Here is John Thomas' paper delivered at the Dunkirk Colloquy on October 10, 2000. Thomas is General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ.
Gary Dorsey is a journalist who spent a year watching, living with, and eventually growing to be a part of a congregation of the United Church of Christ in Connecticut. In his book about the experience titled, Congregation: The Journey Back to Church, he includes many delightful observations of the pastor and people of this ordinary and remarkable church. One Sunday morning, peering down from the balcony, he described the preacher as follows:
His hearing aid sounded off like a pitch pipe at times, and one Sunday. . . I noticed him speaking from a set of notes all typed in red. I realized that his jackhammer typing style finally had frayed the black ribbon on his Olympia, and rather than spending a dollar to replace it, he had jumped the cartridge to pound on the red side alone, making every word look like the scarlet verse of Jesus.
I may read Dorsey saying more than he intended, but his observation, playfully joining the preacher?s eccentricities with those familiar red letter editions of the Bible, provides me with a good starting point. Sometimes, here and there, now and then, when the preacher, accompanied by the Spirit, is able to take the Biblical text seriously enough, as well as the gathered community seriously enough, what emerges is not merely an oration, or a set of moral platitudes, or a ringing call to action, but the presence of the living Word itself, to which the Bible always points, but which it can never quite contain.
Many years before Dorsey, a more traditional theologian, Friedrich Schleiermacher, put it this way:
I am sure you will gladly testify, dear friends, that from the time you received the milk of the gospel in your first instruction in Christianity, right up until the present day, every such encounter with scripture was like a new, joyous, and powerful appearance of the Lord himself.
Schleiermacher?s enthusiasm may sound like wishful thinking to ears assaulted by the noise of our secular world at the dawn of a new century. Far too often in our own experience the Lord fails to appear, at least in ways that seem fresh, joyous, and powerful, and the scarlet verse remains what at one level it always is, the product of the eccentricities of pastors who are no better than the Christians sitting in the pews waiting for the concluding ?amen? that never seems to come soon enough! But a church that takes the Bible seriously always expects more, and sometimes receives it, which in the midst of our jaded world view and its scientific straightjacket is news that comes as a marvelous surprise, perhaps even as the Gospel itself. Like the discouraged disciples on the road to Emmaus, belief is mixed with unbelief, and even the skilled Biblical interpretation of the mysterious stranger does little to overcome cynicism in the face of dashed hopes and human tragedy . . . until. Until something happens and we get what we hadn?t quite dared to expect - the red type truly becomes the scarlet verse of Jesus, and the Lord himself appears with fresh, joyous power. So that the first word about taking the Bible seriously is expectation - approaching the text expecting more than mere written text, more than bare words to confront us. And while there is much more to be said about taking the Bible seriously in our day, perhaps this is the greatest challenge of all.
According to the Preamble to the Constitution of the United Church of Christ, ?we look to the word of God in the scriptures.? Another way to say this is that our expectation is an honoring of the Bible?s ?transparency.? Frederick Buechner uses the image of a picture window to describe this task:
If you look at a window, you see fly-specks, dust, the crack where Junior?s Frisbee hit it. If you look through a window, you see the world beyond. Something like this is the difference between those who see the Bible as a Holy Bore and those who see it as the Word of God which speaks out of the depths of an almost unimaginable past into the depths of ourselves.
In the line of the familiar hymn, ?Break now the bread of life,? we sing, ?beyond the sacred page, I seek you Lord.? Not apart from, but beyond or through the sacred page we seek the Lord and sometimes see God?s face. Taking the Bible seriously means recognizing its transparency, expecting to see beyond mere text to the mysterious presence. It is to see the Bible not as the ultimate object of faith in a kind of fundamentalist biblicism, nor as mere literature expressing pious religious themes or fixed moral values be they liberal or conservative, but as the penultimate instrument of mediation through which the ultimate living Word encounters us full of challenge, comfort, judgment, grace and truth. Encounters us, I hasten to emphasize, because this transparency works both ways, and allows the Word to ?see us for what we really are,? to see ?the depths of ourselves? as Buechner puts it.
To read the Bible expectantly, honoring its transparency, enables us to avoid what Walter Brueggemann and many others warn us about:
To say that the Bible mediates God is not to say that the Bible ?hands God over? to the reading community as possession or as prisoner. The reading community has been wont, on occasion, to imagine that it possessed or imprisoned the God of the Bible. Such a self-deception takes a Protestant form in bibliolatry and a Catholic form in magisterial infallibility.
Not only does this violate what Brueggemann describes as the ?elusive, odd character? of Yahweh which defies human definition, it also enables those in power, those in the ecclesial center, to use the Bible to violate or exploit those at the margins, an all too familiar approach to the Bible in our own day, an approach which, in the end, is far more cavalier than it is serious.
Both divine revelation and human disclosure
To begin taking the Bible seriously, then, is to approach it expectantly, to honor its transparency, and to discover that it not only discloses Yahweh, God, the Word made flesh, it also strips us bare before that same Word to portray us in all our grandeur and all our depravity. So in a peculiar way, the Bible is both divine revelation and human disclosure. Beyond the sacred page we seek you Lord. Yet beyond the sacred page, from the other side we might say, God also seeks us, and in so doing allows us to look over God?s shoulder, as it were, to see ourselves as God sees us. But in order to do this, we must first read the Bible, or perhaps better, we must listen to the Bible.
Taking the Bible seriously means to read it. This may sound like an incredibly mundane stating of the obvious, the kind of comment that elicits from our teenagers the marvelous rejoinder, ?Duh!? In one sense, of course, we do read the Bible. We read it in order to preach about it. We read it in order to seek answers to troubling question. We read it in order to justify our opinions, wielding it against our theological or ecclesial enemies like the ?sword? it used to be called in some conservative Christian circles. In other words, far too often our reading of the Bible is really an effort to make use of the Bible, and in the process the Bible tends to lose its transparency, becoming opaque or worse, a kind of mirror reflecting nothing more than our own devices and desires. The reading that takes the Bible seriously is of another sort altogether. It is a kind of attentiveness to the narrative in its broad sweep, and to its text in all its intricate detail, that makes of the Bible more of a companion than a tool, something we listen to, attend to long before there is anything we can ?do? with it, and long after its ?usefulness? has become dated. Jews catch something of this spirit in their worship when the scroll is taken from its place and paraded, even danced around the sanctuary like a long lost friend. The worshipers move to touch it, sometimes to kiss it. There is nothing magical in the mood; the scroll is no talisman. It is a friend to be embraced, a voice to be honored. ?In this scroll is the secret of our people?s life from Sinai until now,? the liturgy announces as the Torah is taken from the Ark. ?Its teaching is love and justice, goodness and hope. Freedom is its gift to all who treasure it.? ?Shema Yisrael. Hear, O Israel; the Lord is our God, the Lord is One! Our God is One; our Lord is great; holy is God?s name.?
Justo Gonz?lez suggests another dimension of the reading we are called to engage in when he describes the reading that takes place Sunday after Sunday in churches in poor barrios throughout the Western hemisphere. Unlike the modern historical critical reading, and the fundamentalist reaction to it, the reading he describes retains ?a sense,? he says, ?of the activity of God, of the openness of the universe, of the possibility of mystery.? In this reading the ?future is in control,? which means life, and the text, is ?constantly open to surprise, to astonishment, to real and radical revolution.? A reading that is ?open to astonishment? is how Gonz?lez puts it, an astonishment that
allows Hispanics today to read Scripture with a profound sense of connection with the people who actually wrote the text. We are well aware of the geographical and cultural distances that stand between us and the original writers and readers. But we leap across the distance by sharing a sense of astonishment, a sense of openness to God?s activity, that was very much part of the writing and the intended reading of the text.
This astonishment does not rule out close, critical readings of the text, and does not react in a fundamentalist form of literalism. But it moves beyond the modern reading to encounter the astonishment of the writers who themselves have been encountered by the amazing and liberating future of God.
Those who take the Bible seriously have grown acquainted with it, befriended it and like any good friend, look for it to tell them the truth, the hard truth, the whole truth, astonishing truth, the Gospel truth. The friend is not there to be used, manipulated or wielded like a set of tools or an armory of weapons. Nor is the friend there to lock the present into a comfortable and secure past. This ?friend,? this text is there to be heard, listened to, attended, embraced. Buechner, in his Beecher lectures at Yale, speaks of the prophet-preachers of the Bible. ?What do they say?? he asks.
They say things that are relevant, lacerating, profound, beautiful, spine-chilling, and more besides. They put words to both the wonder and the horror of the world, and the words can be looked up in the dictionary or the biblical commentary and can be interpreted, passed on, understood, but because these words are poetry, are image and symbol as well as meaning, are sound and rhythm, maybe above all are passion, they set echoes going the way a choir in a great cathedral does, only it is we who become the cathedral and in us that the words echo.
Truth echoes for those who take the Bible seriously. The truth of a God who knows what it means for a parent to see a beloved child go off to a far country, cut himself off from parents, squander opportunity and betray parental trust, and yet in the midst of all of that to stand at the door wanting only to embrace. The truth of an aging Sarah who has suffered all manner of indignity including her barrenness, a condition which seems only to mock the divine promise, yet a woman still ready to be told in the most unimaginable way that God remains faithful to God?s promise. The truth of Job whose life is destroyed before his eyes and who must then suffer the foolish advice of friends before discovering that God wants us not only to be faithful, but perhaps also to rail against the injustice of it all, even against the Creator of it all. The truth of a Jonah who cannot bear to offer the word of judgment for fear that it will be heeded, leaving the hated enemy spared. The truth of David, grown bored with governance, finding himself consumed by lust for Bathsheba and setting off a sequence of murder and lies that follow his dynasty from one generation to the next. The truth of a people liberated and of exiles sustained. The truth of a woman so overwhelmed with devotion for Jesus that she is willing to risk propriety and expose herself to criticism by anointing him in an act of extravagant intimacy. The truth of a man touted to be tough as nails and resolute as the rock he bears for a name, yet who finds himself weeping for the ease with which he denied what he had pledged to follow. The truth of bones living and of streets like gemstones lined with trees whose fruit is for the healing of the nations. The truth of a God who becomes vulnerable to the point of sharing in solidarity our deepest sorrow and being inflicted by the most profound wounds that our own journey into death might not be the last word and might never be traveled alone.
But what do we do?
None of this tells us exactly what we must do in a given circumstance. None of it enables us to definitively sort out the good from the bad, the worthy from the unworthy. It won?t solve our dilemmas over homosexuality or abortion or euthanasia or genetic engineering or the economy. In other words, none of it is terribly ?useful.? Indeed, it is often more like a confusing cacophony of conflicting testimony or, as Brueggemann puts it, of ?core testimony and countertestimony,? of ?hiddenness, ambiguity, and negativity.? It simply tells us the truth about the way we are with ourselves and with each other, the way we are with God, and above all the way God is with us. And those who take the Bible seriously hold these texts that issue forth in echoing voices like a companion, a friend, who means more than anyone or anything else because this friend tells us the truth. A companion, yes, but never an easy one, for the God, the Word seen through its transparency, who sees us through its transparency, is often, to use Brueggemann?s language, ?the Wild One who lives at the center of Israel?s life, who in sovereign severity will dispense with Israel and who with impervious resolve will begin again.?
