UCC pastor who voted for marriage resolution, lost 72% of members shows some are willing to do what’s right regardless of consequences

In the struggle for LGBTQ equality we sometimes forget that we have a lot of allies in the straight world.

Now I’ve been critical of some of these folks in the past. They are like people who stand by the craps table in Las Vegas, cheering when the shooter makes the point and sighing when he loses, but their money stays in their pockets. They have no skin in the game.  Many of our allies offer their moral support in an emotional way, but it has little effect on them whether we get equal rights or not.  They never placed a bet and risk nothing, so it’s no wonder I sometimes dismiss their good wishes.

That skepticism changed for me a couple of weeks ago while I was attending church. Our pastor, the Rev. Jo Hudson, made an extraordinary appeal. She had received a letter from a congregation of the United Church of Christ in St. Paul, Minn., asking for monetary help from other congregations in the denomination.

I suspect this kind of thing happens from time to time, but we as a congregation had never been privy to the details of such a request. The story is worth repeating. The Rev. Oliver White of Grace Church explained that back in 2005 he attended the general synod of the UCC in Atlanta. That was a historic denominational conference. At that event a resolution was passed by an 80 percent margin to affirm “equal marriage rights for all people, regardless of gender.” That made the United Church of Christ the largest Christian denomination to officially support same-sex marriage. White voted in favor of that resolution.

Though he may not have known it, White moved from the sidelines of the equality game and placed his bet on the table.  When his congregation learned of his vote, they responded.  Seventy-two percent of church members left the congregation within a few months as a direct response. Now, after struggling with debts, the predominantly poor and African-American congregation is saddled with an equity loan to survive.  Because of their credit difficulties the interest on the loan was a staggering 23.5 percent, the highest possible interest rate that can be legally charged in Minnesota.

White and the members of Grace Church who stayed in the congregation have skin in the game, and their survival as a church is in jeopardy.

Needless to say, this story has made me examine my attitudes toward our allies, especially the ones who not only stand by us emotionally, but those who risk their own well-being to assure us rights which really have no bearing on them at all.  Those are real allies, not just a cheering squad.

This story reminds me of something that happened when I was a child. At that time I was attending Temple Emanuel in Dallas. I was raised in a Jewish home and later converted to Christianity. Our rabbi was a well-known Dallasite named Levi Olan. I remember many Friday nights listening to his sermons as he preached against the evils of the Vietnam War and about the fight for civil rights. His views won him the nickname “the conscience of Dallas” but also rankled the congregation on a regular basis. I know of several who left the Temple because of his stance against the war and his support for civil rights. Rabbi Olan never questioned the consequences if he believed something was the right thing to do. That is the kind of ally anyone would be glad to have.

So I guess my point is this: I apologize. I’m sorry if I doubted the convictions of some of our allies and especially those who actually put their money where their mouths are.

To compare the fight for equality to a craps game is a very imperfect analogy. The truth is, though there is a lot on the line, the actual outcome is not something governed strictly by chance. More and more people have come to support our cause because they see it is the right thing to do. Because of that they are willing to risk more than just their opinions; they are actually getting into the game. Legislative bodies across the country are starting to pass measures that assure greater and greater equality for LGBTQ citizens, even though they face real consequences for their actions.

Government officials across the nation are making their voices heard that discrimination because of sexual orientation or gender identity is wrong. More telling is the number of clergy, even those with few LGBTQ congregants, who are standing up and speaking out for equality like the Rev. Oliver White. They are placing their bets with us on the table and history is tilting the odds in our favor.

Hardy Haberman is a longtime local LGBT activist and board member of the Woodhull Freedom Alliance. His blot is at DungeonDiary.blogspot.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 2, 2012.