Created to live with God; created to Be In Community With One Another
I'm often asked, "Why does everything boil down to race?" It seems that the issue of racism is one which intersects all aspects of our being. Issues of privilege and advantage, inclusion and exclusion impact our relationships with each other and to the goods, services and opportunities of society. Our present racial/ethnic group relationships are informed by our histories and shaped by the realities of living in a racialized society. As people of faith, we are called to recognize racism?s impact on our relationships with each other and with God. The resource entitled, Transformative Justice: Being Church and Overcoming Racism, acknowledges racism as a sin and states the following:
Churches have declared that racism is a sin
Racism is a sin because it:
* denies the very source of humanity ? the image of God in humankind;
* destroys God?s likeness in every person and thus repudiates creation and its goodness;
* assumes that human beings are not equal before God and are not part of God?s family;
* is contrary to biblical teaching;
* denies basic justice and human dignity;
* is a blatant denial of the Christian faith;
* is incompatible with the Gospel;
* is a flagrant violation of human rights;
* separates us from God and from other human beings;
* makes us blind to the reality of people?s suffering and
* perpetuates racist attitudes, practices and institutional racism.
We have confessed that racism is a sin, not only as individual Christians, but also as churches. To affirm that racism is a sin has a radical implication for the churches: the radical commitment to overcome it.
—Transformative Justice: Being Church and Overcoming Racism, Resource Guide, World Council of Churches 2004
This is our prayer Dear God, Creator of the universe and all that inhabit it, we come as your Church, and as individuals, in humble submission to Your Word and Your Way. God, you who are Alpha and Omega, The Almighty Judge and The Forgiver of All Sins, we come with bowed heads and contrite hearts on behalf of generations past, present and those yet unborn. We now ask that you forgive us and create in us a new spirit. Bind our hearts and send forth the healing power that You and You alone can give to us and this sin sick world. Bring us into reconciliation with one another and restore us to thy path. Amen.
Adaptation of Alter Prayer, Acknowledging The Breach, from Reparations: A Process for Repairing The Breach: A Study and Discussion Guide for Local Congregations, Associations and Conferences of the United Church of Christ.
This is our covenant
O God, as people of faith, we covenant with you, with one another and our churches to:
* become better informed about people of other races and cultures, that we may overcome the fears and misconceptions that exist;
* consider how issues of racial prejudice and privilege affect each person with whom we come in contact;
* discover and acknowledge practices and structures that are racist in our churches and communities;
* work to erase the sins of racism and injustice where they exist in our churches and communities and
* prayerfully heed Your call to embrace people of all colors, faiths, economic and social backgrounds as our brothers and sisters.
—Submitted by Dismantling Racism Task Force, St. Louis Association, Missouri Mid-South Conference, United Church of Christ
Racial profiling is the targeting of particular individuals based on the erroneous assumption that persons of a particular race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion are more likely to engage in certain types of unlawful conduct.
It is the impermissible use of personal characteristics when there is no reliable information that links a person of a particular race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion to a specific incident, scheme, or organization.
Why is it an issue of faith?
In honor to our Creator God, we honor all human beings as being created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:27). As people of faith, we are called to be in solidarity with all people, because God shows no partiality (Acts 10:34-35).
What does that really mean in real life?[i]
Nationally, Black drivers are twice more than White drivers to be arrested. Hispanic drivers are more likely than White drivers to receive a ticket. White drivers are more likely to receive a written warning than Hispanic drivers. White drivers are more likely than Black drivers to be verbally warned by police. Statewide data also confirm this pervasive phenomenon of “Driving While Black or Brown.”
In addition, minority pedestrians are often subjected to suspicion-less stops-and-frisks, as shown in data collected through the NYPD and LAPD. Street-level law enforcement authorities are provided with wide discretion in community policing, which is often exercised to racially profile minorities who are perceived to be a threat to public safety even if they have done nothing wrong.
Religious profiling is sometimes used as a proxy for race, ethnicity or national origin.
Muslims and Arabs in the U.S. are being singled out for question and detention, on the basis of religion and national origin, by federal programs such as the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), which requires certain individuals from predominantly Muslim countries to register with the federal government, be fingerprinted, photographed and interrogated.
