Faithful and Welcoming' president: 'We will be constructive with criticism, dissent'

Faithful and Welcoming' president: 'We will be constructive with criticism, dissent'

August 31, 2006
Written by Daniel Hazard

Editor's note: United Church News invited the Rev. Bob Thompson, president of Faithful and Welcoming Churches, to submit an op-ed column about the FWC movement. In so doing, this newspaper indicated that it would offer space for a response, which has been written by the Rev. Nancy S. Taylor, pastor of Old South UCC, an Open and Affirming Church in Boston. FWC is hosting a national gathering, Aug. 4-5, in Bechtelsville, Pa.

The 50th anniversary of the UCC celebrates the crowning achievement of the 20th-century ecumenical movement, which passionately advocated for the visible unity of the church. Since General Synod 25, however, innumerable members, more than 100 local churches, and even an entire Conference [Puerto Rico] have formally separated from this "united and uniting" church.

At the same time, numerous individuals - along with entire congregations - have expressed interest in joining the UCC because of its bold pronouncements and extravagant welcome. More important than the numbers lost and gained, whatever they turn out to be, is this dual reality: those leaving the UCC more than likely consider themselves evangelical, conservative, orthodox, or traditional (ECOT) and those finding the UCC are likely liberal or progressive.

Tony Campolo's 1995 book, "Can Mainline Denominations Make a Comeback?" advocated the "realignment" of denominations based on ideological lines. But realignment has its problems. Most Christians resist an exclusive identification with a label - thus our difficulty as ECOTs to choose only one. Local churches and even families are often internally divided along the fault lines of the day. To force a church to go either direction intensifies the schism. Most importantly, realignment's fl aw is biblical and theological, especially from a UCC perspective. Visionaries who created the UCC believed that Jesus' prayer, "That they all may be one," should trump sectarian, socio-economic, racial and ecclesiastical differences. Across the theological spectrum of UCC membership there are those who believe that we can and should resist the rush toward separation.

Faithful and Welcoming Churches (FWC) emerged early in 2006 to provide frustrated ECOT members and churches a reason to stay. FWC is committed to advocacy and networking so that these congregations will not feel isolated.

We do not seek to divide or disrupt. We are not a cover for an exit strategy. We are simply asking that our presence be recognized and valued. How? Here are specific suggestions:

Provide space for our views in official publications - like this article.

Ask Associations and Conferences to help us communicate to churches that we are a positive alternative to separation.

Give formal representation to ECOT members at every level of the church's life, as the UCC has done with other underrepresented groups.

Help us uncover and address theological discrimination against ECOT clergy and laity.

Recognize FWC churches along with Open and Affirming churches on the UCC's website.

Refrain from painting a single broad-brush picture of our denomination that belies our true diversity.

FWC will make every effort to be constructive in our criticism and dissent. We will continue to encourage churches and individuals to be active and supportive in the UCC. We will look for areas of agreement and partnership rather than focusing exclusive attention on areas of difference and disagreement.

If it is true that "no matter who you are or where you are on life's journey" you are embraced in the UCC, we just want to be welcome like everyone else.

The Rev. Bob Thompson, president of Faithful and Welcoming Churches, is pastor of Corinth Reformed Church, a UCC congregation in Hickory, N.C., that owns a proud heritage of denominational involvement. The church was home to the late Rev. Robert V. Moss Jr., who served as president of the UCC from 1969 to 1976.

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