To take the Bible seriously is to read the Bible before, or perhaps rather instead of, quickly rushing to make use of the Bible. We are, to use the old Reformed language, ?servants of the Word,? not masters of the Word, because the Bible is quite literally ?out of control.? Again, Brueggemann?s colorful rhetoric presses the point, summarizing in a recent article what he exhaustively articulates in his Old Testament theology:
The preacher stands up to make utterance about this odd, problematic God in a society that is flattened in a-theism, and has on her hands a quality of the irascible, the elusive, and the polyvalent. Almost none of this, moreover, is available to or recognized among most of our listeners. Because it is too unsettling and difficult, we tend to fall back on more familiar ground of safe practices, blessed ideologies, scholastic closures, or liberal crusades. Don?t we all!
Tamed. Proof-texted. The living Word is often preached to death and used to distraction, our own distraction that is, because we would rather be distracted from the truth not only about God but also about ourselves that this transparent text reveals. Read the Bible expectantly, honoring its transparency. And read the Bible, listening, attending, as one might attend a dear companion who can always be counted on to tell the truth.
Taking seriously the origins of the text
John de Gruchy, a Reformed theologian writing out of the context of the struggle for liberation in South Africa, offers a third dimension of what it means to take the Bible seriously, which is to recognize that ?the spectacles of Scripture require the eyes of social victims.? ?We need,? he writes, ?the spectacles of the victims of society in order to discern the liberating and living Word in Scripture itself.? This should come as no surprise; a serious reading or interpretation ought to take seriously the origins of the text itself which is to be found primarily within the experience of the enslaved, the nomad, the exile, the peasant, the imprisoned, and the persecuted and which is, for Christians, ultimately articulated from a center that can only be found in the Christ of Calvary, the Crucified One dying outside the gates. Without these ?spectacles? a kind of demonic and dangerous nearsightedness almost always occurs. Thus we are shamed by a history of entrenched white economic interests reading support in the text for slavery; we are humbled by the remembrance of powerful colonial interests reading support in the Bible for the physical, spiritual, and cultural genocide of indigenous peoples; we are confronted by the memory of Christendom in the West reading support for anti-Semitism in the text; we have men reading support in the text for the subordination and silencing of women. And on and on it goes.
I am not suggesting that there can be no serious, legitimate, or faithful interpretation of Scripture by those whose social location allows them to occupy the cultural centers, in other words by folk like most of you or like me. Nor would I suggest that those at the margin always get it right. The same Reformed tradition to which de Gruchy appeals in his argument would remind us of the need to have a healthy regard for the sin that is no respecter of persons. de Gruchy acknowledges that ?neither the poor nor other social victims automatically understand the Scriptures simply because of their social location or experience.? But what feminists have described as the ?hermeneutic of suspicion? needs to be brought to bear in any serious reading of the Bible. And we ought, I think, to be particularly nervous, and especially suspicious, when readings by those in the center disadvantage those at the margins. If there is, as many today recognize, a kind of ?preferential option for the poor? embedded in the Biblical text itself, then there may also be a ?preferential reading of the poor? to which anyone desiring to take the Bible seriously must attend. De Gruchy borrows a Lutheran phrase to make his Reformed argument:
We encounter the grace of the saving presence of God not in Word and sacrament isolated from human suffering and the struggle for justice, but ?in, with, and under? it. This is precisely where God?s grace was encountered by Israel and the early church, according to the biblical record. The Word of grace addressed the people in their historical struggle and journey; indeed, the Word gave redemptive, liberating meaning to that history.
There is, for this reason, a theological ?appropriateness,? even a moral brilliance in the fact that almost every service of daily evening prayer includes the Magnificat. We ought never come to the Scriptures without hearing Mary, and Hannah before her, singing of a God who ?scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. . . , brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly. . . , filled the hungry with good things, and send the rich away empty,? (Luke 2.51-53). Even if Mary doesn?t always get the ?first word? in the church?s liturgy, the church has rightly intuited that she must always get ?the last word!? And even if one is finally not persuaded that there are ?privileged readings? of the Bible, there can be no denying the fact that there is never a ?disinterested reading? of the Bible. The ?spectacles of social victims? warn us, ?beware!? Taking the Bible seriously, therefore, always requires a communal reading lest our own location blur our sight or distort our hearing of the living Word, and that community called Israel and the Church can never be narrowly construed lest our reading be done by a clique of the like-minded rather than the whole people of God in their rich and agonizing diversity. Moreover, that communal reading must be an ?engaged? reading or listening, shaped by the Cross that is not only to be found in the words of the text, but also in the world of human struggle.
When interpretations collide
To honor the Bible?s ?transparency,? expecting it to reveal a living Word to us even as it allows us to peer over God?s shoulder while God sees us for what and who we really are. To read the Bible before we try to use the Bible, allowing it to echo and resonate in astonishing ways with its ?irascible, elusive, polyvalent character.? To engage the text communally and ecumenically, acknowledging that the spectacles of Scripture, indeed the very origins of Scripture, require the eyes of social victims and that engaging the text must never, therefore, be separated from a passionate engagement with a suffering world. This is what I believe it means to ?take the Bible seriously.? And here, of course, is the rub, and the tremendous pain of the Church today. For there are many, including some in our own United Church of Christ, who ?take the Bible seriously? in very different ways. No doubt you have ?heard? them on the other side of my argument. But let me offer a recent personal experience as a kind of ?case study? to make their presence more obvious, cautioned by the recognition of course that you are hearing them through me and my own ?interested? reading of the text.
My participation in a religious leaders statement on issues related to human sexuality had particularly enraged one local church which, while already quite distanced from the wider fellowship of the United Church of Christ, now felt alienated enough that it determined that it would do more than send me a letter of protest. Under the leadership of their pastor, the church prepared a resolution for their Association to formally ?censure? me for my action and call on the United Church of Christ to ?repent? of its positions on homosexuality and reproductive choice. As a result, I spent an evening at a gathering of about two hundred members of this congregation along with representatives of other local churches in the Association. I was there to listen and in both a personal and representative way to make an ?account? of the positions held by our General Synod along with many others in our church, on these difficult questions. It was not, as you might imagine, an easy evening; we managed for the most part to retain a sense of respectfulness and civility, but just barely!
Many of the people at the meeting arrived carrying their Bibles. They were well acquainted with the six or seven passages in the Old and New Testaments around which the debates on homosexuality often center. We went back and forth over what is by now very familiar terrain on this well-cratered battlefield, for the most part to little avail. My effort to enlarge the conversation and, in my mind, enrich it with pastoral and theological dimensions was not only unpersuasive, but met with deep resistance and, at least in a few cases, open derision. Finally a young woman put the essential impasse in stark relief by standing with Bible in hand and challenged me with a question: ?Show me a verse.? Don?t talk about pastoral experience and challenge. Don?t waste our time with alternative readings of contested texts or with hermeneutical insights about Scripture interpreting and critiquing Scripture, or with historical illustrations about how the Church has often been led to reverse itself on matters of faith and practice, or even with theological reflection about the nature and meaning of baptism. ?Show me a verse,? which is to say from the perspective of that gathering, ?take the Bible seriously.? Show me a verse where it says that what you want to affirm is acceptable from the standpoint of the Bible.
I, of course, could not show them a verse. Nor would I, in part because that kind of exchange usually ends up in an ecclesiastical winner takes all battle where casualties abound and where the Bible is turned into a weapon in a way that, from my perspective, dishonors its integrity and its intent. In short, for me it is not a way to take the Bible seriously. This meant that most left the meeting that night confirmed in their conviction that neither I, nor many others in the United Church of Christ, take the Bible seriously. I, on the other hand, left the meeting for my drive to the airport and a late return home, yearning that my audience that night would also take the Bible seriously. Not that they weren?t, of course, in their own minds, taking it very seriously, very faithfully. To differ radically is not, at the same time, to imply a lack of respect, though of course that is, for many in our climate of alienation and distrust, a distinction that is hard to maintain. And, to be fair, I need to acknowledge that in lifting up this one comment—?show me a verse?—I may not do full justice to the depth or sophistication of my opponents? Biblical engagement. Nevertheless, I still yearn for a more ?serious? reading.
I wanted them to talk about the Bible in a way that pointed to its transparency, that moved beyond selected words and texts, which they clearly took very seriously, to allow the living and liberating Word to be encountered and which might allow all of us to see ourselves with greater clarity and honesty. The Bible was very much in view that night, and was the center of our conversation. But there was, at least for me, no sense of Presence ?in, with, and under? the texts in dispute. The book became opaque as the ?sacred page? became the ?end of discussion? rather than the doorway beyond which we ?seek God?s face.? I wanted them to take the Bible seriously.
I wanted us, together, to read the Bible that evening. Yes, to look at those six or seven verses; they?re there and cannot be ignored. But also to read, listen and attend to the rich narrative from creation to new creation, to the testimony and countertestimony that bears witness to an ?irascible, elusive, polyvalent? God who cannot and will not be contained, who will not be used, and who is constantly seen in the text breaking into the life of Israel and the Church in ways that judge the community for drawing its boundaries too close. I yearned for a reading that evoked astonishment, that leapt across geographic and cultural distances not in order to use ancient writers to answer modern or even post-modern questions, but to encourage in us an openness to God?s activity in our world that is as much about hospitality as it is about purity. I wanted the parables of welcome and embrace, of wedding feasts for unusual guests, the stories of an Ethiopian returning through the wilderness of Gaza, the dreams of what is unclean becoming clean, and the visions of glory coming into the city borne by the nations, the strangers - I wanted all of this to echo and resonate in our midst along with the words of judgment and the invitation to disciplined, covenant life. I wanted the Biblical witness to a just economy, to faithful stewardship of the earth, and its critique of militarism and power to be given at least an equal hearing as its admonitions about sexual behavior. The Bible was used all evening. But it didn?t seem to me as if we were really reading it, listening to it. Our gathering never achieved what Buechner described as a ?cathedral? in which the poetry, symbol, and image echoed. Ours was a tiny closet that night, where the words of life fell with a depressing thud. I wanted them to take the Bible seriously.
And perhaps most urgently of all, I wanted them to put on, with me, ?the spectacles of the poor,? or in our case that evening, the spectacles of those who were almost completely absent, or more likely silenced in that gathering. With the exception of one or two references to distant family members or coworkers who are gay, there was no real evidence of any serious engagement with or listening to gay and lesbian Christians as part of the Biblical discernment. This was a privileged, safe reading of texts from the secure centers of life in which the margins were afforded no voice. While my censurers of course vigorously disagreed with, even resented my suggestion of parallel situations, if felt to me like a discussion of the Bible and slavery, without any time on the agenda to hear the voices of the enslaved, like a discussion of the Bible and patriarchy without any time on the agenda to hear the voices of women, like the Bible and economics without any agenda time for the poor. Such readings always involve a set of lenses; there are no disinterested engagements with texts. Taking the Bible seriously requires, it seems to me, at least a recognition of our ?interest,? and a readiness to put on the ?spectacles of the poor? even if, in the end, we are not finally persuaded. I wanted my audience to take the Bible seriously just as much as they wanted me to take the Bible seriously.