79% of targets investigated by the federal covert program OFL, Operation Front Line to “deter terror operations” were immigrants from Muslim majority countries. In our nation’s airports, individuals wearing Sikh turbans or Muslim head coverings are often profiled for higher security at Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoints.
- Immigration law enforcement
Vast numbers of Hispanics – most of whom U.S. citizens or legal residents, are racially profiled. State and local agencies target Hispanic individuals and entire Hispanic communities in a broad way to enforce federal immigration law, when several problematic collaborative programs with ICE are supposedly to be narrowly focused.
In addition, some state lawmakers undertake initiatives of their own that further encouraged racial profiling. For example, Arizona’s S.B. 1070 turns mere civil infractions of federal immigration law, such as not carrying registration papers, into state crimes, and gives private citizen the right to sue Arizona law enforcement authority if they believe that the law is not being fully enforced.
What kind of legislation is proposed in regard to racial profiling?
The End Racial Profiling Act (S. 1670) has been introduced to the 112th Congress in 2011-2012, and heard by the Senate Committee on the Judiciary. ERPA will create a federal prohibition against racial profiling, provide funding to train officials on how to end this practice, and hold law enforcement officials and agencies that continue to use racial profiling accountable.
[i] Restoring a National Consensus: The Need to End Racial Profiling in America by The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights (Washington, DC), March 2012.
Affirmative action is a policy or a program promoting the representation in social institutions of groups of people who have been traditionally and systematically discriminated against.
As people of faith who strive to cultivate the Beloved Community, our General Synod supports affirmative action, because our nation cannot be completely free without all people’s sharing the same rights and equal access to opportunities for advancement and equitable treatment. It is about more than diversity, for it is in fact a moral obligation to racial equity.
Why is it an issue of faith?
All people are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). The history and legacy of discrimination in our social institutions denies honor to God. We are called to do justice, love kindness and work humbly with our God (Micah 6:8). We are called to repentance and reconciliation by remedying the destructive impacts of systematic and compounded discriminations accumulated across generations.
Aren’t we “post-racial” yet?
The term "post-racial" may be used by individuals to express their sincere intention and desire that there is no more racism in our society. However, it does not describe the reality of racial disparities found in education, employment, housing, health and so on. It does not speak to the destructive impact of institutional rules, policies and structures that appear on the surface to be race-neutral in discrete entities (e.g. schools, districts). Structural racism is the cumulative effect of racial inequity in multiple institutions over time, and that is what Affirmative Action seeks to remedy.
UCC Social Policy Statements
The UCC historic policy based for Affirmative Action can be found in the General Synod resolutions regarding racial justice in 1971; racial and economic justice, women in church and society in 1975, implementation in the UCC, the church and persons with handicaps in 1979. The commitment to Affirmative Action in Church and Society was reaffirmed in 1981, and in 1995 in light of Supreme Court decisions.
1. Doesn’t affirmative action reward unmotivated people to get ahead in life?
Affirmative action only provides equal access and the fair chance to achieve success for underrepresented groups. It cannot guarantee that they will succeed, only that they are given the same opportunities that the White majority has. In reality, many underrepresented people can testify that they have to work twice as hard to prove themselves.
2. Doesn’t affirmative action justify the hiring or admission of under-qualified candidates?
Among qualified candidates, school should be allowed to choose based on their institutional goal of increasing diversity. At a deeper level, the history and legacy of systematic discrimination means that our society is not purely based on individual merit. People of color, women and the disabled have been put in positions by institutions that have not allowed them to maximize their full potential, and it would be unfair to judge people solely by their individual qualifications.
3. Doesn’t affirmative action punish Whites today for what happened hundreds of years ago?
While Whites today and virtually all of their ancestors never owned slaves, they benefit directly and indirectly from systematic racial discrimination. They have less competition for school admission, jobs and government programs, which helped propelled many Whites and their descendants into the middle and upper classes.
Many non-Whites and their descendants were and still are systematically left behind and denied the same basic educational, economic, and other opportunities. The wide gap created by a racialized system which promoted the dominant culture, mostly White male, for several hundred years unfortunately would take time to be closed adequately, so that eventually all candidates can be judged soley on their individual merit.
Who are UCC young adults?
In the UCC, young adults are considered those between the ages of 18 and 30. The reality is that a young adult could be female, male, a student, a professional, single, married, a parent, still living with a parent, Generation X or a Millennial, a seminarian, an ordained minister, someone who hasn't set foot in a church since high school and anything in between. "Young Adult" is a distinction of age that encompasses a group as diverse and dynamic as any in the UCC.
