At the 1985 General Synod, our denomination adopted a Resolution Calling on United Church of Christ Congregations to Declare Themselves Open and Affirming. This resolution encouraged all local congregations in the United Church of Christ to affirm this statement of welcome. On November 12, 2000, our congregation affirmed this conviction to be an Open and Affirming congregation in the United Church of Christ by voting to affirm this statement:
Like a beacon, First Congregational Church stands on Meetinghouse Hill. In the spirit of Jesus’ great commandment to love God, and our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:28-34), and Paul’s teaching of acceptance of one another (Romans 14:1-15:13), we, the members of First Congregational Church, welcome and affirm all persons of every race, age, gender, marital standing, physical or mental ability, economic status, nationality and sexual orientation or identity into the full life and ministry of this community of faith, including membership and leadership. We welcome and embrace the God-given gifts that each person brings to the life of our congregation.
As an Open and Affirming church, we join our sisters and brothers in the United Church of Christ and all persons who are committed to the struggle for justice, love and inclusiveness, with the example and teachings of Jesus Christ as our guide.
While we believe that this statement affirms our faith as an Open and Affirming congregation, there are still questions that linger. Here are our answers to a few of those questions.
What does “affirming” mean?
In the context of our statement, affirming means that we go beyond tolerance. The policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell” often leaves the impression that we must hide who we are in order to be accepted. To declare ourselves “Open and Affirming” means that we believe all persons are entitled to be treated with decency and respect—truly equals because we are all made by God and loved by God. We want to state clearly that no one needs to be afraid of judgment or exclusion from our church because of who they are. All persons who live respectfully and responsibly, and who want to join us in following Christ, are welcome.
What does the Bible say?
Hebrew and Christian scriptures assumed that God made Eve from Adam, female from male. Therefore, they reasoned, God created only heterosexuals who were attracted only to the opposite sex. It was assumed that any homosexual act was contrary to human nature and to God’s intention. The languages of our scriptures, Hebrew and Greek, don’t even contain a word for homosexuality. They refer, instead, to homosexual acts by heterosexuals, which were condemned as idolatrous, exploitative or pagan practices. There is increasing evidence that sexual orientation is not a choice but a matter of how God has created us. Jesus did not even mention the subject of homosexuality — though he did condemn most divorces. So when we look at scripture we’re compelled to ask: “what broad principles do we see in Jesus’ teaching and living, and how can we apply that to our particular question?”
The spirit of the scriptures reminds us God does not reject us because of who we are. Sin refers to bad choices we make, not to our nature or our identity. Knowing that, we cannot love God whom we have not seen if we do not love our brothers and sisters whom we have seen. By God’s grace we are called to respond compassionately toward others.
Why do we need to say anything about being Open and Affirming?
As a congregation, we have prayerfully moved to make a public statement because just as we have other statements that capture the essence of our basic beliefs as members of the family of God, we need to declare publicly some important practical conclusions that arise from our beliefs about our life together. While we have said we welcome everybody, the specific language we have proposed will reduce the possibility of misunderstanding who is included. The Open and Affirming statement puts us on record as committing ourselves not to prejudge each other on the basis of color, national origin, age, economic or marital status, physical or mental situation, gender, or sexual orientation. The welcome and affirmation we extend reflects God’s grace and love made known in Jesus Christ. Jesus ministered mainly to the outcasts, but he also preached to insiders.
Are we focusing only on gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered persons?
No. The statement specifically includes everyone who might otherwise be overlooked or excluded, since all are called into unity with Christ. However, the primary reason for an Open and Affirming statement is to say clearly and publicly that we welcome all Christians who will live in harmony with us and with the scriptures, and that we will not prejudge anyone on the basis of who they are. Adopting an Open and Affirming statement declares that we believe that sexual orientation and identity are aspects of God’s good gift of sexuality. We affirm that God created each of us in the divine image: male and female, heterosexual or homosexual.
Becoming an Open and Affirming congregation in 2000 was not just about making a statement. We continue to seek ways to welcome and engage members of our community in faith. We continue to educate ourselves and each other through the work of the Diversity Committee. We are proud to have been the first venue in Maine to present the film For the Bible Tells Me So on November 30, 2007. And we hope that we continue to be the beacon God has called us to be.