'Can we find a way to value all our members?'
Written by Bob Thompson
August - September 2007
August 1, 2007
'ECOT' leader: Synod awash with 'fresh wind of the Spirit'
The reporter was interviewing me about my reactions to General Synod. At least two of her questions expressed my thoughts better than I could.
"Are you pleasantly surprised at the Synod?" she asked. I was, and I told her so.
My kudos to the national staff, the delegates, and the visitors for making this a Synod with a new spirit – or, perhaps, a fresh wind of the Spirit. I came to General Synod on behalf of Faithful and Welcoming Churches (FWC) expecting reactions ranging from apathy to hostility.
Since FWC emerged only since the 2005 General Synod, this was our first presence. We offered workshops, staffed a display table and presented a resolution asking that UCC churches and members who consider themselves ECOT (evangelical, conservative, orthodox, or traditional) be valued along with their theological perspectives.
To be sure, we experienced scattered apathy and hostility. But that response was outweighed significantly by expressions of interest and welcome — privately and publicly.
The question I brought to Synod was this: "Does your view of the UCC's future include us?" The answer I heard most consistently was, "Yes."
After I presented our resolution to the committee, one of the first individuals to speak said, "I am a young, female, lesbian, multi-racial pastor. I represent all the groups the UCC has come to welcome. But I think we need this resolution. My parents and my churches are more conservative than I am, and they tell me they do not feel welcome at UCC gatherings."
My positive perception went deeper than the favorable action on our resolution or personal conversations. The General Synod seemed more comfortable with Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the Bible than I expected. We seemed less apt to take actions and use words that alienate. Even our featured speaker, U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, mentioned favorably ECOT names and organizations such as World Vision, Rick Warren and the National Association of Evangelicals.
The reporter who interviewed me also asked a second insightful question: "But didn't the Synod at times feel like a Democratic love-fest?" I knew she was setting me up, looking for a conflict story. But once again, she was right. There were certainly speakers whose theological and political one-sidedness caused discomfort for those of us who are ECOT.
According to the United Church News, there are 10 UCC members currently in the U.S. Congress — five Democrats and five Republicans. Those national political legislators symbolize the ideological and perhaps even the theological diversity of the UCC. We are not all of the same mind. It's what makes us UCC.
Would it not have been a strong symbol of our diversity to invite one of the UCC Republicans to speak as well at Synod? Politics aside, should we not also hear from thoughtful theologians and activists who are ECOT? Can we find a way to value all our members by giving them fair representation in future public gatherings of our diverse denomination? Hopefully in the future we can.
The Rev. Bob Thompson, president of Faithful and Welcoming Churches, is pastor of Corinth Reformed UCC in Hickory, N.C.
Editor's Note: Some UCC Republicans will be happy to hear that U.S. Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, R-Maine, is scheduled to receive the UCC's prestigious Everett C. Parker Award for commitment to the public interest at the 25th annual Everett C. Parker Ethics in Telecommunications Lecture, on Sept. 18 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.