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Thursday, March 13. 2008
We re-post this 2006 Dr. Bliss piece on the UCC because Obama's church, much in the news today, is UCC
Reasons to Quit the UCC
Bird Dog just faxed me an info sheet on the United Church of Christ, which his church, like mine in New Hampshire, is considering abandoning. If you aren't familiar with this organization, the UCC is an umbrella organization, created in 1957, which includes many Congregational, Dutch Reform, and German Reform churches. Because of American history, many of these churches are in the Northeast.
The Pilgrims were Congregationalists, and had been welcomed by like-minded Dutch churches when they fled Anglican (now called "Episcopalian" in the US) persecution by the English government in the late 1500s and early 1600s - a very trivial piece of history which resulted in a major consequence - our Constitution included the forbidding of a State-enforced sect. Of Christianity, of course, at the time. (Jews, in England, were tolerated and not subject to persecution, on the whole. Freud, genius that he was, happily termed that kind of thing "the narcissism of small differences" - we are more likely to make a fight with those with whom we have small differences than those with major differences.)
These churches have a unique history - they are bottom-up churches without hierarchy, in which the individual congregation itself choses, by vote, its clergy, its beliefs, its mission, the organizations they support, and its mode of worship. God is the only Boss, and understanding His will is a matter for individual prayer. That makes for a powerful individualistic tradition, and for the direct mankind-God link that we aspire to.
However, like many innocent and well-meaning non-profits, the UCC has been "captured" by theologically "liberal" and politically activist state and national HQs - and that is a very bad thing for many of the congregations that contribute money to the organization. The HQ people appear to have walked away from their theological support mission and done two things I do not like: 1. They have begun constructing dogma and, 2. They have become political operatives with political agendas. In other words, they are seeking power - theological authority and worldly power. That's fine for churches and denominations that wish to do so, but we don't.
For example, believe it or not, the Connecticut UCC actually has a lobbyist in Hartford taking all sorts of radical positions of which most contributing congregations are probably totally unaware, including opposing Charter Schools in alliance with the CT Teacher's Union! You can't find this on the website, nor will it be found in church bulletins. These activities are done in the name of the UCC congregations, on the nickel of God-seeking folk who dutifully, and often sacrificially, put their hard-earned dollars in the basket. (We have tithers in our church - always the old joke - "Before or after taxes?".) It reminds me of what unions do with their dues.
What happens when unwanted leaders try to lead, but no-one follows? Congregations are rebelling, or simply voting with their feet because of the political or just strange positions the HQs have been taking. It seems likely that many will vote with their feet, and form or find another umbrella organization to help with pensions, insurance, and publications.
As you can tell, I am strongly in favor of old family Congregational church's abandoning the UCC's leaky bucket, and it looks like we will. We will pray and vote! And it will not be Left vs. Right - it will be about what the role of a religious support organization is. Which, I believe, is to help mankind connect with God by helping churches with practical problems. The mission of saving souls is plenty big enough! D'ya think? (as my daughter would say).
2008 update: Both Bird Dog's and Dr. Bliss' Congregational churches voted to leave the UCC and to regain their independence.
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Good for you and the rest of your congregations. I wish sometimes we had that option in the Presbyterian Church.
As a long time UCC minister I am concerned when I hear of congregations leaving the denomination. Unfortunately I understand all too well the complaints reported by Dr. Bliss. Many people feel alienated, ignored, or actively irritated by the conferences and national structures. However, the decision to leave reported here is nearly always a negative one to abandon something rather than to join something else. Independence is a bit like running away from home: it makes a fine statement and may ever produce a book, like Huck Finn, but it still leaves one alone. The gain, then, is rather short sighted and soon the lonliness will overwhem the satisfaction. Somewhat more effective might be to act as individuals and choose other affiliations, or to either ignore the denomination will retaining the affiliation for whatever services it may provide (like helping to find ministers and manage ordination standards). Most of the mainline denomination have the same bifurcation: the conference and national structures are far more active and liberal than the people in the pews.
The same, of course, can be said for many representative bodies--they are not just like me, they exercise thier own will, and the representational process selects people who take their policy more seriously than those who do not stand for election or selection. This is part of being in a larger organization.
Choosing out, at Bliss and Dog did, is rather like putting one's head in the sand.
I offer no brief for the UCC, either conference or national. I spent too many years driven crazy by the Massachusetts Conference to suggest there is a misperception. I only suggest that trying to live alone may well be worse.
I find this rather sad to talk about. I don't think it has to be like this, but then, most large organizations create a great deal of ennui and alienation. Large companies can be hard on one's soul and we know all too well how aggravating the US Congress can be. Spend some time in our state legislatures: they are equally distant from their electors often far to the left or right. Vermont's legislature sometimes seems to represent a completely different state.
