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Churches stand firm against UCC decisions

Married couples say, “I do.”

To the United Church of Christ, the Suffolk Christian Church, and others, are saying, “We don’t, ” as in, they don’t support the UCC’s July decision to endorse same-sex marriages, and as in, they believe so strongly about it that they want out of the UCC denomination.

That’s a message that SCC, Mount Carmel Christian Church and Liberty Spring Christian Church sent to the UCC in the past few months. All three churches recently voted to leave the UCC’s Southern Conference, which covers North Carolina and part of Virginia.

At its national meeting July 4, in Atlanta, the UCC overwhelmingly voted to endorse same-gender marriage. The resolution, says the UCC Web site, “Calls upon all settings of the United Church of Christ to engage in serious, respectful and prayerful discussion of the covenantal relationship of marriage and equal rights for couples regardless of gender.”

An SCC member for more than 25 years, Jim Mann didn’t agree.

“I was kind of shocked,” he recalled. “I don’t feel it’s biblical.”

At an SCC meeting in late August, Mann brought up the motion to leave the UCC.

“The main reason is that I don’t believe in being a part of an organization that does things without consulting its people,” he explained. “As far as I knew, we weren’t consulted as to what the agenda was and what they’d be voting on. Same-sex marriage is not biblically-condoned, and I don’t believe a church should speak for the entire nation.”

SCC Rev. Michael Halley said that his church was not represented at the national meeting.

After Mann’s motion, Halley and other church leaders tabled the decision for 90 days.

“We printed up some material that explored both sides of the issue,” he said. “Occasionally, it was brought up in sermons, but not much.”

On the 91st day, Nov. 21, roughly 250 people, which Halley called an unusually large crowd for such an event, attended a meeting at the church to vote on the issue. After Halley led the group in prayer, the floor opened up, and roughly a dozen speakers expressed their views.

Robert Marr, who preached at the church for 23 years, believes the decision to withdraw was overkill.

“The how-come has to do with the actions of the (UCC) having no requirements upon the local parish,” he said. “Each local church of the UCC is autonomous and has a local right to make its own decisions.

“The national meeting of the UCC speaks for itself; it really does not require the local church to do anything. The local church can go on doing what it’s always done, and has no obligation to follow any directives of the UCC. That’s what I would have liked to have seen it do.”

Though she didn’t speak at the meeting, Becky Oldaker thought the same-sex issue was only one reason to withdraw.

“Political reasons,” she said when asked why she voted to leave. “I felt that the UCC was getting into political stuff. I’m not saying I agree with same-sex marriages, but (the UCC) voted on whether Jesus Christ was our Lord and Savior, and I think that’s a given. They weren’t supporting President Bush, and I think we voted him in and he deserves our support. Same-sex marriage was just one part, and for me it was a very small part.”

After the presentations n Halley said there were about 10 n voters gave their opinion by written secret ballot. In the end, the “pro-withdrawers” won 181-50, far more than the required two-third majority, and the church ended its 44-year relationship with the UCC.

“There was no cheering,” Halley said. “We really did not see this as anything to celebrate. It was a really sad time, and it’s hard to celebrate something we really wish we didn’t have to do.”

Since leaving the UCC, the local church has had to make a few adjustments, he said. After purchasing insurance and subscribing to the UCC retirement plans, SCC has (successfully) gone elsewhere for replacements.

“We’ve lost the identity with a number of mainline denominations, and we lose the formal fellowship with UCC churches,” he said.

“Our vote was not meant to reject any individual,” he said. “It was a vote that members felt had to be made.”