An Open Letter to the Churches, Conferences, and National Leadership of the United Church of Christ

This Vital Signs & Statistics Blog article is going to be a little unusual. It contains few scholarly quotations and citations. And it is not overly-laden with social science research. Instead, it asks a simple question: Can we who are members, congregants, authorized ministers, and leaders of the United Church of Christ (UCC) please begin to engage in an intentional and ongoing conversation about what is happening to our congregations and their pastors? Can we start talking with each other about the incivility that is seeping into our churches?

I know that such a conversation can get nasty, political, and downright weird. Many of us would sooner talk about our root canals.  But I also know that our country, our communities and schools, our families, and even our churches are angry, and they are becoming angrier by the day. In the course of writing some thirty or forty of these blog articles over the past four years, three things have troubled me on a consistent basis:

First, the politicization and conservatism of some of our smaller churches—and you know, we have so many small churches across the United Church of Christ!  According to the UCC’s 2015 Faith Communities Today (FACT) Survey of Congregations, “the United Church of Christ is a denomination of smaller congregations.  Nearly eight in ten [UCC] congregations (79.5%) have 100 or fewer people in weekly worship,” and “nearly half (46.5%) of all UCC congregations have 50 or fewer people” in church every Sunday.  Many (but not all!) of these churches are rural or exurban, and their participants tend to be theologically—but also culturally and politically—traditional, or conservative. They “adapt less readily to change” and/or are “not as willing to make changes.”

Of course, these realities are neither good nor bad; small UCC churches are amazing, and many of us who pastor them are happy to do so. Most pastors of small churches endeavor to “just love” their people, and try to “get along with everybody.” But let’s face it, this can be difficult in churches that seem to, in CNN political commentator SE Cupp’s words, reduce their theological, cultural and political beliefs“ to untenable absolutisms, sacrifice compromise and comity for purity, [and] subject [outsiders] to unproductive loyalty tests” (“Tribalism isn’t the real reason America is divided,” CNN.com, November 13, 2019). In addition, some churches label those who fail their loyalty tests as enemies, or perhaps, “fake Americans,” and some are hostile to the UCC, to gay people, to immigrants, and to people of color. I mean, I value the diversity of the UCC, I really do;  but tell me again, why are churches that don’t like the UCC in the UCC?

When churches harbor such attitudes of suspicion and hostility, their ministers may be unable to deflect them or do much else about them. Sometimes, ministers themselves become the targets of their churches’ anger—rendering them both isolated and vulnerable. Even when pastors have a pastoral support group, a therapist, or ministry colleagues with whom to “talk church,” they may confide only in their spouses or partners—and such venting is hardly conducive to intimate or happy relationships! Ministers may be especially reticent to discuss their concerns with other congregants—or even with their Pastor-Parish Relations Committees.

What are pastors of small congregations to do in such circumstances—when they feel that they have to silence their prophetic voices, or downplay their progressive instincts? Their silence may enable them to survive at their churches, but at what cost to their souls?

Second, church decline. Longitudinal studies and projections by the UCC’s Center for Analytics, Research and Data (CARD) show that the UCC has been losing churches and members for a number of years, and will likely continue to do so well into the foreseeable future (See “Futuring the United Church of Christ:  30-Year Projections,” June, 2015, UCC CARD, and the 2019 UCC Statistical Profile, p. 6).

This data reflects a broader trend affecting Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Evangelical Protestant, and Mainline Protestant, churches and denominations. The latest data from the Pew Research Center (see Carol Kuruvilla, “American Christians See a Rapid Decline in Numbers Over Past Decade: Study,” Huffington Post, October 17, 2019, and “In U.S., Decline of Christianity Continues at Rapid Pace,” Pew Research Center, October 17, 2019) demonstrates that American churches are continuing to decline (losing both members and attendance), and that the number of “Nones”—particularly among Millennials—is increasing nationwide. I believe that this trend is inciting significant discouragement and outright alarm in many churches.

To make matters worse, some progressive congregations play “woe-is-us” comparison games, imagining that they’re the only church in their community that is declining. Or they assume that only UCC and progressive churches are declining and that evangelical churches and megachurches all have full parking lots every Sunday morning. Church leaders of some UCC and progressive congregations may even start imitating the evangelical churches and megachurches that they think are growing, by incorporating praise bands, fiery sermons, and “come-to-Jesus” appeals into their services. Such remedies rarely work; people looking for an evangelical church are more likely to attend an actual evangelical church, rather than a UCC church pretending to be an evangelical church.

Third, cultural and political incivility and mean-spiritedness. It is as if we have all gotten drunk, but we have not settled into a sleepy alcoholic stupor; instead, we have become mean and belligerent drunks, and are eager to fight one another. Perhaps we first started drinking these heady cocktails of hatred while watching the collapse of the twin towers of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Or maybe they were mixed and served by Donald J. Trump, during his presidential campaign, or once he became President. The thing is, this besotted and mean-spirited intemperance has seeped into our congregations. It is impairing how we do church, and it is targeting our pastors.

In some instances, declining congregations may blame their pastors for their troubles, accusing them of not visiting enough lapsed members, or not being energetic enough, or preaching sermons that are not “biblical enough,” to turn things around.  Ministers may also get brow-beaten by their congregants for their social justice stands, or for preaching “political sermons,” or even over such “individual considerations” as their personalities, their (and/or their spouses’) personal appearance, their spouses’ involvement (or lack thereof) in the church, their children’s behavior, and even what they do on their day off. Then too, some pastors feel pangs of self-imposed guilt, for not being able to “revive” or grow their churches.

I have watched as some of the most vulnerable authorized ministers in our denomination—licensed “members in discernment” (MIDs) who were preparing for a ministerial career, as well as inexperienced “first-call” ordained ministers—were devastated by the criticism of congregants, to the point where they left their churches and gave up their dream of ordained UCC ministry. These are actual people;  I can name their names. Not coincidentally, some of these people were among the UCC’s most innovative leaders—and now they’re gone. As I think of them now, I wonder:  were they not “tough enough” to withstand withering congregational criticism? Should they have been tough enough to withstand withering congregational criticism? There is a kind of sink-or-swim, or social-Darwinistic, ethos in many churches, where the minister either does well or fails—and denominations and middle judicatories don’t or can’t do much to help them.

Indeed, there is a perception among some Protestant Mainline ministers—I don’t know how widespread it is, but it exists—that their denominations and middle judicatories value their churches over their pastors, that they prioritize keeping their churches happy over the welfare of their ministers. According to this reasoning, pastors come and go—they’re expendable—while churches are valuable and must be appeased at all costs because they support their denominations and national churches financially, year after year. I hope that this perception is wrong; I hope that no church or denomination in America thinks this way. I believe that caring for pastors is as important as, or more important than, keeping our churches happy and our denominational coffers full;  indeed, I believe that the latter depends directly on the former.

For many of us, our country’s inebriated incivility has painfully altered our long-standing relationships with spouses and friends.  Some of us have left churches, and become alienated from church friends whom we’ve known for decades. We have become estranged from our children, parents, spouses, and friends. We have started to hate people whom we have loved for years.

At the very least, I believe that UCC pastors, churches, and Conferences need a forum and an appropriate context in which to talk about these concerns. Perhaps the National Church and/or our Conferences can fold such conversations into their anti-racism and cultural competence training. Or perhaps “communities of practice” networking can facilitate some of these discussions. Or maybe individual ministers and churches can initiate “grassroots” actions that will make such conversations a reality.

These issues, and the incivility that has overtaken America, will not go away simply by ignoring them. And they may not go away when President Trump leaves office—because Trumpism and the anger which fuels it will likely outlive Trump’s tenure in office. We may be like the proverbial frog, sitting in a pan over a simmering fire, being boiled to death degree-by-degree. The time to act is now.

Chris XenakisRev. Chris Xenakis is a UCC pastor currently serving Groton Community Church (UCC) in Central New York. In addition, he is an adjunct lecturer at SUNY-Cortland, teaching courses this year on world politics, democracy, U.S. foreign policy and multiculturalism. Chris has written numerous books and articles, which can be found on his blog.

