Institute on Religion and Democracy
March 10, 2000
The decisive victory of Proposition 22 in California, despite the opposition of some mainline Protestant church officials, shows how out of touch those officials are, the president of the IRD said. Over sixty percent of California voters approved a referendum that defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman, outraging the proponents of same-sex unions.
"California voters showed how radical church leaders are out of touch with the teachings of their own churches, with the views of their own church members, and with the population as a whole," IRD president Diane Knippers observed. The IRD advocates theological, political and fiscal accountability within mainline churches, whose leaders often refuse to uphold their own denominational teachings.
Knippers noted that church opponents of the pro-marriage initiative resorted to angry rhetoric, claiming that Proposition 22 would "codify bigotry." Those opponents included the new general secretary of the National Council of Churches (NCC), plus bishops and numerous other officials from the United Methodist, Episcopal, Evangelical Lutheran and United Church of Christ denominations.
Especially disappointing to Knippers was the involvement of the NCC's new chief, the Rev. Bob Edgar, who is an outgoing United Methodist seminary president and a former Democratic member of Congress from Pennsylvania. In one of his first public pronouncements since taking charge of the NCC, Edgar 's name was listed on a March 2 Los Angeles Times newspaper ad opposing Proposition 22 because it threatens the "civil rights of gay and lesbian families."
"The head of our nation's largest ecumenical coalition is apparently unable to defend the historic definition of marriage, as affirmed by all Christian traditions and nearly all religions. This is an appalling beginning for one who aspires to lead the cause of Christian unity." The NCC includes 35 denominations, nearly all of whom have official teachings about marriage similar to Proposition 22.
Although Proposition 22 was supported by Catholics, Evangelicals and Mormons, the opposition of many mainline Protestant officials allowed the media to portray religious opinion as divided over the definition of marriage. The decisive margin of the referendum's victory underscores once again that these officials do not speak even for the declining membership of their own denominations, Knippers concluded.