|What Is the History of the Metropolitan Community Church?
Because they have often experienced homophobia in their religions of origin, GLBT people have formed lesbian and gay groups within specific denominations, as well as an entirely new GLBT religious organization, the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC).
MCC was founded by the Rev. Elder Troy D. Perry, a defrocked Protestant minister. Perry was licensed as a Baptist preacher when he was 15, married at age 18, and became a pastor in two different Pentecostal churches. In the early 1960s, he came out as gay, leading to a divorce from his wife and dismissal from the ministry. At age 27, after having attempted suicide following a failed love affair with a man, Perry realized that God loved him as he was, and felt called to start a new church to serve the gay community.
Perry held the first MCC service in the living room of his suburban Los Angeles home on Oct. 6, 1968. Twelve people attended, including friends and a few individuals who had seen an ad in The Advocate, then a local gay newspaper. Perry's first sermon, "Be True to You," was inspired by Polonius' advice to his son in Hamlet.
The church expanded rapidly, and within a few months had outgrown Perry's living room. The budding congregation first moved to a theater in Hollywood, then bought and refurbished a dilapidated building. Soon, MCC congregations began to spring up in other cities, including Chicago, Honolulu, San Diego, and San Francisco. In 1972, two dozen affiliates were formally organized as the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, with Perry serving as moderator. The fellowship has since grown to nearly 300 congregationscomprising some 43,000 membersin 48 states and more than 20 countries.
Not everyone was happy about the new church's success. In 1973, the Los Angeles congregation's recently dedicated building was burned down, the first of some 20 arsons and fire-bombings at MCC churches. Later that same year, a fire at a New Orleans gay bar used for MCC services claimed the lives of 32 people, including the pastor and nearly half the congregation.
Perry always intended that MCC should be an ecumenical Christian church, and from its first days it attracted people from diverse religious backgrounds. Drawing upon Pentecostal, Episcopal, Presbyterian, and other mainline Protestant traditions, MCC retains many tenets of Christian doctrine, but promotes a reading of the Bible that accepts gay people. "Jesus never once mentioned or condemned homosexuality," wrote Perry. "Jesus spent a lot of time talking about loveand that's something that's missing in both the rhetoric and actions of antigay religious groups." A few congregations have taken the fellowship's ecumenism to a new level; San Francisco's MCC bills itself as "a home for queer spirituality," and was the first to hold regular Buddhist services.
Since the church's founding, MCC clergy and lay members have taken an active role in the GLBT civil rights movement. The original MCC was born in the midst of a campaign of police harassment of gay bars in Los Angeles, which resulted in the arrest of one of Perry's close friends. In March 1977, Perry was among the first gay and lesbian leaders to meet with White House staff. In 1981, MCC Toronto's pastor, the Rev. Brent Hawkes, held a month-long fast to protest that city's raids on gay bathhouses, and in 1987 Perry was among the GLBT leaders arrested during a mass civil disobedience outside the Supreme Court to protest the Bowers vs. Hardwick sodomy ruling.
From the outset, MCC has recognized the validity of gay and lesbian relationships, and has played a key role in the ongoing struggle for same-sex marriage. Perry conducted MCC's first same-sex union ceremony just months after the church's first meeting, and in 1970 filed the first-ever lawsuit demanding that the state of California recognize same-sex marriages. In conjunction with the marches on Washington in 1987, 1993, and 2000, Perry conducted mass commitment ceremonies for thousands of same-sex couples. In January 2001, MCC Toronto's Hawkes performed a wedding for a gay and a lesbian couple following the ancient tradition of banns, under which marriages may legally be performed without a license if the intent to marry is announced in advance and no one objects. Although Ontario authorities refused to record the marriages, the action set in motion a series of lawsuits that legalized same-sex marriage throughout most of Canada.
When Perry founded MCC, he expected that mainline churches would change their teachings about homosexuality, and that gay people would then "go home" to their own denominations. As it happened, the failure of other denominations to fully embrace GLBT people ensured MCC's survival, and MCC's success, in turn, helped spur some other religious institutions to re-examine their views concerning homosexuality. While debate still rages within several denominations over issues such as the blessing of same-sex unions and the role of GLBT clergy, MCC continues to provide a welcoming spiritual home for thousands of GLBT people throughout the world.
Liz Highleyman is a freelance writer and editor who has written widely on health, sexuality, and politics. She can be reached care of Letters from CAMP Rehoboth or at PastOut@qsyndicate.com.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 15, No.13 September 16, 2005