In a riveting three-hour conversation I learned that God is male, that Jesus is the only true pathway to Him and that homosexuality is a sin. In other words, those who are gender sensitive, Jewish, Buddhist, Native American, or gay are good people but not God's people. Why? Because the Bible tells us so.
When I appeared visibly shocked by these revelations, the interviewer forgave my leftward views. "After all," he said kindly, "you are in a spiritual formation mode."
On the ride home, I thought a lot about these comments, and another he made as well: that I had clearly come to my faith experientially, mortaring my beliefs around my life experience, while he had come ideologically, mortaring his life experience around his prescribed beliefs. It occurred to me that his was a fair assessment, and a valuable description of the distinction between liberal denominations and their conservative counterparts. And I began to develop not only a sense of my denominational heritage, but a powerful sense of gratitude for this legacy as well.
As a Puritan daughter growing up in Massachusetts, I do not remember dogmatic assaults or stern proscriptions from the pulpit of Grace Congregational UCC in Framingham. As a teenager, I do not remember intellectual restraint as I explored a bizarre array of spiritual alternatives at First Congregational UCC in Natick. As an adult, I do not remember exclusion or censure as life left me meandering in and out of my faith and involvements at First Congregational UCC in Manchester, N.H.
In short, my experience of the United Church of Christ is indistinguishable from its doctrine: we practice what we preach—an inclusive and tolerant God—and so the UCC has included me and tolerated my spiritual wanderings, my periodic ambivalence, my theological challenges, confident that, in the end, it is the living Christ who always brings us home.
I am reminded of the way in which my faith was placed around my shoulders, gently, respectfully, by a cadre of caring pastors. I did not even know it was there until the winds of fate blew cold and cruel and I felt its warming powers. I for one am grateful for the freedom and light of my denominational home.
Cynthia E. Bagley, a recent graduate of Boston University School of Theology, is seeking a call and ordination through the UCC's Hillsborough, N.H., Association. We welcome contributions to Focus on Faith from laity and clergy.