41 thoughts on “An Open Letter to the Churches, Conferences, and National Leadership of the United Church of Christ

  1. My mistake the Missionaries to Hawaii were trained at Yale not Harvard but Infant Baptism was the standard in the Congregational Church in New England

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  2. Actually Lucretia again I would refer you to Dr. Louis Gunneman’s book on the history of the UCC if you really want to get the full picture that goes back to the 1930’s to the formation of the E&R and the formation of the Congregational (and often forgotten) Christian Church, which were fairly conservative churches. But even tracing back just the Congregational Church, which was the church that came over on the Mayflower, the idea of the meaning of Jesus being the “Head of the Church” was left up to the local congregation much as in the original Baptist tradition. Think New England Town Hall Meeting where “one person one vote” rules. The guide to be followed is scripture and the traditional creeds not the dictates of a central committee. Now in practice it didn’t always work that way. For example Roger Williams and Anne Hutchins were thrown out because they refused to practice infant baptism but that was the expressed idea. Both you and David have fallen for old outdated arguments. David’s revisions to scripture go back to the inclusive language debates of the 70’s if not the changes from KJV to RSV. As to your five points, if again you go back to the histories and catichisms you will find sound theologies based on scripture behind them.
    If you believe truth can only be found in a church with a dominate overriding structure determining proper theology then the UCC isn’t for you. Try Rome, or Luther, perhaps MO or WI Synod. They will tell you exactly what to believe. But if have questions and the freedom to seek God’s will under the direction of the UCC then the UCC is for you.

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    • Just quoting you on this:

      If you believe truth can only be found in a church with a dominate overriding structure determining proper theology then the UCC isn’t for you. Try Rome, or Luther, perhaps MO or WI Synod. They will tell you exactly what to believe. But if have questions and the freedom to seek God’s will under the direction of the UCC then the UCC is for you.

      Religion is not separate from culture and the political events of the time. We would be wise to remember that Martin Luther also said that he was creating a type of Christianity that made sense for the German people. He did not understand the culture of the Rome as that part of Germany had never been colonized/conquered by the Roman Empire. It is why you could look at a map and almost see the shadow of the old Roman Empire in what areas stayed Catholic and which ones broke off into Lutheranism. Reformed thought formed in the border zone with the people who were looking at what was going on between the Lutherans and the Catholics and getting disgusted with the antics of the both of them.

      We are not immune to the same problems here in America. The real argument is figuring out tradition vs. traditionalism. Great article that talks about this:

      http://www.helwyssocietyforum.com/tradition-vs-traditionalism-whats-the-difference/

      A quote from the article:

      Tradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. And, I suppose I should add, it is traditionalism that gives tradition such a bad name. The reformers of every age, whether political or religious or literary, have protested against the tyranny of the dead, and in doing so have called for innovation and insight in place of tradition.

      So I understand in my church, when we sing “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”….he is actually singing about the Catholic church/the Pope trying to crush the evangelical movement and how God is on the Lutheran side. So if you don’t know the backstory, it is not going to make sense.

      The Lutheran faith was made in a type of government that dependent on a monarch and on a group of homogeneous people. Nation state religion does not work well in a democracy with a diverse population that demands liberty of belief. We want freedom and independence and we don’t like central authority so you are constantly going to have breaks when government boards get to big or powerful.

      The UCC, just like any other democratic organization, is going to be majority rule. And if you look at the at the history of the organization there has always been a fight over ideological dominance. The fight has been brutal but unlike other Reformations, it didn’t involve bloodshed this time. If you look at the ten year strategic plan of the organization (which is in year 3, by the way) there is a definite push for uniformity which will be a lot easier now with the smaller size of the denomination. If you haven’t looked at the strategic plan, you should.

      https://www.ucc.org/about-us_purpose_vision_and_mission

      The Board of Directors has already determined the direction of the church. We already have a top down structure in place. While the top cannot “order” the local churches what to do, peer pressure/cultural acceptance will either make the churches change willingly or out of necessity. Yes, individual churches can choose what they want to believe. However, the thing is the stronger an “interest group” in the church gets, they are going to want to spread their influence to the rest of the organization. Either you will adopt the views of the majority or you will move on.

      The best testimony is talking to someone who was involved in both major Confessing movements of the church…they are still a few around. I actually have been talking to the head of the Confessing Christ movement who is still alive so I can get clarity on what the fuss was all about. Since he is a minister and was head of the Wisconsin conference, he is a pretty good source of information. The goal of the church at it’s inception was the faith of the historic Church expressed in the ancient creeds and reclaimed in the basic insights of the Protestant Reformers. This is what is written in the Preamble of our Constitution.

      The goal of the church now is stated in the Strategic Organizational Alignment section of the ten year vision.

      This is not a request for a fundamental abandonment of our Christo-centric paradigm, but rather, a
      reimagining of its structures in awareness of the colonial, patriarchal, and oppressive context in
      which it was developed.”

      Those are two totally different ideas of what church is supposed to be. Church 2.0 verses Church 3.0. It is much bigger than a theological discussion, although theology is part of it.

      The people who dreamed of the UCC in the 30s and 40s lived in an entirely different world in which Christendom was still intact. What was considered liberal then we would laugh at now. They would have no idea how much American culture would change in less than 100 years although they realized that science was quickly ushering in a new age that they needed to respond to.

      We now live in a Post-Christian society and the church is going to reflect that. I left my last UCC church after yelling at the pastor that he was using science as a religion. But that is what Progressive Christianity believes…that scientific principals have more weight than Biblical ones. We need to be looking at the big picture.

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  3. Your points are well made but ignore some fundamental truths. The process you describe for decisions in the UCC is almost exactly the process used by the early church before the Creeds. Then the secular government stepped in and demanded a unified Creed so that there wouldn’t be conflict in-between various groups in the church. The Bible was formed and the Creeds written by basically an “All in favor-all opposed” system and like we are currently seeing with Trump if one side has a majority they can block a free exchange of ideas and possibly block the truth from being heard. Actually like a good easterner you left out the heavy Lutheran influence in the UCC, with its Trinitarian base. Check out “The Book of Concord” from the Lutheran tradition and the Council of Augsburg as another example of how the system you propose can block a small group of peoples views from being heard. By the domination of orthodox Lutheran doctrine the views of the Reformer Zwingli were blocked. All in the name of church unity in this case to present a unified military presence to the Ottoman Empire.
    Yes the UCC is messy and it allows for individual voices to speak and claim the authority of God. But tell me can you or I present the view of the Gospel from the African American history in America and recognize the anger of some of the folk as will as Rev. J. Wright? Look into the history of Native American boarding schools in America and the role the church including the UCC fore-runners played in the organized racism and destruction of the Native way of life-all in the Name of Jesus. As I said I don’t have to study the Reformed tradition in the UCC because I was raised in it, went to Sunday School in and was confirmed in it. The freedom in the UCC can be if used correctly can be a chance to continue the conversation between people and God, under the leadership of the Holy Spirit as it comes into the rich variety of lives we all have. But yes to do that takes discipline, effort and most of all Faith in God and the Spirit to guide us. By drawing firm boundaries we risk limiting the power of the Spirit and may ignore God speaking to us through Scripture.

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  4. I have seen that article…and I agree with some points. It is okay to question some things in the Bible, but it depends on WHY you are doing the questioning. If you go into scripture trying to prove your culture viewpoint, either liberal or conservative, then your motives, in my opinion are supect. Scripture has been man handled many times to prove a cultural point with terrible consequences. Such is the legacy of the Reformation.

    The Bible talks about law and grace. It isn’t either or which we sometimes get caught up in trying to justify one side or the other.

    Culture influences the church and vise versa. Right now secular culture is influencing the church and since we don’t have a type of structure within our polity to control grassroots movements that may not be in line with what we claim to believe, this cause a lot of conflict.

    When the United Church of Christ formed, the English side of the church was bigger (60% verses 40%) and also wealthier. Second, your theologians were on the German side. With German assimilation and lack of immigration from Germany that side of the church is at a disadvantage. Also, Germany was changed into a democracy after WWII. The German churches was supported by the monarchy. Germany lost its place as the leader of culture in the world in the 20th century.

    So there are a lot of things bleeding into this. The church is becoming Anglicized…the modern United States version of it anyway. To really drive it home to you, the church that I am in which was Reformed, had a big group break off in 1964 and ironically went BACK to the Reformed Church of the United States and built a new church only a few miles away. The reason they left was out of a concern for doctrinal purity and wanting to worship the way their ancestors did.

    So the answer to the question is really complex. As stated the argument over theology has been going on for quite some time. What is on paper is totally different than what is in practice at the national/state level verses association/local congregation in the rural Midwest verses urban areas.