So, while I understand the frustration Bliss and Dog feel at the UCC I think the action of having their congregations vote themselves out is short-sighted and destructive not creative.
We have not even begun to think theologically about this. There lie further, more interesting discussions. We are not either invited into a perfect society in a church, not are we expected to make one. We are expected to pray for and care for one another. What that means at any given time may be a challenge to us individually and collectively.
Like Buddy, I read your comments carefully and seem agree with Buddy that your focus is on leaving versus why congregations are leaving.
I too am a member of a UCC congregation. A major reason the congregation remains affiliated with the UCC is to secure health benefits for our ministers at reasonable rates. Only the minimum amount of funds to maintain our affiliation is passed to the UCC and it is a relatively small amount.
However, the UCC has started putting pressure on our congregation to make significant funding commitments to the UCC and there is no accountability for how that money will be spent.
I do not agree with many of the positions and initiatives taken by the UCC - many of which are political in nature. I am working within our congregation to maintain our loose affiliation with the UCC. We have an active and principled process for giving.
The day we abdicate local control by letting the UCC decide how our money will be spent will be the day (i) I leave the congregation or (ii) the congregation leaves the UCC.
At this point, I do not know what the outcome will be.
I can tell you that I will not fund the UCC so it can sponsor initiatives that I find strongly objectionable.
My guess is that other congregations share my view that the local church should determine how it should best serve their communities. Maybe this will give you some insight as to the why congregations are leaving the UCC.
The leaving is a symptom that something is going wrong in the hierarchy of the UCC and not something to feel sorry about.
Thanks much for your comments. Recall that we Congos joined the UCC more for convenience than for any doctrinal reasons, and had been stand-alone churches for 300 years prior to that.
I read you post carefully, bboot, and it's clear that you feel that the issue is the leaving, and not the why of the leaving. Would you agree with that, or am I wrong, I wonder.
Once again you have succinctly and with clarity focused on the key questions.
I always appreciate your comments. I just wish I was not working 12 hours a day and had more time to think, write, play with the kids and smell roses.
All the best Buddy,
thanks, Barrett -- nice of you to say -- i always enjoys your comments, too -- esp the one you just left -- well said. No, well done -- since what it describes rather than merely the description gives it the weight.
Asked why he, an ardent New Deal liberal in his youth, had turned away from the Democratic Party, Ronald Reagan said simply: "I didn't leave the Democratic Party. It left me."
Raygun miss spoke.
He tired of the union dues and opted to out a part as a Rebuplican for shits and giggles while stealing your guns and conspireing with Islamic terrorists and running from the Middle East when the snake bit him.
He'd have been a girl, if he could.
maybe we can resuscitate Attila the Hun and run him for president
I mentioned a book the other evening by a man named Mathew Lesko. He shows people how to write grants to get government money ... grant money...no payback....might I suggest you familiarize yourself with Matt Lesko, get a grant and release, yes release sister, from the tin foil hat and aluminum cookware that has devastated you brain.
I know you could aid many a fellow man by doing so.
Do I have a witness?
Desperado, perhaps y'all can get a witness from one of your other personalities who can't focus.
If one takes Raygun at his word, quoted by Boo, the pimp remained a Democrat.
But that might be plain talk for all of ya, all at once.
Lasko and Ronnie shared same deceitful vocation.
Thanks for the oppurtunity to tune y'all, sweety.
Leag, do you wear your 8 quart saucepan with the handle in front, or in back? or I guess it could be sideways, the 'over the ear' look.
Boo, I know the ladies appreciate y'all championing crazy female causes like tin hats and such and changing subject.
I'm wondering if y'all didn't support them when they came up with social engineetring technique; castration but have know doubt y'all do ips post facto.
Do y'all get paid to take all dem drugs, boo?
Doas dey relive or relieve da payne?
apologies for changing your subject. Yes, by all means,lets get away from tin hats and back onto Ronald Reagan "He'd have been a girl, if he could". You're right -- a much more important subject than tin hats.
Boo, Cut and Run Ronnie is your subject and your heroine.
Defend he she it best ya can while I play the round to bring ya out
The Reagan quote you proferred to support UCC dissemblers is sound enough, if Ronnie didn't leave Democrats he she it is true Democrat in tradition of FDR whom he she it idolized.
If BD and Dr. Bliss didn't leave UCC but UCC drifted from it's historical moorings they are true Congregationalists and I think they are.
To FDR's credit, he didn't cut and run when America's military was massacred in Pearl Harbor.
Ronnie ran like a girl from Islamic terrorist massacre of America's best in Lebanon.
He she it colluded with Islamic terrorists through out his political career.
Just the facts.
Only a fool would accuse you of anything to do with semantics, Leag, so i guess you're right, I are a fool. But when one thing (such as UCC or Dem Party) splits into two things (such as the MFarmers or RR), the original thing traditionally and logically, not to mention legally and sensibly, keeps the original name, title, etc.
