Grandpa, what did the church used to fight about?
Written by J. Bennett Guess
October - November 2005
October 1, 2005

"Never have the critics of the church had such a field day as they are having now," wrote the Rev. Roger Hazelton — nearly 43 years ago — in the United Church Herald, the UCC's former newsmagazine.

Hazelton, then-dean of the Graduate School of Theology at Oberlin College, chose those opening words for a 1962 feature story he called "What's right with the church?" His two-page essay took aim at those who were arguing that the church's attention to social issues, such as racial integration or nuclear apocalypse, was harming the church's numerical and financial health.

"Like an anvil that has worn out many hammers, so the church remains God's new creation and the ground of our renewing. It is eminently worthy of our fidelity and loyalty," Hazelton wrote. "Therefore, let the counsel of encouragement prevail."

Given the 2005 General Synod's tackling of some hot-button issues, United Church News dug through the dusty bound volumes of its predecessor publications — The Advance (Congregational Christian), The Messenger (Evangelical and Reformed), United Church Herald and A.D. (UCC) — to see what UCC members once argued about. Here's a sampling of our fascinating finds.

Civil rights

1956 — "Complete [racial] desegregation will cause intermarriage; intermarriage will cause hybridism; and hybridism will destroy the human race and Christianity. These are the laws of nature; Christians call them God's laws. These laws cannot be changed by men.

The church should use all its power to influence our lawmakers to adopt uniform segregation laws in every state. The race problem is not a case of hatred or discrimination; it is purely and simply a biological problem, which the churches seem to hide under the guise of Christianity."

Letter, The Messenger

1960 — "We have been impressed with the culture, self-discipline and moral courage of the young Negro demonstrators. On the other hand, we have been shocked by the crudity and barbarity of the white 'vigilantes' who have incited violence. … There is hope in the fact that the lunch-counter protest has aroused in southern white students about the Negroes' plight as nothing else that has happened in recent years.

From "The New Negro of the South," United Church Herald

1965 — "By vote of the South Central Conference, the secretary was directed to convey our deep appreciation and sincere commendation [to the UCC's Council for Christian Action] for a courageous witness during these times of tension and rapid social change."

Letter, United Church Herald, by Daisy F. Young, then-secretary of the Conference and mother of the Rev. Andrew Young, then-assistant to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

1965 — "There is a widespread feeling that the demonstrations and dramatic confrontations which have characterized the [civil rights] movement for a decade are ineffective in changing local conditions. … In the light of these conclusions, do you feel that a revision of church policy is in order?"

Letter, United Church Herald

1966 — "Now I am only stunned, but for a few days I was shocked after reading where [a UCC minister] led a 'march' or 'demonstration.' How can a church command respect and loyalty when its clergy participate in these degrading activities which border on being unpatriotic?"

Letter, United Church Herald

National Church/General Synod

1960 — "Those Sunday Schools that found the Church and Home series 'too modern' will not be likely to turn to the United Church Curriculum, which is even more 'modern.' Cannot our denomination vary the basic ingredients in different format not only please those who want to be in the vanguard, taking advantage of the newest methods, but also those that cherish the old, traditional ways?"

Letter, United Church Herald

1971 — "I am appalled at some of the declarations of the 1971 Synod. The Synod's defense of common thievery in regard to the Pentagon Papers is hard to understand, and your support of a $6,500 annual wage of a family of four, whether they work or not, is equally incomprehensible. We have an outstanding President of the United States [NIXON] who is eminently qualified to handle the domestic and foreign policy affairs of this nation."

Letter, United Church Herald

1974 — "We, as members of the church consistory, object to some of the proceedings of the 9th General Synod. Specifically, we object to the stands taken on the Wilmington 10, the flight to California [in support of migrant farmworkers], and Cuba. These are a few of the issues we feel are not church related and … it is our opinion that such matters are very divisive and may be some of the reasons for some of the decline in church attendance and interest in church affairs. Our feelings were so strong on this matter that we considered withholding Our Christian World Mission Funds."

Letter, A.D.

1974 — "I'm compelled to write in response to the church consistory that "objects to some of the proceedings of the 9th General Synod." I pray that our denomination will continue to 'hang in there' on current, controversial social issues. If the issues dealt with at General Synod were not 'church related,' then shame on the church, for they were surely God related."

Letter, A.D.

1975 — "I believe that any church executive's salary scale beyond the $25,000 range is getting close to scandalous."

Letter, A.D.