Herein lies the anguish and the difficulty of church life today. It is obviously an ecumenical problem, but it is also, and perhaps most painfully, a problem within communions, fueling much of the contentious debate and deep estrangement that can be found in denomination after denomination. Most Christians believe they ?take the Bible seriously,? though we must admit the truth of one radio preacher I recently heard who said that ?the Bible is in danger of becoming America?s best selling coffee table book!? Most Christians believe the Bible has ?authority? in their lives. But in our widely divergent convictions and commitments about ?how? to take the Bible seriously, we are quick to deny seriousness to those with whom we disagree. And in our Protestant ethos, shaped by the sola scriptura principle of the Reformation, to claim that someone fails to take the Bible seriously is about as close to excommunication as we can get. This, in fact, was precisely what was at stake in the formal dialogue between the Reformed Church in America and the United Church of Christ initiated by those in the Reformed Church who desired to resist and then to abrogate the Lutheran-Reformed full communion relationship adopted by our two churches and the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The dialogue came to a hopeful conclusion, in spite of remaining differences that were and are significant, by saying the following:
The question was framed, ?How is it that two churches of the Reformed tradition, honoring and reading the same Scripture, can come to such different conclusions? By the end of [our dialogue] it was agreed by all participants that the Bible has been and continues to be the foundational guidance for our churches on the issue of homosexuality, though we come with differing hermeneutical and interpretive principles. Both sides agreed that both churches seek to take the Scripture seriously.
While the Report has been received by both churches, it is clear that its conclusions are not universally embraced, particularly in the Reformed Church in America where calls for distancing or dissolving the full communion relationship persist at each meeting of the General Synod. Behind all the other issues in dispute, the suspicion lingers: ?You don?t take the Bible seriously.?
Is there hope for moving beyond the impasse?
So we are left with the question, ?Is there any hope for moving beyond the impasse, or are we destined for a prolonged, bitter, and divisive ecclesial struggle in which the Bible becomes both the terrain and the weapon of battle?? Two things will help. First, we could concede that those who differ from us, who distrust our reading of the text and the implications we draw from it, are in fact attempting to take the Bible as seriously as we are. Condemnation has always been the first step toward division, and in our Protestant milieu dismissing the seriousness of another?s engagement with Scripture is the heaviest form of condemnation. Second, we could attempt, as I have attempted here, to give an account, literally to ?be accountable? to those who challenge us, sharing as candidly and as forthrightly as possible how the Bible speaks to us. In one sense that is what this lecture seeks to do for my accusers in the Association gathering. There are theologians, preachers, and Biblical scholars who would give a different and in many cases far more sophisticated accounting than mine. But each of us, I believe, is called to offer that account, to say to sisters and brothers in the faith, ?this is what it means for me to take the Bible seriously,? and of course, in that account, to evaluate, challenge, and critique the accounts of others. To concede that someone takes the Bible seriously is not the same thing as accepting any and all approaches as accurate, valid, helpful, or even faithful. Borrowing the ecumenical language of the Lutheran-Reformed dialogue, I assert that with mutual affirmation comes mutual admonition. I do respect the seriousness of those who gathered to dispute with me at the Association gathering. But I disagree with them sharply. Nevertheless, much will be advanced if we join at least the occasional affirmations to our frequent admonitions. All of this will help, but with the stakes so high, I suspect it will only help; it will certainly not solve our problems.
Ultimately I suspect what will be more important than resolving disputes over how different ones among us take the Bible seriously, will be a commitment to engage together in what I would like to call a liturgical reading of the Bible. A liturgical reading is not simply, or perhaps even primarily, a reading of the Bible in the sanctuary. It is a reading that occurs in the shared context of our Baptism, a recognition that we come to the Bible together as ?children of God, disciples of Christ, as members of the Church? and as a Body whose head is Christ in which no part can say to another, ?I have no need of you.? Thus, a liturgical reading resists privatized reading, reading that is always subject to the ?interest? of a particular location or station in life. A liturgical reading takes place around the communion table, which means we always read in the presence of Christ, crucified and risen, in the company of all the saints, and that in the sacrament our reading is done against the horizon of God?s rule and reign which is both signified and enacted in the breaking of the bread. A liturgical reading is always shaped by the Table?s re-presentation of God?s mission in which all will ultimately be reconciled in Christ. A liturgical reading takes place before the Cross which confronts us with our personal and corporate sin, sin that always twists and distorts our reading, even as it lifts our eyes to those who suffer in the world and, in so doing, invites us to read along with the slaves, the exiles, the nomads, and the peasants from whom the text has been received. In other words, a liturgical reading invites us to read with those who not only are able to be astonished, but with those whose oppression causes them to desire the astonishment that turns the world upside down.
A liturgical reading honors the seasons of our worship life, reading the text through the anticipation of Advent with its judgment and hope, the celebrations of Christmas with its sense of presence and fulfillment, the expansiveness of Epiphany with its global and cosmic dimensions, the penitence and discipline of Lent and the astonishing victory of Easter, and finally through the Spirited and ordinary weeks of Pentecost. Thus a liturgical reading rescues us from our personal preoccupations and exposes us to the whole of Scripture with the full array of Biblical themes. That is to say, a liturgical reading is a sustained reading, a reading not for the moment, or for resolution of the current dispute, but is a reading over time, engaged in by those who share the experience of grace, who know themselves to be in the Presence of the crucified and risen Christ, and who seek to be in solidarity with those whose poverty provides not rose colored glasses, but clarity about both the astonishing evil in the world and, even more, about God?s astonishing activity and amazing grace. In that kind of liturgical reading over time, even the unschooled and the eccentric, the flawed and the imperfect will discover that the words on the preacher?s page do become the scarlet verse of Jesus, and the daily encounter with scripture can be, as Schleiermacher said, ?a new, joyous, and powerful appearance of the Lord himself.?
At the Bar Mitzvah of a son or the Bat Mitzvah of a daughter, a Jewish parent is invited to pray:
Into our hands, O God, You have placed Your Torah, to be held high by parents and children, and taught by one generation to the next. Whatever has befallen us, our people have remained steadfast in loyalty to the Torah. It was carried into exile in the arms of parents that their children might not be deprived of their birthright. And now I pray that you, my child, will always be worthy of this inheritance. Take its teaching into your heart, and in turn pass it on to your children and those who come after you. May you be a faithful Jew, searching for wisdom and truth, working for justice and peace. Thus will you be among those who labor to bring nearer the day when the Lord shall be One, and His name shall be One.
Such is the prayer of all who would take the Bible seriously. May it be our prayer as well.
The 2000 Dunkirk Colloquy in Dunkirk, New York, brought together members of the United Church of Christ for reflection and conversation on the authority of scripture for Christians. Keynote presenters included the Rev. John H. Thomas, General Minster and President of the United Church of Christ, and the Rev. Frederick Trost, Wisconsin Conference Minister. The Rev. Paul Hammer led Bible study.
The Bible both unites and divides us as a church. Our spiritual ancestors have never agreed, even in the first generations of the Christian community, about the right way to read and apply Scripture. Today, views in the UCC (like all other mainline denominations) range from conservative to liberal. Scripture often quoted by all sides in the ethical conflicts that divide us as well as many other churches. The Bible is God's gift to the church, to be read for our instruction and comfort, but we often use it as a hammer to strike down the arguments of our opponents, or even to exclude each other from the Body of Christ.
Right interpretation of Scripture necessarily includes right living, that is, we cannot hear God's word in the Bible if our minds and hearts are closed to each other. These were some of the issues that were explored at Dunkirk.
UCC President Thomas proposes a reading of the Bible that takes its origins seriously and is heard liturgically in the context of a community united in worship.
Fred Trost argues that when the Bible is taken seriously, ordinary people can do extraordinary things.
Paul Hammer finds the unity of the Bible enriched by its diversity.
Theology is the work of the whole Body of Christ—not only of ordained ministers or academic theologians. Everyone who loves Jesus Christ and tries to be faithful to the Gospel is a Christian theologian. We want the Theology Page to be useful to you in your growth in the faith.
Are wars ever just? A debate between two famous brothers
As our church and the world continue to struggle with issues of war and peace in the aftermath of Sept. 11, we present as a resource a debate between two of the theological parents of the United Church of Christ: the brothers Reinhold Niebuhr and H. Richard Niebuhr. Both theologians—who taught two generations of UCC pastors—reacted to the Japanese invasion of China with thoughtful but opposed interpretations of what the Christian faith requires in time of international conflict. The debate was aired in the pages of the Christian Century. Also included as a resource: a paper by UCC theologian Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite applying the Just War tradition to the war against Iraq, and General Synod's 1985 pronouncement on "Just Peace"—an alternative to "Just War."
Taking Bible Seriously
Three papers by on the authority of scripture in the church.
Should the church affirm vowed relationships by gay and lesbian couples?
The meaning today of the Cambridge Platform—a watershed event in the evolution of the congregational idea of church relationships.
Just War or Just Peace?
The classic debate by the Niebuhr brothers on just war, plus General Synod on "Just Peace."
A prayer for the family
God of all birthing, God of all living, God of all dying, hear our prayers this day.
We pray for our families, in all their complex and wondrous forms, for families of our origin and for those of our choosing.
We give thanks for those who have given us birth, for those who have nurtured us, and for those whose lives were invested in our care. Your love for us has been steadfast and sure, and lived out in those who have cultivated our abilities, enriched our minds, strengthened our bodies, and challenged our spirits.
We mourn those times when our families have not provided for us and for our children the safety, well-being, and love we needed. We recognize and confess those times when we have failed to be agents of your reconciling and renewing love and ask your forgiveness, as well as the forgiveness of those whose trust we have violated.
We celebrate the ever-present possibilities for your Church to be a Family of Blessing for your beloved children. We pray that as Church we might always be attentive to the ways in which we can be a community which is ever more inclusive, ever more nurturing, ever more stimulating, ever more relevant, and ever more healing for all your children. May we recommit ourselves daily to your Gospel call to serve those in need in our world as if they were our very own sisters and brothers, sons and daughters, and to advocate for them and their well-being in the halls of power as well as in our own sanctuaries. In the name of the One who came to us, loved us as his own, and gave to us new life, we pray.
Contributed by Reverend Allen V. Harris
Ways We Worship and Resources
Worshiping into God's Future, a denominational initiative, offers worship research results and new resources for UCC congregations.
Summary and Strategies 2005 reports recent findings about how UCC congregations worship, what they hope for, and possible future leadership and research strategies. The research reflects over 12,000 responses from UCC worship leaders and congregations.
Worshiping into God's Future PowerPoint presentation (with script) highlights research findings and may be used for reflection and study for groups such as worship planning groups or Deacon meetings. (Once the PowerPoint slide show is downloaded, use the click of your mouse to advance through it.)
Worship resources offers new liturgies and music drawn from the UCC initiative. It includes questions for reflection and evaluation of worship needs as well as suggestions for creative worship.
For in-depth findings to be used in ongoing research about the initiative, a CD-ROM is available by e-mail request at email@example.com or by phone at 866-822-8224, ext. 3873.
These resources are presented as part of the UCC's ongoing look at worship. You are encouraged to download them and try them out.
- Liturgies and music to enrich worship services
- Questions, ideas for reflection, discussion, and evaluation of worship needs
- Suggestions for creative worship
Below, explore each section of the book Prayers and Patterns for Worship for specific materials and song resources..