How can young adults get involved?
Young Adult Service Communities are unique opportunities for you to live in intentional community with others who share your commitment to service and social justice. Together, you will find the space to reflect on questions of meaning and to network for change.
Service and Justice Internships
The YASC network gives you the opportunity to grow professionally and change the world through intern placements with local nonprofit agencies, which are dedicated to justice advocacy and collaborative action.
Your placement will also allow you the opportunity to grow spiritually as you serve in a leadership position at a United Church of Christ congregation. Through this work you can see the convergence of church and world.
Finally, YASC provides you a space to grow personally by living in community with other young leaders, exploring together your direction, calling and future action in the world.
The Summer Communities of Service program is an ecumenical collaboration between the UCC Volunteer Ministries and Alliance of Baptists. Particpants live and serve from June to mid-August in host congregations from around the United States. There a four fundamental facets, which together form the foundation of the SCOS program:
The "intentional Christian community element" makes this program distinct and effective. Interns share a common food allowance, transportation funds and spiritual growth insights. Participants live in community with each other and with their hosts in their temporary city.
In the UCC and Alliance of Baptists diversity is a big piece of our identity. Both churches uphold socially progressive statements and advocate politically from a faith perspective. Diverse, community-service-integrated ministries show interns, congregations, the wider church and world where this faith-inspired work is happening in our midst. The SCOS projects help interns develop long-term commitment to engage in this kind of ministry.
Hands-On Justice Advocacy/Service Opportunities
Grow professionally. Change the World.
Grow Personally. Grow Spiritually.
The Global Mission Intern program invites you to challenge yourself in a one to three year international mission service opportunity. As you offer yourself in service, you will also learn more about yourself, your relationship with God, and your place in God’s world. You will build relationships that will change the way you look at the world. You will be a part of a growing group of young adults who have been transformed by these experiences and will provide you a new community on return. You will come back from your year in mission equipped to provide a global perspective on issues facing the church in our hurting world today.
The UCC national setting recommends sites within the United States that host mission opportunities for groups. These host sites are rooted in local communities and utilize volunteer groups in their on-going service within those places. Volunteers experience God’s presence among new people and in new places through these experiences. UCC Mission Trip Opportunities are short-term, lasting up to a week.
Working together as a significant partner in the ministry and future of the church, OMA seeks to advise, connect and advocate on behalf of the network of persons responsible for Outdoor Ministries in the United Church of Christ. The Outdoor Ministry Association works to support and encourage the staff, volunteers, board members and conferences at these special places; to promote outdoor ministries in all areas of the church; and to celebrate the many wonders of God's nature!
The Council for Youth and Young Adult Ministries (CYYAM) advocates, communicates, coordinates, and networks on behalf of youth and young adults of the UCC. CYYAM members work together and with other church leaders to establish strong youth and young adult ministries throughout the UCC by advocating to church leaders, helping make youth and young adult voices heard at General Synod, seeking to address issues of social justice and peace, and serving as a voice for UCC youth and young adults.
The vision of Justice & Witness Ministries is of a more just, peaceful and compassionate world that honors all of God’s creation. Leaders are needed throughout our churches and communities to help share, pursue and achieve this vision. Justice Leaders Engaging and Developing (Justice LED) is a program that offers training, leadership skills and support to local churches and UCC members who seek tangible ways to move our world towards this vision.
Together with Sexuality and Our Faith, Our Whole Lives helps participants make informed and responsible decisions about their relationships, health and behavior in the context of their faith. It equips participants with accurate, age-appropriate information in six subject areas: human development, relationships, personal skills, sexual behavior, sexual health, and society and culture. It provides not only facts about anatomy and human development, but helps participants to clarify their values, build interpersonal skills and understand the social, emotional and spiritual aspects of sexuality.
"As a denomination, the United Church of Christ always has occupied the progressive, liberal end of the religious spectrum," reads a reporter"s recent description of the UCC in a Las Vegas newspaper.
Similarly, the secular Religion News Service perennially uses the catch phrase, "one of the most liberal mainline Protestant bodies," to identify the UCC in its news stories. Even the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod describes the UCC—pejoratively—on its website as "one of the most liberal of all church bodies."