1978 — "My preacher told me he went to Philadelphia when the Rev. Avery Post was made president of our church, and they had dancing right there in the church. I wish you would tell Mr. Post that if he wants to be our president he should stop the monkey business. The dance hall is where you dance, and the church is where you preach the gospel and get the sacraments."

Letter, A.D.

Workers' rights

1962 — "There was a time when big business needed to be curbed and it has been curbed. It is high time we took effective steps to break the strangle hold of our big unions on our national life."

Letter, United Church Herald

1962 — "The unskilled laborer and semiskilled factory worker are on the way out."

From "The Multiple Human Costs of Automation", United Church Herald

Global relations

1958 — "Seventy percent of what we call 'foreign aid' goes for arms and 'defense support' to our allies. Can we not summon enough 'enlightened self-interest' and sense of moral obligation to support an adequate program of world economic development? … Let the churches take up this problem, beginning at once!"

From "What should the Christian say to the nation?" The Advance

1958 — "War to me is the number one problem and crime of our time. Until we Christians see that it is utterly contrary to belief in the fatherhood of God and refuse to take part in it, we have no right to call Jesus Master."

Letter, The Advance

1967 — "We have been puzzled and dismayed at the silence of our churches on the subject of Vietnam. True, the Synod has passed a resolution calling for a reappraisal and for our prayers for peace, but we are wondering why [your publication] has taken no part in encouraging individual members of churches to study the whole problem and make their views known."

Letter, United Church Herald

1976 — "A lot of folks at our church are alarmed about a Russian being elected head of the World Council of Churches and wish to withdraw any support of any money going to the World Council of Churches."

Letter, A.D.

On patriotism

1956 — "If I spent the time to investigate thoroughly the color most preferred by [your publication's editors], I might assume it to be red. Your articles indicate leftward leaning, to say the least."

Letter, The Messenger

1958 — "Your editorial on the national anthem was quite to the point. Musically and ideologically, it ought to be retired with honors."

Letter, The Advance

1958 — "The U.S. is not God. A little more humility before God might give us a little more open-mindedness in dealing with other nations."

from "What should the Christian say to the nation?" The Advance

Women

1976 — "It is difficult to believe that a great body of Christian believers could become so confused and so willing to comply with demands of women who care more about their feminist beliefs and consciousness-raising that they do about honoring God the Father. I challenge the feminists within the UCC, and those who follow their teachings, to search their own hearts and ask themselves which means more to them, the teachings of Jesus or their feminist views?"

Letter, A.D.

Homosexuality

1970 — "How can the Rev. Robert W. Wood justify preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ when he publicly states he views marriage of homosexuals as moral?"

Letter, United Church Herald

UCC indentity

1955 — "What we mean, to be frank as we can be, is that we conceive of our union [with the Congregational Christian Churches] as a further step, but not the last step, in the process of organic union."

From "An Open Letter on the Union," The Messenger

1958 — "Can we have a revitalizing of theology which will bring the Christian church together instead of splitting it into opposing camps?"

Letter, The Advance

1958 — "Many of us still appear to be more interested in defending a particular position than we are in finding ways to penetrate our culture with the insights of the gospel. The good news of God keeps on breaking through the barriers which we insist on erecting against it."

Letter, The Advance

1961 — "I would like to know why everything Congregational has been retained and everything Evangelical and Reformed has been dismissed as too 'old-fashioned.' United Church of Christ, ha!"

Letter, United Church Herald

1961 — "It is rather disappointing to see the large number of congregations in both halves of the UCC that, for some reason or another, do use the name 'United Church of Christ' on their local church names. If they voted for the merger, they certainly should not be ashamed of our new denomination or its name."

Letter, United Church Herald

1961 — "We are sure that as time goes on more and more churches will move in this direction."

Reply to above from the Rev. Ben M. Herbster, then-president of the UCC

1973 — "We are not the fastest growing Christian church; some churchmen are reducing financial contributions; some are turned off by our priorities; but [your last issue] shows the sweep of our concern for people rights over property rights, people needs over establishment needs; a great interpretation of the basic assumption of God's kingdom in our universe."

Letter, A.D.

1973 — "One reason for the downward trend in church membership is that we don't advertise."

Letter, A.D 

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CONTACT INFO

Rev. J. Bennett Guess
Executive Minister, Local Church Ministries
700 Prospect Ave.
Cleveland,Ohio 44115
216-736-3801
guessb@ucc.org