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    • While I sit in my office listening to my CD “Handel’s Messiah Rocks, A Joyful Noise,” which takes the traditional Messiah oratorio and puts it into an arrangement in the Rock style of music. One of the things it does is for someone who has sung excerpts of the Messiah of the years, is make the words of the entire piece understandable for all. It is still a wonderful piece of music and art that conveys a powerful message in a more understandable way. Yet here I am at 71 listening to it and being inspired to proclaim the Gospel in new ways in places few younger clergy will go, while many “younger clergy” reject it as being to extreme a departure from the original. But hey, I know it’s more fun to lump people into groups for the purpose of discussion.
      Yes one side of the church was heavily influenced by theologians from central Europe. Yet I find it interesting as the UCC worship style becomes more liturgical, then 40 years ago when my ministry began, BOW and other resources draws primarily on the liturgies of those same German traditions.
      What I “bemoan” being thrown out by the modern UCC is toleration for a diversity of theologies and a growing insistence that we must all agree on a the proper stance on various social and political issues, rather then tolerating a free flowing intellectual discussion as a way of educating people on the complexity of scripture, theology and social and political theory. We have always been a bit of a reactionary denomination, rather then pushing for a creative solution to issues. We also, like to divide people into “we/they” groups so we know who we agree with and should include and who we can ignore. Read your note Lucretia and see how many different groups you divide the church into, rather then dealing with the idea of people as individuals, holding a variety of ideas. You see the UCC isn’t in a sense becoming “Anglicized”. Rather is become one uniform body of thought, and doctrine that blocks input from a variety of sources. We are becoming like The Southern Baptist Convention of the Left, tolerating only those people that hold the same opinions “We DO,” because we know without a doubt, that those are the same beliefs God holds to. It is that this old pastor serving small congregations, because he has other sources of income to live on, and is willing to take the smaller salary to keep a progressive ministry of the Gospel alive for all people in fulfilling his felt “Call from God” rather then doing his job proclaiming a narrow way of thinking. IN a country deeply divided and polarized, needing to bring people together in the Name of Jesus Christ to find just and peaceful answers among Americans whatever their DNA source, the answer is not to respond to modern Fundamentalism, with it’s Narrow theology and vision, with an equally divisive theology and vision from the left. Rather I submit as scripture tells us we are to bring people together in responsible, informed discussions of complex issues that are informed by a knowledge of scripture, a variety of theologies, with a minimal amount of Doctrine that divides people into groups. Final point, I don’t know if you ever watch Dr. Gates’ program on PBS. But last night I saw a repeat of it where he was looking at the family of film maker of Michael Moore. Moore discovered that while he thought his family was Irish Catholic, he found a 5th great Grandfather what was actually a member of a Society of Friends back around 18th or 19th century who wrote the theology of a Christian should be to be opposed to any bearing of arms and killing of any person. Seems like some of those old theologies weren’t such a bad idea. That one is even English in heritage.

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      • John, I am enjoying our conversation. I understand your point about losing the ability to have theological conversation. However, I think that is one of the problems with the church….religion has been reduced to an intellectual pursuit. The problem with it being purely an intellectual endeavor is that usually no action takes place. It is more about religious philosophy.

        Religion has also been about matters of the heart, not the head. So my bewilderment with the UCC is about the same as what several people inside the church has said, that we are forgetting that what we are gathering in worship to do is to celebrate what God had done thru Christ Jesus our Lord. There is a great academic article written in 2010 by David Seiple, who was the chair of of the New York Conference of Ecumenicism and Interfaith Relations in which he refers back to Gunnemann and his thoughts on the lack of theological and even ecclesiastical depth within the UCC. It is a very good read….if you have not seen it, it is on academia.edu and it is titled The United Church of Christ, 2010: Reflections from Germany. If you like theological conversation, I think you will enjoy what he has to say. However, it is mostly a rehash of the same conversation that has been going on since the 60s.

        So I actually went to a UCC affiliated college that was originally a Congregational Christian school. However, just like everything in the UCC, there is variation. Where I live in the good ol’ Midwest there is a high concentration of German – Americans. According to census data, about 75% of the population has German ancestry and the biggest concentration is Catholic and Lutheran, with Reformed and Mennonite sprinkled in. Catholic influence was strong at the school during my time, so much so that we actually had a nun come in from the local diocese one a week. My head professor was is a Catholic who actually was going to be a priest before deciding he wanted to have a wife and children. Male and females lived in separate residence halls, there was a curfew for visitation, the campus was dry and the only thing that WASN’T required was church attendance. And this was in the late 90s, so you are not talking about that long ago.

        The school now is more secular. Everything that I mentioned in the last paragraph is no longer in existence and they eliminated the chaplain position. But that is a trend that is being reflected in the denomination as a whole. I wish that people would not call it left or right or liberal verses conservative. It is more secular/scientific/new age philosophy verses traditional Christian religious philosophy and that works on a continuum. What we really need to do is sit down and spell out the nuisances.

        What we have in the church right now (in my opinion) is a combination of Christian humanism, scientific/secular humanism and new age philosophy with the last two elements start to become the dominate thought in the UCC. Christian humanism and scholasticism would be what John Calvin and the Reformed tradition would stand for. Scientific/secular humanism mixed with new age is totally different…so different you are going to have massive amounts of conflict. One church cannot serve two masters. One will win out over the other in the end. And by looking at the Strategic Plan of the church and the worship service at GS 32, it is not hard to see what is happening. The UCC if it continues on this path will be an organization that came out of Christianity, but developed into a new religion. This is not as far fetched as it seems. As Christians, we come of of Judaism, however, we are a totally different religion with all different forms of variation. The same is happening here. It is already said that the older forms of Christianity is Church 2.0 and the UCC is focusing on the emerging church, Church 3.0 which looks like it is going to be pick and choose what religious beliefs fit your personal preferences. Mix and match type of religion. Writing is on the wall…or maybe on the internet is a more appropriate saying.

        This is going to make it tough for any traditional churches left in the UCC that choose some type of orthodoxy. It will come to a head eventually. Either you will have assimilation or exodus. Time will tell how that will develop for the rest of the church that are still either unaware of all the changes or still sitting in on the fence in the UCC.

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      • It seems I can’t reply to your note Lucretia, so I will reply to mine. I’m not trying to be “Intellectual” but I am trying to be accurate in my comments of theology and especially biblical interpretation. To much of popular American Christianity is reducing the Bible to a collection of words that can picked and chosen and made to say what ever it pleases. IN the UCC the response to this is going back to the days of Biblical Witness is to reject or ignore much of scripture so in other words picking and choose just like the conservatives. Having grown up in the founding philosophy of the UCC, the hope was to be a church where all who sought to follow Christ, could gather to talk about what that meant, learning from each other. Yes this is difficult because it required maintaining a tension between many different points of view and treating all views with dignity and respect. It required not intellectualism but the most basic religious principle in our faith and others, treating other people and their opinions, the way we want to be treated, with respect. As a staff member of the Iowa Conference once told my congregation, the idea is that Christian theology is one long line running from left to right. We know God is speaking from somewhere on that line but we don’t know where. So if we cut off one part of the line by not listening to them, we risk cutting off the Word of God because we don’t like what is being said. We can only be sure of hearing God still speaking when we listen to everyone’s point of view and trusting through prayer and the power of the Spirit to figure out what is God.
        In short there is a lot of wisdom coming from the conservative side but a lot of “Fake wisdom” also. The same can be said about the liberal or progressive side as well as from the entire length of that line. The promise of God is to help us sort “The Male Bovine Fecal Material” out from the wisdom. Is this being “Intellectual” or engaged in the search for the truth and wisdom of God? FWIW If any one doesn’t understand what the “MBFM” is I am more then happy to explain it!

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      • Cut out the human BS. Totally understand what you were trying to say. 🙂 So let me start by saying I am cradle conservative evangelical so I understand how that side thinks. What I like about the UCC (more of the German side), is the intellectual/theological side which is missing from the evangelical side. However, the Reformers were not looking to reinvent the wheel. They were looking back to the early church writings and comparing the Catholic teaching against it. The Reformers were not looking to make a new church. The were looking to correct the errors in the Catholic church.

        The English traditions are breaks from the Church of England because they believed that the reforms made by the Church of England were still too close to the Catholic church. So you are going to see a lot more deviance from traditional teachings. And since we live in a former British colony, you are going have more Separatist traditions than Reformation traditions.

        So your comment about the Biblical Witness Fellowship group is showing the difference between the Separatist and the Reformation traditions. You are always going to have that battle. That is why I say I don’t think you are going to fix this problem. Right now, the UCC is focusing on making a new church. This is NOTHING new with these guys.