To be sure, many UCC members relish the denomination"s left-wing identity. A quick internet search reveals that a number of UCC churches use the words "liberal" or "progressive" to describe either their individual congregations or the denomination as a whole.But for the UCC"s more-conservative members and congregations, the L-word is akin to fingernails on a chalkboard. And perhaps they have a point.
The 2001 International Congregational Life Survey, which included 21,000 UCC respondents from more than 800 congregations, found that UCC members were slightly more likely to self-identify as "conservative" rather than "liberal"—both theologically and politically. True, nearly half of respondents huddled somewhere in the middle, but, on the whole, the numbers tilted to the right.
The same study also found that UCC members—more so than other mainline Protestants—listed "traditional hymns" and "biblically-sound preaching" as being essential ingredients in a good worship service. How"s that for "most liberal"?
"I preach in 30 to 40 [UCC] congregations a year and the number of our congregations that are decisively liberal is not very many," says the Rev. David M. Greenhaw, president of UCC-related Eden Seminary in St. Louis. "Mostly, our church people are moderate. They are not very liberal, and the liberal movements are at the periphery of the church, not the center of it."
However, on the whole, one cannot deny the leftleaning legacy of the UCC and its predecessor bodies, says Greenhaw, a church historian. "We do have a history, as [UCC General Minister and President] John Thomas likes to say, of "getting there early.""
Greenhaw says there are at least four distinctive types of liberalism Ñtheological/philosophical, social, political and economic—and in at least some of these respects, the UCC could be considered liberal—especially in more-subtle, less-controversial ways.
The UCC"s theological liberalism, for example, is evident in its embrace of intellectual inquiry into matters of theology and scripture, as well as its long-held commitment to ecumenical dialogue and partnership, Greenhaw says, noting that these are liberal values shared widely in the UCC, but certainly not among all faith traditions.
Moreover, he says, "We believe in a social environment that allows people to be more free from constraints on behavior—not careless, but not overly restrained."
But while the UCC may be theologically and socially liberal, when it comes to politics, it"s "accidentally liberal," Greenhaw theorizes.
Greenhaw says the UCC, founded in 1957 by the union of the Congregational Christian Churches and the Evangelical and Reformed Church, was a much more difficult enterprise than most realize. The tenuous 30-year effort that led up to the merger grew out of a deep ecumenical spirit that pervaded a generation of church leaders—many of whom, he points out, either retired or died not long after the union occurred.
"By the time the merger actually happened," Greenhaw says, "[the succeeding generation] didn"t share their same sense of ecumenical emergency." This only made the differences between the two churches seem more prominent.
The Congregational Christian Churches believed strongly in congregational autonomy and were largely comprised of the "establishment class"—those with middle-to-upper incomes, says Greenhaw, while the Evangelical and Reformed Church had grown accustomed to a more-connectional polity and its members were less established financially because many were the first- or second-generation of immigrants.
"They began to ask, "Why is it that we merged with these people?"" Greenhaw says, "and that was being said on both sides."
The result, says Greenhaw, was a search for common commitments, and since the two differed significantly on matters of theology, worship and polity, they did share an interest in social ministry.
The Congregational Christian side offered a history of activism rooted in abolitionism, women"s suffrage and ordination, public education and civil rights. The Evangelical and Reformed side came from a tradition of the "social gospel" and was involved deeply in the establishment of hospitals, schools, orphanages and nursing homes.
Just as significant, Greenhaw says, was the fact that the UCC was coming into its own during the 1960s, an era of culture-critique when an emerging school of religious thought—known as "liberation theology"—began calling the institutional church to recognize its complicity in the systemic, social sins of racism and sexism (and later, homophobia).
Therefore, Greenhaw says, the UCC"s General Synod quickly became established as the church"s primary teaching "office" on important, complex social issues—a tradition that continues nearly 50 years later. Unfortunately, he says, as the General Synod has grown more liberal, disaffected more-conservative members increasingly have stayed away.
"In the UCC, there is no central location of teaching, but there is an accidental location called the General Synod," he says, "but the problem is that it has lacked the capacity to connect with the people in the pew. It has shallow roots of support in the life of the church É even though I have found myself in personal agreement with many of the stands we have taken."
