The United Church of Christ (UCC) is a mainline Protestant Christian denomination principally in the United States, generally considered within the Reformed tradition, and formed in 1957 by the union of two denominations, the Evangelical and Reformed Church and the Congregational Christian Churches.
According to the 2007 yearbook, the United Church of Christ has approximately 1.2 million members and is composed of approximately 5,518 local congregations.
Although similar in name, the UCC denomination is theologically and, for the most part, historically distinct from the Churches of Christ, a loose affiliation of conservative congregations that arose primarily from the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement in the 19th century.
Origins of the United Church of Christ
In 1957, the United Church of Christ formed through the union of the Evangelical and Reformed Church with the General Council of Congregational Christian Churches.
- The Evangelical and Reformed Church was formed in 1934 by the merger of the Reformed Church in the United States and the Evangelical Synod of North America:
- The Reformed Church in the United States carried out the tradition of the German version of the Reformed/Calvinist movement, which some commentators have characterized as less rationalistically doctrinal than its Dutch and British counterparts. The German Reformed Church employed the Heidelberg Catechism as its primary, if not sole, confession. Its roots trace mostly to 18th-century immigrants hailing primarily from areas near the Rhine River in Germany, but also from certain parts of Switzerland. The denomination had strong concentrations in Pennsylvania, northern Maryland, and eastern Ohio, but was also present in more scattered patterns in states to the west and south.
- The Evangelical Synod of North America traced its roots to later waves of 19th- and early 20th-century German immigration, which settled primarily in the Midwest (especially Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Michigan). Members of this group largely came from the Evangelical Church of the Union, which formed in 1817 as a union of the Lutheran and Reformed churches in Prussia. The group often identified as primarily Lutheran (usually depending upon a local pastor's preference and/or background), but held a mixture of both Lutheran and Reformed beliefs and practices—so much so as to prevent this group from merging with other Lutheran bodies. Evangelicals looked to both the Reformed Heidelberg Catechism and Luther's Small Catechism as their confessions (and eventually developed an "Evangelical Catechism" for confirmation training of youth, which merged views of both).
- The Congregational Christian Churches came together in 1931 by the union of:
- The Congregational churches, a tradition within the Reformed family whose organizational structure was congregationalist, thus separating them from the theologically-similar Presbyterians. This denomination was centered in New England (being the state churches of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Connecticut from colonial times until the early 19th century). The church spread wherever New Englanders migrated, including significant numbers in the Great Lakes region of the Midwest (including Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, etc.).
The Congregational churches traced their colonial-era origins to two English dissenting Protestant groups: the separatist Pilgrims, who established Plymouth Colony in 1620; and the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, who landed in 1629 and 1630 and settled Boston. At the time of the 1957 formation of the UCC, several hundred Congregational churches declined to join. Most of those congregations joined either one of two alternative bodies: the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches (a body formed as a direct reaction to the 1957 UCC merger) and the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference (which came into being as a result of the fundamentalist movement in the early 20th century).
- A portion of the American frontier Restoration Movement known as the Christian Churches, which derived from separate but related movements in North Carolina and Virginia, and New England, at the turn of the 19th century. Also known as the Christian Connection and identified with James O'Kelly, this loosely-defined group comprised a number of frontier movements that broke away from more established Anglo-Saxon denominations (namely Presbyterian, Methodist and Baptist) because they desired less rigid requirements of doctrine and church polity/organization. Adherents declared the Bible (especially the New Testament) as the sole doctrinal guide and claimed "no creed but Christ." The Christian Church movement, by far the smallest of the four main traditions that became the United Church of Christ, was part of the family of similar movements which severed along largely liberal-conservative lines as the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) denomination, the conservative independent Christian Churches, and the separatist, Churches of Christ. As suggested above, confusion of the UCC with the Churches of Christ has caused substantial identity problems for both groups in some parts of the United States. The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) maintains full communion with the UCC.
Hidden Histories in the United Church of Christ (two volumes; 1987, ISBN 0-8298-0753-5) edited by Barbara Brown Zikmund chronicles the heritages and denominational traditions that are have come to be a part of the UCC in addition to the 'big four' (Evangelical, Reformed, Congregational, Christian) detailed above. Volume one is available online, while the second volume is available from United Church Press.
Doctrine and beliefs
Statements of doctrine and beliefs
The UCC uses four words to describe itself: "Christian
." The church's diversity and adherence to covenantal polity (rather than government by regional elders or bishops) give individual congregations a great deal of freedom in the areas of worship, congregational life, and doctrine.
