Year of Sundays

Year of Sundays

Metropolitan Community Church of Portland: Observing the High Holy Day of Gay Pride

Standing in line for the communion offering.

By Joel Gunz

In a perfect world, you would never see a church set aside just for gay people. It makes about as much sense as starting a church for the left-handed, the red-headed  or the peanut-intolerant. But we don’t live in a perfect world. We live in the world we’ve got and I’m glad to know that in our part of it, non-hetero people have the freedom to gather in a worship community that’s custom-made just for them.


Metropolitan Community Church is that community. As its website announces, MCC is “a progressive community of faith welcoming all people, with special outreach to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities.” That spirit of diversity extends to their beliefs as well:  “Though our individual theological beliefs differ widely, our mutual commitment to love, justice and spiritual living gives us a unifying bond.” By de-emphasizing doctrine, it seems they’re able to funnel energy to the things that really matter.

We made sure to schedule our visit to coincide with the queer-themed Portland Pride weekend, which takes place June 17-19. The building itself is a beautiful 19th century exposed beam structure, a blend of original plaster walls and updated stained glass windows representing the diversity rainbow. The casually-dressed pickup band that led the service gave  the impression of the hippie kids taking over the old wooden church.


With his tongue only half in cheek, MCC’s Senior pastor, Reverend Nathan Meckley, called Portland Pride one of the High Holy days—on par with the Jewish celebrations of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Like I said, he was only half joking. Because, while Pride features a pageantry and a carnival atmosphere, for Reverend Meckley “it’s more than just rainbow tchotchkes and a parade. It’s an opportunity to show the dignity and strength of the human spirit.”


For his sermon, Meckley read Genesis 1:31 – 2:4, which describes the creation of animals and humans and which God pronounces “very good.” How to tie this into a theme of gay pride? Meckley admitted he was at first stumped. But then he turned his attention to the “book of creation,” a tradition that seeks to learn about God’s attributes by studying “His” attributes in nature. What do we see there? According to the book Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity, there is an abundance of species of all types—especially primates—that engage in homosexual behavior. In addition there are all sorts of transgendered species. In that way, nature affirms that homosexuality among humans is natural.


Thus, Meckley wondered, “How can we on Pride Day say we’re made in God’s image? [By saying:] ‘You look positively divine, darling!’”

As a non-believer and a humanist, I agree with Meckley. Marriage and procreation (or adoption) are inalienable human rights possessed by all people, regardless of their sexuality. As a former Christian, however, I have to admit I get a little tripped up. The Bible is woefully clear about its stand on homosexuality. The Apostle Paul described it as “unnatural” and a “degrading passion.” Although liberal theologians have tried to explain away the homophobia in the Bible, ultimately, it’s an unconvincing and futile exercise. There’s no getting around it: the Bible waves a scorning but limp wrist at LGBTQs.


Christianity endures because it bears a powerful message. Its themes of forgiveness and redemption, along with its superior principle of love has enabled it to survive centuries of changes in cultural mores. But now we live in an era in which the morality it teaches seems less and less relevant to our needs as individuals and as a society. I’d even go so far as to say that churches like MCC represent the future of Christianity. Maybe it’s time for a Bible 2.0. There is, after all, a scriptural precedent for this. While the Jewish law forbade the eating of certain animals, in Acts Chapter 10 the apostle Peter received a vision indicating that Christians would be released from such dietary restrictions. Maybe it’s time for another vision regarding sexual unions.


MCC reaches out to the gay community in all of its flavors and facets. (And if you’re straight, you’re welcome too; Amanda and I were honored to receive communion and a prayer blessing from Reverend Meckley.) (Not that Amanda is entirely straight.) It’s a unique church that arose because its members had been made unwelcome elsewhere, a congregation of people for whom Jesus’ promise “knock and it will be opened to you” failed to come true as church doors were slammed in their faces. While most churches may claim to welcome all walks of life into their midst, too often they don’t mean it. The real message is: “God loves you the way you are. Now change.” It takes a truckful of courage to stand up to God and say, “No offense, but we’re going to rewrite your rules so they make more sense for us.” If God is half the man He says He is, He would have to give His blessing to such people—if, for nothing else, their chutzpah.