Defined by "formality"
The Rev. Elizabeth Nordbeck, professor of ecclesiastical history at UCC-related Andover Newton Theological School in Newton Centre, Mass., says—whether we like it or not—churches are defined by their formal statements and denominational habits.
"I happen to know some Mormons who drink coffee," Nordbeck muses, to indicate how a church"s social stances—in this case, the Latter Day Saints" teaching that adherents should abstain from caffeine—may not necessarily be shared by all members. Still, she says, a church"s teaching defines its liberal/conservative, restrictive/unrestrictive posture.
"A church is described by its formality, even though there is a distinction between its formal statements and the way in which the people in the pews respond to those formalities," Nordbeck says. "Is the UCC a liberal denomination? It is and it isn"t. I would argue that the UCC"s formal statements are liberal and those are the things that people are asked to pay attention to, even if not all members respond."
However, Nordbeck says, when one examines the individual histories of each of the UCC"s merging streams, there are fascinating stories of how each tradition taught liberally that "our understanding of truth is not confined to doctrines of the past."
"We have this long history that goes all the way back to our beginnings, that we have understood that God is still speaking, that in the words of Pastor John Robinson in 1620 "that God still hath more truth and light to break forth from God"s holy word"—and that is profoundly liberal," Nordbeck says.
"It means that we are not bound to the shackles of previous generations, and while we do not set out to change the old, old story, we do intend to make it new for each succeeding generation," she says, "just as the opening words of the UCC Constitution ask of us."
As an example, Nordbeck points to frontier Christians" evangelical insistence on "no name but Christ, no creed but the Bible." It was a radically liberal stance, she says, pointing out that the Christians, like the Congregationalists, were among the first to offer women opportunities to teach with authority in the church.
"A lot of people looked at the Christians and thought they were nuts," she says.
The Rev. Paul H. Sherry, UCC president from 1989 to 1999, says, "All the traditions of the UCC have such strong histories of social transformation and each was involved in the great issues of their time. É Different forms, yes, but each has deep roots of proclaiming the gospel through social transformation."
Since 1968, the Rev. Art Cribbs, pastor of Christian Fellowship UCC in San Diego, has lived in 19 different cities, and in each one, he"s been a member of a UCC congregation.
"Within the context of each of these, there have been people on both ends and in the middle. So I would not be quick to want to label the church as a whole," Cribbs says.
So, instead of attaching labels that never quite capture the true essence of an individual, much less an entire church, Cribbs says he is more comfortable discussing the unique "dynamics" of the UCC.
"We argue points personally and theologically Ñ with passion and intelligence—and that is the wonder of the UCC," he says. "Opportunities are there for a range of ideas and experiences to be shared and appreciated, as opposed to saying, "Don"t ask the question." There is this emphasis on being fully engaged."
"We"re not afraid to find ourselves in the crucible. É We don"t believe that someone should be quiet but can have a relationship that uses the voice and ears, that engages the heart, mind and soul. We say, "Be open to the world and go into the world."" Cribbs says. "Now does that make us liberal or conservative? I"m not sure. É So leave it up to others to define us, if they must."
The church"s very nature is to be both conservative and liberal, argues the Rev. Frederick Trost, retired Wisconsin Conference Minister.
"The mothers and fathers who helped bring the UCC into being were wary of all who would soften or compromise [the] faith," Trost says, adding, "[But] our faith is neither static nor rigid. We do not live in the first century, nor do we build "booths" in the 16th century. É We have been summoned to proclaim the faith in the 21st century É to express the faith of the saints and the martyrs in simple, compelling, fresh and daring, new ways."
"There is a radical nature to this faith, certainly in terms of the biblical commitment to the lost, the empty, the oppressed and those who cry out from places of crucifixions at the margins of society," he says. "This is sometimes described as "liberal" by our friends and our critics. I leave that to the linguists and the politicians. The question for faith remains, "Is it faithful?""
A progressive polity
The Rev. Barbara Brown Zikmund, editor of The Living Theological Heritage of the United Church of Christ, says the UCC is perceived as a liberal or progressive denomination because "its polity allows General Synod to take actions that other denominations cannot take. It has been able to be cutting edge, not because everyone in the UCC agrees and endorses its actions, but because the General Synod on its own has been able to draw upon scripture, tradition, reason and human experience to take risks."
