One of our most consistent and visible allies, the Reverend Curt Anderson openly affirms all people at First Congregational United Church of Christ
For Curt Anderson, it’s been a long road from Fresno, his hometown, to Madison. Curt is the Senior Minister at First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ. This church, with its iconic bell tower, has served as Rev. Anderson’s home since he and his wife arrived here in 2000. He was called to service here after a career spanning several decades and service to churches in Iowa, Michigan, California, as well as a church in Janesville.
Although matters of faith and religion can be unfamiliar and intimidating to some, First Congregational has a long history of being an ally of the LGBT community. In 1992, the church adopted a formal statement openly affirming and welcoming the LGBT community as vital members of the congregation. LGBT members of the church have formed “Rainbow People”, a network that acts as a social network as well as a resource for the congregation at large on issues that affect us. And the associate minister, Rev. Eldonna Hazen, was called to service at First Congregational after a long search for a place where she and her partner would be embraced and accepted.
As spiritual leader, Curt Anderson is the steward and guide for the congregation. It was an easy choice for Curt when he answered the call to service. “UCC has always had a passion for social justice, and has always allowed people great freedom in terms of setting their own beliefs. People are responsible for working out their own faith.” He notes that within the framework of empowerment and trust, “openness comes to people in the midst of those searches.”
Despite the progressive nature of his starting point, Curt admits that in terms of LGBT issues, he was “not at the same place 30 years ago that I am today. We’ve all come along way in recognizing our need to rethink our attitudes about LGBT people and issues.” Still, the church was a trailblazer in this regard; in 1972, one of Rev. Anderson’s fellow seminarians, William Johnson, was the first openly gay person ordained in the United Church of Christ.
When Curt came to know the LGBT members of his various congregations, their experiences and his observations fueled his sense of social justice. “I really believe that discrimination against LGBT people is analogous to discrimination against African-American people.” This has led Curt to be one of our community’s most consistent and visible allies. This was perhaps most evident during the recent debate over the constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. Curt was one of a number of spiritual figures who were “first responders” to the issue. He recalls hearing about discriminatory bans in other states. The antigay language reminded him of the debate against interracial marriage, and served as Curt’s call to action. “When we started, the only religious words used in the debate were discriminatory.” Curt and the United Church of Christ were part of the Christians for Equality in Wisconsin group, which was discussing the repercussions of such a ban and its effect on LGBT people as early as 2004, prior to its passage in the legislature.
Curt was also a comforting and highly visible ally to LGBT people and to Fair Wisconsin during the campaign for the “No” vote. He debated Julaine Appling, executive director of the Family Research Institute (now Wisconsin Family Council) in several debates across the state, as well as on WISC-TV’s “For The Record”. But despite his efforts and guidance, the amendment passed. Curt had to shift his focus and offer support to his congregation, many of whom were devastated by the vote and mourned the loss of such a hard-fought battle. The following Sunday, Curt delivered a sermon that included a declaration reaffirming that no matter what happened outside of the church, the walls of First Congregational were always a welcome and nurturing place for LGBT people.
Despite the amendment, Curt sees a silver lining in some aspects of the debate. “For the first time, statewide all across Wisconsin, we were having a conversation with LGBT people and about LGBT people and their issues. That hadn’t happened before. If the people involved weren’t in the closet, the conversations about them were.” He’s convinced that while we may have lost the battle, the struggle will go on. “The day will come in Wisconsin where there will be full marriage rights for LGBT people. It may be difficult to overturn, but it will happen.”
In the meantime, Curt continues to offer spiritual guidance to all the members of First Congregational. The church has stayed a cohesive unit, and no one has left as a result of the amendment. As for same-sex marriage, he mentions an upcoming ceremony for two women in the church. “We don’t call them ‘commitment services’, we refer to them as ‘weddings’, and we talk about them the same way and think about them the same way.” Referring to the commitment as a ‘union’, Curt says, may be “good as a political strategy, but the long term goal is full marriage rights.”