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social sciences

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United Church of Canada  
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One of the first major issues that the United Church faced soon after its founding was the role of women in the Church. The debates over ordaining women as clergy were fierce, and threatened to lead to schism within the new denomination, but ultimately the liberals within the Church prevailed. In 1936, Lydia Gruchy was ordained as the first female minister in the United Church of Canada. The leadership of women in the Church is no longer a contentious issue.

In terms of national issues, the Church has led in supporting women's rights, workers' rights, universal medical care, and other progressive causes. Since the 1960s, it has been supportive of the Palestinian cause in the Middle East, while at the same time consistently denouncing anti-Semitism, especially in Canadian society.

Sponsor Message.

As early as 1977, the United Church went on record urging Canada's Parliament to amend human rights laws to protect gay men and lesbians against discrimination. Since the late 1990s, it has been especially active in promoting tolerance toward homosexuals and equality under the law for homosexuals, including those in same-sex relationships.

Homosexuality in the Church

Although the United Church addressed issues of human sexuality, marriage, and divorce early in its existence, it was not until 1978 that it established a task force to study human sexuality. In 1980, the task force issued a report entitled In God's Image . . . Male and Female: A Study on Human Sexuality.

Although this report reached few definitive conclusions, asking that its members consider their own sexual experience and to reflect on it in light of the gospel and modern knowledge, it set the stage for further study. In particular, it called for study of the possibility of sex education in the Church, of the role of the Church in supporting its members' sexual journeys, and the question of the Church's position on homosexuality, including the civil rights of homosexuals and the ordination of open homosexuals to the ministry.

More pointedly, the report commented, "there is no reason in principle why mature, self-accepting homosexuals, any more than mature, self-accepting heterosexuals, should not be ordained or commissioned."

However, when an openly lesbian candidate applied for ordination to the Hamilton, Ontario Conference later that year, she was rejected. The Hamilton Conference subsequently asked that the Church specifically bar gay men and lesbians from the ministry.

In 1982, a group of homosexuals within the United Church formed Affirm United, an organization devoted to supporting gay men and lesbians in the Church and advocating for their rights.

Later in the year, the Church established a task force to consider the question of whether homosexuals were eligible for ordination to the ministry. In preparing their report, the task force consulted not only Affirm United, but also representatives of the United Church Renewal Fellowship (UCRF), a group founded in 1966 to espouse conservative positions within the Church.

In 1984, the task force's eagerly awaited report, Sexual Orientation and the Eligibility for the Order of Ministry, recommended "That in and of itself, sexual orientation should not be a factor determining membership in the Order of Ministry of the United Church of Canada."

The recommendation, though rather tentatively made and with plenty of "wiggle room," was nevertheless bitterly contested by the UCRF and other members of the Church. The UCRF issued its own report that argued that the solution to the problem of homosexuals in the Church was to convert them to heterosexuality via reparative therapy. Local discussion groups that were formed in the report's aftermath also overwhelmingly rejected the task force's recommendation.

Nevertheless, when the task force issued its final report, Gift, Dilemma, and Promise: A Report and Affirmations of Human Sexuality, in 1988, its recommendations were more emphatic and impassioned than its original report. The new report amounted to a forceful rejection of the arguments of the UCRF and the local discussion groups.

The final report affirmed that all human beings, regardless of sexual orientation, are persons made in the image of God. Not only did it recommend that the Church welcome sexually active gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals into all aspects of the Church, including the ministry, but also that the Church develop liturgies to recognize gay and lesbian relationships.

The recommendations of the task force created a firestorm of controversy in the Church. A conservative Committee of Concern issued a "Declaration of Dissent" and vowed to defeat the recommendations at the General Council later that year. A poll taken by the Church revealed that only 28% of the membership supported the ordination of homosexuals to the ministry.

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