The United Church of Christ (UCC) has made the news of late. The primary reason for this interest has been the long time association of presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama with Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. Trinity is atypical of the UCC in several ways.
It is one of only a small handful of African-American congregations in the UCC. The UCC was only birthed in 1957 and was the result of the merger of several different strands of Protestantism into an ecumenically inclined new entity that was inclined toward a liberal stance from the beginning. And from the beginning the UCC has been a predominantly white denomination.
But Trinity does fit the UCC perfectly in other ways. It is politically and socially liberal. It also embraces a wide array of theologically liberal positions, especially on the acceptance of same-sex marriage. The UCC accepted a number of prominent gay/lesbian churches into membership a few years ago.
Many political and religious commentators are now writing a great deal about the UCC, and Pastor Jeremiah Wright. Most of these commentators have little or no understanding of this liberal denomination. They tend to see the UCC as just another mainstream American denomination. This is simply not the case. The UCC is the most liberal denomination in America that still, and this is only still true by a thin thread, confesses Trinitarian Christianity. (Some pundits refer to the letters UCC as representing Unitarians Considering Christ!) Just today I heard a local Chicago radio station do an on-the-street conversation with a passerby on Michigan Avenue who happened to be the pastor of a UCC congregation in Wisconsin. This minister was asked by the radio interviewer if her church wasn’t about the same as a Unitarian Church and she answered, without hesitation, “Yes, of course.”
At the same time there are still a number, thought the number is admittedly small, of ministers and churches in the UCC who are very orthodox. Many such congregations have left the UCC in recent years but some have chosen to stay, often after considerable discussion and prayer.
Some of those who have stayed are a part of a wider mainline network of churches and ministers committed to renewal and orthodoxy. Since these UCC churches are congregational they do not have to support what they do not wish to support in the UCC. In several cases these ministers are actually leading training ministries designed to equip a new generation of young, bright and committed evangelical leaders.
It would appear that the UCC has cast its lot with the forces of modernity and liberalism entirely but then one never knows what God might do in the days ahead. My own sense is that the leadership of this denomination is all but gone, at least in terms of serious interest in orthodoxy. But at the grassroots level there are happily serious pockets of real gospel integrity left in the UCC. All of this should make any fair-minded Christian aware that if you can’t judge a book by its cover you surely can’t judge a local church, or its minister, by a national affiliation.