Written by J. Bennett Guess
January 29, 2008
With hopes of mending a millenniums-old feud between religion and science, the UCC has launched a new web-based advertising campaign geared toward the scientific and technological communities.
"Our hope is to begin to move the church to the place where its public image, public witness and public identity is one of a community of faith that is eager to engage science and to welcome and honor scientists," said the Rev. John H. Thomas, the UCC's general minister and president.
The UCC has purchased ads on more than 30 popular science-oriented blogs during the month of February. The ads seek to promote both a pro-science, pro-faith message.
The science campaign, according to Thomas, is a significant next step for the UCC's "God is still speaking" identity effort, a multi-million-dollar initiative that has included national TV, radio, web and print advertising. The web-based ads will link to an expanded "faith and science" section on the UCC's website dubbed "not mutually-exclusive", as well as provide directions on how visitors can locate UCC congregations.
"Through our Stillspeaking Initiative, the United Church of Christ has been intentional about seeking out groups of people that have been marginalized by the church, either intentionally or unintentionally," Thomas said. "And, frankly, when it comes to persons engaged in scientific inquiry — geneticists, mathematicians, chemists, engineers, science teachers and students — the church has a history of communicating disinterest, distrust and even hostility."
The advertising effort is being propelled by the release of a meaty Pastoral Letter on Science and Technology — authored by Thomas and a nine-member working group of scientists and theologians — that calls the church to "open ourselves and our theology to the momentous conceptual changes of our times."
"Many today are hungering for an authentic spirituality that is intellectually honest and at home in a scientific era," the pastoral letter states. "They are searching for a new kind of wisdom to live by, one that is scientifically sophisticated, technologically advanced, morally just, ecologically sustainable, and spiritually alive."
The 2,400-word pastoral letter, titled "A New Voice Arising," is being distributed in February to each of the UCC's 5,700 local churches. Accompanying materials suggest how churches can host opportunities for further study and science-related group sharing. The UCC's blog will devote the first week of February to posts and discussions about religion, science and technology.
The UCC also is hosting a sermon-writing contest on science and technology for pastors and seminarians, with two $500 top prizes, and the denomination is asking local churches to honor persons working in science-related professions during worship services on Sunday, May 18.
The UCC's pastoral letter has received endorsements from prominent scientific leaders.
Alan I. Leshner, chief executive of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said the UCC's effort is a "clear support for science."
"In the same way that UCC states that it cannot ignore the context in which it functions, neither can the scientific community ignore its societal context," Leshner said. "For this reason, we see a dialogue between science and religion as vital."
Charles Townes, a UCC member who has received both the Nobel and Templeton prizes for physics, called the pastoral letter "a thoughtful, knowledgeable and perceptive discussion of science and religion and growth of their helpful interaction."
Ian G. Barbour, a physicist and theologian who won the 1999 Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, said, "This is a wonderfully clear summary of the serious challenges and exciting opportunities when traditional religious beliefs encounter recent discoveries in a range of sciences — from cosmology to evolution, brain research and genetics. It is truly a 'pastoral' letter in addressing personal questions in the lives of laypersons today rather than the more abstract debates common among theologians or philosophers."
"A New Voice Arising: A Pastoral Letter on Faith Engaging Science and Technology," as well as information about the UCC's science-related advertising effort, is available at ucc.org/not-mutually-exclusive.