United Church of Christ leaders on Thursday (Feb. 12) expressed outrage at the perceived discriminatory treatment of a local UCC pastor by the Oklahoma State House of Representatives.
In what legislators are calling a first, one-fifth of the Oklahoma House voted Feb. 11 to strike from the record a prayer offered on the chamber floor by the Rev. Scott H. Jones, pastor of Cathedral of Hope UCC-Oklahoma City. Jones had been invited to deliver the prayer and serve as chaplain for the day by Rep. Al McAffrey, D-Oklahoma City.
Following the prayer, McAffrey asked that the session vote to include Jones' prayer in the House journal, the official daily record of the chamber. An objection was raised by Rep. John Wright, R-Broken Arrow, who called for a vote on the prayer's inclusion.
"It was a pretty chaotic moment," said Jones of the procedural points of order that ensued following Wright's objection. "My understanding was that [an objection to a prayer] never happens."
The vote took place once order had been established, with 64 representatives voting to include the prayer, 20 opposing it and 17 abstentions.
Jones is a constituent of McAffrey's Oklahoma City district. Both believe the objection was raised because of their sexuality. Jones leads the largest predominantly LGBT congregation in Oklahoma City and is himself gay. McAffrey is Oklahoma's only openly gay legislator.
"As the leader of Rev. Jones' denomination, I am deeply offended by the treatment he received from the legislature and dismayed by the message of intolerance it sends to the citizens of Oklahoma and beyond," said the Rev. John H. Thomas, General Minister and President of the UCC. "It is comforting, however, to remember that our prayers are judged at the throne of grace and not in the halls of petty principalities."
"The Oklahoman" newspaper quoted McAffrey on Wednesday, saying that "because most of Scott's congregation are gay people and Scott is gay himself, I'm sure that's the reason why there were negative votes on it."
But Wright sees it differently. In the same Oklahoman article, he stated his objection was procedural - that prayers were only entered into the official record on Thursdays - but later said his "actions were motivated by the faith."
Rep. Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City, was among those who voted to strike the prayer from the record. Kern is on record as calling homosexuality "the biggest threat our nation has, even more so than terrorism and Islam."
The Rev. Gordon R. Epps, conference ministry coordinator for the UCC's Kansas-Oklahoma Conference, delivered a letter to Speaker of the House Rep. Chris Benge, R-Tulsa, on Thursday (Feb. 12). Epps commended Benge "for the democratic way you led the house when an unusual challenge was made to vote on whether or not to enter into the record the opening prayer given by the Rev. Scott Jones."
Responding in support of Jones, the UCC's Executive for Health and Wholeness Advocacy, the Rev. Michael Schuenemeyer, said, "Once again, bigotry infects the Oklahoma statehouse by the vote of 20 legislators to reject the prayer offered by the Rev. Scott Jones. In this mean-spirited vote, they have demonstrated profound disrespect to a gifted pastor and a congregation dedicated to faithfully serving its community through a robust and vibrant ministry."
Schuenemeyer sees the proceedings as a clear indication of discrimination. "The action of these legislators has dishonored the core American values of freedom of religion and freedom of expression," he said. "The citizens of Oklahoma and this nation deserve better and ought not to tolerate such behavior from their fellow citizens, much less their elected officials."
The United Church of Christ is a denomination of 1.2 million members in 5,600 autonomous local churches that are joined together in Christian mission through local associations, regional conferences and the biennial all-church General Synod.
At their 2005 General Synod in Atlanta, UCC delegates voted overwhelmingly in support of a resolution calling for marriage rights to be extended to same-gender couples. The resolution, In Support of Equal Marriage Rights for All, "affirms equal marriage rights for couples regardless of gender and declares that the government should not interfere with couples regardless of gender who choose to marry and share fully and equally in the rights, responsibilities and commitment of legally recognized marriage."
Cathedral of Hope UCC-Oklahoma City began in 2000 as a church plant of Cathedral of Hope UCC in Dallas. In January 2007, they became a fully autonomous congregation within the United Church of Christ.
Ida's faith was tested when a stranger came to the door of her home at the end of a country road. She looked out at the white man, quite noticeable in her largely black community, and saw his gray jumpsuit. She was sure he was the convicted murderer the radio said had escaped from the prison several miles away.
Ida had several choices, including the rifle she kept in the corner for shooting squirrels. But instead, she chose to open the door. The whole story merits a longer telling, but here's the crux: At first he was threatening, but Ida fed him and listened to his fears and anger, and spoke to him like the mama he had hardly known.
She insisted on praying with him, and he wept as he remembered a long gone childhood faith. Eventually, the state police surrounded Ida's home. Between the man's renewed fear and the police's intensity on his capture, the situation came to a dangerous moment. But Ida talked to both parties, and brought them to a point where the man could safely be taken into custody.
As they began to put him in the car, he turned to her and said simply, "Thank you for your hospitality, ma'am." And the stranger was gone.