        I am also a German – American history nut. So you will be surprised to see that the in the 19th century, the English Puritans and the German Reformed church could not stand each other even though they were neighbors.. If you looked even at the history book of the Evangelical and Reformed Church in the early days…in the church there were rules that if a visiting pastor was a Puritan that you do not let them in the church because they would change things. In a 1878 in a Pennsylvania paper the English were saying the Germans were backward, primitive and relics of the “Dark Ages”. The Germans shot back the next week in the paper saying “If you people would keep the old religious ways, you wouldn’t have as many problems.”

        I think in the zeal of unification in the last century and the fear of the rise of secularism, the founders were willing to overlook those past differences thinking that unity would overcome those problems. I think we can now safely say that was the wrong assumption. That is why I say you would be better off to let the two separate peacefully verses letting the denomination continue to be sickly and bleed out. It actually would be better for both parties. Not that I would advocate for a split, but sometimes you have to say that neither side is happy with the current arrangement. This argument in the UCC predates even the creation of the denomination. It is foolhardy to keep continuing it, but again, that is my opinion based on historical knowledge.

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      • Watch a couple of these videos from a progressive UCC church and you might understand why traditional Christian’s want no part of this.

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      • Oh I don’t have to look at them. All you have to do is look at the video of how communion was done at GS 32 this year. The Lord’s Supper/Holy Communion was changed into a new a rite in which Jesus’s sacrificial death is removed and instead Jesus becomes a justice advocate AND the liturgy is on the website if you want to use it in your local congregation. If I was there in person don’t know if I would have have had a heart attack or had to be thrown out because I would probably made a scene.

        The national body does not “tell” the local denomination what to do,however they are the public image of the denomination worldwide and of course the decisions that they make….if they catch on with the lower churches, will spread and eventually change the ethos of the denomination. Anyone who watches that video is going to say that the UCC is apostate. As you pointed out, many already do.

        I actually am MORE surprised that there wasn’t an uproar by more conservative/traditional churches in the denomination over this. It could be that they are not aware of what is going on. Maybe we need to revisit what that sacrament really means and why it is vitally important to the faith.

        And in writing this, I probably sound like one of those old Biblical Witness people but I just see the writing on the wall. Just from this blog post alone, we are way too comfortable with the decline of the denomination. We believe in a crucified and resurrected Savior. We really shouldn’t be okay with death. As the Body of Christ, the church is an organism, not an organization. If there is a lot of death happening…then the church is suffering from an illness. A wise person would start looking for the root cause and do everything necessary to stood the spread of it.

        So I will end this post with the Bible verse that was selected by the Evangelical Synod of North America which is enshrined in the seal of that church…John 15:5, 16. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit-fruit that will last-and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.

        There is a lot of wisdom in those word from Jesus. We probably should be paying attention….just a thought.

        If you want to see the new version of communion skip to 2:16:14 in the video.

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    • QUOTED: “The national body does not “tell” the local denomination what to do,however they are the public image of the denomination worldwide and of course the decisions that they make….if they catch on with the lower churches, will spread and eventually change the ethos of the denomination. Anyone who watches that video is going to say that the UCC is apostate. As you pointed out, many already do.”
      ——————————————————
      My observation is that conservative/traditional UCC churches simply disengage from Cleveland and keep the UCC by name only. Here in Hawaii, many of the churches have title to church property held by the very progressive (bible revisionist) Hawaii conference.
      There is/was a UCC organization called Faithful and Welcoming, http://www.faithfulandwelcoming.org/ but as far as I can tell they are either inactive or ineffective.

      I was recently on the minister search committee of my UCC church. After having looked at dozens of resumes provided by the UCC and local Conference, I can say with certainty the UCC minister candidate pool has no traditional/conservative candidates. And that is the nicest thing I can say. Anyone with traditional values, looking to be a minister, would be looking at a different denomination for training.

      I see no going back for this denomination. Each year they move farther left. I do suspect the declining membership is overstated as there is no incentive either locally or at the national level to remove from the membership rolls that that simply walk away and no longer or only rarely attend their UCC church.

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      • The Faithful and Welcoming churches are around…the pastor that represents them accidentally made a stir at General Synod this past year with his exhibit for the group. It was reported in the UCC news:

        https://www.ucc.org/news_synod_after_emotional_debates_ucc_synod_tables_move_to_exclude_group_from_exhibit_hall_06252019

        I have had contact with the group. They are a very loose association and really don’t do much when it comes to supporting each other. There also used to be a Confessing Christ movement as well and the last you heard of them was in 2014. I have tried to track down the person in charge of that group and have not been successful. You can look at their website as well, it actually had good stuff.

        http://confessingchrist.net/About/tabid/54/Default.aspx

        Your traditional/conservative ministers are going to be older or ready to retire. That pool is shrinking fast if not already gone. My current church when they called our current pastor four years ago, is actually is a Mennonite and was looking at both denominations for placement. He is in his late 60s. I ask my church administrator all the time, what are you guys going to do when he retires? They will have to pull from another denomination, but a lot of the mainline denominations are getting to the point that they are also losing that “middle ground” when it comes to theology.

        My church is theologically at the point where the UCC was at the merger and has the bonus of being an old E & R congregation that really is not in tune with all the changes that have happened. I actually went to my pastor and said to him, where did you go to seminary that you are still acting like the old church and WHEN did you go? He actually went to the Mennonite seminary in our area during the early 1990s. It would be wise that my congregation works with that seminary to have their future pastors, but they are still going to work really hard to maintain the Evangelical Lutheran side of the tradition as well.

        It is really a losing situation for these churches because theologically they are a cross between Lutheranism and German Reformed. The E & R was a really unique denomination and it was a fatal mistake…literally…to assimilate. For any of those churches that are left, you would have to literally rebuild the denomination.

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  5. Dave the article you point to is an interesting conspiracy theory but doesn’t jive at all with UCC history or facts about Obama or Wright. It’s really an attack on the Social Gospel of the extreme right of the church today. The arguments date back to the 50’s & 60’s. I suggest everyone read Dr. Louis Gunneman’s (my old prof.) history of the UCC for a look at UCC history before Wright & Obama. The article reminds me I will be retiring soon near the home town of Sen. Joe Macarthy, who had communists behind every tree in America. How do I know the history of the UCC I grew up in the EVANGELICAL and Reformed Church and was confirmed using their curriculum. You might want to check out the old Heidelberg Catechism and see what a really liber document it is.

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    • John, I am a 15 year member of a small UCC church in Hawaii. For many years I did not realize it was a bible revisionist (progressive) church. We sing the old gospel hymns. It took a while before I started hearing things that did not seem correct. At communion, wording changed to we are ALL saved by God’s love (meaning all humanity automatically saved). Then started hearing nonsense from the pulpit like slavery alternated the DNA of blacks and that is a reason we owe reparations, Israel is bad, gay marriage/sex is not only good but should be celebrated, healthcare is a right, etc. At Christmas and Easter, not one word about Salvation being the reason Christ was born and died. All about new beginnings, rebirth, blah, blah, blah. We had an interim UCC pastor for a year. I learned he does not believe in heaven and hell, (we make our own heaven and hell here on earth).
      95% of UCC churches here in Hawaii are very small (under 50 average church attendees, fewer members). Average age is close to 70 and rising. Most of the remaining seniors still attend because this has been their church for generations (mine is almost 200 years old).
      As they die, they are not being replaced by younger members, except for an occasional transplant from the left coast. The church will need to sell property it has owned for nearly 200 years to survive another year or two.
      Like it or not, the local community is not interested in the brand of Christianity being offered by the UCC.
      A few times a year there is a baptism of the child of a non-church attendee as other churches do “believers baptisms” or at least require the parents to be church attendees. So our UCC church sprinkles the magic water on the child, the parents recite a few words about raising the child to know God, and then the family and friends that attended the baptism never attend the church again.

      There are multiple nearby Evangelical churches that are flourishing.
      So, yes I do believe that “God is Still Speaking”, as he continues to make the UCC one of the fasting declining denominations.

