Facebook error sends UCC congregations into denominational dislocation
Written by Staff Report July 18, 2011
Due to a Facebook-generated error on July 15, many of the UCC's local church pages now read "Church of Christ" instead of "United Church of Christ." Page administrators can easily fix the problem.
Many UCC members awoke on Friday, July 15, wondering if Facebook had transferred their church membership into a quite different, but similar-sounding Christian tradition.
In an apparent across-the-board error by Facebook, UCC congregations and Conferences with "United Church of Christ" in their page names became incorrectly listed as "Church of Christ" entities. The wholesale mistake even resulted in the UCC's national page being briefly categorized as belonging to the wrong denomination.
"The good news is that the error can be changed quickly by anyone who is an administrator of a local church's or Conference's Facebook page," said the Rev. J. Bennett Guess, the UCC's director of communications. "The frustration is that each page will have to be corrected manually."
To correct the error, page administrators should click on "Edit Info" at the top of your page, then remove the light blue "Church of Christ" box in the "Place Sub-Categories" field. Type "United Church of Christ" (not "UCC") to locate and attach the correct affiliation. Then click "Save Changes."
Guess said there could be a silver lining to the error. "Many of our churches actually may not have any denominational affiliation listed with their pages, because only recently did this grouping become available. Churches with "UCC" in their page name, for example, were not affected by the Facebook-generated error but most of these still don't have 'United Church of Christ' correctly listed either. So this is an opportunity for all of us to finally get on the same page for real."
Guess emphasized that a church's page name or title was not affected. "But what was affected is the sub-head – or the category listed under your page's name and how people might search for our churches categorically or denominationally," he said.
Confusion between the "United Church of Christ" and "Church of Christ" (or more correctly, the "Churches of Christ") is nothing new. In many Yellow Pages and newspapers, churches of both traditions are often listed in one misleading category, generally under the "Church of Christ" heading "to the great frustration of many of our pastors and members, and most likely to those belonging to the Churches of Christ, as well," said Guess.
"When I was pastor of a UCC church in Kentucky, our local 'Church of Christ' congregation once took out a newspaper ad to explain that they were not us," Guess said. "I always felt a little guilty that we didn't reimburse them for half the cost of the ad."
"Churches of Christ" are autonomous Christian congregations that often resist being labeled a "denomination" but are associated with one another through common history, beliefs, doctrines and practices, based on an emphasis on biblical inerrancy, especially the New Testament. For example, most Churches of Christ reject the use of musical instruments in worship because they feel their use is not specifically referenced or supported in the New Testament.
While the two names are quite similar and understandably confusing, Guess said, there is little direct contemporary correlation between the two bodies.
"The UCC is generally regarded as one of the country's historically mainline and more progressive Christian traditions, while the Churches of Christ are equated with more evangelical and conservative Christianity," Guess said.
"But because the United Church of Christ is an ecumenical church that resulted from the union of many widespread Christian movements, it's not accurate to say we have no relationship with the Churches of Christ," he said. "We do share some common history."
The Churches of Christ trace their roots to several independent movements in the early 19th century that occurred through the leadership of Thomas and Alexander Campbell, Walter Scott, and Barton W. Stone. They were active in American frontier settlements and cities. Those leaders had declared their independence from various denominations, seeking a fresh start to restore the New Testament church and abandoning creeds. The names "Church of Christ," "Christian Church" and "Disciples of Christ" were adopted by the movement because they believed these terms to be biblical.
"Over time, the Campbellites, as they were known, settled into various traditions, including the Christian Church that became, in part, one of the four predominant streams that came together to form the UCC," Guess said. "And generally the more progressive Campbellites found their way into the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), which widely supports the use of musical instruments in worship, ordains women as pastors, and shares a full communion relationship with the UCC."
Guess said his staff has contacted Facebook about the error, but he thinks the onus is likely to be on the UCC to fix the problem, one Facebook page at a time.