It was a stranger encounter. It was a moment of biblical proportions because the Bible is filled with stranger encounters and with the same tension Ida faced: what to do when confronted with a stranger, someone unknown and different from you?
The stranger (aka alien, foreigner) moves through Hebrew tradition from the exodus through the exile. An overview of the texts reminds us that at times the "stranger" is seen by Israel as a threat, and there is tension in the relationship.
The tension was most evident when Israel felt at its weakest, politically and spiritually, as in the book of Ezra (chapter 10.) The stranger and their strange gods are seen as a danger to the purity of Israel after the exile. At another time, "strangers" are the instruments of God's anger (Ezekiel 11:9).
But those are the minority reports in the stranger encounters of Israel. The overriding affirmation of God is to welcome, protect, share with and, interestingly, identify with the stranger because of the shared experience of having been stranger/alien themselves. Over and over, as God guides the people of Israel into a community, as told in the books of the Pentateuch, we hear this theme:
"When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God" (Leviticus 19:34; Exodus 10: 17-19).
God's expectations of Israel with the stranger even go beyond non-oppression and charity (e.g. leaving gleanings in Deuteronomy 24:19, 21).
In Numbers 15 and 19, the stranger/alien is seen as being responsible to the same law, with the same privileges and responsibilities, as the people of Israel. The equality of status extends all the way to the throne of God: "You and the alien shall be alike before the Lord" (Numbers 15:15).
In the story of Ruth, God makes a radical move by taking a stranger and making her a mother of the new nation of Israel through her great grandson, David.
Then in Jesus, God makes the strangest move of all: embodying, becoming the stranger in our midst. In the perhaps too familiar text of Matthew 25:35, Jesus identifies himself as the stranger to be welcomed.
Familiarity risks robbing this statement of its amazing power, but the urgency of life in a world of strangers requires us to receive its impact. In this story from Matthew, Jesus first acknowledges his identity as "the Son of Man [who] comes in his glory, and all the angels with him." There Christ is, reigning sovereign and savior of the world.
It is astounding, then, that in his very moment of glory Jesus identifies himself with the risky stranger - for strangers were seen as threats to a religion of purity and a nation oppressed by empire. The sovereign Jesus says starkly, "I was a stranger and you welcomed me..."
The savior is stranger, the stranger is savior. To welcome one is to welcome the other. It is an astounding statement.
Clearly the dominant urging from our long faith tradition is hospitality, equality, care for and identification with the stranger. Those are the constant commands of our God, the one who came as a stranger in our midst and with whom we are "strangers and foreigners on the earth" (Hebrews 11:13b).
This is the God who, in Jesus Christ, welcomes and transforms us all so we are "no longer strangers and aliens" but "citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God."
As our nation struggles with immigration issues and the enduring sins of racism, sexism, homophobia and the chasm between rich and poor; and as the nations of the world engage one another across hostile lines, we who follow Jesus, the stranger-savior, have an urgent mission to live this stranger life with him.
The opportunities set themselves before us in diverse ways, great and small - from learning to greet our neighbors in a second language to giving sanctuary to the refugee, as several UCC congregations from New York to California are doing.
One of the last references to strangers in the biblical canon (Hebrews 13:1-2) gives a final encouragement for our stranger encounters: "Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it."
Or all the more, we may encounter Jesus himself, our stranger-savior.
The Rev. Jane Fisler Hoffman is interim Conference Minister of the Southern California / Nevada Conference.
No longer a stranger: Welcoming the exile
|Peter Austin | iStockPhoto graphic|
We ignore this text at our peril. It is one of the most radical and telling pieces in all of biblical literature. What it says is that Jesus comes from an immigrant background. He comes from many, not from one. He is of mixed race. He is also understood as a person with a maternal as well as paternal lineage. The writer of Matthew understood what he was saying and doing: Jesus transcends the tribes that often provide us with such false security
The list is not only "contaminated" by mixed races and mixed classes, it includes four women. Genealogies just weren't written that way at the time. The women were omitted, regularly. Even the feeding of the 5,000 counts the men and tells us so. Five thousand were fed, not counting the women and children.
Consider his ancestors.
One of the women is Tamar, who disguised herself as a prostitute to trick her father-in-law into keeping his promise to her and producing an heir. The fruit of this tricky union is one of the great-grandfathers of Jesus.
Another is Rahab, a well known harlot who assisted two spies sent to Jericho by Joshua. In doing so, Rahab became an exemplar of faith and works. Rahab is a great-grandmother of Jesus. Ruth is also on the list.
Ruth was a Moabite, a descendent of Lot. Her place in the social registrar of Israel was surely very low. Nevertheless, Ruth became a great-grandmother of David and distant greatgrandmother of our Lord.
Matthew is embarrassed to even name the fourth woman directly. He simply calls her the wife of Ukiah. She is of course Bath Sheba, a victim of the most scandalous case of seduction in the First Testament. She too is a great-grandmother of our Lord.