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      • Sorry to hear of your experiences. I don’t agree with that interpretation of most of that stuff and see it as extreme. The all people are saved thing is a long held belief by some called “Universalism” as in “Unitarian Universalist.” People life John Adams and others out of the traditional New England Congregationalist history held these beliefs. The fact that they pop up in Hawaii isn’t surprising with its Congregational history. Since the eastern congregationalism theology is coming to predominate in the UCC across the board. What we are loosing is the counter balance of old Trinitarian theology of the E&R side, which I believe some old ethnically German congregations are being criticized. Their natural theology challenges many of those extreme theologies you mentioned. But a few years ago I had a large church pastor from the New England Congregational tradition present her thesis that E&R theology was taking over the UCC, so whose right. I think the point is here the traditional E&R theology still holds on and since I gather she is a bit of a newcomer to the upper Midwest where that kind of theology is probably more prevalent then on either coast.
        As to the shrinking church-welcome to the new reality of being a Christian of any sort in the world today, especially in America. This is one argument Christopher gets right. That is just the nature of the beast today and it isn’t just in Hawaii that the future looks bleak. An elderly member of one of my congregations said that when she moved up here there were I believe 8 congregations service the small town she lived by. Now there is three and all of them may not have much of a future. Om three two could close in the next couple of years. Both hold to a pretty traditional theology but no one is moving into these areas. Right now if I could afford to do it relocating to Hawaii doesn’t sound like a bad idea, after driving 140 miles round trip on roads that were snow covered last night, with a raw wind and temps in the 20’s. Temps in another month I will consider balmy!
        I agree with your basic point that the theology of the UCC is changing and not always for the good. That’s why the article you point to is a poor example. What is being lost is not the movement to the social Gospel but the UCC as a place where people of all faiths were welcome and we would discuss the difficult issues in non-judgmental ways to seek out what was truly the will of God. Whether it is Christopher’s stereotyping of small rural congregations or the article’s blaming everything on “Socialism” which obviously she doesn’t understand, the UCC as a denomination is loosing the real intent of its founders to be a place Where all Christians could come together to hear and discuss God’s word and God’s way.

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      • I posted a comment on the blog but it doesn’t look like my answer was approved. So I copied it just in case and hope that it makes it on the board this time.

        I would like to echo the sentiments of John and Mike.

        I am a transplant to the UCC in 1996. I went to a smaller church in a town in NW Ohio that was started as a union church in 1967, but the German beliefs were the dominant tradition. I just left that church and moved to a rural UCC that has been in place since 1860 and is of the old E & R persuasion.

        I came to the UCC as a cradle African American Baptist who was upset with the tradition I was born in. So it was absolutely wonderful to come to this rural area and this all white church embraced me. I had some exposure to Catholicism going a few years to a parochial school and loved the mysticism of the mother church. I was thrilled to find a denomination that was a nice “middle ground”.

        I left my first UCC church in 2018 because our new minister informed me that “The UCC are like Unitarians now” after questioning him about some of the major changes he was making in church teachings. I was shocked. I did my own investigation, found out that he was mostly correct and left the church saying to him “I don’t want to be a Unitarian.”

        Even though I disagreed with him (and passionately let him know that), that revelation was probably the best thing that could have happened to me because it alerted me to what was going on. It made me do my own research into the history of the denomination. In looking at our own history books, when the UCC was formed, the more traditional side were considered “liberal evangelicals” and the more progressive side was “modern liberals shading on Unitarians” This was identified back in the 1950s. It was absolute suicide to think that these two groups would eventually agree on theology/ideology when one group is comes from a Reformed tradition and the other comes from a Separatist tradition. One side believes in Christian unity and the other believes in Christian universalism (which includes a mix of Christian orthodox and non-orthodox beliefs taken from other religions). One believes that Christ is the focal point of the faith, that Christ is sovereign, and is the Son of God. The other treats Jesus more like a prophet and focuses on his moral teachings. We both have totally different ideas/understanding of Christology. That is a fundamental difference that is not going to be fixed by having rational/sacred conversations, even though that was the hope of the founders back in formulation days of the United Church of Christ.

        In my opinion, it would be better at this point to let the churches who still hold on to the original ideas of the traditional Reformed position go and let them form another denomination. It would be smart to let them take the Statement of Faith, creeds, crest and go on with their lives instead of trying to force them to become more progressive or innovative. You are not going to stop the fracturing or infighting because it is deeper than just race or sexual preferences. It is about the basic understanding of the faith. This conflict has been going on since the day the denomination was formed and we are foolish to think that it hasn’t been around. It has just become more obvious as the two traditions have drifted further apart in ideology in the last 60 years.

        To be honest with you….in writing this, I feel like Martin Luther when he proclaimed, that he didn’t leave the Catholic church. The Catholic church left him. A lot of your small churches probably feel the same way about the national organization.

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      • I’m aware that I’ve written to much recently but I believe this is a discussion that needs to happen in the UCC. Actually it’s been going on since the 70’s and is now trying to be, in my opinion, be silenced by a heavy left hand. Also having grown up literally in the backyard of a major university, I’ve been trained in the intellectual debate process since childhood, where you present a thesis only if you are prepared to defend it in discussion with your peers. To often thesis are presented with a take it or you’re an idiot approach even in our denomination and culture. I was baptized in a former Germen Evangelical Church and thus claim as the UCC use to do, proudly claim the word EVANGELICAL as a part of my heritage. Speaking of the meaning of words being changed, there is no better example of this in the church then the word EVANGELICAL. Meant to identify someone who believes in the Good News, the Gospel, it has been claimed by a wind of the church that claims to follow the beliefs on a man from Chicago, Named Moody who reduces Christianity to a narrow view based on his 9 principles and certain political and social beliefs. I have a peer that I use to do Bible Study with who has a degree from Harvard Divinity that would argue, and I agree; “In the UCC we take the scriptures very seriously. But just not literally.” I’ve found there are many people who claim to take the Bible literally, but especially today few if any that do. I present to texts that make my point. How many people in this discussion take Matthew 9:21 and Luke 12:33 and their surrounding texts literally? Do you David? If not then like the rest of us you are picking and choosing scripture to take literally and interpreting scripture’s meaning. I don’t have the mind of God nor claim it in any form.. But like others struggle with it hopefully under the guidance of the Holy Spirit

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    • I agree Dave their is some craziness out there but let’s compare it to the religious right. While the Bible calls us to welcome the stranger in our midst, the RR calls to keep people in need, fleeing for the lives, out on the basis of racism. It supports leaders who violate commandments like not bearing false witness, committing adultery, respecting elders and other things, all because of political gains in this world. Perhaps we can understand why people are leaving the church in droves. Of course in both these examples we are judging the many by a few vocal folk but hey that is why creating stereotypes is so important.

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      • Like Christopher painting with a big brush is an easy way to avoid problems and taking responsabilty. I’ve afraid I’m suffering from a problem you don’t have in Hawaii and can’t continue. I just came in from shoveling snow and have very cold hands. AS to supporting Trump if lying, adultery dividing families, ignoring scripture so the wealthy can get richer and they have no sense of being used. Then I guess you are correct. But remember if America is to be seen as a nation under God it must give witness to God’s way and this is not it

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      • I will take Trump over any of the democrat candidates that support taxpayer funded abortion until moment of birth, open borders, redistribution of income, think free healthcare is a constitutional right and college (but not guns) and pretty much can be assured will turn all of America into the cesspool San Francisco and other democrat run cities have become.
        Where was your outcry over Bill Clinton having sex in the White House with an intern? Seems strange you think possible adultery by Trump years ago is worse.

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      • As someone who has not been involved in this conversation, just wanted to say this:

        As far as American Evangelical Christianity is concerned, it is going to depend on what group you are talking about. German Evangelicalism is different than the Southern Baptist version or the Methodists or even black Evangelical Christians and even then there are subgroups with different opinions.

        The largest conservative evangelical group in this country has been the Southern Baptists….which ironically before the 1980s, was okay with abortion. They actually held the moderate position and it is documented in their resolutions.

        In 1971, the Southern Baptist Convention agreed, in a joint resolution: “We call upon Southern Baptists to work for legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother.”

        Dallas Theological Seminary professors also supported the cause. Bruce Wakte, writing in Christianity Today, drew on Exodus 21:22-24 to argue that “God does not regard the fetus as a soul, no matter how far gestation has progressed.” His colleague Norman Geisler concurred: “The embryo is not fully human — it is an undeveloped person.”

        Now, I am not sitting here arguing for abortion. I am just saying that American Evangelicalism is tricky, it always has been and always will be. The Southern Baptists are the same group that was pro-slavery, pro-segregation (Jim Crow laws) and did not issue an apology for their political actions until 1995 which is only 25 years ago.

        German Evangelicalism is were the UCC gets the social response from, however, they take a very difference stance on it than what the German – Americans did. The German heritage of the UCC was not involved in the disputes between the North (New England/Congregational) and the South (predominantly Baptists). They have been enemies of each other since coming to this country.

