to call gay clergy and to approve gay marriage.[4]

Lifting restrictions on homosexual ministers[edit]

In the outcome, the United Church has become generally very open to homosexual members, while leaving it open to individual congregations to take a more conservative stance. Since 1988, the Church formally holds to the position that homosexuality "is not in itself a barrier" to becoming a minister.[5][6]

In 2012, the church elected the Rev. Gary Paterson as its Moderator. Paterson is an openly gay man, who is married to the Rev. Tim Stevenson, who was the first openly gay man to be ordained as a minister by the United Church.[7]

Lobbying for same-sex marriage[edit]

Some United Church ministers solemnize marriages or blessings for same-sex couples, and some United Church spokespersons advocate for gay rights in the greater community. Representatives of the General Council of The United Church of Canada presented evidence in favour of same-sex marriage to the House of Commons Justice Committee during its cross-country hearings in 2003 and welcomed court decisions that legalized same-sex marriage in certain provinces.[8][9]

Congregations leaving the United Church[edit]

Because of the polity and structure of The United Church of Canada, coming to a church-wide decision on issues of human sexuality is impossible. The General Council, responsible for doctrine, polity and denominational identity, is able to make statements about where the denomination stands; each Congregation is responsible for its own worship life, which includes the participation of GBLT women and men. Some congregations elected to leave the church entirely following various General Council decisions. Some of these congregations went into the re-constituted Congregational Christian Churches in Canada and some clergy and laity joined other Protestant Churches. Some clergy and laity have joined the continuing Presbyterian Church in Canada.