"Delegates are led by the Holy Spirit under the Lordship of Christ to do new things," Zikmund says. "Delegates are educated about things they never knew anything about. Delegates meet people who are different and they discover that they can all love Jesus together.
"The UCC is not really a liberal denomination, but the General Synod of the UCC has repeatedly taken radical, new, unusual, progressive, liberal positions," she says. "They sometimes surprise themselves. They regularly surprise the people back home. They surprise other denominations. They surprise the world."
Likewise, Nordbeck says the UCC"s emphasis on both autonomy and covenant—in all settings of the church—is a liberal concept in itself, because the UCC inherently trusts individual bodies to wrestle with difficult issues and arrive at faithful decisions.
"I am really convinced that congregationalism, as a church structure, is uniquely open to change in ways that more structured churches are not," Nordbeck says. "In a congregational system, if a prophet arises, there aren"t indomitable structures that have to be changed for churches to be changed."
Sherry agrees. "The polity allows for a divergence of understandings," he says. "By allowing deliberation and having discussion, we begin to see issues in ways that open us to new movement."
Even at the national level, the church is shaped by personal relationships, Sherry says, and the UCC and its predecessor bodies have known exceptionally strong, courageous leaders who have been passionate about forging a progressive direction for the UCC.
"Personalities are often very key to shaping understandings," Sherry says.
Says Nordbeck, "The passion of leaders has an enormous impact, and it"s clear that the people who promulgated the merger were passionate, prophetic pioneers."
In fact, Nordbeck points out that the UCC materialized, in part, because of personal friendships at the national settings of the two would-be partnering denominations. In ways comparable to the "all politics is local" axiom, Nordbeck says, church relationships—even on national and ecumenical levels—are conceived by real people and cemented by personal friendships.
Because of this reality, Cribbs insists that it is relationships—not labels—that matter most in the church.
"In relationships, even when we put a label on somebody, that label is secondary to who that person is. I don"t think you can overstate that fact. It"s how we come together as family," Cribbs says. "There is something deep inside of me, as an African-American man, that says that this is a safe place for me. As an adopted person into the UCC, [whenever] I pass a place that says "UCC" on its marquee, I feel connected. I feel it"s safe to go inside. That"s all relationship, and it"s understood that we do not have to agree to be family."
"I hope we never, never lose the importance of relationship," Cribbs says. "If we ever do that, the prayer of Jesus—"That they may all be one"—will never be understood or affirmed, it will just be a slogan."
In broad terms, UCC members are more likely to identify as conservative—both politically and theologically. But when asked about positions on specific issues, they sound a lot more liberal.
How would you describe your basic political outlook?
Very or somewhat conservative 35%
How would you describe your basic theological outlook?
Very or somewhat conservative 40%
I think homosexuals should have the right to marry one another.
Strongly or somewhat agree 56%
The bible cannot be understood adequately apart from the cultural and historical context in which it was written.
Strongly or somewhat agree 58%
All different religions are equally good ways of helping a person find ultimate truth.
Strongly or somewhat agree 67%
"It reminds me of the 1970s and 80s, when it was an almost-laughable truism that most women would say, "I"m not a feminist, but I believe in the full equality of women,"" explains the Rev. Elizabeth Nordbeck, professor of ecclesiastical history at UCC-related Andover Newton Theological Seminary. "People don"t want to identify themselves with a word [liberal] that has negative baggage associated with it, even though they may believe those things."
Source: UCC-specific results from the 2001 International Congregational Life Survey. Almost 21,000 UCC members from more than 800 congregations participated in the Lilly Endowment-funded research.
Lib-er-al—adj. 1. Not limited to or by established, traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes, views or dogmas; free from bigotry. 2. Favoring proposals for reform, open to new ideas for progress and tolerant of the ideas and behavior of others; broad-minded. 3. Tending to give freely; generous. 4. Not strict or literal; loose or approximate.
Theological/philosophical liberalism—a school of thought committed to intellectual inquiry that finds it acceptable to critique conventional wisdom and long-held beliefs. This type of liberalism might best be exemplified—historically—by the Protestant Reformation, a time when people were freed from the constraints of church authorities to read and study the bible for themselves and to adopt new approaches to church governance.
"In this regard, both the Evangelical and Reformed Church and the Congregational Christians [the UCC"s predecessor bodies] were historically liberal," says David Greenhaw, a church historian, who is president of UCC-related Eden Seminary in St. Louis.