        In order to understand these very polarizing issues, it really does help to have an idea of what the Christian religion was like before the American revolution. Up North, you have New England and the Congregationalists. Down south you have the Church of England (were the wealthy slave owning elite worshiped) and the Baptists was the church for common poor people. After the war, the Baptists take over the power position that the Church of England had and the wealthy slave owning elite come in and change things to mirror some of the ideology of the medieval society and the Church of England (who issued a formal apology for slavery in 2006). There are some debates that part of the reason for breaking with Britain was against the change in attitude in the mother country about slavery.

        A lot of complaints against American Protestantism is that is more about a clash between advancing the well-being of the nation-state and it’s cherished institutions than actually living out the Christian faith. People are turned away from the faith because they see the hypocrisy on both sides from the two historically dominant Anglo – Saxton churches. The reason is because they know our story better than we do. They read our holy book, see how we are blind to all of our faults and readily point out our past history of how we don’t measure up. We really need to stop and take a long period of reflection and really sort out who we truly are.

        .

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  6. I am a transplant to the UCC in 1996. I went to a smaller church in a town in NW Ohio that was started as a union church in 1967, but the German beliefs were the dominant tradition. I just left that church and moved to a rural UCC that has been in place since 1860 and is of the old E & R persuasion.

    I came to the UCC as a cradle African American Baptist who was upset with the tradition I was born in. So it was absolutely wonderful to come to this rural area and this all white church embraced me. I had some exposure to Catholicism going a few years to a parochial school and loved the mysticism of the mother church. I was thrilled to find a denomination that was a nice “middle ground”.

    I left my first UCC church in 2018 because our new minister informed me that “The UCC are like Unitarians now” after questioning him about some of the major changes he was making in church teachings. I was shocked. I did my own investigation, found out that he was mostly correct and left the church saying to him “I don’t want to be a Unitarian.”

    Even though I disagreed with him (and passionately let him know that), that revelation was probably the best thing that could have happened to me because it alerted me to what was going on. It made me do my own research into the history of the denomination. In looking at our own history books, when the UCC was formed, the more traditional side were considered “liberal evangelicals” and the more progressive side was “modern liberals shading on Unitarians” This was identified back in the 1950s. It was absolute suicide to think that these two groups would eventually agree on theology/ideology when one group is comes from a Reformed tradition and the other comes from a Separatist tradition. One side believes in Christian unity and the other believes in Christian universalism (which includes a mix of Christian orthodox and non-orthodox beliefs taken from other religions). One believes that Christ is the focal point of the faith, that Christ is sovereign, and is the Son of God. The other treats Jesus more like a prophet and focuses on his moral teachings. We both have totally different ideas/understanding of Christology. That is a fundamental difference that is not going to be fixed by having rational/sacred conversations, even though that was the hope of the founders back in formulation days of the United Church of Christ.

    In my opinion, it would be better at this point to let the churches who still hold on to the original ideas of the traditional Reformed position go and let them form another denomination. It would be smart to let them take the Statement of Faith, creeds, crest and go on with their lives instead of trying to force them to become more progressive or innovative. You are not going to stop the fracturing or infighting because it is deeper than just race or sexual preferences. It is about the basic understanding of the faith. This conflict has been going on since the day the denomination was formed and we are foolish to think that it hasn’t been around. It has just become more obvious as the two traditions have drifted further apart in ideology in the last 60 years.

    To be honest with you….in writing this, I feel like Martin Luther when he proclaimed, that he didn’t leave the Catholic church. The Catholic church left him. A lot of your small churches probably feel the same way about the national organization.

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    • Lucretia & Dave; Your final paragraph Lucretia makes the point in the UCC any congregation has the right to thumb their nose at the National Church, though I admit some on the left want to change that. Shoot over the years I’ve had face to face confrontations with National leaders. May I suggest you both go back and find or purchase a copy of the Heidelberg Catechism if you really want to know what the Reformed attitudes that informed the UCC and still do are. (A few liberals would be helped if they did the same.) You will find there a clear call to the work of Justice and Peace from the days of the Reformation to today.
      Dave you need to go back and find sources other then the right wing propaganda sources you evidently read to discover that the issues the right holds up to be of great importance have little biblical backing and really their positions are based on manufacturing fears which again some on the extreme left help fan. I’m a gun owner and see no conflict with my faith or reason to be afraid of loosing my rights. I have many members including gun collectors that support bans on military style rifles. They understand that the NRA has become nothing more then a puppet of the firearms industry to increase profits and play into their greed. Actually both sides could use a course on the history of the 2nd Amendment back to England when the English long bow was the thing to be feared on the battle field. But hey who cares about the truth anyhow. There was quite an outcry over Clinton from the right and moderates. For followers of Jesus Adultery is always a sin and I guess you never heard the chant, “You can go to Hell for lying just as sure as stealing.” Christian values don’t more change but political points of view do. Which is more important to you. One final point to remember. Have you ever considered Putin’s resume before becoming Russian president and Trumps good buddy? Third most powerful man in “The evil Empire” of USSR and head of their KGB and then the Russian Secret Police, responsible for killing innocent people, including possible Americans. Don’t take my word for it check it out your self. Which is more important following Christ or following the latest political rhetoric, whether left or right? It’s up to you and so are the consequences.

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      • John, I have actually started doing a hard study of the Reformation and the various attitudes that came out of that time with the Renaissance…religious and secular to get a good idea of why Western civilization started going back to “the day of Rome”. As far as the UCC is concerned, I actually have been buying off of the secondhand book market any book that remain from the E & R and the early days of the UCC as well as understanding the political climate of the time. In my opinion, it is a shame that we don’t really study the conditions that caused the founders to make the decisions that they did to cause the formation of the United Christ of Christ.

        I also was able to talk to one of the founders of the Confessing Christ project of the UCC that died out around 2013/2014 (he is in his mid 80s). He recommend that I also read the seven volume set of Living Theological Heritage of the United Church of Christ. He agrees that the concerns about the church heritage being ignored is valid although he is not sure what to do about it.

        A lot of it comes from our style of governance which is highly democratic. Because of that, any lay group that can amass political power, money and influence can rise up and overtake the church. To me that is one the failures of have the strange polity that we have in the UCC. There is no system to keep secular beliefs from taking root in the church, whether they be ultra-liberal or ultra-conservative. A denomination SHOULD be uniform in the overall thought, with variation in customs in the local body. If we are to be honest, if we took a look from the outside, the denomination is very fragmented in thought that contradicts itself all the time. I actually laugh and say that we are a very schizophrenic group of Christians. No one in the right mind would say this is a great way to run a denomination and it also lessens our witness. It is well pass time for an overhaul.

        What the church is suffering from people allowing the church become a secular institution. Any organization can involve itself in humanitarian work…so the question remains what makes the church different than any other secular institution if are basis of action is not firmly in Christ? I also agree that not every political movement is one aligned with Christ being at the center. History is clear that many political moves taken by religion officials have mixed motives, unintended consequences and people get hurt by those actions. All we would have to do is look at the Reformation for evidence of that.

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      • Lucretia,
        Great comments. Unfortunstely, the people that ignore and reinterpret what the bible says, will do the same with historical documents.
        I also agree with your comment that there should general agreement in basic theology, but there is not. In fact, my experience is that it is extremely difficult to learn the beliefs within each church. It took me years of attending a UCC church before I understood how bible revisionist it is.
        I find that most evangelical churches, have a “what we believe” section on their website, that lays out the basics such as salvation by repentance and individual Christ acceptance as Savior.
        I have yet to find a UCC church list the things I have found many believe. Such as Christ did not really rise from the dead, there are many religions that provide a path to heaven, or there is no eternal life (heaven and hell is here on earth), etc.

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      • David, totally agree with you that historical documents tend to get overlooked as well and I am actually with in discussion with my church that they really need to sit down and say as a congregation this is what we believe and then make sure that is on our website/print materials/etc. Again, it is going to depend on the congregation. Both of the congregations I have attended in the UCC are older….the one didn’t (and still doesn’t) have a website. The second church has a website and it is pretty generic.