Notably, not a single one of these women is a Jew. Tamara was a Canaanite; Ruth a Moabite, Rehab of Jericho, and Bath Sheeba, through her husband, a Hittite.
The final 14 generations are almost totally unknown. They aren't recorded elsewhere in scripture. By noting them, Matthew reminds us that God, nonetheless, uses those easily forgotten and overlooked for the good of all. Ordinary people - as well as saints and sinners - notes the populist Matthew, get us to Jesus too.
As New Testament scholar Raymond Brown notes, the Story of Jesus isn't told with straight lines. If you have ever thought that your own family was checkered with both nobility and riff-raff, and if you ever considered your own life a combination of good faith and bad judgment, be comforted by the lineage of Jesus.
This text might also suggest that we stop using the terms "foreigner" and "mixed race." Even "illegal alien" might be shelved.
Queen Elizabeth, apparently, was quoted at some point saying that she wanted her son Charles to marry a woman with a history, not a past. Way too many Christians work way too hard to assure that Jesus is pure and spotless. Matthew differs. He says that all kinds of roads, and tickets, and people, can lead to Christ.
What does this genealogy mean to us today, as our armed forces land in foreign lands, as "our" children and "theirs" cry themselves to sleep because daddy is far away and won't be home for Christmas? It means that the world is one. The sorrow of the sleepless child, whose father is a soldier, is clothed with the sorrow of the people of Afghanistan. Christians have a trans-national, trans-tribal savior.
The current debate over immigration and "foreigners" misunderstands Matthew. It forgets that God is found in the stranger and not in the self. It forgets what Jesus went on to say about how we find him - in the naked and the lost. When Americans say they want the foreigners "out," they are really saying they don't want to meet God.
We may and must see the world as one, not as us and them. We may welcome the so-called "other." He/she is our savior's grandparent.
The Rev. Donna Schaper is Senior Minister of Judson Memorial UCC in New York City, a New Sanctuary congregation. Her most recent books are "Grassroots Gardening: Rituals to Sustain Activists" from Nation books and "Living Well While Doing Good" from Church Publications.
No longer a stranger: Welcoming the exile
The Herald Gospel Liberty was first published Sept. 1, 1808. Courtesy of Disciples of Christ Historical Society, Nashville, Tenn. discipleshistory.org
This fall marks the 200th anniversary of what some claim was the first religious newspaper in the world. The Herald of Gospel Liberty played a formative role in the Christian Church that became part of the UCC.
The outspoken editor of the Herald of Gospel Liberty, Elias Smith, invested his meager savings and all his energies to spread his vision of religion freed from pomp, divisive doctrine and a stuffy clergy. He also provided a magnet that unified scattered frontier congregations in New England, Virginia and the Central South.
Born in Lyme, Conn., in 1769 at the time of the Boston Tea Party, Smith was deeply influenced by the struggle for freedom in Colonial America. And like thousands of others, his life was changed by the second religious Awakening, a period of spiritual fervor and revivalism that swept the nation in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. As a young man, he felt "greatly disturbed" by what he perceived as a call to preach. He hesitated partly because of his limited education. Then, after giving his first sermon in July 1790, he returned to school for 13 days to learn grammar, two more days to study arithmetic, and eight evenings to learn music. Afterwards he taught those subjects in the district schools.
Ordained by local Baptist ministers in 1792, he became an itinerant preacher in New England. In addition to preaching, he wrote a series of articles, disowning official doctrine but "hearing Christ in all things." In 1802, he gathered a small flock of people who agreed with his approach, and the next year they organized a Church of Christ in Portsmouth, N.H. They "agreed to call themselves Christian without the addition of any unscriptural name."
Because the response to his articles was good, he began The Christian’s Magazine in 1805. Every three months he published sermons, interpretations of scripture, and commentaries on religion and on politics — including critical reports of autocratic religion. Smith’s biographer, J.F. Burnett, said, "He held a pen in one hand and a battle axe in the other."
On Sept. 1, 1808, Elias Smith issued the first edition of the Herald of Gospel Liberty. He had no clear expectation of an audience beyond the small group of like-minded New England pastors and church members. Every two weeks they received several columns of Smith’s reflections, his continual advocacy for religious freedom, an occasional blistering critique of the "creed and catechism makers," and an opportunity to read about the revivals that were so popular at the time.
Smith had heard of several groups in Virginia and Kentucky who also professed a simple faith, uncluttered by doctrine, and who called themselves and their churches "Christian." But until his Herald began circulating beyond New England, these scattered people were isolated from one another. Drawn together through the magazine, eventually they became known as the Christian Connection or the Christian Church. In 1931, this group united with the Congregational Churches and in 1957 became a part of the United Church of Christ.
