Monday, October 15, 2007
Gay church loses members as acceptance spreads.
You know, from a safe, emotional distance I found this headline comforting in an odd sort of way.
Sadly, I think it's just a temporary downward 'blip' on the statistical screen. One thing is certain - as long as the institutional church continues to use theological language like "hate the sin, love the sinner," there will continue to be a message of hate which is delivered with the imprimatur of the institutional church.
As long as there is a message of hate being delivered with the authority of even one part of the institutional church, there will always be a need for the kind of sanctuary provided by the Metropolitan Community Church.
So, an odd sort of prayer for a uniquely queer situation:
May God continue to abundantly bless the MCC church and may it one day no longer be necessary or needed. Amen.
October 08, 2007
Gay church loses members as acceptance spreads
By JIM HAUG
DAYTONA BEACH -- Metropolitan Community Church began in 1968 as an alternative for gays who felt alienated by most churches' condemnation of homosexuality.
After a contentious summer in which the denomination suspended local worship for a month and revoked the credentials of the local pastor, the Rev. Beau McDaniels, Hope Metropolitan Community Church members are doing what many congregations do after a fight with church headquarters.
They are thinking about joining another denomination. The United Church of Christ, a liberal Protestant church that has ordained openly gay clergy and affirmed same-sex marriage, is mentioned as a possible successor to the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches.
Vikki Del Fiacco, a former Metropolitan member in Daytona Beach, has already switched over. She is training for the ministry with Port Orange United Church of Christ.
Del Fiacco likes the United group because "it's open and affirming of everyone." She noted Metropolitan founder Troy Perry "never thought MCC would last long term."'
Its original mission was "to be accepting," Del Fiacco said. "But other denominations are accepting now."
Episcopalians, of course, have gotten much attention for ordaining an openly gay bishop.
Some liberal Lutheran, Presbyterian and Methodist congregations have also embraced openly gay members, said Lesley Northup, an associate professor of religion at Florida International University.
Because of the growing acceptance, gays may no longer feel the need to segregate themselves in a niche church, Northup said.
Coincidentally, the Rainbow Promise Fellowship Metropolitan Church in Lakeland has scheduled a vote on Oct. 14 on whether to disaffiliate with the Metropolitan Community Churches denomination.
The Daytona Beach and Lakeland churches could follow the example of the Cathedral of Hope in Dallas, which was once the largest Metropolitan Community Churches congregation with 3,500 members. It left the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in 2003 and later joined the United Church of Christ.
The United Church of Christ has a proud progressive history, known for setting the trend in ordaining black, female and openly gay ministers, religion scholars said.
As a congregational-based denomination, policy decisions are made at the local level. So United churches are not all alike. One in five United churches in Florida has declared itself to be "open and affirming" of homosexuality, said the Rev. Kent Siladi, the conference minister for Florida.
The Florida Conference of the United Church of Christ passed a resolution in May encouraging other churches to educate itself about becoming "open and affirming" toward gay members, Siladi said.
As a matter of clarification, United does not recruit other churches, Siladi said.
In another sign gay acceptance has become a moot point, Hope Metropolitan's dispute with its denominational leaders has nothing to do with ideology and is all about organizational matters.
Members criticize the denomination's investigation into their pastor, the Rev. McDaniels.
Information about the case, which allegedly centered around church finances, was not shared with the congregation, members said.
The investigation was restarted after the initial investigator found the allegations to be unsubstantiated. Members defiantly worshipped outside on the church grounds when the denomination decided to suspend Sunday services.
The mood became so tense a church elder from Texas brought two security guards with her during a summer "reconciliation" meeting.
"It was all pretty ugly," said Susan McDaniels, partner of the pastors. Beau McDaniels declined an interview request.
In a rebuke of the national leadership, the local congregation decided to rehire the Rev. McDaniels under the new title of "worship coordinator" when the denominational leadership terminated her credentials as a preacher last month.
Citing confidentiality, United Fellowship Metropolitan Community Churches leaders have declined to comment on the case. They did not respond to interview requests for this story.
The fellowship has about 250 member churches worldwide. It has become active in promoting tolerance abroad, defending the rights of gays in Jamaica in a discrimination case, for instance.
Melissa Wilcox, a professor of religion at Whitman College in California, has written a book on Metropolitan Community Churches called "Coming Out in Christianity."
She acknowledged Metropolitan Community Churches founders intended the church as a temporary, "stop-gap" solution until other denominations became more accepting of gays.
Wilcox, however, noted many gays are still uncomfortable going to even the most liberal churches, Wilcox said.
They feel awkward and conspicuous when identified as the church's official "gay members." They also encounter "there goes the neighborhood" resistance from members who did not want them to join in the first place, she said.
So Metropolitan Community Churches still fills a need as a place of acceptance. "I think there's a future," Wilcox said.