Patterns and Orders of Worship
Introduction to Patterns and Orders of Worship
A Praise Service from Hawaii
Blended Worship for Word and Table
Praise, Prayer, and Preaching in an African American Congregation
A Contemporary Seeker Service
Using Music and Visual Arts
Introduction to Holy Communion
A Responsive Communion Liturgy
Hispanic Free-form Communion Prayer
Brief Communion Prayers
Using a Traditional Form, Holy Communion in a Time of Fear
Using Music and Visual Arts
Introduction to Baptismal Rites
Presenting an Infant to the Congregation
Ecumenical Witnesses of Baptism
Affirming Baptism: Simple Words and Acts
A Liturgy and Prayers for Adults and Youth Seeking Baptism
Additional Prayers for Those Preparing for Baptism or Confirmation
Prayers of Youth at Confirmation
Using Music and Visual Arts
Moments of Our Lives
Acknowledgments and Copyrights for Liturgies and Worship Resources
Words to Songs in PDF format
As I Decend in the Waters
As the Grain was Scattered
Bread is Broken
Come and Fill (All My Life)
Enter God’s Courts
Every Step of the Way
Ferry Our Prayers
God, Tender and Just
God’s Love Endures Forever
Holy, Holy, Holy
I Need You
In Our Prayers
Let Us Sing Praises
Pour Out Your Spirit
Te alabamos en todo momento
This is My Child
Waiting for You
We All Praise You Every Moment
We Lift Up Our Hearts
When I was Baptized
Yours is the Wheat
Words to Songs in Word format
As I Decend in the Waters
As the Grain was Scattered
Bread is Broken
Come and Fill (All My Life)
Enter God’s Courts
Every Step of the Way
Ferry Our Prayers
God, Tender and Just
God’s Love Endures Forever
Holy, Holy, Holy
I Need You
In Our Prayers
Let Us Sing Praises
Pour Out Your Spirit
Te alabamos en todo momento
This is My Child
Waiting for You
We All Praise You Every Moment
We Lift Up Our Hearts
When I was Baptized
Yours is the Wheat
Resolution "Calling on UCC Congregations to Covenant as Open and Affirming"
85-GS-76 VOTED: The Fifteenth General Synod adopts the Resolution now titled "Calling On UCC Congregations to Covenant As Open and Affirming."
Calling on UCC Congregations to Covenant as Open and Affirming
WHEREAS, the Apostle Paul said that, as Christians, we are many members, but we are one body in Christ (Rom. 12:4), and Jesus calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mk. 12:31) without being judgmental (Mt. 7:1-2) nor disparaging of others (Lk. 18:9-14); and
WHEREAS, recognizing that many persons of lesbian, gay and bisexual orientation are already members of the Church through baptism and confirmation and that these people have talents and gifts to offer the United Church of Christ, and that the UCC has historically affirmed a rich diversity in its theological and Biblical perspectives; and
WHEREAS, the Tenth through Fourteenth General Synods have adopted resolutions encouraging the inclusion, and affirming the human rights, of lesbian, gay and bisexual people within the UCC; and
WHEREAS, the Executive Council of the United Church of Christ adopted in 1980 "a program of Equal Employment Opportunity which does not discriminate against any employee or applicant because of... sexual orientation"; and
WHEREAS, many parts of the Church have remained conspicuously silent despite the continuing injustice of institutionalized discrimination, instances of senseless violence and setbacks in civil rights protection by the Supreme Court; and
WHEREAS, the Church has often perpetuated discriminatory practices and has been unwilling to affirm the full humanness of clergy, laity and staff with lesbian, gay and bisexual orientation, who experience isolation, ostracism and fear of (or actual) loss of employment; and
WHEREAS, we are called by Christ's example, to proclaim release to the captives and set at liberty the oppressed (Lk. 4:18); and
WHEREAS, examples of covenant of Openness and Affirmation and Non-discrimination Policy may be found in the following:
Covenant of openess and affirmation
We know, with Paul, that as Christians, we are many members, but are one body in ChristÑmembers of one another, and that we all have different gifts. With Jesus, we affirm that we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves, that we are called to act as agents of reconciliation and wholeness within the world and within the Church itself.
We know that lesbian, gay and bisexual people are often scorned by the church, and devalued and discriminated against both in the Church and in society. We commit ourselves to caring and concern for lesbian, gay and bisexual sisters and brothers by affirming that:
We believe that lesbian, gay and bisexual people share with all others the worth that comes from being unique individuals,
We welcome lesbian, gay and bisexual people to join our congregation in the same spirit and manner used in the acceptance of any new members,
We recognize the presence of ignorance, fear and hatred in the Church and in our culture, and covenant to not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, nor any other irrelevant factor, and we seek to include and support those who, because of this fear and prejudice, find themselves in exile from a spiritual community,
We seek to address the needs and advocate the concerns of lesbian, gay and bisexual people in our Church and in society by actively encouraging churches, instrumentalities and secular governmental bodies to adopt and implement policies of non-discrimination, and further,
We join together as a covenantal community, to celebrate and share our common communion and the reassurance that we are indeed created by God, reconciled by Christ and empowered by the grace of the Holy Spirit;
Inclusive non-discrimination policy
We do not discriminate against any person, group or organization in hiring, promotion, membership, appointment, use of facility, provision of services or funding on the basis of race, gender, age, sexual orientation, faith, nationality, ethnicity, marital status, or physical disability;
THEREFORE, the Fifteenth General Synod of the United Church of Christ encourages a policy of non-discrimination in employment, volunteer service and membership policy with regard to sexual orientation; encourages association conferences and all related organizations to adopt a similar policy; and
encourages the congregations of the United Church of Christ to adopt a non-discrimination policy and a Covenant of Openness and Affirmation of persons of lesbian, gay or bisexual orientation within the community of faith.
No financial implications.
The Rev. John C. Dorhauer, author and theologian, currently serves as ninth General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ.
Before his election at the 30th General Synod in June 2015, Dorhauer was the Conference Minister of the Southwest Conference of the UCC, the regional body that provides support and services to 47 local UCC congregations and clergy within Arizona, New Mexico and El Paso, Texas.
Prior to his role at the Southwest Conference, Dorhauer served as associate conference minister in the Missouri Mid-South Conference, and also served First Congregational United Church of Christ and Zion United Church of Christ, in rural Missouri. Dorhauer received a B.A. in Philosophy from Cardinal Glennon College (1983), and has a Master of Divinity degree from Eden Theological Seminary (1988), the same year he was ordained in the United Church of Christ. He received a Doctor of Ministry degree from United Theological Seminary (2004), where he studied white privilege and its effects on the church. His second book, Beyond Resistance: The Institutional Church Meets the Postmodern World, was released in June 2015. His first book(written with Sheldon Culver), Steeplejacking: How the Christian Right is Hijacking Mainstream Religion, was published in June 2007.
Dorhauer is passionate about justice. Two statements that shape his theology are: "God is love. God is just." He is also passionate about the future of the denomination, insistent “that the Holy Spirit envisions a future in which the United Church of Christ matters.” During his tenure, he is calling on the denomination to rethink itself and to consider new ways of “being church” in light of reduced societal interest in institutional religion, and the steep decline in the membership of the UCC since the 1960s. He says alternatives to institutional churches, what some call the "emergent church," will not immediately supplant, but will grow alongside the institutional church for a long time.
Under his leadership during his first year in office, UCC congregations addressed racism through the Black Lives Matter movement and the denomination’s White Privilege curriculum, released in September 2016, which Dorhauer initiated; campaigned against discrimination, including that aimed at the LGBTQ community; and offered extravagant welcome and visible public support for Muslim neighbors through its Building Bridges initiative.
Along with his passion for justice, Dorhauer has a passion for and love of baseball – specifically the St. Louis Cardinals – music, literature and poetry. He has been married to his wife for nearly 31 years and they have three children.
Dorhauer was chosen as the GMP candidate by an 18-member search committee in February 2015. His candidacy was confirmed by the UCC Board of Directors by a two-thirds vote in March. He was elected at the 30th General Synod, which met June 26-30, 2015 in Cleveland. Dorhauer replaced the Rev. Dr. Geoffrey Black, as the ninth person to lead the UCC since the denomination was formed in 1957.
Dorhauer was the first person to conduct a legal same sex wedding in the state of Arizona when he performed the wedding service of David Laurence and Kevin Patterson on October 17, 2014. In June 2015, facing verbal threats while standing across from 250 armed bikers targeting a local mosque, Dorhauer, as nominee for United Church of Christ general minister and president, joined 250 inter-religious supporters from Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths opposing a protest outside the Islamic Center of Phoenix. In October 2015, in one of his first directives as general minister and president, Dorhauer issued a call to leaders of the United Church of Christ to stand against planned demonstrations in their community targeted at Muslims and their places of worship. That same month Dorhauer also went to a Kansas City high school to rally with students countering a protest of Westboro Baptist Church, which opposed the school’s decision to crown a transgender girl as homecoming queen.
Rev. Traci Blackmon is the Executive Minister of Justice & Local Church Ministries for The United Church of Christ and Senior Pastor of Christ The King United Church of Christ in Florissant, MO.
Initially ordained in the African Methodist Episcopal
Church, Rev. Blackmon served in various ministry capacities for 9 years, prior to becoming ordained in the United Church of Christ and installed as the first woman and 18th pastor in the 162 year history of Christ The King United Church of Christ. A registered nurse with more than 25 years of healthcare experience, Rev. Blackmon's clinical focus was cardiac care and in latter years her focus shifted to mobile healthcare in underserved communities with the greatest health disparities in her region. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing from Birmingham - Southern College (1985), and a Master of Divinity degree from Eden Theological Seminary (2009).
As pastor, Rev. Blackmon leads Christ The King in an expanded understanding of church as a sacred launching pad of community engagement and change. This ethos has led to a tripling of both membership and worship attendance over the last seven years, expanding membership engagement opportunities, and the establishment of community outreach programs. Community programming includes a computer lab, tutoring, continuing education classes, summer programming, a robotics team, children's library and girls' mentoring program, all housed in the church.
Regionally, Rev. Blackmon's signature initiatives have included Healthy Mind, Body, and Spirit, a mobile faith-based outreach program she designed to impact health outcomes in impoverished areas. Sacred Conversations on Solomon’s Porch, quarterly clergy in-services designed to equip local clergy to assess physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health concerns within congregational life, Sista SOS Summit, an intergenerational health symposium for women and girls, and Souls to the Polls STL, an ecumenical, multi-faith collaborative that was successful in providing over 2,800 additional rides to the polls during local and national elections.
A featured voice with many regional, national, and international media outlets and a frequent contributor to print publications, Rev. Blackmon's communal leadership and work in the aftermath of the killing of Michael Brown, Jr., in Ferguson, MO has gained her both national and international recognition and audiences from the White House to the Carter Center to the Vatican. She was appointed to the Ferguson Commission by Governor Jay
Nixon and to the President's Advisory Council on Faith-Based Neighborhood Partnerships for the White House by President Barack H. Obama. Rev. Blackmon co-authored the White Privilege curriculum for the United Church of Christ and toured the nation with Rev. Dr. William Barber of Moral Mondays and Repairer of the Breech, Rev. Dr. James Forbes of The Drum Major Institute and pastor emeritus of The Riverside Church in New York, and Sister Simone Campbell of Nuns on the Bus proclaiming the need for a Moral Revival in this nation.