Smith engaged in a dialogue with his readers that gradually led to a clarification of the principles that the frontier Christians affirmed. A Virginia reader once wrote to him: "After we became a separate [independent] people, three points were determined on. 1st. No head over the church but Christ. 2d. No confession of faith, articles of religion, rubric, canons, creeds, etc., but the New Testament. 3d. No religious name but Christians." Smith’s editorial response was: "The three things you mention are what we have all agreed to…"
Nearly 190 years after the first issue, the historian Elizabeth C. Nordbeck credited the Herald of Gospel Liberty as providing "the glue for a coherent Christian identity." It "is hard to overstate the importance of religious journalism, in particular the Herald of Gospel Liberty," to the independent frontier churches, she wrote.
There were other frontier leaders, of course. In addition to Smith, four men were instrumental in early days of the Christian Church: Abner Jones in New England, James O’Kelly in North Carolina, and Barton Stone and Rice Haggard in Kentucky. Others preached and taught and founded colleges; a few picked up Smith’s editorial mantle after he burned himself out in a decade of hard work.
In 1818, near bankruptcy, Smith sold out to Robert Foster, who renamed the paper the Christian Herald. Foster edited this publication for 17 years until his own health gave out, thereafter the paper was owned by publishing associations. Under various editors it was called the Christian Journal, the Christian Herald and Journal, the Christian Herald again, and then the Christian Herald and Messenger. Eventually, it was renamed the Herald of Gospel Liberty, absorbing several other periodicals. Today, its successor is United Church News.
These periodicals became the arena in which the widely scattered individuals and groups sorted out their commonly held convictions. By the beginning of the 20th century six principles were generally mentioned. To the three that Smith had identified in 1908, the right of private judgment, and Christian character as the only test for church membership were added.
The sixth principle caught the spirit of a common goal within the Christian Connection. Barton W. Stone, who had been pastor of the Cane Ridge Church in Kentucky at the time of a massive revival meeting in 1801, was the great advocate for making Christian unity one of the essential principles of the movement. Stone was a signer of the influential "Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery," a declaration first circulated in 1803 that marked the beginning of the movement in the Central South. "We will that this body be dissolved," it stated, "and sink into union with the Body of Christ at large."
Smith reprinted the "Last Will and Testament" in the first issue of his Herald of Gospel Liberty. Like the publication itself, the "Will" energized a people, who eventually affirmed the unity of all Christians as their sixth principle. Their commitment to unity led them into a merger with Congregationalists in 1931.
Because the Congregationalists held similar views, the unity principle helped spark the formation of the United Church of Christ. When leaders of the Congregational Christian churches and representatives of the Evangelical and Reformed Church forged a Basis of Union, their preamble expressed the belief "that denominations exist not for themselves but as parts of that [holy Catholic] Church, within which each denomination is to live and labor, and if need be, die..."
In the years since the UCC was formed in 1957, the heritage of the Christian connection has often been overlooked or forgotten. It is therefore appropriate that the bicentennial of the Herald of Gospel Liberty become a time to acknowledge the courageous people for whom religious liberty was essential and Christian unity a passion.
Elias Smith’s insistence on independence — even from a friendly benefactor — has become the standard expectation in many denominations: editors today enjoy a responsible journalistic freedom akin to the freedom accorded to those who step into the pulpit. That same journalistic independence has powered creative communication in a wide variety of media.
As the Herald did on the American frontier, proclamation in many different forms today provides a tie that binds communities of faith together. The indigenous religious movement that distrusted authority also is echoed in the efforts of men, women and teenagers to build social and religious networks on the internet, including the vibrant websites of congregations and denominations. The legacy of the men and women who energized the Christian Church by publishing their convictions has not merely survived — it has multiplied.
The Rev. J. Martin Bailey was editor of United Church Herald and A.D. magazine, and served as director of communications for the National Council of Churches. He is a member of Union Congregational UCC in Montclair, N.J. A more complete essay about the Herald of Gospel Liberty will appear in the Bulletin of the Congregational Library, Boston.
'Hospice is about living, not dying'
Frequently, as a hospice chaplain, I am asked, "Why not a different ministry? Why that one?"
It is a complicated question with a simple answer. My soul is passionate about hospice. It is a privilege to partner with patients and families during this tender time of sacred discovery.
As an interfaith hospice chaplain, I have the opportunity to work with the full breadth of our world's religions: Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Taoism, including many major and subtle variations. I also work with agnostic people and atheists (who are spiritual in their own right, since they have invested extraordinary thought into "not being religious.") When people make the hospice decision, and qualify for it, they are choosing to live out the rest of their lives with dignity. People are freed from enduring further medical procedures that are not arresting the disease. Medical intervention for symptom management takes the front seat. The renewed focus is on acceptance, care, comfort, dignity and a sense of peacefulness that stems from the very core of their being - their soul.