The motto of the United Church of Christ comes from 21 The denomination's official literature uses broad doctrinal parameters, honoring creeds and confessions as "testimonies of faith" rather than "tests of faith," and emphasizes freedom of individual conscience and local church autonomy. Indeed, the relationship between local congregations and the denomination's national headquarters is covenantal rather than hierarchical: local churches have complete control of their finances, hiring and firing of clergy and other staff, and theological and political stands.
In the United Church of Christ, creeds, confessions, and affirmations of faith function as "testimonies to faith" around which the church gathers rather than as "tests of faith" rigidly prescribing required doctrinal consent. As expressed on the United Church of Christ constitution:
The United Church of Christ acknowledges as its sole Head, Jesus Christ, Son of God and Savior. It acknowledges as kindred in Christ all who share in this confession. It looks to the Word of God in the Scriptures, and to the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, to prosper its creative and redemptive work in the world. It claims as its own the faith of the historic Church expressed in the ancient creeds and reclaimed in the basic insights of the Protestant Reformers. It affirms the responsibility of the Church in each generation to make this faith its own in reality of worship, in honesty of thought and expression, and in purity of heart before God. In accordance with the teaching of our Lord and the practice prevailing among evangelical Christians, it recognizes two sacraments: Baptism and the Lord's Supper or Holy Communion.
The denomination, therefore, looks to a number of historic confessions as expressing the common faith around which the church gathers, including:
While not functioning as creedal tests of faith, together these confessions and testimonies of faith situate the United Church of Christ solidly within broad mainstream of trinitarian Christian belief, and more specifically within the family of Reformation-era Protestant churches.
Studies and surveys of beliefs
In 2001, Hartford Institute for Religion Research did a "Faith Communities Today (FACT)"
study that included a survey of United Church of Christ beliefs. Among the results of this were findings that in the UCC, 5.6 percent of the churches responding to the survey described their members as "very liberal or progressive," 3.4 percent as "very conservative," 22.4 percent as "somewhat liberal or progressive," and 23.6 percent as "somewhat conservative" Those results suggested a nearly equal balance between liberal and conservative congregations. The self-described "moderate" group, however, was the largest at 45 percent. Other statistics found by the Hartford Institute show that 53.2% of members say "the Bible" is the highest source of authority, 16.1% say the "Holy Spirit," 9.2% say "Reason," 6.3% say "Experience," and 6.1% say "Creeds."
David Roozen, director of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research who has studied the United Church of Christ, said surveys show the national church's pronouncements are often more liberal than the views in the pews, but that its governing structure is set up to allow such disagreements.
Starting in 2003, a task force commissioned by General Synod 24 studied the diverse Worship habits of UCC churches. The study can be found online and reflects statistics on attitudes towards Worship, Baptism, and Communion, such as "Laity (70%) and clergy (90%) alike overwhelmingly describe worship “as an encounter with God that leads to doing God’s work in the world.” "95 percent of our congregations use the Revised Common Lectionary in some way in planning or actual worship and preaching" and "96 percent always or almost always have a sermon, 86 percent have a time with children, 95 percent have a time of sharing joys and concerns, and 98 percent include the Prayer of Our Savior/Lord’s Prayer." Clergy and laity were invited to select two meanings of baptism that they emphasize. They were also to suggest the meaning that they thought their entire church emphasized. Baptism as an “entry into the Church Universal” was the most frequent response. Clergy and laity were also invited to identify two meanings of Holy Communion that they emphasize. While clergy emphasized Holy Communion as “a meal in which we encounter God’s living presence,” laity emphasized “a remembrance of Jesus’ last supper, death, and resurrection.”
Other theological publications and colloquiums.
Theological seminars, journals, and publications of the UCC may be helpful to understand the theologies of the UCC, but while they disseminate various theological opinions and news, none is used to speak authoritatively about church beliefs.