        Evangelicals have ALWAYS been more media savvy that us and can quickly adapt their message to any new form of media that comes out (think Martin Luther and the printing press). It is why most Christians in America are evangelical. As Reformed Christians, we absolutely stink at this…..for fun just go on FB and look at the pages of the Presbyterian Church USA (Reformed), the United Church of Christ (Reformed), the Episcopal Church and the the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (Confessional/Evangelical Lutheran). You are going to see BIG differences in social media presence and that is within the Mainline Churches (the Evangelical Lutheran Church beats everyone). Once you get out to the non – denominational churches, especially those with strong lead personalities, you are going see even a bigger difference. Thank Martin Luther for that one.

        What makes the UCC weird is that we really (if we are honest) are not a denomination. A denomination would say, this is what we believe and while you are going to see variation in local worship practices but everyone follows the same overall message. The UCC is more like a federation than a denomination. All we have to do is look at our own government structures to see how much variation you can have been the states and even their local jurisdictions can vary. Having the locus of control come from the bottom up instead of from the top to the bottom is a terrible way to run a church. And if you want an idea to really take off, you have to organize, fundraise, etc. That is a lot of work for a lay person to take on by themselves and that is why good ideas may come to General Synod, be approved and then just collect dust. The group that is able to raise money and get political power will control the denomination. And God forbid if a radical fridge group gains power with no high authority or governing body in place to make sure things don’t get out of control. The denomination will constantly change direction depending on who is in charge.

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  7. I will probably get myself in trouble again but that has been going on since the 90’s and it hasn’t stopped me yet.. First of all people have been proposing what you are speaking about for years. Back when the GS was in St. Louis, National proposed such a discussion between rural and urban congregations and their pastors as a pre-synod event. I was asked to represent the Wis. Conf. at that meeting. When we got there we were told that the big church, urban churches would not meet with us because, “We had nothing in common to discuss.” We didn’t have to deal with issues like poverty. Funny ever statistic I read says that higher percentage of people in rural areas live in poverty then in urban areas. We were all “Lilly white” and didn’t have to deal with racism. Yes such areas exist in rural areas but so do areas with a high Native American population. But when you “paint with one brush” it makes your arguments easier to make. Just saw an article about a large number of SE Asians moving into SW Minnesota. A major problem growing with Trump’s immigration policies is a shortage of Latino & Hispanic workers for America’s dairy industry and other agribusiness areas. These people are not commuting from the cities to work on dairy farms or vegetable farms. But unless one gets out and explores rural America one may miss that. Getting back to racial issues, there is a lot of support for paying descendants of slaves “reparations.” In Canada First Nation people that were forced to attend boarding schools and their descendants are already receiving “reparations.” Yet I hear little of this in the UCC. Is that because we in the UCC don’t want to face that the historic traditions that the UCC is made up of, ran boarding schools for Native Americans. I know first hand how those students were treated because I served a parish where a couple of them were members and I was chaplain at a treatment facility for children and youth that was in one of those old schools. The urban clergy said we didn’t have problems with crime and drugs in rural areas. Interestingly the sheriff of our county says one of the biggest problems he has to deal with is the flow of drugs into the country from Canada, on their way to the Twin Cites. As you might guess even on the northern border we are dealing with issues of immigration. If you would like I can provide pictures of places where some have proposed building fences or even walls between us and Canada.

    A couple of questions! Can the kind of discussion you propose be held if one side relies on the images of congregations based not on fact but assumptions that often are not true or are prejudicial? Example we often celebrate in the UCC the ethnic riches of African Americans or Hispanics, even Pacific Islanders, but when a historically ethnic German or Swiss Church wants to Sing “Stillie Nacht, Heilige Nacht”, we immediately accuse them of being conservative, racist and see them all sitting there in MAGA hats! If I were to show your note to one of the congregations I serve they would be insulted by your view of them. They are historically a strong UNION congregation, that some times feels deserted by the Democratic Party and yes their church. My second question is are we trying to save the institution of the UCC or the ministry of peace and justice it claims to be doing?

    Across the vast expanse of rural America are many small congregations with dedicated pastors who feel called to speak out for justice and peace but fight battles not only with conservative forces in their communities but with untrue images and patronizing attitudes of our peers in our own denomination. When attempts have been made to provide healthy support groups for pastors in remote areas using modern technology, other clergy will not join in because they have their own support groups of clergy closer to them and don’t want to bother supporting other clergy in remote areas.

    I am a part of a group of small church and rural clergy that have been trying to engage in the kind of conversation you propose. But it can not happen until, like other issues in our country, we can agree on a basic set of truths to provide us with a starting point. Right now on the nature of small, rural ministries in the UCC that just isn’t there.

    Liked by 1 person

    • What is truth? (Asked Pontius Pilote and one too many UCC leaders)
      The denial of an objective reality instituted and governed by God is a key tenant of the Revisionist Christian that Mr. Williams mentioned. I had a longer, more severe reply, but either the spam trap is catching it or Mr. Xenakis couldn’t stomach it- but you and Mr. Williams are in the neighborhood. God bless you for the work you do in bringing people to Christ and maintaining a God-centered congregation.

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      • I assume your note is addressed to me Mike. In reality isn’t that the real issue we are struggling with in our denomination, much of the church and in our countries political debate. What is the objective truth on many issues on the table today and does it really matter? But rather then seek out the answer we tend to accept “truths” that fit our base arguments. Thus we depend on stereotypes as truths and flat out lies or spin doctoring to fit our arguments. I like you would like to use stronger arguments but.

        Somehow this is a fitting subject for the week before Epiphany when we are confronted by one of the churches longest lasting cases of misinformation. Not to insist on literacy but how many wise men does scripture say there were and were they really kings? Oh well!

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    • Lucretia your most recent note I think reflects a problem the UCC has had since its beginning. People believe it should be like other denominations with a strong central doctrine which is against its core philosophy of each CONGREGATION forming it own doctrine and yes you are correct that allows for extremes to come out. The belief is that is how explore the whole scope of meaning of God’s word and not be confined. I knew several of the founders or Confessing Christ as I was in the Wis. Conference with them and we had many online discussions on a thing called Ecunet. Many of them wanted to write a UCC Catichism based on the traditional ones. But it never happened. That is why David’s broad brush strokes miss the point also. Yes some UCC clergy do go off the deep end in many different directions. I knew of one that preached Veganism as doctrine including not using dairy, in a church that’s economic foundation was dairy farming. That it is why it is important to maintain a conversation which now both the left and right are abandoning. And I again belief it is that conversation the coun try needs more then ever.

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      • Okay, I had to read the line about Veganism twice….wow, that is really extreme.

        That is what congregationalism is all about and that example show how easy it is to get into that type of situation…and if we really understood the Puritans we would not be surprised about what has happened to the UCC. If we know their history, we would see what is happening as a strange case of deja vu.

        The Puritans are exactly who they say they are. The name comes from the belief that they must “purify” the church of all aspects of Roman Catholicism. It really isn’t a surprise that the Unitarians come out of that tradition. Reformed thought leans heavily on the teachings of Roman Catholicism. With Calvin, it was stripping the church of the man made decrees by the Pope and religious hierarchy that weren’t in line with church history and Biblical record and corrupted the church. It was a return to the past.

        You really have to study Puritan/Congregational history to get it and it is complicated. In the beginning, they stuck with what John Calvin had done. Over time, they got lax about it. They you had the Great Awakenings because people were unhappy with the formal religions of Europe. Religion became more experimental. It affected the Puritans in a negative way. It affects us now more than ever.

        So really experimental religion is not what the church has traditionally done. It has always been we look to the past, we look to tradition and we (if we are wise) change customs when they are interfering with what God has revealed in the Scriptures. Takes a lot of discernment and prayer and wrestling between what we desire as good verses what God has declared is holy. The Bible is full of this conflict between what man has called good and then God rejects and we should appreciate that reoccurring theme more often. Because of this conflict, this is the EXACT reason why we have creeds. The elders of the church had to keep getting back together and clarifying things because new ideas on how church should be done would keep coming up…and some of them were pretty out there. Again, we have seen this before.

        It is also one of the downsides of not having a magisterium. There was actually a General Synod resolution to call for having a Theological Commission at GS 28 and for wider use of the Living Theological Heritage series of the United Church of Christ. It passed. So the Penn Central Conference made the effort to put it in place, however, every church has a right implement or reject their recommendations. The book on Christ, Creeds and Life that they wrote in 2007 is an excellent resource they have put together. Probably most UCC churches are not aware of it. Also because the way the UCC is structured, you really do not have an idea what another conference or association is doing unless you make a concentrated effort to go find out.