Rev. Blackmon is a graduate of Leadership St. Louis and currently serves on the boards of The Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, Chicago Theological Seminary, and WomanPreach! Rev. Blackmon is a co-author of the newly released White Privilege curriculum through the United Church of Christ and has received several awards and recognitions, inclusive of:
- The White House President’s Volunteer Service Award
- The St. Louis American Stellar Award
- 2015 Ebony Magazine Power 100
- Deluxe Magazine Power 100
- St. Louis University - Community Leader of the Year
- 100 Black Men of St. Louis Community Leader of the Year
- The Coalition of Black Trade Unionist - Drum Major Award
- NAACP - Rosa Parks Award
- Rosa Parks Award - United Trade Unionist
- The Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis Woman in Leadership Award
- National Planned Parenthood Faith Leader Award
- The United Church of Christ - Antoinette Brown Leadership Award
- Honorary Doctorate, Eden Theological Seminary
Rev. Blackmon currently resides in both St. Louis, MO and Cleveland, OH and was named 2017 Citizen of the Year by The St. Louis American and as one of St. Louis' 100 most influential voices as well as . Rev. Blackmon is the proud mother of three adult children: Kortni Devon; Harold II; and Tyler Wayne Blackmon.
If you are a member of the press and would like to schedule an interview with Rev. Traci Blackmon, please contact:
Connie Larkman, News Director
For all other inquiries, please contact:
Denise Pittman, Executive Assistant
The Rev. James Moos is Executive Minister of the UCC's Wider Church Ministries and Co-executive of UCC/Disciples' Global Ministries.
Following his ordination in 1986, Moos was called to Adams County Parish, UCC, where he served until 1991. Moos then became senior pastor at Bismarck (N.D.) UCC, serving 15 years before accepting the call as executive minister of UCC Wider Church Ministries.
Moos' involvement at the Conference and national levels includes serving as chair of the Northern Plains Conference council (1990-1991), multiple periods of service with the Conference's Church and Ministry Committee and Mission and Outreach Committee; and on the Wider Church Ministries/Common Global Ministries Board of Directors (1999-2005).
A Global Ministries short-term volunteer to East Timor in 2002, Moos has served as president of the East Timor Education Foundation, a funding agency for Global Ministries, from 2004 to the present.
In 2005, Moos began a six-year stint on the UCC Executive Council, including two years as its chair.
Moos enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 1976 and was on active duty until 1980. Five years later, he became a reserve chaplain for the Air Force and served for 18 years.
Growing up on a farm near Streeter, North Dakota, Moos went on to earn his bachelor of arts degree at Seattle Pacific University in 1983 before obtaining both his M.Div. (1986) and Ph.D. (1996) from Princeton Theological Seminary.
Moos is married to Sharon Moos, whose career is in the health-care administration field.
Jim has been deeply engaged with Global Ministries in support of its partnership with the Protestant Church in East Timor. He brings experience in administration and finance, a commitment to the prophetic witness of the United Church of Christ, a passion for connecting local churches to the global body of Christ, and an understanding of the collegial and ecumenical nature of serving as Executive Minister of Wider Church Ministries and Co-Executive of the UCC/Disciples' Global Ministries.
If you are a member of the press and would like to schedule an interview with Rev. James Moos, please contact:
Connie Larkman, News Director
For all other inquiries, please contact:
Linda Long, Executive Assistant
Presidents and General Minister and Presidents
Fred Hoskins & James E. Wagner – Co-Presidents (1957-1961)
Ben M. Herbster – President (1961-1969)
Robert V. Moss – President (1969-1976)
Joseph H. Evans – President (1976-1977)
Avery D. Post – President (1977-1989)
Paul H. Sherry – President (1989-1999)
John H. Thomas – General Minister and President (1999-2010)
Geoffrey A. Black – General Minister and President (2010-2015)
John C. Dorhauer – General Minister and President (2015-Present)
In 1975, the United Church of Christ honored two clergywomen with the first Antoinette Brown Award, celebrating the life and ministry of the first woman ordained into Christian ministry since biblical times as well as the lives and ministries of UCC clergywomen who exemplify Brown’s spirit of trailblazing leadership in church and society.
Forty years later, the pathways are considerably widened for women in ministry in the UCC, but there are still necessarily pioneers and innovators in our midst, women who lead in extraordinary ways and who make possible other women’s ministries. From March 1 – April 15, 2015, we invite your nominations of trailblazers (UCC clergywomen who honor Antoinette Brown’s vision of women in leadership in church and society) as well as catalysts (collectives, projects, congregations, or organizations that serve as provocative spaces that advance women in ministry). Honorees will be celebrated at General Synod 30 in Cleveland this summer.
Click on recipients’ names to hear interviews from Women: Finding Voice, an oral and written history of the Antoinette Brown Award. Find a complete list of awardees at the bottom of the page.
Interviewed for Women: Finding Voice in July 2011
Barbara Ann Gerlach: Artist, Minister, Advocate for Justice/Artista, Ministra, Defensora de la Paz y la Justicia, (2011 Award Recipient)
"I resonate with a God who frees me and calls me to a journey of love, creativity and adventure.
The survival of our planet depends on breaking down the dividing walls of nation and class, race and sex, religion and political ideology . . . seeing ourselves, above all our other identities, as one body and members one of another."1
 As quoted from Antoinette Brown Award Acceptance Speech. UCC General Synod, Tampa, Florida. July 4 2011
Carole C. Carlson: Conference Minister, Writer/Ministra de Conferencia, Escritora, (2011 Award Recipient)
"Much of what I have done has been a personal, one-on-one ministry. I tried to support and encourage women marginalized during the time when there was tremendous discrimination in the church."
Bernice Powell Jackson, Journey for Justice/Lucha por la Justicia, (2011 Award Recipient)
Local, national, and world justice and peace advocate. First woman as executive director of the UCC Commission for Racial Justice and as Executive Minister of Justice and Witness (UCC), President of the North American region of the World Council of Churches.
You, I, we must actively resist injustice. It doesn't matter which one, pick one.
Interviewed for Women: Finding Voice in September 2009
Marilyn Adams Moore: Social Prophet/Profeta Social, (1991 Award Recipient)
An ordained woman of faith and courage, Marilyn served the United Church of Christ for more than twenty years in mobilizing justice ministries in racial and ethnic groups.
"I think if the UCC is truly about what we say 'that they may all be one,' then we should be honest about what we really mean concerning pluralism. People don’t really want to share power, but it is mind boggling that we think power is ours to give. Power that we conceive as ours is really nothing. Power is of God." – Marilyn Adams Moore
Interviewed for Women: Finding Voice in August 2009
Ansley Coe Throckmorton: Preacher and Pastor/Predicadora y Pastora, (1981 Award Recipient)
There is great hunger in the human heart and among the peoples of the earth for meaning and purpose for their lives and for liberating truth and power. The church is looked to by many for vision, direction, and courage. People, both within and outside of the church today, long to know the scriptures, to become articulate about faith, and to see more clearly the relationship between the gospel and the realities of the world. – Ansley Coe Throckmorton
Interviewed for Women: Finding Voice in July 2009
Betty Jane Bailey: A Ministry of Education/Un Ministerio de Educación, (2001 Award Recipient)
"The church is a gathered community of people seeking to live together in love. They are equipping themselves for their own ministry and mission out in the world...People in the church are also called to think theologically about life and events – to put them in a perspective which includes God. The gathering together must result in a sending back into the world to respond to events in the world in a healing way."
Interviewed for Women: Finding Voice in June 2009
Barbara Brown Zikmund: Church Historian/Historiadora de la Iglesia - Theological Educator/Educadora Teológica, (2005 Award Recipient)
“Women are reinventing ministry for the future, refusing old definitions, and reshaping understandings of ordained persons. The setting apart of a few to full-time Christian service is a functional not a value judgment. The calling to the ministry is not qualitatively any better than that of many other vocations, it is simply different.” BBZ – Church historian, theological educator
Interviewed for Women: Finding Voice in Mayo 2009
Candita Bauzá-Mattos: Primera Mujer Hispana Ordenada en la Iglesia Unida de Cristo/First Hispanic Woman Ordained in the Evangelical United Church of Puerto Rico, (2009 Award Recipient)
Cuando vine acá y me di cuenta de la relación que tenían la Iglesia Unida de Cristo y la Iglesia Evangélica Unida de Puerto Rico, sentí que yo pertenecía a algo que era no solamente bravío sino que poseía un don que daba sentido a mi vida y a mi ministerio.
Candita Bauzá-Mattos, primera mujer graduada del Seminario Evangélico de Puerto Rico y la primera en ser ordenada en la Iglesia Evangélica Unida de Puerto Rico, es la coordinadora y consultante del Concilio de Ministerios Hispanos de la Iglesia Unida de Cristo.
When I came here and saw the relationship that the United Church of Christ and the United Evangelical Church of Puerto Rico had, I felt that I belonged to something that was not only brave but a gift that gives meaning to my life and to my ministry.
Candita Bauza-Mattos is the first Hispanic woman to graduate from the Evangelical Seminary of Puerto Rico and the first woman ordained in the Evangelical United Church of Puerto Rico.
Interviewed for Women: Finding Voice in April 2009
Julie Peeples: Pastor to the Community/Pastora para la Comunidad, (2009 Award Recipient)
In responding to community issues and to individuals in her church, this community healer and reconciler has learned to make space for God. She first asks, What is missing that I am called of God to make present? “I'm not trying to bring God to people, I'm trying to surface what I know is already there.”
Interviewed for Women: Finding Voice in March 2009
Talitha J. Arnold: Saguaro Ministry/Ministerio del Cacto (Cactus), (2007 Award Recipient)
For me, the central call of pastoral ministry is to build hope and build faith. The opportunity to build the church—be it by building the community, building the structure, or creating new opportunities for learning or service—is one of the true joys of pastoral ministry.
Interviewed for Women: Finding Voice in February 2009
Bernice Buehler: Prayer in Action/Oración en Acción, (1983 Award Recipient)
The first woman to receive a divinity degree at Yale, Bernice Buehler became National Director of Religious Education for the Evangelical and Reformed Church.
"Bernice was a gung-ho go-getter in terms of fighting for the rights of children and for their respect. She took an important role in setting forth needs and concerns of children – a power house in educational resources."
Interviewed for Women: Finding Voice in January 2009
"For me, ministry is possible only as responsiveness to the moving of God among the people, and a willingness to be used by God, often in surprising ways. The work has to be something worth doing; that in itself gives meaning to ministry. It must feel like God needs me to be there."
"The question still today is whether we are in touch with God enough ourselves to be able to mediate and facilitate so that other folks also will come into God's presence and grow as faithful people."
Interviewed for Women: Finding Voice in December 2008
Annie Rubena Campbell, (1977 Award Recipient)
The Reverend Annie Rubena Campbell worked in the Ozark missions, and was much loved by the "mountain folks." It is thought that she also had medical training. It is not known if Annie Campbell is still living.
Interviewed for Women: Finding Voice in November 2008
María Teresa Unger Palmer: Advocate of Immigrants/Defensora y Consejera de los Inmigrantes, (2001 Award Recipient)
Immigrant pastor, educator, advocate for North Carolina's Latino community, María Teresa Unger Palmer has recognized many gifts and talents as her initial ministry expanded and evolved into an ever-broadening voice of justice.