In 1977, a group of theologians called together by the Office of Church Life and Leadership (OCLL) issued a statement titled “Toward Sound Teaching in the United Church of Christ.” In 1983, thirty-nine UCC seminary faculty wrote a letter to the Church in a similar vein, “A Most Difficult and Urgent Time.” In 1984, marking the fiftieth anniversary of the Barmen Declaration of the Confessing Church in Germany that resisted cultural captivity, a grassroots group of UCC pastors organized a theological colloquy in Craigville, Massachusetts (the Craigville Colloquy). Its 160 participants issued a Witness Statement calling for faithfulness to the Church’s central founding tenets. The colloquies have continued annually, addressing subjects that range from the Trinity, the sacraments and the faith and order of the UCC, to war and peace and biomedical ethics. According to a 2004 speech by current president John Thomas, "a group of prominent United Church of Christ theologians set forth an agenda as urgent today as it was then: Convinced as we are that our church, along with the American churches generally, is excessively accommodated to cultural values and perceptions, our thinking revolved around the conviction that the ministry of the church must become more intentional and disciplined in teaching the faith of the church, in valuing its theological tradition and in responding to the present place of the church in culture."
Concurrent with these sentiments, the late 1970s/early 1980s brought the launch of several theological publications to include Prism and New Conversations.
New Conversations, an "annual" magazine of the United Church of Christ's Board for Homeland Ministries (BHM) that is actually published less often than annually. The last known edition was 2002's "Medical Technology and Christian Decision Making dealing with bioethics". The BHM has produced several issues of “New Conversations” dealing with Asian Americans, Micronesians, and Native Hawaiian Issues.
- Volume 1: (Spring/Summer, 1975),
- Volume 4: no 2 (Fall 1979) – Topic: "Order and Identity in the United Church of Christ"
- Volume 5: No. 2, (Fall 1980) – Topic: "The Design of Faith"
- Volume 6: (Spring 1982)
- Volume 11: (Fall 1988) – Topic: "National Service" New Conversations.
- (Winter/Spring 1989) – Topic: American Missionary Association and Amistad
- Spring 1995 – Topic: "Don't Ask Questions"
- Volume 15, Number 3 (1993) – Topic: "New Conversations: Confronting and Combatting Christian Anti-Judaism" ed. by Nanette M. Roberts
- Volume 17, no. 2 (Summer 1995) – Topic: "The Church and the Public School"
- Fall 2002 – Topic: "Medical Technology and Christian Decision Making"
Prism is a theological journal of the United Church of Christ published jointly by the seven seminaries of the United Church of Christ, and produced twice a year. A journal for the whole church, Prism offers "serious theological reflection from a diversity of viewpoints on issues of faith, mission, and ministry." Prism was founded in 1985, and is edited by Clyde Steckel, United Seminary's emeritus professor of theology, and Elizabeth Nordbeck of Andover Newton Theological School.
The Living Theological Heritage of the United Church of Christ an 835-page, 7-volume set edited by Rev. Barbara Brown Zikmund and a team of 13 editors, four associate editors and an editorial board of seven. The materials, which span the first century through the 20th century, were included in the volumes because, according to editors, they had impacted the shaping the UCC's theological identity.
UCC beliefs expressed to the World Council of Churches
In 1982 the World Council of Churches
published "Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry", a document that has served as a foundation for many ecumenical recognition agreements. As a WCC member church, the United Church of Christ issued a response as part of the process to work toward a statement of common theological perspectives.
System and ethos of polity
Quoting the United Church of Christ Constitution, "The basic unit of the life and organization of the United Church of Christ is the local church
." An interplay of wider interdependence with local autonomy
characterizes the organization of the UCC. Each "setting" of the United Church of Christ relates covenantally
with other settings, their actions speaking "to but not for" each other.
The ethos of United Church of Christ organization is considered "covenantal." The structure of UCC organization is a mixture of the congregational and presbyterian polities of its predecessor denominations. With ultimate authority on most matters given to the local church, many see United Church of Christ polity as closer to congregationalism; however, with ordination and pastoral oversight conducted by Associations, and General Synod representation given to Conferences instead of congregational delegates, certain presbyterian similarities are also visible.
The basic unit of the United Church of Christ is the local church (also often called the congregation). Local churches have the freedom to govern themselves, establishing their own internal organizational structures and theological positions. Thus, local church governance varies widely throughout the denomination; some congregations, mainly of Congregational origin, have numerous relatively-independent "boards" that oversee different aspects of church life, while others have one central "church council" or "consistory" (especially in former Evangelical and Reformed parishes) that handles most or all affairs, while still others have structures incorporating aspects of both, or other alternative organizational structures entirely.
Local churches also have the freedom to hire and dismiss their own pastors and other leadership. However, unlike purely congregational polities, the association has the main authority to ordain clergy and grant standing to clergy coming to a church from another association or another denomination (this authority is exercised "in cooperation with" the person being ordained/called and the local church that is calling them). Local churches are aided in searching for and calling ordained clergy through a denominationally-coordinated "search-and-call" system, usually facilitated by staff at the conference level.