I often tell patients that our body is the "apartment" for our soul. Although our physical body is failing, our soul may thrive. The language of our soul is meaning. We may re-discover our soul when a poor medical prognosis awakens a need for deeper meaning in us. Spirituality, or life meaning-making, becomes front and center at perhaps a deeper level than before.
In hospice, the patient is back in charge with the support of loved ones and the hospice interdisciplinary team: physicians, RNs, home health aids, social workers and chaplains. Team members travel to the patients' homes, wherever "home" may be: private residence, assisted living, skilled nursing facility or hospital.
Hospice is about living, not dying. We focus on the distinction between curing and healing. While curing eliminates disease, healing focuses on wholeness and peacefulness as we journey toward the end of life. Curative measures may see death as failure. Healing includes death as one of the sacred, natural outcomes of life.
We connect with our vulnerability when we identify our needs for wholeness. Our journey may include releasing old hurts through forgiveness of ourselves and others. We recognize that forgiveness is a gift to ourselves. It does not suggest that we are compromising our dignity or our sense of right or wrong. Rather, we are claiming peacefulness for ourselves - setting our soul free from spiritual unrest.
Re-claiming wellness includes embracing freedom from our devastating medical diagnoses. We own our terminal diagnosis, while at the same time, we claim healing as we work toward our sense of peacefulness. In this process we may begin to deepen and transform our understanding of hope.
Hospice engages hope. It does not let go of hope. I believe God is our infinite, self-renewing source of hope. Our hope may transform as our healing deepens. Our hope may be to have time alone with each of our loved ones. It may be to reconcile a relationship that fell off the track somewhere along the way in our lives. We may have come to realize that it is a relationship we hope to rekindle as part of healing.
Our journey toward peacefulness may involve anger along the way. But is it really anger. It certainly sounds like anger! It may be anger. Anger is easier for us to access than our sadness. It may be profound sadness.
I often sit with patients or family members in silence. I think of it as "relational silence" because there is an awful lot going on. It isn't being articulated, but it is voiced through sacred silence. "Be still and know that I am God!" (Psalm 46: 10a).
When we release our loved one to go, it is an expression of wellness or healing. As a loved one, we face anticipatory grief during this time. It is profoundly sad to be left behind. Perhaps the deepest expression of love is to give our loved one "permission" to go when she or he is ready.
Life is forever altered when a loved one passes on. We learn to carry our grief as part of who we are. We cherish the beautiful gifts that our departed loved ones have given us - gifts of who they were and how they loved us. As people who have been left behind, we own those beloved, intangible gifts forever. In recognition of this trying time, hospice follows patients, families and loved ones for 13 months following death. Support groups may be available indefinitely.
I understand hospice as a gift we give ourselves once medical treatment modalities are no longer helpful. A peaceful passing with the hospice patient is a drawing in and eventual surrender to God. It is natural. It is sacred. What a deep privilege it is to serve in this resilient ministry of life.
The Rev. Janet M. White, affiliated clergy with Trinitarian Congregational UCC in Concord, Mass., is a staff hospice chaplain for All Care Hospice, a subsidiary of Health Management Services, Inc., in Lynn, Mass.
What is hospice?
Considered to be the model for quality, compassionate care for people facing a life-limiting illness or injury, hospice provides expert medical care, pain management, and emotional and spiritual support expressly tailored to meet a patient's needs and wishes.
Hospice focuses on caring, not curing. In most cases, care is provided in the patient's home.
What services are typically offered?
• An interdisciplinary care team works in concert to:
• Manage the patient's pain and symptoms;
• Assist the patient with the emotional and psychosocial and spiritual aspects of dying;
• Provide needed drugs, medical supplies, and equipment;
• Coach the family on how to care for the patient;
• Deliver special services like speech and physical therapy when needed.
• Make short-term inpatient care available when pain or symptoms become too difficult to manage at home, or the caregiver needs respite time.
• Provides bereavement care and counseling to surviving family and friends.
Source: National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization
If you're a member of a church with a big-time pipe organ with a full-time musician, consider yourself lucky. Not all congregations are so fortunate.
Some churches struggle every Sunday to find someone who is able to play the keyboard during worship.
That's why The Pilgrim Press, in cooperation with the UCC's Worship and Education Ministry, has spent the past year developing a set of pipe-organ accompaniment CDs for creative use in congregational worship services. The series of includes an accompaniment for each hymn in The New Century Hymnal, the UCC's hymnal published in 1995.
"The purpose is not to put any organist out of work," says the Rev. Timothy Staveteig, publisher. "The purpose is to give music options to congregations that may need help in strengthening their music offerings, especially in smaller congregations that may have limited opportunities for musicians."
Recording high-quality accompaniments for each of the hymnal's 617 hymns has been no small task, and the bulk of that responsibility has fallen to the Rev. Scott Ressman, the UCC's minister for worship, music and liturgical arts.
