In a press conference on 18 January 2000, SIECUS presented a document entitled "Religious Declaration on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing." The full text of this press release is available from the SIECUS web site, or here, on the Adherents.com site.
SIECUS announced that over 850 clergymen and theology teachers had endorsed the document. The SIECUS web site includes an online form to let any "religious leader or a member of the ordained clergy" add their name to the list of those endorsing the statement. As the form states, endorsement of the SIECUS document by an individual clergyman does not constitute endorsement by a denomination. By March 14, 2000, the number of endorsements had grown to 1,526. The list of endorsements is available here from a SIECUS web site, or in list form from Adherents.com.
It is important to recognize that the SIECUS document is not about homosexuality or same-sex marriage. This is only one aspect of it. The document, in its first paragraph, calls for "a new paradigm for sexual morality that does not discriminate on the basis of age, marital status, or sexual orientation". The document classifies traditional religious constraints on sexuality (such as marital fidelity, teaching against pre-marital sex, etc.) as "sexual oppression."
The SIECUS document (2nd paragraph) calls for "a faith-based commitment to [access to] abortion..."
The other proposals and positions in the document are those which have wider support, such as affirming that "sexuality is God's life-giving and life-fulfilling gift" and speaking out against "the suffering caused by violence against women and sexual minorities..." SIECUS does not suggest that any denomination which did not endorse the document (implying agreement with the entire document) in any way disagrees with with all of its content.
The January 2000 news stories from Associated Press and other sources did too little to place the news conference and associated document in context. SIECUS has attempted to present their position as having support from a large segment of America's religious groups. However, for better or for worse, this SIECUS document is actually officially endorsed by religious denominations representing less than 0.5% (one half of one percent) of the American population.
The first paragraph of the SIECUS document states that the presidents of only two denominations endorsed the document: John A. Buehrens, president of the Unitarian Universalist Association (one of the creators of the SIECUS declaration) and John H. Thomas, president of the United Church of Christ. With 150,000 and 1.5 million members, respectively, these two denominations do not represent the majority of the estimated 274 million people in America.
In addition to the few denominations which have endorsed the document's positions, professors and clergy from some non-endorsing denominations -- notably the United Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) -- have given their endorsements as individuals. Associated Press correspondent Richard Ostling reported in 1999 that nationwide, 360 of the nation's 53,600 United Methodist ministers had vowed to conduct rites for "all couples, regardless of gender."
What the SIECUS document does not state is that all major U.S. denominations have similar policies on some issues -- policies opposite those proclaimed by the SIECUS document. For instance, all of the major Christian denominations have policies prohibiting clergy who are open, practicing homosexuals. The denominations also prohibit same-sex marriages. The Catholic Church, United Methodist Church, Southern Baptist Convention, Evangelical Lutheran Church, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Church of God in Christ, National Baptist Convention of America, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Seventh-day Adventist Church, Assemblies of God, etc.: All of these bodies affirm the dignity of homosexual individuals and proclaim them to be valued members of public and congregational life. But all have many essentially identical policies proscribing behavior they consider contrary to Biblical and Church teachings. This is not to say that these denominations are wrong or right. Some of them, in fact, are currently debating this particular issue. But their denominational policies are a matter of public record. SIECUS would have the public believe that policies and teachings which place limits on certain sexual behaviors are an abberation, when in reality many specific policies and teachings are shared by every (or nearly every denomination).
Even if one were to add the entire memberships of the denominations which officially do NOT support the SIECUS document, but from which many individual endorsements came (Episcopal Church; United Methodist Church; Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.; Disciples of Christ; RLDS Church; Unity Church; and Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches), the total membership represented is only 16 million, or 5.8% of the U.S. population. (This figure disregards the fact that in these denominations majorities or near-majorities of the membership and clergy do NOT support the SIECUS document, which is why the denominations and the denomination presidents themselves do not endorse the document.)
One-third (32.7%) of the SIECUS endorsements came from three states: New York, California, and Massachusetts. The population of these states comprises 21% of the total U.S. population.
It is true that, according to polls, the majority of Americans support legal equal rights for the GLBT community. It is also true that the overwhelming majority of U.S. religious denominations and their members continue to support church-based teaching of some restraints in the areas of sexuality and abortion. The SIECUS attempt to indicate otherwise is unsupported by the data.
Although SIECUS labeled their press release "America's Religious Leaders Endorse Landmark Declaration on Religion and Sexuality" less than one-tenth of one percent of U.S. clergy and religious leaders have endorsed the SIECUS document. Even without regard to anybody's actual endorsement of the SIECUS document, surveys of U.S. clergymen and denominational positions consistently indicate that the majority hold a more conservative position than that outlined by the SIECUS document.
The SIECUS press release was an effective public relations ploy to promote a view of the American religious scene which may be quite positive or negative, depending upon one's point of view. But regardless of where one stands on the issues, sociologists and other researchers should recognize that the impression of a SIECUS-endorsing majority in American religion is statistically incorrect.
