While the UCC offers tremendous personal autonomy for the individual, when you come into a group, the individual has to compromise some of his or her beliefs in order to be together with others. Certainly, individuals contribute to the life of the group, but no one individual sets the group's agenda. Especially in the UCC, ours is not authority in hierarchy. We speak to, not for each other.
While an individual can consider and weigh competing ideas, in the end, a person must live by an overall principal. If not, you're a hypocrite at best, or at worst, a schizophrenic-- split and unable to function. The same thing is true of groups. Groups must live by an overarching principal. Otherwise, you have chaos or anarchy.
I make those psychological and sociological observations to say this: Even in a place like the UCC where individual autonomy is cherished, when UCC people come together in a group, there must be a predominant guiding belief that directs the group's common life.
This is true with any UCC group-- a local church, conference, and General Synod. Individually, UCC people have their beliefs-- and collectively, so do UCC groups. By being part of the group, you're in covenant to be part of the conversation.
Why do I say all this? Because in the UCC's quest to honor individual autonomy, we neglect the fact that UCC groups take on a life of their own, guided by their own beliefs and practices.
At this point, some of you might be thinking, "duh," but it's a significant observation for someone like myself, whose evangelical beliefs are not held by most UCC folks. My individual beliefs will find little representation in a UCC group setting. Yes, they'll be respected (most of the time), but in a group, no one person-- me included-- is entitled to a hearing. Yes, you may have your own beliefs, but the group is also going to have its own beliefs. The minority may voice its opinion, but the majority opinion will always direct the group.
If there's a group value I saw on display at the the annual meeting of the United Church of Christ Kansas-Oklahoma Conference, which met over the weekend in Wichita, it's a commitment to the "inclusive gospel," which Episcopal priest Phillip Turner rightly argues is not a proper understanding of the Gospel contained in Scripture.
Basically, the inclusive gospel declares that God loves everyone and we in turn should love and welcome everyone. This is how I saw that group belief on display at our annual meeting:
- Nobody is going to hell.
- Everyone is saved, whether they know it or not.
- Jesus did not come to give salvation, but enlightenment.
- The Great Commandment is to love your neighbor.
UPDATE: This article has been rewritten for a larger audience at UCCTruths.com