Ressman invited and brought together many of the UCC's finest organists, who volunteered to assist with the project. The recordings took place at several Cleveland-area UCC churches known for their high-quality organs. And the sound quality is superior, Ressman said.
"Great care has been taken to present each hymn in The New Century Hymnal with stylistic integrity," he said.
In addition to use in worship, the CDs also can be helpful for worship planning, choir warm-ups, hymn sings or other occasions when an organist may not be available, such as weddings and funerals.
Because of the high-costs associated with producing and packaging the musical CDs, orders received before shipment will take place in various stages. Orders received before September 2008 will be shipped in part. The first volume is expected in April, the second volume in May and the remaining volumes in June and September.
Listen to sample selections and order online at thepilgrimpress.com.
Istanbul's Sultanahmet (or Blue Mosque). W. Evan Golder photo | Randy Varcho graphic.
Ken and Betty Frank are Christian missionaries in Istanbul, Turkey. So is Alison Stendahl. All three serve with Global Ministries, the common world ministry of the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). And they serve in a secular Muslim country.
All three serve because their presence was requested by a Global Ministries "partner," one who appreciates the Christian missionaries' influence far beyond their slim numbers.
Global Ministries sends missionaries to a particular country only if four things occur: 1) a "partner church" in that country requests missionaries for a particular task; 2) missionaries are available to meet that request; 3) the requested missionary service meets the criteria of "critical presence;" and 4) money is available to fund those missionaries.
In 1921, at the zenith of its overseas missionary activity, the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM), a Global Ministries' predecessor, had 728 full-time missionaries serving around the globe. By 1966, that number had slipped to 480.
Today, Global Ministries has only 81 full-time missionaries serving abroad - and that number may drop before it increases. Budget shortfalls in the UCC and Disciples mean tough choices ahead. No new missionaries have been commissioned in the last two years, and the number of missionaries has dropped due to retirements and resignations.
Turkey's missionary history
Take Turkey, for example, once ABCFM's largest mission enterprise.
In 1820, two missionaries, Pliny Fiske and Levi Parsons, set sail for Palestine. En route, they disembarked in Smyrna (later Izmir), Turkey.
Around 1914, according to Brian Johnson, the American Board's archivist today in Turkey, it employed 174 American workers. These included about 133 missionaries, who worked at 17 principal ABCFM stations, 256 sub-stations, one publishing department, nine hospitals and 426 schools with more than 25,000 students.
Today, Turkey still has more Global Ministries missionaries than most countries, but they number only three. Ken and Betty Frank serve as co-general secretaries of the Near East Mission in Istanbul and work in ecumenical and interfaith relations.
Alison Stendahl is academic dean at Üsküdar American Academy and teaches mathematics. Alison Stendahl arrived in Turkey in 1980, the Franks two years later. All three served first in Izmir, and later moved to Istanbul, Stendahl in 1982, the Franks only recently. Besides their primary responsibilities, each has special concerns: Stendahl for Turkish-Armenian reconciliation, Betty Frank for education in Turkey and peace-and- justice issues, and Ken Frank for Christian- Muslim relations, about which he has co-authored a book, "Visible Islam in Modern Turkey," with Adil Ozdemir.
On a daily basis, the Franks work with a partner organization made up of secular Muslims on the running of three schools, a hospital and a publishing house. "All of these were started by our 19th century predecessors, and all continue today because of the Turkish people who run them and think that they should go on," says Betty Frank, "and most of these people identify themselves as Muslim."
Unique 'partner' relationship
This "partnership" relationship with a secular Muslim group is unique among Global Ministries' missionaries. It evolved even as the concept of partner church itself was evolving. Historically, AFCFM missionaries went out in response to Jesus' commandment (Matthew 28:19, KJV) to "go ye therefore, and teach all nations." As these new Christians began to run their own churches, the sending church body began to take its cues from the receiving churches as to what newly arriving missionaries should be doing.
The UCC and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) formally combined their global mission work in the Common Global Ministries Board in 1996, even though joint work and cooperation dates back as far as 1967.
In Turkey, in the meantime, for various reasons the American Board's responsibility for running its schools, hospital and publishing house were gradually being taken over by the Health and Education Foundation (or SEV, its Turkish acronym). Today SEV has a $30 million annual budget.
"The foundation is far bigger than what missionaries and the American Board created," says Ken Frank. "So, if you look at it from the perspective of what the missionaries started in health and education, it's a huge success."
Although Ken Frank is legally responsible to the Turkish government for the American Board schools, he knows that all three missionaries serve at the request of SEV, acting as a "partner."
"Every so often I remind them that any time that they don't need us here, we'll leave," he says, "and they keep saying, 'We need you here.'"
"We want our tie with the American Board," says Ziya Köseoglu, SEV's general coordinator. "These schools gave Turkey a leadership edge, providing Turkey with educated leaders who could speak English. They also emphasized basic values, especially in terms of serving the community. Instead of saying, 'What's in it for me?' our students learned how to serve without expecting anything.
