Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? The debate goes on year after year. I thought about that question over the weekend while I browsed through a new Pilgrim Press book catalog. Pilgrim is the publishing arm of the United Church of Christ (UCC). I asked myself, "Which came first, the books in the catalog or the denominational leadership that published these books?" The answer is not as straightforward as it may at first appear. The denomination was born (in the mid-1950s) leaning in the wrong direction on several matters, or so it appears to me. The publisher has simply followed that direction. At the same time the publisher sets the direction for many in the UCC by the book choices they promote to their churches.
This catalog features titles such as The Spirituality of Mazes and Labyrinths, Not Religion, But Love and Religion is a Queer Thing. (You get one guess as to what this book promotes!) There is a whole category of titles called The Global Spirit Library, which includes books that feature 366 readings from Taoism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam, as well as Judaism and Christianity. One of my favorites is a group of essays titled Queer Commentary and the Hebrew Bible. This one features what the catalog tells us are "essays not on the well-worn biblical passages about homosexuality, but exploring how ‘queer’ reading makes a difference to biblical exegesis. For anyone interested in contemporary Bible interpretation or in queer theory." Then there is the book listed in the Bible Studies section titled: Take Back the Word: A Queer Reading of the Bible. The catalog also features an entire section of books with the heading of "LGST." For the uninformed that means "Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual and Transgendered." Here the erstwhile evangelical (?) author Virginia Ramey Mollenkott has a book, co-authored with Vanessa Sheridan, titled Transgendered Journeys. There is even a multi-authored work titled Religion is a Queer Thing. It sure is in the UCC national office!
All the mainline churches are embroiled in a decades old controversy over homosexual practice. The irony in all of this is that the so-called liberals are anything but liberal on this issue. They insist that you allow their practice to have full ecclesiastical approval or you must be rejected and strongly opposed. There is nothing liberal, or for that matter tolerant, about this approach. Ask anyone who has opposed this direction what it cost them to stand up for biblical sexual ethics in their denomination and you will find out there is a huge price to be paid for any opposition to this type of agenda. Pray for those who have the courage to stand against these errors. It would be far easier for them to "cut and run." Many do not believe they are called to this option.
The sad irony is that the UCC has already approved this sexual agenda nationally, thus becoming the second mainline denomination in America to openly accept same-sex marriage. Ironically, there is, in this same UCC catalog, a book titled Revive Your Mainline Congregation. The endorsement admits that the mainline is losing members and then offers the idea that this book might help your church "live again." I have serious doubts that any church can live again that denies the clearest words of Scripture and Christian tradition. There is a lot of room for disagreement about what Scripture means on some matters but there is no room for altering the divine pattern for sexual ethics because of contemporary readings. Yes, individual congregations might live again, while they also oppose their own national ecclesial bodies. Since the UCC is a congregational association there are still a number of living and orthodox churches within its borders. I pray for these churches and their leaders.
So, which comes first, the chicken or the egg? I am told, by UCC insiders, that the vast majority of those who work in the Cleveland (Ohio) denominational office of the UCC are gay and lesbian. This underscores a major problem for all churches in North America. The real difficulties are found within the bureaucracies. Bureaucracy, as Max Weber argued almost a hundred years ago, tends toward a classic cast of mind wherein efficiency and damage control become the real goals. Bureaucrats generally have a culture and system that is all to themselves. It is usually these same bureaucrats who publish titles like those in my catalog. And it is these same bureaucrats who force anti-biblical ethics on the churches and people, from the top down. In the case of the UCC there are still serious orthodox Christians, and ministers, to be found within local churches but the bureaucrats (on the whole at least) left the holy, apostolic and Christian faith long ago. Therefore, in this case I think the chicken (the bureaucrats) produced the egg (the books and what they represent). Let discerning readers in manline churches beware. Caveat emptor.