Magazine article The Christian Century

Calls for Change in the UCC

Magazine article The Christian Century

Calls for Change in the UCC

Article excerpt

A GROUP of prominent United Church of Christ theologians and ministers, claiming to represent the liberal denomination's "often-silent center," is calling on the church to reclaim its heritage and rise above the level of "indifference to Scripture." In a letter titled "Confessing Christ," mailed to about 400 United Church members around the country, the group expressed concern that commitments to "listen to God's Word in Holy Scripture" and to the church's "rich heritage" often are neglected in the 1.6-million-member denomination.

One of the group's leaders, Gabriel J. Fackre of Andover Newton Theological School in Newton Centre, Massachusetts, said he and other signers of the letter worry about the church's "cultural captivity"--a tendency to let its social-activist agenda drive its theology, instead of vice versa. "We view this indifference to Scripture and debilitating amnesia as a threat to the gospel," states the letter, signed by 15 individuals, including other well-known UCC members such as Frederick R. Trost, a regional church executive in Wisconsin, and Bennie E. Whiten of Massachusetts and W Sterling Cary of Illinois, the denomination's only two African-American regional executives.

Fackre said he and other signers hope a series of three Confessing Christ meetings planned for November 29, December 1 and 8 will lay the foundations for a long-term process of theological reflection and renewal that could continue at special centers for study and prayer around the country. "This is not just an intellectual interest," commented Fackre. "This is the heart as well as the head." A spokesman at denominational headquarters quarters in Cleveland said United Church President Paul Sherry had spoken to Trost about the conferences and plans to send a letter expressing "appreciation" for the meetings and offering support in any way he can.

Fackre described himself and other organizers as faithful members of the United Church--neither on the right or the left--with their feet firmly planted in the church's doctrines and traditions, including its well-known commitment to social activism on issues such as civil rights and peace. The Confessing Christ movement is lodged within the bosom of the church" and is "not an attempt to splinter the church," insisted Fackre. He was careful to distinguish the Confessing Christ agenda from that of other groups in the denomination that have made calls for renewal in recent years, such as the Biblical Witness Fellowship, a conservative evangelical caucus. The Fellowship, said Fackre, is much more tied to what he termed "hot button" issues such as abortion and homosexuality, whereas the Confessing Christ signers think that the jury is still out" on those issues. "We don't believe you define the church in terms of something that hasn't been settled yet," said Fackre.

Several specific contentious issues, however, helped give rise to the Confessing Christ letter. One of those, Fackre noted, was the attempt, now abandoned, to remove the word "Lord"--believed by some to be too patriarchal--from a new hymnal being written by the denomination. Another is the suggestion that the UCC remove male language in the classic trinitarian baptismal formula--Father, Son and Holy Ghost--to make it read "Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer," a formulation Fackre contends would put the church "outside the boundaries" of the Christian community. …

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