Interviewed for Women: Finding Voice in October 2008
Alice Bigley Snow: Parish Minister/Ministra de Parroquia, (1979 Award Recipient)
The church kept asking me to substitute preach. They asked me to do more and more. That was what I really deep down wanted to do but didn't know if I could. It opened up the doors when I said yes that first night.
Interviewed for Women: Finding Voice in September 2008
Minister to society, Yvonne Virginia Delk has committed most of her life to dismantling racism, "binding in covenant faithful people of all tongues and races."
"Like Sojourner, I too have traveled up and down this land telling the truth as I see it about racism, sexism, economic injustice, and violence. Facing the truth—and telling the truth—not only sets us free, but calls for new ways of being, of speaking, of acting, and of witnessing."
Interviewed for Women: Finding Voice in August 2008
Peggy Brainerd Way: Pastoral Theologian/Teóloga Pastoral, (1993 Award Recipient)
I want my students to know that Christianity must be an embodiment and practice, not a set of statements or words. I encourage my students to celebrate diversity because it is God's intention that diverse cultures learn how to hear each other, to stand each other in our differences.
Interviewed for Women: Finding Voice in July 2008
"We finally have come to understand that we cannot be an inclusive church unless all people, regardless of their disability, color of their skin, or national origin are welcome in Christ's Church. Let us give thanks for our individual uniqueness and for Christ who binds Christians together as different pieces of cloth are brought together to make a quilt."
Interviewed for Women: Finding Voice in June 2008
The Rev. Dr. Marie Fortune, founder of FaithTrust Institute, (formerly known as the Center for the Prevention of Sexual and Domestic Violence), and widely known author, speaker, teacher and advocate for ending domestic violence, was the earliest voice in the church to name sexual abuse and begin to address it in our churches.
Interviewed for Women: Finding Voice in May 2008
Leila W. Anderson: Pilgrim Circuit Rider/Conductora del Circuito Peregrino, (1981 Award Recipient)
Leila Waite Anderson held a traveling national staff position in Christian Education that led her through the Convention of the South, the northern prairie and then from New York to the Hawaiian Islands. She drove a station wagon that served as home and office.
"Changed attitudes and practices in people's lives are more important than the mouthing of theological phrases; therefore Christian education should help individuals and groups to make Christian choices when confronted with alternatives of thought and action."
"A teacher is a person who can guide a group in finding its own answers."
Interviewed for Women: Finding Voice in April 2008
Barbara Mosley de Souza: Missionary in Brasil (Brazil), (1997 Award Recipient)
Barbara Mosley de Souza founded the Association of Community Health Educators in Rio de Janeiro in 1996. The health clinic offers medical treatment, health education and disease prevention to the whole shantytown community. Where knowledge is so scarce, it is critical to teach people to understand in their own terms in ways they can communicate with people of their same level of experience.
Education is empowerment. In the midst of corruption and violence, we are bringing hope and we have proved that with unity, we can accomplish a lot.
Interviewed for Women: Finding Voice in March 2008
Jan Griesinger: Campus Ministry/Ministerio Universitario, (1999 Award Recipient)
Justice is the strongest sense of God for me. Faith has to be lived out. My life has been a journey of doing what needs to be done in this long struggle.
Activist movements, particularly women's liberation, have shaped most of Jan Griesinger's life and work as a campus minister and lesbian pastor. The first Antoinette Brown Award recipient chosen because of her lesbian activism, she was active in the UCC Gay Caucus and National Co-Coordinator of the Coalition (1984-1997).
Interviewed for Women: Finding Voice in February 2008
Joyce B. Myers-Brown: Missionary for Justice and Peace/Misionera de Justicia y Paz, (1989 Award Recipient)
"Ministry has given me the privilege of entering into people's lives—helping them grow spiritually and personally. Yet as a pastor I am deeply concerned about social justice issues. It is rewarding to be doing something and saying something that you really care about and you think and hope will make a difference."
Interviewed for Women: Finding Voice in January 2008
"Farthest from my mind then, as now, was the intention of leading a feminist movement for the so-called "emancipation of women" in the church. The church's expectations about the non-ordination of women ministers were neither written nor spoken about. The only ferment was in the minds of those women who wanted to be ordained. - The first woman from Lancaster Theological Seminary to be ordained."
Interviewed for Women: Finding Voice in December 2007
Mary Ann Wilner Neevel: Ptaya Owo Owo Klake (Talking Together)/Conversando Juntos, (1995 Award Recipient)
If an adventure opens up for you that leads you into a larger understanding of the church, go. . . . Long term pastorates – if you can keep yourself finding what is fresh – are an amazing thing to have. You know people from the time you baptize them and marry them then baptize their kids.
Interviewed for Women: Finding Voice in November 2007
Anne Pearse Smith: Ministry of Christian Education/Ministerio de Educación Cristiana, (1989 Award Recipient)
Women are a vital part of the church -- not just an appendage. Wherever she went, she gained the confidence of church program participants. Her training and ability to relate to people of all ages overcame the sexist hostility of the 1930s. Although the Navy did not hire its first woman chaplain until the 1970's, she acted as 'chaplain' to the serving women.
Interviewed for Women: Finding Voice in October 2007
Henrietta Spring Stith Andrews: A Ministry of Presence/Un ministerio de presencia, (2001 Award Recipient)
"I knew as a young woman that I wanted work where I could have freedom to be myself, work that I could not wait to get up in the morning for and that I didn't mind putting in long hours. God answered those prayers in conference ministry."
Interviewed for Women: Finding Voice in September 2007
"What I knew from early on is that I wanted to help people. I want to communicate that there is no better gift to give than to be there for someone when it really counts. As Eden's Professor of Field Education and the Practice of Ministry (1988-2003), she married her passion for pastoral ministry with seminary work."
Interviewed for Women: Finding Voice in August 2007
Barbara Warren McCall: In Her Own Words/En sus propias palabras, (1987 Award Recipient)
Human liberation means just that: full personhood for all. For a number of years, Barbara Warren McCall was a minister-in-waiting. Then she served as a bridge woman who caught the vision of feminism through her own professional pilgrimage.
Interviewed for Women: Finding Voice in July 2007
Rosemary McCombs Maxey: Losemale Makomps Makse cvhocefkvtos/Justice Journey, (1997 Award Recipient)
"The justice issue seeks you out," reflected Rosemary McCombs Maxey, first American Indian woman to be ordained in the United Church of Christ. Today she teaches the MVSKOKE language in order to keep it alive. On Mondays, she makes her weekly three-hour drive as chaplain to Native Hawaiians incarcerated at Watonga. "In order to get along, we need not get rid of people's differences but honor them as uniqueness."
Interviewed for Women: Finding Voice in June 2007
LaVerne McCain Gill: Ministry of Empowerment/Ministerio de capacitación, (2003 Award Recipient)
Whatever her storytelling form of expression—writing, media production, orating or preaching—LaVerne McCain Gill's lifework offers an invitation to explore. She brings together women of all times with stories that share how oppressed persons, particularly African women and African American women, have met hopelessness with hope.
Interviewed for Women: Finding Voice in May 2007
Dosia Carlson: A Christian, an Alleluia/Una cristiana, un aleluya, (1983 Award Recipient)
A disability weaves its way into and through everything that happens in a person's life. It added a particular texture to Dosia's whole be-ing. While only one thread of her unique fabric, her personal battle was to permeate all that she would do and become.
Interviewed for Women: Finding Voice in April 2007
Joan Bates Forsberg: Bridge to Understanding/Puente al entendimiento, (1975 Award Recipient)
"Out of the blue, I was invited to go to the Divinity School. Twenty-eight women students had told Dean Colin Williams that they needed a faculty woman with whom they could talk "when things are really bad and we need an advocate.' He said, 'You're right.'"
She soon was promoted to Assistant Dean and then to Associate Dean for Student Life, where she continued to advocate for women.
Interviewed for Women: Finding Voice in March 2007
Eleanor S. Morrison: Early Sexuality Educator/Educadora de sexualidad temprana, (1991 Award Recipient)
Take a look at this list: Early sexuality educator; advocate for justice for the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgendered community; author; and retreat leader in areas of racial justice, human sexuality, parent effectiveness, feminist theology and spiritual development. That's Eleanor Shelton Morrison!
Interviewed for Women: Finding Voice in February 2007
Davida Foy Crabtree: Ministry of the Laity/Ministerio del laicado, (1977 Award Recipient)
I gain my energy from, and give my energy to the wonders of life rather than to our failings as human beings…. When a word needs to be spoken over against some forms of sin or injustice, I do speak it…. Still, I believe that the primary word from God is a word of blessing.
Interviewed for Women: Finding Voice in January 2007
Gretchen DeVries: Seed-Planter/Plantadora de semillas, (1985 Award Recipient)
My call to the Christian ministry was a gradual unfolding and awakening. At almost forty, I was reminded that as an individual one must continually plant the seeds that later come to fruition through the work of the Holy Spirit.
Interviewed for Women: Finding Voice in December 2006
Ruth C. Duck: Birth of a Hymn/Nacimiento de un himno, (2003 Award Recipient)
I discovered, not without tears and anger, that the church had far to go to be just toward women and other humans. I began to make connections between the church's many masculine images for God and its historic exclusion of women from ministries. Read on to learn what gift she used to make a difference.
Interviewed for Women: Finding Voice in November 2006
Rhoda Jane Dickinson: Pastor by Adoption/Pastora por adopción, (1975 Award Recipient)
I was among the earliest clergy women in the Congregational Church. The turn of the century (1900) was a daring, expectant time when "Pioneer Spirit" gained new meaning. Some church members lived a hundred miles from the church. Black Beauty, my pony, and I traveled many miles together visiting them.
Interviewed for Women: Finding Voice in October 2006
As a youth, I could always spot something attractive or positive in whoever it was. I can see the potential. As a chaplain in a women's prison, I deal with poverty, domestic violence, sexism, child abuse, mental illness and addiction -- all in one place, all the worst issues women have to deal with.
Complete List of Recipients
1975 Reverends Joan Forsberg and Rhoda Jane Dickinson (deceased)
1977 Reverends Davida Foy Crabtree and Annie Campbell (deceased)
1979 Reverends Dr. Yvonne Delk and Alice Snow (deceased)
1981 Reverends Ansley Coe Throckmorton and Leila Waite Anderson (deceased)
1983 Reverends Bernice Buehler (deceased) and Dosia Carlson
1985 Reverends Gretchen DeVries (deceased) and Beatrice Weaver McConnell
1987 Reverends Marie Fortune and Barbara Warren McCall (deceased)
1989 Reverends Joyce Myers-Brown and Anne Pearse Smith (deceased)
1991 Reverends Eleanor Shelton Morrison (deceased) and Marilyn Adams Moore (deceased)
1993 Reverends Laurie Whinnem Etter and Peggy Brainerd Way
1995 Reverends Mary Ann Neevel and Henrietta Stith-Andrews
1997 Reverends Barbara de Souza and Rosemary McCombs Maxey
1999 Reverends Marilyn Stavenger and Jan Griesinger
2001 Reverends María Teresa Unger Palmer and Betty Jane Bailey
2003 Reverends Ruth C. Duck and LaVerne McCain Gill
2005 Reverends Ruth M. Brandon and Barbara B. Zikmund
2007 Reverends Virginia Kreyer (deceased) and Talitha J. Arnold
2009 Reverends Candita Bauzá-Mattos and Julie Peeples
2011 Reverends Barbara Gerlach, Bernice Powell Jackson and Carole Carlson
In 2013, there were no recipients of this award during a season of transition.