Church works best when its pews have a healthy representation of people whom society refuses to acknowledge. They “get” Christianity in a way that goes right past the superficially righteous. They get that it has nothing to do with rules and regulations and everything to do with the heart. MCC gets it.


Think it might be time for a Bible 2.0? Drop by the comments section and join the conversation.

Comments read comments(9)
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Joel Gunz

posted September 5, 2011 at 10:01 pm

That’s a good point, Anne-Marie! If we’re going to outlaw homosexuality, we should also outlaw oysters, oxtail stew and –worst of all — BACON!

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posted September 5, 2011 at 12:38 pm

Beautiful thoughts – beautifully written – to me your thoughts and observations at this church reflect what true Christianity should be. It’s long overdue. Leviticus preaches all manner of nutty rules and over the top forms of punishment – that if practiced today would land one in trouble with the law. Christian communities know not to take that stuff literally. Homophobia should be treated the same way – not relevant and just not ok – simply because we just know better now.

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posted August 30, 2011 at 2:16 am

@scott, I don’t believe one truly can or should compare anything to being a jew among nazis.

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posted June 22, 2011 at 11:53 pm

You folks need to find a United Church of Christ (UCC). There are several in the Portland OR area. The Open and Affirming (ONA) congregations blend some of the MCC sensibility with traditional and contemporary church. There are some non-ONA congregations that are equal partners in our denomination, even the ones who tread the conservative paths. We are where people go when they are tired of niche marketing and are seeking a church where all sorts and types of people come together in worship, mission, and fellowship. No fooling – go find one or two and I think you will be surprised – and that is a key part of grace. Granted, I am biased – I am a UCC clergy in Florida – far from your home base, but I think on a similar wavelength. We are the best kept secret of the progressive Protestant church in America.

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posted June 22, 2011 at 7:48 pm

Another spot-on blog. When talking about what it’s like to be a gay person in a main-line denomination not fully on-board with the LGBT program (i.e. “we accept you, but you can’t get married here, or be ordained Clergy, in fact our clergy can’t marry you without penalty of anything up to and including being ‘un-clergified’ – at least not if you’re honest about who you are…of course, we recognize that clergy who aren’t honest about who they are…well, you get the picture).

Anyway. I rant. OK, so the analogy I like to use is that of being a Jew among Nazis. Very nice Nazis in many cases, but still Nazis who hold that your being jewish is at its core, a big, fundamental problem. It’s a “wrongness” that while they tolerate because they’re-all-so-civilized and well, nice (feel free to substitute “Christian” here) – there’s still an under-tow of residual feeling. EVEN if not in an individual sense, in a collective sense.

And (speaking from personal experience here), it’s a bit of a challenge to fully explore one’s spiritual dimensions and move to a really profound sense of integrated spirituality, of real connection, of enlightenment, or living in some form of “Imitation of Christ” – when I have to give up who I really am to be loved by you.

So, kudos to MCC for creating a space where love isn’t contingent. Period. Any to echo a couple of the previous posters, the windows are lovely, the “people whom society refuses to acknowledge” may actually be the prophets among us (nothing new there), and just so you know – I think you and Amanda ARE Divine. (Capital “D” or otherwise!)

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Katie N

posted June 22, 2011 at 6:01 pm

That stained glass is amazing, or should I say fab-u-lous. And if we can now have websites .anything, then why not Bible 2.0 (if you want a Bible at all, that is). I’ve never understood hate bundled as intolerance as a Christian foundation. To quote my favorite band, “It’s a sad sad story when a mother will teach her Daughter that she ought to hate a perfect stranger.” Sad indeed. Way to go MCC.

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Shannon Amburn

posted June 22, 2011 at 3:40 pm

You are right on here: “I can say that a church works best when its pews have a healthy representation of people whom society refuses to acknowledge. They “get” Christianity in a way that goes right past the superficially righteous. They get that it has nothing to do with rules and regulations and everything to do with the heart. “

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