United Church of Christ

UCC Pastor: We need to be present to effect change

You can only imagine my surprise at receiving an invitation to be present at a table of high-level business executives talking about how to interest a large corporation in locating in Dallas, Texas.  "Why me", I thought. Why would a pastor of a United Church of Christ be invited to such a table — an invitation that, in other cities had not included a person of faith but only corporate leaders to describe how good that city was for business.

Of course, hindsight is a great gift, and as I look back, or rather as I remain present, I know why I was there. America is evolving and in its struggle to confront its past and its present, often it is corporations that are pushing for change. The church is slow to respond and seems more content with a silent voice rather than, what it has been called to be throughout history, a prophetic voice that speaks a new world into being. "I am creating all things new" we are told in both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, yet the church seems content to allow corporate America to lead the way for change and to confront systemic and institutional isms that have gone unchecked and unhealed in America.

Why was I there? I was there because it was a table that the church has to be at and has to lead. We must be present at tables with those who are able to effect change and whose corporate dollars share the same vision of a new world; a new America where hatred and injustice, homophobia, transphobia, bi-phobia, racism, sexism, ageism, classism and the many imbedded systems of privilege, yes white privilege are not allowed nor encouraged to exist. It is the call of the church, yet, in so many ways we too are the perpetrators of those systems. We have not heeded to the call to be counter cultural and instead have created a God who, in our image is comfortable and complicit, rather than confronted and disquiet.  

People are looking for a return to a faith that is more like the faith of Jesus. It is a sad reflection on the evolution of ‘so-called’ Christianity in America, that we have created a Jesus who looks more like us than the radically inclusive, itinerant preacher who challenged religious hypocrisy, calling for a return to His central commandment: Love God, Love Self, Love Others. Jesus would have none of it, and neither should we.

As the senior pastor of one of the largest open and affirming congregations, often called 'the gay church in America' it was my privilege to help articulate how Dallas, often associated with racism and homophobia, seeks to reimagine what it is. It was important to hear this as a part of this conversation. 

In our small way, the United Church of Christ is different. It seeks to be prophetic and listen, hear and respond to the "God that is still speaking" — speaking to us as we sit in uncomfortable places, with sometimes uncomfortable people, in uncomfortable Board rooms making a difference and letting the voice of God be heard.

This is the reason that I believe that I was invited to this table, because the message of the United Church of Christ is lived out and seen to be "different" from what has become known as "Political Christianity" or "American Christianity".   

The UCC has a compelling message, one that is obviously relevant. 

However, in a world turned off by organized religion it appears to be an inclusive challenge presented by a liberal and progressive corporate world — a message the Church should be leading. We need to speak as one voice. Only together can we live into the Three Great Loves spoken of by Jesus and the United Church of Christ.

The Rev. Neil Cazares-Thomas is the senior pastor of Cathedral of Hope United Church of Christ in Dallas.

In a recent Washington Post article, Rev. Cazares-Thomas was reported as being present at a meeting organized by the City of Dallas with Amazon leadership as they decide on which city to house their 2nd HQ.  While Rev. Cazares-Thomas cannot talk about that meeting, specifically, he can voice his ideas about being present to effect change. Dallas is one of twenty finalist cities, whittled down from a list of more than 200, which Amazon executives are now visiting.


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