"In some parents' eyes, schools are successful if their students get into the university, but not here," he says. "Our students are prepared for life. Why would we want to give up our ties with this heritage?"
Interfaith relations are at the heart of what all three do, but it is not programmatic. "Even though Turkey's population is 99 percent Muslim and it is constitutionally a secular state," Ken Frank explains, "everyone - the government, the Orthodox Christian church, and the secularists - would be very suspicious of anything too explicit."
"The best interfaith relations are built on trust, good character and empathy," he says. "If you can build these things among people of different religious, ethnic and national backgrounds, then you are participating in the realm of God."
The Rev. W. Evan Golder is editor emeritus of United Church News.
New standard for missionary appointments
At the April 2004 spring meeting of the Common Global Ministries Board in Indianapolis, the board amended its standing rules so that all appointments or re-appointments of its missionaries would be based on a group of criteria referred to as "critical presence."
The board defined "critical presence" as "to meet God's people and creation at the point of deepest need - spiritually, physically, emotionally, and/or economically - in a timely and appropriate manner."
The approach affects not only the appointment of missionary personnel, but also the establishment of overseas partnerships, the allocation of program grants, the configuration of home-based staff, and other components of Global Ministries.
Priority will be given to ministries of "acompañamiento (being there in various forms and modes of presence) to and with people in critical situations," with priority given to health care and capacity-building assignments. These may include:
. Pastoral ministries related to fear and hopelessness where people are desperate for meaning;
. Dangerous or life-threatening situations related to social, economical or political realities;
. Partners living in countries where in the Christian faith is a minority faith;
. Interfaith relations;
. Conflict resolution; and
. Areas where Global Ministries can offer a distinctive presence.
The whole texture of Jesus' ministry was one of inclusive welcome. One biblical and theological construct contained in the fact that the thief on the cross is the only person ever promised instant immortality by Jesus. If such unconditional inclusion was extended to this person (without any sacred or sacramental participation), then how can we do less in our ministry with others?
The Rev. Ronald A. Sparks
Community UCC of California City, Calif.
I am a baptized, communing member of a UCC church. Our church invites everyone, anyone to partake on the monthly Lord's Supper. It truly bothers me with this practice. I feel the church is lowering its standard by doing this. I definitely feel one should be baptized and also confirmed before partaking. A person should take the confirmation classes and truly understand what the feast means. Also, a practice which bothers me is the young unconfirmed youth serving the bread and wine. These sacraments should be served by the confirmed. Let's not lower the church's standards.
We should all break bread together, inviting outsiders and anyone who hesitates at God's door to come in and partake of blessings we all have to share. That is why we are here—to share God's blessings to everyone. Churches spend too much [time] today ignoring the real issues and the real people God sent here for us to comfort, act kindly toward, and invite into God's Houses. Start today. Reach out and serve with a humble spirit to all!
The commission Jesus places upon the apostolic church in Matt. 21:18-20 says nothing directly about the church consisting of the baptized, but rather specifies that the church be the baptizing. Thus one might ask, "Should non-baptizing Christians receive Holy Communion?" No way!
The goal of baptism is to become a baptizer, to be cleansed and filled with the Holy Spirit so that together we might spread the world of Jesus Christ. Hence, let anyone closed to being baptized or not willing to be confirmed in their baptism be shut off from the table! At baptism, we do not ask the non-baptized to leave the congregation, rather we invite all to join in prayer. Welcome anyone who will bless the waters to share in the loaf and cup as well!
St. Paul's Community UCC
If the communion table is truly the table of Christ, who is any minister to tell anyone he/she is not welcome? If Christ offers himself and issues the invitation, who is any minister to contradict Christ? Where in the scriptural rendering of the last supper does Jesus require proof of baptism before offering bread and wine to the disciples? Remember there is a difference between man-made church policy and the reality of God's gifts through Christ.
The Rev. David H. Lester
I was really surprised when I read that 69 percent of UCC churches were allowing anyone in attendance to take communion regardless of whether they were baptized or confirmed—also children of all ages. I seem to remember every minister of the different UCC churches I've attended inviting anyone in good standing in any Christian church to partake of the sacrament. I understand when I was confirmed that I had accepted the Lord into my life of my own free will, that he died for me and I wanted to be one of his followers. It would be a privilege to accept communion as a reminder of his love for me and an incentive to be a better follower.
There is no doubt about it—yes. It's maybe the help that someone may need. One piece of bread and a small communion cup of wine or grape juice might be the answer to a person giving their life to Jesus Christ. Christ would not refuse to inspire a person to come to God. We cannot be in judgment toward another person. That belongs to God.
St. Luke's UCC
It gave me a warm feeling last Sunday as our minister welcomed all to join in the celebration of communion. We have always practiced open communion at the Vero Beach Community UCC. I feel it is wrong for mortals to decide who is welcome at the Lord's table. Jesus certainly welcomed everyone who joined him.
