On Thursday, they began to arrive in Long Beach by the thousands--progressive Christians from the United Church of Christ, in town for their denomination's biennial national conference. And by Tuesday, when their General Synod is complete, UCC members will have organized at least three rallies in support of marriage equality and immigration reform and performed one gay marriage during their time at the Long Beach Convention Center.
The diverse church may not have been anticipating the slew of significant social-justice news that came from Washington last week, but the coincidence that the church's national conference happened to be held not only in one of the most gay-friendly cities in the nation but also on the weekend following a major Supreme Court decision that reinstated same-sex marriage in California was something that went beyond mere serendipity for some.
Photos by Brian Addison
"Some call it coincidence, but people of faith call it a 'God thing,'" said Rev. J. Bennett Guess, an Executive Minister at the national office of UCC. "Justice is at the center of what we do. Our deep commitment to peace, inclusion and an extravagant welcome for all people have driven our work. After all, there is no shortage in work that needs to be done in the realm of justice."
Ideals about inclusion led church members to host multiple public events over the past four days, including Friday's marriage-equality "flash mob," Sunday's wedding ceremony for a reverend and his longtime partner, and Monday's rally in support of immigration rights, inspired by the immigration-reform policy that (after being passed by Congress last week) faces a far more divided House.
Monday's rally drew hundreds of individuals from not just the church but also local youth groups and the Long Beach Immigration Rights Coalition. Marching from the Convention Center to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office, chanters sang lines such as, "We ain't gonna build that boarder fence," and protesters held up signs stating "This is what an immigrant looks like."
The conference will continue until Tuesday night, ending with a formal worship at 7:30PM that will continue sending out the church's message of fighting for justice.
In the words of Bishop Yvette Flunder, Senior Pastor of the City of Refuge UCC and founder of The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries, "I pledge to fight for justice--against those who pit straight folk against gay folk, against black folk, against Latino folk, against Asian folk... None are free until all are free."