Think about it -- how far would would RR have gotten in politics (the melieu in which he had many huge and comprehensive successes to balance against his mideast failures) had he announced, upon leaving the Democratic party, "I am now the Democratic party. That other thing will have to find a new name".
Yes indeed, Ronnie was a liar extraordinare and fooled most the folks most the time.
Ronnie remained what he was, and lied to Republicans, taking their name.
Like Habu's mentor Lesko is, Ronnie was a professional fraud.
Thank you for that well-crafted, intelligent assessment of the Reagan presidency, Leag.
Staying neutral here... but I will forever hold the Marine barracks against Reagan... a cowardly act that was. Two divisions of Marines at Tripoli, and the world would now be much different, for the better I think.
Sorry for the off topic.
LM, he himself later said that was the biggest mistake of his presidency.
I thought I had sent a comment... evidently not.
I wasn't aware of that Buddy... then you have given me second thoughts.
well, you're still right anyway -- RR had the pencil, so he has the blame. if you look into it, you'll see that RR was in precarious political position with the congress over the whole intervention, and after the barracks disaster, the congress just went berserk to get out -- followed by the press. RR could have stood his ground -- but he made the decision to preserve political capital for the domestic programs he was trying to rebuild the country with, the country still in the shadow of the Carter presidency's domestic economy disasters. but it was still RR who gave the orders, so you were right in what you said.
Yes... I know. I know the greater gain he was looking at... a tough decision. But damn... it was so humiliating. And such a disservice to those dead Marines.
The Lutheran Church makes gains in Africa and Asia--Africa and Asia!- is nearly dead in Europe and is declining in North America. What these folks in Africa and Asia find in Luther is beyond me, but, as for me, I'm still a member, even though I can't stand most of Luther. In America here we are getting all to political--sometimes I think I'm at a political convention, not a church, and I think it's a main reason we are losing members in the USA. If you become irritated every time you read the bulletin, it's a bad sign. Yet, I got no where to go, really, and value my friends, so on I trudge.
Our church is not yet at that point, but I had the opportunity to sit in at a Congregationalist Church on the south shore in MA where there was a serious meeting on the question of leaving the UCC.
The point I wanted to bring up was that the trigger for this was a appearance of the head reverend of the UCC at the 300th anniversary of the local churches founding. There had been no controversy about being part of the UCC until then. But the outcome of the Reverends (highly) political and PC sermon, delivered from their own pulpit was a immediate move to withdraw from the UCC.
In my own church, most members know nothing about what the UCC stands for at a national level, some don't even know our church is a member of the UCC. I wonder if I should suggest inviting the Rev to our 300th this summer?
Is it important what the national organization is doing to a little local church? I think it would be a little like being a member of a neighborhood watch program and finding out the national leader is named Himmler.
With the UCC, churches are generally objecting to donations going to support UCC-led political agendas. Like so many non-profits, the UCC has gone beyond its mission.
You got the 1st Amendment exactly backwards. The establishment clause was originally intended to protect the right of the states to maintain established churches. In fact 7 of the states that ratified the Constitution did maintain established churches. Massachusetts maintained the Congregationalist church until the 1840s. The meaning of the 1st Amendment was inverted by the 14th, which, for the first time, applied the Bill of Rights to the States. Although this was not enforced until the Warren Court in the 1950s
As a Roman Catholic, and therefore with a wholly external perspective, I never understood why the churches amalgamated into the UCC in the first place. Wasn't the whole point of congregationalism not to be part of a larger body in the first place?
As for the UCC, they are merely doing the same thing most mainstream Protestant churches have been doing for the last thirty years: Abandoning Christianity for Marxism. That's precisely why their numbers are dwindling.
Let me start with the last comment first: why affiliate? There is an interesting theological view in the UCC that each congreagatoin is a complete but not whole church. They are complete because each is, as noted, under the Lordship of Christ and responsible to God directly. Or, to put it differently, each congregation is free to set is own criteria for membership and ministry. On the other hand, and this is the interesting and practical part, each congregation is not the whole church. There are other congregations each having direct claim on God's wisdom. Given that complex community it is incumbent on each congregation to bond with the others to understand their widsom and insight about God's direction. They need not listen or heed the others, but they need to acknowledge their existence because we do not live in a world of ourselves alone.
That allows me to answer the earlier question by Buddy: yes, leaving more serious than the reasons.
The Presbyterian church is another prime example of a disfunctional denomination. It is totally lost at this point.
I grew up Congregational UCC in New Hampshire. I'm pretty happy with the Evangelical Covenant now, but I see that same brew a-simmering out at our HQ in Chicago.
New Hampshire (and much of the rest of New England) used to be a conservative bastion. I always attributed the change to the Massachusetts people and other outlanders that came up, but all those independent Congo churches going UCC may have been part of the change.