Helen B. Potter
Vero Beach, Fla.
If we invite non-baptized, non-Christians, to communion we degrade it from a celebration of our redemption by Christ's death and resurrection to a fellowship snack. We also undercut the significance of the sacrament of baptism and break from historical Christianity and our ties to the rest of the body of Christ. At the very least the invitation should be limited "to all who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior."
Even then, the UCC should ask is the freedom to do our own thing greater than our belief in "one, holy, Christian, catholic church." Is it more important than our covenant with other UCC congregations or our ecumenical responsibility to other denominations. The UCC is in danger of becoming a sect as we cut our ties with the rest of Christianity in the name of the freedom to do whatever we want to do.
The Rev. Gerald Schrankler
Our Saviour's UCC, Ripon, Wis.
Sad I am that most UCC pastors have minimized and separated the theological meaning of both the table and the font for its laity. Historically, Christ's inclusivity trumped traditional Pagan, Greek and Hebrew teaching. He transcended exclusive religious teaching. The table is a present-day transforming encounter with the Risen Christ; the font is where we die and rise into the Paschal Mystery. Cannon we trust the table to flow into the font? Seemed to do that for folks 2,000 years ago when all were fed, no exceptions. Happy to see some substantial discussion about the table and font.
Lancaster (Pa.) Theological Seminary We are the people of God—each congregation is a family. You are welcome into my home, but that doesn't necessarily make you a member of our family, nor does it entitle you to certain things that are "family only." I am in favor of keeping the Eucharist for baptized persons. Gabe Fackre is right again! But didn't [John] Calvin say the condemnation is on those who commune "unworthily"?
Mt. Zion UCC
I was brought up in a Baptist home. The first Sunday of every month, all of us kids had to go out in the "entry way" while "something special" (we thought) went on in the church. We thought we were being left out of part of the church service, which of course we were. There was no door that we could look in to see what was going on. It was a big mystery and kind of scary. The imaginations of young kids run pretty wild, even 60 or so years ago. Of course, the "something special" was communion. Once we were baptized, we could stay. I have always remembered that and wondered, "why?" Why not!
Raymond Village (Maine) Community UCC
Holy Communion proclaims the Lord's death until he comes again. The bread and wine represent a body broken and blood shed for my sin, initiating an intimate relationship with God. As the food becomes part of me, so does the gospel and mission of Christ. In baptism, I pray to die to my sin and rise so to be open to the Holy Spirit that God may be clearly be seen in me. The two sacraments are one, even as God and Christ are one. I can welcome a non-baptized person wanting holy communion, but I cannot imagine that person staying dry long.
The Rev. Sheryl Stewart
Member, Riverside-Salem UCC
Grand Island, N.Y.
"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.
A monthly feature about the history of the United Church of ChristMost of us spend many hours each week watching television or listening to the radio. In 18th-century New England, however, the most important form of public oral communication (even entertainment) was the "sermon."
People read many newspapers and tracts, but they heard hundreds of sermons. The average weekly churchgoer (most people attended, even though only a small number were church members) listened to over 7,000 sermons in a lifetime, amounting to over 15,000 hours of listening.
Unlike sermons in the Church of England, which were supposed to "please and inspire," New England Congregationalists inherited a rational tradition and argued that a good sermon was to "inform and convince." In colonial New England, the words of the preacher carried great influence.
Not only did pastors in each town preach every Sunday, but in keeping with the Calvinist belief that all human activity falls under the jurisdiction of God's Word, sermons were preached at significant public events—anniversaries, thanksgiving days, fast days and election days. Published colonial sermons show that most ministers did not mix religion and politics on Sundays. However, when they were asked to preach an "Election Day sermon," that was different.
In Massachusetts, in the mid-18th century, Election Day was a colony-wide holiday. It began with cannon firing, military exercises, and usually some form of procession of government officials from the seat of government to a nearby church. The most politically and socially important members of community listened carefully for several hours.
Election Day sermons followed a typical pattern. First, they asserted that civil government is founded on an agreement between God and citizens to establish political systems that promote the common good. Scripture states that government is necessary, but no system is perfect. Therefore, voters and rulers were told that they must do what is needed for their "peculiar circumstances."
Second, the people were encouraged to promise to follow those they had elected, and rulers were to promise to act for the good of all. As long as rulers acted "in their proper character," subjects were to obey. On the other hand, if rulers acted contrary to the terms of the agreement, people were "duty bound" to resist.
In all civic actions, voters and rulers were charged to promote virtue, suppress vice and support people of "proven wisdom, integrity, justice, and holiness." As we approach Election Day 2004, Christians might still do well to measure their actions by these criteria. In so doing, however, it is important not to bear false witness against one's neighbor, who might be using the same measure and making a different choice.
The Rev. Barbara Brown Zikmund is editor of The Living Heritage of the United Church of Christ.