Denomination is 'work in progress'

Denomination is 'work in progress'

August 31, 2006
Written by Daniel Hazard

UCC has plenty room 'for those who want to be here'

Bob Thompson's Faithful and Welcoming website identifies the equal marriage resolution vote of General Synod 25 as the decisive event for Faithful and Welcoming Churches' dissatisfaction with the UCC.

That's fair. There is not a person in the UCC who does not recognize wide theological disagreement over same-gender marriage. It is a contentious, utterly immediate theological question.

It is a question to which the church is responding with Bible study, prayer, reading theology, preparing and hearing sermons, talking to family and friends, holding congregational meetings and, yes, by voting on resolutions for and against equal marriage.

As a non-hierarchical, congregationally-based tradition, this is how we live out our covenant together. As we do not recognize bishops or a pope, we engage in this difficult, sometimes divisive, profoundly important theological work from the ground up. If and when contentious matters are brought to a vote at General Synod - as equal marriage was last summer - we trust our delegates (faithful Christians all) to bring their level-best to the work of discernment.

Thompson's response to all this, however, has been to charge delegates with a "declaration of independence from the Bible, the historic faith, and the teachings of Jesus concerning marriage," an incendiary claim he has made on his website and at regional FWC meetings.

I submit that in making such a charge, Thompson has gone beyond the pale. After all, our delegates did their work. The fact that their discernment led them to a conclusion with which he differs should not be grounds for challenging their faith or integrity.

In addition, while Thompson writes that his Faithful and Welcoming Churches "are not a cover for an exit strategy" from the UCC, his activities tell a different story:

Thompson's own church, Corinth Reformed Church in Hickory, N.C., has dropped UCC from its name and the FWC website encourages other UCC congregations to drop UCC from their names. Moreover, his church has scheduled a congregational vote in November regarding its continued UCC affiliation.

A full two years before the equal marriage vote, his church decided to significantly defer gifts from the wider church, including support for Our Church's Wider Mission in the Western North Carolina Association, the Southern Conference and the UCC's national and international settings. Although his organization expresses a desire that churches remain part of the UCC, FWC does not encourage its churches to remain engaged in OCWM, which is the most visible, concrete sign of our unity in global mission.

The FWC website lists those churches that have left the UCC, but it ignores altogether those that are seeking UCC affiliation.

Thompson believes the UCC is forcing him out. Nothing could be farther from the truth. There is plenty of room in the UCC for everyone who wants to be here. Rather, it is he who is leaving us, by wishing to remain engaged politically in a denomination with which he will no longer associate by name nor support financially. Further, he charges his brothers and sisters who served as delegates with being unfaithful. Thompson is not a loving critic.

For these past 50 years the UCC has been a work in progress, an experiment, a movement, a flawed, messy, crowded tent of Christians. What makes us different from other churches, however, is our claim that the Holy Spirit speaks not only through the Bible - and not only through the past - but also today, through ordinary and faithful Christians who gather together to discern the mind of Christ.

The Rev. Nancy S. Taylor is senior minister of Old South UCC in Boston.

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