2015 Reverends Traci Blackmon, Sharon Ellis Davis and Martha Spong (Representing RevGalBlogPals, winner of the first ever Catalyst Award)
Resolution "Statement of Christian Conviction of the Proposed Pronouncement Calling the United Church of Christ to be a Multiracial and Multicultural Church"
93-GS-33 VOTED: The Nineteenth General Synod adopts the "Statement of Christian Conviction of the Proposed Pronouncement Calling the United Church of Christ to be a Multiracial and Multicultural Church."
Statement of Christian Conviction of the Proposed Pronouncement Calling the United Church of Christ to be a Multiracial and Multicultural Church
IV. STATEMENT OF CHRISTIAN CONVICTION
A. The Nineteenth General Synod calls upon the United Church of Christ in all its settings to be a true multiracial and multicultural church. A multiracial and multicultural church confesses and acts out its faith in the one sovereign God who through Jesus Christ binds in covenant faithful people of all races, ethnicities and cultures. A multiracial and multicultural church embodies these diversities as gifts to the human family and rejoices in the variety of God's grace.
B. The Nineteenth General Synod recognizes the following as marks of a multiracial and multicultural church:
1. CONFESSIONAL: A multiracial and multicultural church is called by God through Jesus Christ to acknowledge and confess its sins of racism and to repent and refrain from all acts of racial discrimination and bigotry.
2. THEOLOGICAL: A multiracial and multicultural church affirms Christian unity while celebrating the theological and liturgical richness that arises from its racial and ethnic diversity.
3. MISSION: A multiracial and multicultural church is called to participate in God's mission of doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with God through Christ in all communities with all peoples in all places.
4. INCLUSIVE MINISTRY: A multiracial and multicultural church uses an inclusive and equitable procedure for the calling, placement and standing of ministers in the church while providing equal access to employment in all settings of the church: locally, regionally, nationally, globally and ecumenically.
5. RACIAL JUSTICE STRUCTURE: A multiracial and multicultural church has a full-time national racial justice agency that seeks to coordinate programmatic strategies and involve the entire membership of the church in making racial justice a reality in church and society.
6. MONITORING BODY: A multiracial and multicultural church has a racial and ethnic body to monitor all settings of the church on issues of racial and ethnic inclusivity in the ministry, mission and programs.
7. PROPHETIC ADVOCACY: A multiracial and multicultural church engages in effective prophetic advocacy and public policy development on the issues of racial, social, economic and environmental justice with particular concern as to how these issues impact the quality of life of people of color communities.
8. MULTILINGUAL: A multiracial and multicultural church supports the development and dissemination of multilingual resources for use throughout the church and facilitates the translation of all official church documents such as the constitution and bylaws, creeds or statements of faith into languages that are spoken fluently in the local churches.
9. AFFIRMATIVE ACTION COMMITMENT: A multiracial and multicultural church affirms acommitment to accomplish specific affirmative action goals and objectives.
10. CHRISTIAN EDUCATION, EVANGELISM, AND NEW CHURCH DEVELOPMENT: Amultiracial and multicultural church develops, supports and implements strategies concerning evangelism and new church development in racial and ethnic communities; challenges and invites every member of local congregations to move beyond traditional comfort zones in living out God's multiracial and multicultural mandate; and prepares Christian education resources relevant to the diversity of racial and ethnic Christian faith traditions and cultures within the church.
11. SEMINARY TRAINING: A multiracial and multicultural church encourages related seminaries knowledge concerning the diversity of cultural heritages and theological traditions of the racial and ethnic constituencies of the church.
12. FAITHFUL AND EQUITABLE STEWARDSHIP: A multiracial and multicultural church plans and implements strategies to help ensure and promote a faithful and equitable stewardship and sharing of the financial resources of the church in regard to the empowerment of all local churches, and in particular the empowerment of local racial and ethnic congregations that have been marginalized due to racial discrimination in society.
15. RECOMMENDATIONS REGARDING A PROPOSAL FOR ACTION ON CALLINGTHE UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST TO BE A MULTIRACIAL AND MULTICULTURALCHURCH
Assistant Moderator Malaski asked Ms. Bagley to continue with the report of Committee One. Ms. Bagley asked the delegates to find the appropriate materials in Report Pack C. She explained that, in addition to the Pronouncement, the Committee was assigned the Proposal for Action and the resolution entitled Resolution of "Affirmation of Previous Declarations, Pronouncements, Resolutions and Proposals for Action Pertaining to Institutional Racism and a Request to Implement the Recommendations of the Pastoral Letter on Contemporary Racism Throughout the United Church of Christ." Ms. Bagley stated that many of the issues the Committee discussed were contained in both the Resolution and the Proposal for Action. Consequently, after contacting the submitters of both pieces of business, the Resolution was consolidated into the Proposal for Action. She then spoke to the recommendations.
The Rev. Ronald Kurtz proposed a friendly amendment to add the Stewardship Council to #11 of the directional statement. The committee accepted the amendment.
Mr. Robert Sandman (OH) proposed the following amendment to the directional statement: To insert a paragraph after paragraph 2, section 3, Directional Statement. The paragraph to read: Believes furthermore that when each member and setting of the United Church of Christ acknowledges and confesses the sins of racism, God does forgive us and does love us still. God's forgiveness, however, is no license to go and sin again. Instead, this state of forgiveness and love is the beginning of the journey toward learning to become a multiracial and multicultural church.
Mr. Sandman spoke to the amendment. A discussion and vote followed.
93-GS-34 VOTED: The Nineteenth General Synod defeats the amendment.
There was more discussion regarding the original recommendation, and some questions of clarification were asked.
93-GS-35 VOTED: The Nineteenth General Synod adopts the "Recommendations Regarding a Proposal for Action on Calling the United Church of Christ to be a Multiracial and Multicultural Church." as amended.
A PROPOSAL FOR ACTION ON CALLING THE UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST TO BE A MULTIRACIAL AND MULTICULTURAL CHURCH
Ill. DIRECTIONAL STATEMENT
Whereas the Nineteenth General Synod has adopted the Pronouncement on Calling the United Church of Christ to be a Multiracial and Multicultural Church, and whereas General Synod in the Statement of Christian Conviction recognized the marks of a multiracial and multicultural church, the Nineteenth General Synod:
1. Calls upon the United Church of Christ in all its settings to be a true multiracial and multicultural church and to affirm a commitment to achieve this goal;
2. Calls upon all members, congregations, associations, conferences, instrumentalities, other national bodies, and related institutions of the United Church of Christ to acknowledge and confess faithfully their sins of racism, to repent and refrain from all acts of racial discrimination and bigotry, to confront indifference, ignorance and neglect, and to participate in deliberate study and action to stem the resurgent tide of racism in American society by identifying the root causes of racism as well as other forms of discrimination and oppressive acts that preclude our fulfillment of our covenant with God and each ocher;
3. Calls upon all members, congregations, associations, conferences, instrumentalities, other national bodies and related institutions of the United Church of Christ to affirm consistently the necessity of Christian unity while celebrating the theological and liturgical richness that arises from the racial and ethnic diversity of the United Church of Christ; and to participate actively in God's mission of doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with God in all communities with all peoples in all places;
4. Calls upon all congregations, associations, conferences, instrumentalities, other national bodies, related institutions and future General Synods of the United Church of Christ consciously to elect, now and evermore, significant numbers of persons of all races, ethnicities and cultures to policy- making positions throughout the church;
5. Calls for an ethic of accountability in our relationships with each other in all settings of the church by empowering the national instrumentalities to collaborate and work collectively to develop and implement the study and action process of the "Pastoral Letter on Contemporary Racism" throughout the United Church of Christ; to incorporate the concern for institutional racism in all future plans and program implementation, and to request Council of Racial and Ethnic Ministries (COREM) to monitor continually the implementation of this Proposal for Action throughout the United Church of Christ, reporting to each General Synod through the Executive Council on the church's efforts, progress, and status in eradicating intentional and unintentional acts of racism in church and society;
6. Calls upon the Office for Church Life and Leadership, associations, conferences, and all other pertinent local, regional and national bodies to use an inclusive and equitable procedure for the recognition of calling, determination of placement and standing of ministers in the United Church of Christ; and to ensure equal access to employment in all settings of the United Church of Christ;
7. Calls upon the Commission for Racial Justice, in close consultation with COREM and its constituent bodies, to continue to coordinate the implementation of programmatic strategies in all settings of the UCC to challenge racial injustice, discrimination, and bigotry; and to provide leadership in helping to mobilize and involve the entire membership of the UCC to make racial justice a reality for all peoples in church and society;
8. Calls upon the Office for Church in Society, Commission for Racial Justice, Coordinating Center for Women, United Church Board for Homeland Ministries, United Church Board for World Ministries, other national bodies and all other settings to engage in effective prophetic advocacy and public policy development on the issues of racial, social, economic and environmental justice, in particular as to how these issues impact the quality of life of people of color communities in the United States and throughout the world; and that these bodies seek new creative opportunities toexperience the multiracial and multicultural realities of our world;
9. Calls upon all settings of the United Church of Christ to support the development and dissemination of multilingual resources for use throughout the UCC and where appropriate tofacilitate the translation of all official church documents such as the UCC Constitution and Bylaws, Statement of Faith and Statement of Mission into languages that are being spoken fluently in UCC local churches;
10. Calls upon the Executive Council and all settings of the United Church of Christ to reaffirm a commitment to accomplish the affirmative action goals and objectives that have been adopted by the General Synod; and to conduct a church-wide affirmative action audit to ascertain the current status of affirmative action within the life of the UCC;
11. Calls upon the United Church Board for Homeland Ministries, the Stewardship Council, associations and conferences, in close consultation with COREM and its constituent bodies, to develop, support and implement new programmatic strategies concerning evangelism and new church development in racial and ethnic communities across the nation, particularly in those areas undergoing rapid demographic changes with increased populations of communities of color;
12. Calls upon the United Church Board for Homeland Ministries, in close consultation with COREM and its constituent bodies, to prepare and make available Christian Education resources and materials relevant to the diversity of racial and ethnic Christian faith traditions and cultures within the United Church of Christ;
13. Calls upon the colleges and seminaries related to the United Church of Christ to expand curriculum development and educational programs to include awareness and knowledge concerning the diversity of cultural heritages and theological traditions of our multiracial and multicultural world;
14. Calls upon the Stewardship Council, Commission on Development, United Church Foundation, Pension Boards and other national bodies of the United Church of Christ to plan and implement a strategy to help ensure and promote a faithful and equitable stewardship and sharing of the financial resources of the UCC in regard to the empowerment of all local churches and in particular the empowerment of local racial and ethnic congregations that have been marginalized due to racial discrimination in society;
15. Calls upon the Office of Communication to communicate the United Church of Christ's multiracial and multicultural diversity policy and the multiracial and multicultural realities of the United Church of Christ and to promote the transition of the United Church of Christ into a truly multiracial and multicultural church; and
16. Calls upon the President of the United Church of Christ, the Secretary, the Director of Finance and Treasurer, the Executive Council, Council of Conference Ministers, Council of Instrumentality Executives, pastors and lay leaders of local congregations of the United Church of Christ to provide leadership, nurture and support towards the fulfillment of the Pronouncement and the implementation of this Proposal for Action Calling the United Church of Christ to be a Multiracial and Multicultural Church.
