The United Church of Christ (UCC), a mainline Christian denomination, has agreed to be an official sponsor of the 2014 Gay Games, a pro-LGBT sporting event set to be held in Cleveland, Ohio in August.
Organizers of the Gay Games 9, a competitive sporting event for gay athletes held every four years, said the sponsorship is the first instance of an entire Christian denomination agreeing to sponsor the occasion. The UCC, which is based in Cleveland, is listed as a “silver” level sponsor, meaning that it paid $50,000 to support the event. Church officials told the New York Times that its donation was split between cash and in-kind donations such as volunteer support.
“Serving as a major sponsor of Gay Games 9 is a perfect fit because of the UCC’s longstanding commitment to social justice issues,” the Rev. Dr. J. Bennett Guess, one of the UCC’s first openly-gay church national executives, said in a press release.
The decision to endorse the games isn’t entirely surprising given that the UCC, which claims about 1.1 million members and 5,100 churches nationwide, has historically been an ardent supporter of LGBT rights. The denomination ordained its first openly gay clergy member in 1972, made transgender people eligible for ordination in 2003, and officially embraced marriage equality in 2006 — the first major Christian denomination to do so. The group also made waves in recent months for helping to bring a lawsuit against the state of North Carolina, claiming that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage inhibits the free exercise of their inclusive religious beliefs.
But while the UCC’s involvement makes sense given the denomination’s history, its endorsement of the games is still part of a larger trend of Christian groups endorsing or sponsoring events that celebrate LGBT people. Local churches from major denominations have been endorsing or marching in Gay Pride Parades for several years, with representatives from Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Methodist, and many other churches mustering supporters and floats for annual celebrations. Relatedly, Trinity Cathedral, an Episcopal church in downtown Cleveland that describes itself as “an inclusive community of faith,” is also a sponsor the Gay Games, and over a dozen other local religious groups are listed as “faith partners.”
The move by the UCC comes on the heels of a flurry of pro-LGBT actions among mainline Christian denominations. Last week, the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted as a denomination to allow its ministers to perform gay weddings in places where it is legal, and on Tuesday, Rev. Frank Schaefer, a Methodist minister who was defrocked for officiating his gay son’s wedding, was fully reinstated as a clergy member by a church court.