These are doubtless all fine individuals, who represent excellent organizations. But their endorsement should not be construed as representing the majority of American churches or clergy.
|Unitarian Universalist |
|United Church of Christ |
(incl. "Congregational Church")
(Reform and Reconstrutionist. Not Orthodox)
|United Methodist Church||115|
(incl. colleges, More Light, U.S.A., etc.)
|Community of Christ (RLDS Church - Missouri-based)||29|
|Disciples of Christ||21|
|Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches |
(a predominantly GLBT denomination)
|Catholic splinter groups * ||8|
|Church of All Worlds |
(Named after church in the Robert Heinlein novel
Stranger in a Strange Land)
|United Church of Canada||3|
|Humanist churches |
"Church of Humanism" in NY;
"Humanist Perspectives" (location not given);
and The Humanist Institute, Minneapolis, MN
|Various University/College/Seminary Professors |
not included in above denominational affiliations
|Name only - no church or organization mentioned||31|
independent single-congregation churches
GLBT groups; AIDS centers;
New Age retreats; Neo-Pagan groups;
abortion rights groups; SIECUS itself; etc.
Affiliation of Individuals who Endorsed the SIECUS Document (RDSMJH)
* Lutheran: Of the 18 endorsements counted as associated with Lutherans, 7 were from clergy of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (including 1 retired); 1 from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Sweden; 5 were professors from Lutheran colleges, including 3 at Luther College); 2 were from the University Lutheran Church; 1 was from the Lutheran-Episcopal Ministry at M.I.T.; 1 was from the Lutheran Campus Ministry at University of Wisconsin; and 1 was from the St. Paul-Reformation Lutheran Church in St. Paul, MN.
* Baptist: Of the 17 endorsements associated with Baptist groups, 3 were from the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists; 5 were from the American Baptists (the more liberal "Northern Baptist" denomination); 2 were from University Baptist Church. The remaining endorsements were from the First Baptist Church in Beverly, MA; Dolores Street Baptist Church, San Francisco, CA; Grace Baptist Church, Somerville, MA; First Baptist Church of Birmingham, MI; West Alton Baptist Church; Central Baptist Church, Wayne, PA; 1st Baptist Church, Morristown, NJ; Stine Road Baptist Church, Bakersfield, CA
* Catholic splinter groups: Small groups with "Catholic" as part of their name, but which are independent groups not in communion with Rome and the larger Catholic Church. The 8 such groups included: 2 from the Orthodox Catholic Church of America; 2 from the Apostolic Catholic Church; 1 from Catholics for a Free Choice; 1 from the St. Albert the Great Roman Catholic Church; 1 from The Free Catholic Church; and 1 from the Ecumenical Catholic Church.
Some of the many groups from which no endorsements appeared include: Catholic, Latter-day Saint, Muslim, Eastern Orthodox, Southern Baptist, African Methodist Episcopal Church, National Baptist Convention of America, Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, Seventh-Day Adventists, Church of The Nazarene, "Christian Churches and Churches of Christ", Church of God, Church of God in Christ, Hindu, Christian and Missionary Alliance, Baptist Missionary Association of America, Wesleyan Church, Moravian, Church of the Brethren, Armenian Apostolic Church, Buddhist, Orthodox Jew, Sikh, Baha'i, Druze, Zoroastrians, Tenrikyo, Churches of Christ, Jehovah's Witnesses, Christian Science, Assemblies of God, Pentecostals, African Methodist Episcopal Church, etc.
The editorial reproduced below was printed in Christianity Today in March, 2000 [online source]. This is a publication that Adherents.com neither endorses nor condemns. Adherents.com does not support the position of Evangelical Christians over other groups. But the editorial makes some good points about way the SIECUS press release was a simply media event.
Reforming by RolodexThe gesture was intended to make headlines, and it did. On January 18, the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) called a news conference to announce that 850 clergy and religious workers endorsed its "Religious Declaration on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing." Reporters around the country dutifully took note.
That liberal religious scholars and clergy endorsed a statement calling for "full inclusion of . . . sexual minorities in congregational life, including their ordination and the blessing of same-sex unions" and for "a faith-based commitment to sexual and reproductive rights" hardly comes as a shock. As the Associated Press noted, "the list of signers contained few surprises": more than half were from the Unitarian Universalist Association, Reform and Reconstructionist Jews, and the United Church of Christ. Still, coverage is inevitable: anything touching on church debates about sexuality is newsworthy, even if it's the same old liberals being liberal or the same old conservatives being conservative.
This is the way things are done now. Church debates may not always send leaders scrambling to their Bibles, but usually will send them to their Rolodexes. In last fall's church trial of United Methodist minister Jimmy Creech, three different sides hired public-relations firms to get their messages out. Trying to influence the church by influencing society through the mass media may be effective, but it's bad ecclesiology.
"For too long," declared SIECUS president Debra Haffner, "the only voices in the public square on religion and sexuality have been the antisexuality pronouncements of the religious right." Well, not unless by religious right she means most denominations. The United Methodists stripped Creech of his clergy credentials for presiding over a same-sex union. Last summer, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) retained its ban on ordaining homosexuals. And in 1998 Anglican bishops declared homosexual practice incompatible with Scripture.
The denominations have spoken. The issue will come up again, of course, but the SIECUS signers are trying to circumvent the ecclesiastical process. If the church won't issue a statement I like, a typical signer seems to say, I'll join hundreds of others who agree with me in a statement that will look almost as impressive. If you can't make policy, at least make news.
By fighting the issue in the mass media, the SIECUS signers bring in to the debate readers and viewers who have nothing to do with it. A secularist newspaper reader has about as much to do with Presbyterian doctrine as with Venezuelan politics.
Church teaching must be determined according to each denomination's polity. As evangelical Christians, we believe the Bible is the first and last word on doctrine. Many denominations disagree, but whether they also include an appeal to tradition, creed, or hierarchy, none believes in determining doctrine by opinion poll.