Social liberalism speaks to acceptable norms and behaviors, such as those time-honored Christian arguments about the appropriateness of smoking, drinking or dancing. Today"s social liberals, for example, may not find fault with those who wear blue jeans to worship, have a beer with their pizza or engage in friendly bets on a college basketball game.
"In the UCC," Greenhaw says, "our approach to Christianity is less prohibitive."
Political liberalism—perhaps the most controversial application of the "L" word—applies to one"s stand on the public policy debates of the day. Historically speaking, both the Congregational Christian Churches and the Evangelical and Reformed Church staked out more liberal positions on political issues, such as the abolition of slavery, women"s suffrage and civil rights.
Today, however, "the average [UCC] person in the pew is not strongly liberal politically," Greenhaw says.
Economic liberalism, in its classical definition, is committed to a radically free market, one free from government restraint. More than a tad confusing, classic economic liberals might be more comfortable calling themselves "fiscal conservatives" today.
The UCC"s clergy employment system—commonly called "search and call"—is based on the free market, a classically liberal approach that seeks to free the pastor-hiring process from constraints of institutional bishops.
On Oct. 24, 2001, six weeks after the September 11 terrorist attacks, Congress passed a law "to deter and punish terrorist acts in the United States and around the world, to enhance law enforcement investigatory tools, and for other purposes." The House voted 356 to 66, and the Senate, 90 to 1, to support the USA Patriot Act.
Quickly pulled together in an environment of fear about terrorism, the law consolidates tremendous new powers in the executive branch of government, and greatly enlarges the government's ability to conduct surveillance, detain immigrants, conduct searches and seizures, and prosecute political dissidents. Today, more than 18 months after the attacks, U.S. citizens are growing more concerned about our government's ability to suspend civil liberties and silence political dissent. Now, bureaucratic power is further consolidated with the creation of the new U.S. Department for Homeland Security. Meanwhile, our government has been busily preparing for war with Iraq while simultaneously fighting a war on terrorism with nebulous boundaries and no end in sight.
Why is this important? Take a walk with me on any day, anywhere in the United States. Let's go to the grocery store for beans and rice. No cash? Use the debit card. Your information is captured. We visit the doctor and pay for the lab tests. Information captured. Call a friend from a cell phone. Captured. Make a monthly payment through customer service and provide your social security number. Surf the web. Captured.
Was there anything there that might be construed by an observer to be unpatriotic? New laws make it possible for the government to monitor calls, email, and conversations in homes, offices, and cars. Our smallest movements can be known and we will never know.
The FBI has created an online database called the Terrorist Information System that contains data on more than 200,000 individuals and 3,000 organizations. It contains information not only on subjects of investigations, but on contacts and potential witnesses as well. In itself, this may seem like a necessary thing. But when we operate out of fear, without proper safeguards, such an information system can endanger the privacy of a whole people.
This is not the first time in this country that we have responded to fear by clamping down on individual liberties. Just as Arab Americans are being suspected of terrorist plots based on nothing other than their heritage, we also imprisoned dissidents during World War I for speaking out against the war, and we incarcerated Japanese Americans during World War II. In the 1960s and '70s, the FBI's counterintelligence program COINTELPRO was a massive operation to infiltrate, disrupt, and otherwise interfere with the lawful activities of civil rights advocates, religious bodies, and others.
As history teaches us: Once the government has successfully curtailed our civil liberties, it is very difficult to roll back on these infringements.
All people in the United States have rights. Regardless of our citizenship status, we do not have to answer any questions by any law enforcement agent. We do not have to sign any paper without a lawyer present. We do not have to let the police, the FBI, the INS, or anyone else come into our homes or search our offices without a warrant. We do not have to answer questions about immigration status. We are protected under the Fourth Amendment against unreasonable seizures. We have the right to advocate for changes in laws and government practices under the First Amendment.
I believe it is our duty as true patriots to act now to support our human rights to privacy and peace.
The Rev. Sala W.J. Nolan is Minister for Criminal Justice and Human Rights with the UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries.
For information on defending our civil liberties, go to the Center for Constitutional Rights www.ccr-ny.org or the Public Eye www.publiceye.org. For the full text of the USA Patriot Act, go to www.epic.org.