        We live in the land of liberty and we want our freedoms. We don’t like to be told what to do and we don’t want to be subject to a religious authority. What the real issue is that we don’t want to be under corrupt religious authority, which was a huge problem back in the Medieval Church. We say (or at least some of us say) that Christ is our Lord and King and as subjects of His Kingdom, we have to obey His rules. If we truly believe that, we would treat these issues a lot differently.

        The UCC is highly democratic and we believe the people are the one that has the say. Majority rules. The majority elects the leaders they want to so they can have political advantage. It is definitely not a fair system and is prone to all sorts of abuse. All you have to do is look at the strategic plan of the church (because that is really the operating document of the church, not the Constitution).

        Strategic Organizational Alignment
        A dynamic need for a nimble and changing church is not a request for a fundamental abandonment of our Christo-centric paradigm, but rather, a re-imagining of its structures in awareness of the colonial, patriarchal, and oppressive context in which it was developed.

        So the first question is defining the relationship of the “new” church to Christ. I can tell you by just watching things we act like Unitarians (I actually had an ordained UCC pastor tell me that the UCC are Unitarians now). Unitarian Christians believe that Jesus was inspired by God in his moral teachings, and he is a savior, but he was not a deity or God incarnate.

        So 64 million dollar question here…..Jesus asks us “Who do you say I am?”

        For the majority of the denomination what is their honest answer?

        For some people, Jesus is a radical democratic socialist…complete with a matching meme on social media. For others he is an “Enlightened Master” and is a great spiritual director/moral teacher and advocate for the poor…hence the social gospel.

        There is nothing wrong with doing good works in the name of the Lord. But does truly have authority over your life?

        That might be the conversation we really need to be having….

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    • One of our long time Maui churches has just left the UCC. Kahului Union Church was founded in 1906::

      Kahului Union Church
      Our Story

      ANNOUNCEMENT: Effective December 31, 2019, Kahului Union Church is no longer a member of the United Church of Christ (UCC).
      Over the past several decades the leaders and members of KUC have been very concerned about the direction the denomination has taken. In summary, we have seen an increase in tolerance of false teachings, a departure from sound doctrine, and a dangerous move toward “Progressive Christianity.” This is evident not just on the national level, but also in the Hawaii Conference and Association. The Scriptures warn us about this kind of departure from sound doctrine.
      We will continue to hold the congregations and leadership of the UCC in our prayers, praying for Godly discernment (Hebrews 4:12) and a boldness to stand for sound doctrine (Titus 1:9).
      If anyone has questions on our process of discernment and prayer, please feel free to contact us at info@kahuluiunion.org
      ——————-

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      • Sad, but not surprising.

        I think we really don’t pay attention to the history of the biggest group in the merger in the creation of the UCC, the National Council of the Congregational Churches. All religious history books that I can find basically state that the merger of the E & R was more like an acquisition than a true partnership. So basically, the church was “bought out” by the Congregationalists.

        So in 1925, the National Council adopted a Statement of Social Ideals, which outlined a progressive “Christian social order”. The five ideals include universal education, support for labor unions, the preservation and support of rural communities as well as price controls on agricultural products, the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination, and the abolition of all national armed forces except for internal police. Sound familiar?

        So, you can see that theology is not really their main concern. Even though they were originally Calvinist in nature, you can see with the various breaks over time (with the creation of the Unitarians in the 1800s, the slide back to Unitarianism now) and the near blood battle over staying congregational at the Union….that their main concern is liberty and freedom of consciousness and having no form of ecclesiastical form of government….or at least you can have the structures in place but no real authority. That is not actually how a denomination should be run because there is no oversight in any matters. It causes all sorts of conflict because people thinking we are united on ideas and WE ARE NOT.

        We talk about our “diversity” in the church…..in reality the church is actually really a fragmented, disjointed mess. No one is on the same page when it comes to who Jesus is as the Head of the Church. It is actually a surprise that the denomination has lasted this long, but the problem is more apparent now as more and more traditional churches leave the union.

        The fact of the matter is that religious liberty and denominationalism are not compatible. You can’t have one part of the church going one direction and the other part going another. You are naturally going to have a split. We keep on, what will happen is that the organization will just crumble into independent churches that are loosely affiliated again.

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      • Who are you talking about as the head of CC? Dr. Trost, Rev. Gorman are still in Wis. I’ve lost track of Dr. Facker. You see I knew them all and worked with a couple of them when I served in WI. Facker and I met on some occasions but never really hit it off. I participated in many of the online discussions and disagreed with the concept of setting a UCC doctrine then and now. And yes the popular doctrine now is different from CC and reflects the UCC Urban focus, which is very different from the 90’s, but that’s where we are at now. Perhaps it is because of my age and status in ministry but I feel a little like Gov Romney in the GOP free to criticize without fear of repercussion that matters much from the UCC. But even then I am free to criticize and for the most part be respected because of the UCC structure and polity. My concern in this discussion is the misrepresentation of the UCC based on old talking points that weren’t valid when they first came up in years ago. It is GOD that is the bulwark of the church, not the church in any form, doctrine or polity is the point of the hymn. If one studies, really studies Reformed theology, whatever its source one finds it is as much a reaction to Luther as it is Rome. Luther opened the door to challenging the Pope and once opened it just kept going and in some sense it is still going. One doesn’t have to choose between science and the Bible. But true knowledge and closed minded beliefs. There are several British theologians building off of Gilkey do some marvelous stuff. If you would like I can get the name of one book that shows how quantum physics and string theory really doesn’t challenge scripture in any way if one is to think rather then just accept out of date doctrine, given new names.

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      • Talking to Rev. Trost who just left for Arizona on Wednesday to enjoy the climate down there for a few months. 🙂 I actually understand where you are coming from John. But if we look at the early church, it was a CONSTANT battle to keep story straight or for being corrupted from outside influences. Everyone agrees that the Medieval Catholic church over time had become corrupted. A call for reform had been going on long before Luther, we just had the advantage of being at the right place at the right time and as well as being LOUD, lol.

        Luther caused chaos and quickly realized…uh oh…..there has got to be some order here. So that is where the catechisms come in because there would have been absolute anarchy….Europe would have burned to the ground. And even with what he put in place as well as the other Reformers, Europe still burned for quite some time and a lot of life was lost. I think it would be interesting for us to study what both Luther and Calvin though about the role of secular government to keep order in place and maintain peace.

        As far as choosing between science and the Bible, you just have to keep it in the proper perspective. Science at is best is Deist and at it’s worst is atheist. Science does not believe that God would intervene in worldly affairs so that kinda is a challenge when you talk about the Divinity of Jesus and the miracles He did. That violates all know laws of nature and that really messes with them because it is RANDOM. It cannot be placed in an neat, orderly fashion. It is interesting to listen to a bunch of scientists talk because they are always trying to fit religious experience into scientific modes of thinking and it never works right.

        What got me in trouble in my last church was that in Sunday school we were discussing a book in which the person said that God was nothing more than a figment of the imagination. You had to read it a bit to get what he was saying but he basically said any out of world experience of God is just misdirected brain function. I forget who the person is but I did go online and looked him up and he has a huge following and is a Christian atheist (how those two words can be combined in to form a term is a totally difference story).

        I have a Bachelor’s of Science, so I understand their line of thinking…fortunately I went to a great UCC college that still was Biblical at that time so that I could get the Christian viewpoint of things. Most scientists would say that the universe points to God, but that He pretty much created a closed system and by the laws of mathematics and physics we can figure everything out nature (cue the Enlightenment). Religion talks about things that don’t conform to the laws of mathematics, can be objectively quantified or see with the eye (or with the aid of a device such as a telescope or microscope). Randomness is the ultimate archenemy of science because the phenomena cannot be controlled by human means and then either manipulated/exploited/etc to be for human ends….most of them being pretty selfish in nature. But I thank you for the offer of the books and being willing to talk to me. I think this has been one of the most interesting conversations that I have had with other pastors and laity in the UCC.

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      • Question on baptism. I am pretty sure that the missionaries that founded the Congregational churches here in Hawaii practiced adult, believers baptism. Is that correct? I am curious as to when and how this changed to infant baptism.

        Dave

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    • As I remember David, you might be wrong in your belief. As I remember my Congregational Church history Roger Williams and Anne Hutchins were thrown out of the Congregational Church and the Mass. Bay Colony in colonial days because they refused to baptized infants. Our Pilgrim ancestors came here practicing Infant Baptism and opposing the ones practicing “Believer Baptism.” Infant baptism was the norm in much of the reformed church. Trained out of Harvard I doubt the missionaries that made the journey to Hawaii practiced believers baptism.

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