Monday, October 01, 2007

Individual Beliefs Among UCC Groups

From the beginning, the United Church of Christ (UCC) has been a non-creedal denomination. It is guided by testimonies, not tests of faith. Beyond the confession that Jesus Christ is the head of the church, you basically have the freedom to believe whatever you want.

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.
I appreciate the UCC's tradition that gives me the freedom to believe whatever I want. But when the core of your beliefs are vastly different from those of the group-- as mine have been over my 11+ years-- I honestly wonder how much longer I can continue in this covenant.

UPDATE: This article has been rewritten for a larger audience at


littleriverlon said...

Ted- I think you know the answer and have known it for some time now. Next will be the premise of being a good person = going to heaven. You have no audience except for the minority and that will not be allowed to be heard. Maybe it is time for God and Ted's New Excellent Adventure :) Good luck in your search. I hope you understand what a spiritual resource you have been for me.

Steve said...

That was my evaluation of the Indiana-Kentucky Conference. There are many Christian people within it, but in group terms, at the core it is proclaiming the sub-Christian "gospel" that you described. It has more similarities to the UUA (which denies the label "Christian") than it does to the world-wide Church. Again, I am not talking individuals, but the group-think of Synod and most Conferences.
As a congregation we wrestled with the call of God to be a light in a dark world, and decided that the UCC connection was a liability to our witness. Personally speaking, I'll agree with the last comment; it is indeed an "Excellent Adventure!"
Blessings to you and your congregation.

Anonymous said...

I agree completely. Conservatives should leave the UCC. There are so many other places where they can go. Already the 10% of UCC congregations that are "Open and Affirming" make up 60% of our total church membership. I am SO tired of hearing from conservative UCC members complain and complain about the church. It is often these very same people who give NOTHING to OCWM and are actively trying to harm the denomination. I say good riddance!!

Okie said...

Pastor Ted, Just wanted to let you know how much I look forward to reading your comments each day. There are still alot of CONSERVATIVES around in the UCC. Although, according to the previous post it is a "dirty" word and we are not wanted. Maybe they should question why some churches that were big supporters of OCWM are not giving now.