The Nineteenth General Synod directs the Commission for Racial Justice and the Office for Church in Society to coconvene an Implementation Committee which will coordinate the implementation of this Proposal for Action and requests a report to be made to all subsequent General Synods. The Office of the President, the Commission for Racial Justice, the Office for Church in Society. Stewardship Council, United Church Board for Homeland Ministries, United Church Board for World Ministries, the Office for Church Life and Leadership, Coordinating Center for Women, Council of Racial and Ethnic Ministries and the Council of Conference Ministers are to have representatives on the Implementation Committee.
Subject to the availability of funds.
We seem suddenly to be living in extraordinarily anxious times. Terrorists invade our cities, people die of anthrax from opening their mail, the economy is very unstable, and snipers pick off random citizens doing their ordinary tasks of shopping and getting gas. Israel/Palestine is in flames. The so-called war on terrorism is amorphous and difficult to define. Public enemy #1 only a year ago, Osama bin Laden, disappears from the public screen and is interchangeably replaced with Saddam Hussein. Then bin Laden reappears, perhaps, and issues vague and yet horrifying threats. Apparently the recent tragedy at a Chicago nightclub was precipitated by people panicking because they thought pepper spray was a terrorist attack. Are we at code yellow, code orange, code red? And what does that mean? Exactly how anxious are we supposed to be? Debates on CNN-- shall we attack Iraq or not? Will it increase world threat or decrease it? How to begin to decide? How strange these days seems and how frightening.
The pluralistic religious factor in all this anxiety is also new. Threat and counter threat are couched in the language of religion against religion, of god against god. Words not heard dominating in the political sphere for centuries, crusade and jihad, seem to give the new world struggles a transcendent frame. Are we struggling for good and is the enemy evil? Is the struggle about freedom? About oil? About markets? About who is God?
As we turn to our text in Exodus, we can see how anxiety can provoke people to violence In Exodus 17 the people of Israel have been wandering in the wilderness for 40 years. Sometimes God seems to be on their side and they have been fed by manna, but now thereÍs a big crisis; now there is no water. No water in a desert climate is a profound threat. They will all die without water. And they turn on Moses-they are ready to kill him. Their anxiety causes them to leap to anger and then to threaten violence. Of all the ways I have read this text over the years, I had never before considered this text as showing how threat and anxiety move people to blame and to violence. But when you re-read it from our times, you can see how the anxiety of the people of Israel moves them to want to just lash out and kill Moses.
Last Friday I had this same thought. So much was in the news about Iraq and about possible threats from terrorists and quite seriously the thought popped into my head, ñI wish weÍd just attack Iraq and get it over with.î Even though IÍm opposed to doing just that, I felt within myself an overwhelming desire to lash out in violence just to get rid of the anxiety.
The concept Just War was born in just such an anxious time, the time of Augustine of Hippo in the fourth century, where the Holy Roman empire was suddenly under attack from barbarian hordes of which little was known, but much suspected. The parallels to our own time are rather striking.
From the first to the fourth centuries after the death of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christian community lived under siege, often subject to persecution by the Romans. Christians could not serve in the military; were excommunicated for doing so, and the tiny Christian minority was pacifist.
But what happened? The persecution ended because the emperor Constantine converted to Christianity in 400. What a miracle this seemed to the Christians of the time. Not only were they no longer persecuted, but also Christianity triumphed and became the official religion of the empire. And then what? From the north and the east, barbarians, pagans, and Arian heretics such as Goths began to invade this newly Christianized empire. In 410 came the terrible trauma of AlaricÍs conquest of Rome. And so Augustine, a bishop and a Roman citizen, considered whether the Christian could ever, in all conscience, kill in war.
There is no such thing as exact historical parallels, but it is interesting to note that those Christians who as pilgrims fled Europe and founded this country as ñthe City on the Hillî or ñthe New Jerusalemî did so to escape religious persecution. What a miracle a new society must have seemed to them. The religious interpretation of this countryÍs founding and reason for being (and for westward expansion) has always been its overarching sense of having been blessed by the Creator with this land and blessed as a nation. Americans therefore see themselves as an ideal nation, a standard to which the rest of the world should aspire. Democratic and free, we are one nation under God, with liberty and justice for all. And how we have been blessed, at least by the standards of materialism.
Of course this is a fiction, like the Holy Roman Empire was a fiction. But it is a prevailing fiction, our national psychic narrative. The sense of ourselves as good, as an ideal, makes the attack on us as a nation by some who profess, in religious rhetoric, to hate us and see us as evil, come as the same sort of jolt as the barbarian invasions must have seemed to Augustine. Has the order of the world turned upside down?
In some respects I think it has. And when we are this anxious, this confused and so filled with emotion that the simmering anxiety just below the surface of our lives causes people to leap into panic, now more than ever we need our ancestors in the faith for guidance. Some would argue today that Just War theory is irrelevant, old hat, doesnÍt apply. I think just because the times are so frightening and confusing and emotionally enraging, that we need to realize we are not the first people in history ever to have faced such turmoil. If weÍre going to try to act like the moral people our founding vision claims we are, we have to try to engage in moral reasoning if we propose to engage in violence.
For Augustine, the intent of both the nation and the individuals in war have much to do with evaluating whether a war can be justified. ñ[F]or it makes a great difference by which causes and under which authorities men undertake the wars that must be waged.î (Against Faustus the Manichean, 222) ñThe real evils in war are love of violence, revengeful cruelty, fierce and implacable enmity, wild resistance, and the lust of power, and such likeî (City of God, book 22) for ñthe natural order which seeks peaceî (Ibid) to be upset, it must be that the reason for undertaking war is to restore human affairs to peace. (Ibid). ñFor peace is not sought in order to kindle war, but war is waged in order that peace may be obtained.î (Letter 189) Even in war, soldiers must conduct themselves as peacemakers, targeting the enemy and not engaging in wholesale slaughter. The innocent must be protected, not killed as combatants.
The virulent, revengeful cruelty and the lust for power that Augustine so feared as the worst moral evils in war are our biggest risk. Are we just lashing out in emotional desire for revenge and to just get out from under this anxiety? For even more dispassion and reason in considering the use of violence, look at the development of Just War theory in the work of Thomas Aquinas in the 13th to 14th centuries.
AquinasÍ time was far different from the cosmic struggles of AugustineÍs. In the high Middle Ages the divinely run society seemed finally to have arrived, at least for the elites. Influenced by the reintroduction of AristotleÍs writings into the West via the Muslim world, Aquinas posited a seamless, great chain of being from God as first cause to the last spec of secondary causality in the material world. Whereas Augustine was preoccupied with intentionality and the corruptions of the lust for power, Aquinas, as a rationally deductive thinker, took AugustineÍs question ñWhat is the moral evil in war?î (Book 22) and sanitized it to the question ñWhen is a war just?î His answer is not an exploration of the corruptions of the will to power, but a straightforward list: ñFor a war to be just three conditions are necessary.î (Summa Theologiae, 2a2ae.23-46) The list is not unhelpful. There needs to be a right authority to declare war, a just cause and finally a right intention on the part of the belligerents, i.e. achieving some good or avoiding some evil. This list is subsequently expanded to eight.
So, it all really comes down to whether we have a Just Cause or not. Are we defending ourselves from attack (and that only came in with Aquinas; Augustine didnÍt include self-defense in his original writings on Just War), are we defending someone else from attack? No and no. We are proposing to act pre-emptively; to strike first because some suppose this will prevent a future attack. 100 Christian Ethicists this fall published a rejection of a pre-emptive war with Iraq based on Just War criteria. The major protestant denominations, the American Catholic church and the National Council of Churches all have issued statements questioning the proposed war with Iraq and have often referred to Just War theory. To have a just cause, you have to be defending yourself (or defending someone else from attack).
Joseph C. Sprague, Bishop of the Chicago and Northern Illinois Conference of the United Methodist Church, wrote a long letter to the editor of The Chicago Tribune in late October arguing, ñWe must say ïnoÍ to war with Iraq.î ñDeclaring war on Iraq is morally indefensible. There is no way to read the criteria of the ñJust War Theoryî that could justify this foolhardy adventure. This is not an act of self-defense. All other options have not been exhausted. The devastation envisioned is in no way proportional to the perceived original aggression of Saddam Hussein. Innocent civilians-particularly women and children-will not be protected.î
It is useful, in anxious and unstable times, to turn to a tradition of moral reasoning that has been providing insight (as well as wholesale self-justification) for more than1500 years.
But sometimes it is more useful to take a look at the New Testament.
In the text in John, Jesus is tired. He sits down by a well and along comes a woman of Samaria. Notice the ñcliff notesî in the text: verse 9b ñFor Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.î These two people are enemies. Who would they be today? Fred Herzog, my teacher, re translated this text in the early 70Ís civil rights movement as an encounter of the white and black races. Today, letÍs say, now a Jew and a Palestinian; an American and an Iraqi. Jesus asks for a drink and the enemy woman argues with him. Forget even the racial conflict between these two people, women just didnÍt argue with men in this culture. Jesus does not lash back, he does not threaten, he just engages her again. Jesus offers living water and she argues with him again. You donÍt even have a dipper to draw from the well, Jewish man, how are you going to give me any water? If you can begin to hear some attitude here. Now this is not the usual reading of this text either. But it is very instructive on how you deal with enemies.
Our most fundamental moral problem in all that is happening in our anxious times may be the way in which our anxiety over threats both real and imaged is causing us to see the stranger as a threat; to reject people and cultures different from ourselves and just write them off as strangers and enemies. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who gave his life in resistance to Hitler, once said, ñSecurity is based on distrust; peace is based on trust.î In these strange times, the strange, the other, the one who does not look like us, is a source of threat. We reject their otherness. It makes it a lot easier to kill. Think of all the times in the New Testament, though, when Jesus meets and talks to people who are the sworn enemies of his own race, outcasts, polluted people and in that conversation finds a way to welcome their strangeness. The stranger the better for Jesus. We are a long way from there.
Augustine finally helps us the most, I think, with his deep repugnance for the ñlove of violence, revengeful cruelty, fierce and implacable enmity, wild resistance, and the lust of power.î The enmity at work in the world today is fierce and implacable and tragic. Terrorist attacks are wild resistance and they move us to lust for revenge, to lash out and vent our emotion through violence. Our revenge response is fierce and implacable. And above all is the lust for power that underlies both globalization and worldwide militarism.
Do Augustine and Aquinas and even the biblical texts answer all our questions about what to do today? No they donÍt. Augustine and Aquinas warn of the temptation to just lash out irrationally and take revenge without sober, critical thought. But more than that, the life and teachings of Jesus reminds us forcefully that thereÍs always another way to deal with enemies. That is the absolute standard and the one to which we are held accountable.
Martin Luther King, Jr. captures this spirit of Jesus when he says, ñReturning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.î (Where do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? (1967), p. 594.) Amen.