Local churches are typically gathered together in regional bodies called Associations
. Local churches often give financial support to the association to support its activities. The official delegates of an association are all ordained clergy within the bounds of the association together with lay delegates sent from each local church. The association provides primary oversight and authorization of ordained and other authorized ministers. The association ordains new ministers, holds ministers' standing in covenant with local churches, and is responsible for disciplinary action. [In a few instances where there is only one association within a conference, or where the associations within a conference have agreed to dissolve, the Conference (below) assumes the association's functions.]
Local churches also are members of larger Conferences
, of which there are 38 in the United Church of Christ. A conference typically contains multiple associations; if no associations exist within its boundaries, the conference exercises the functions of the association as well. Conferences are supported financially through local churches' contribution to "Our Church's Wider Mission", the United Church of Christ's denominational support system. Conferences provide the primary support for the search-and-call process by which churches select ordained leadership and often provide significant programming resources for their constituent churches. Conferences, like associations, are congregationally representative bodies, with each local church sending ordained and lay delegates.
The denomination's churchwide deliberative body is the General Synod, which meets every two years. The General Synod consists of delegates elected from the Conferences (distributed proportionally by conference size) together with the boards of directors of each of the four covenanted ministries (see below, under National Offices).
While General Synod provides the most visible voice of the "stance of the denomination" on any particular issue, the covenantal polity of the denomination means that General Synod speaks to local churches, associations, and conferences, but not for them. Thus, the other settings of the church are allowed to hold differing views and practices on all non-constitutional matters.
General Synod considers three kinds of resolutions:
- Pronouncements: A Pronouncement is a statement of Christian conviction on a matter of moral or social principle and has been adopted by a two-thirds vote of a General Synod.
- Proposals for Action: A Proposal for Action is a recommendation for specific directional statements and goals implementing a Pronouncement. A Proposal for Action normally accompanies a Pronouncement. (See link above regarding Pronouncements.)
- Resolutions and Other Formal Motions Which may consist of the following three types:
- Resolutions of Witness: A Resolution of Witness is an expression of the General Synod concerning a moral, ethical, or religious matter confronting the church, the nation, or the world, adopted for the guidance of the officers, Associated, or Affiliated Ministries, or other bodies as defined in Article VI of the Bylaws of the United Church of Christ; the consideration of local churches, Associations, Conferences, and other bodies related to the United Church of Christ; and for a Christian witness to the world. It represents agreement by at least two-thirds of the delegates voting that the view expressed is based on Christian conviction and is a part of their witness to Jesus Christ.
- Prudential Resolutions: A Prudential Resolution establishes policy, institutes or revises structure or procedures, authorizes programs, approves directions, or requests actions by a majority vote.
- Other Formal Motions
National offices: covenanted, associated, and affiliated ministries
As agents of the General Synod, the denomination maintains national offices comprising four "covenanted ministries", one "associated ministry", and one "affiliated ministry". The current system of national governance was adopted in 1999 as a restructure of the national setting, consolidating numerous agencies, boards, and "instrumentalities" that the UCC, in the main, had inherited from the Congregational Christian Churches at the time of merger, along with several created during the denomination's earlier years.
These structures carry out the work of the General Synod and support the local churches, associations, and conferences. The head executives of these ministries comprise the five member Collegium of Officers
, which are the non-hierarchical official officers of the denomination. (The Office of General Ministries is represented by both the General Minister, who serves as President of the denomination, and the Associate General minister). According the UCC office of communication press release at the time of restructure, "In the new executive arrangement, the five will work together in a Collegium of Officers, meeting as peers. This setting is designed to provide an opportunity for mutual responsibility and reporting, as well as ongoing assessment of UCC programs." The main offices of the Covenanted ministries are at the "Church House", the United Church of Christ national headquarters at 700 Prospect Avenue in Cleveland, Ohio
- The Office of General Ministries (OGM) is responsible for administration, common services (technology, physical plant, etc), covenantal relations (ecumenical relations, formal relations to other settings of the church), financial development, and "proclamation, identity and communication". The current General Minister and President is the Rev. John Thomas and the current Associate General Minister is Ms. Edith Guffey.
- Local Church Ministries (LCM) is responsible for evangelism, stewardship and church finance, worship and education, Pilgrim Press and United Church Resources (the publishing house of the United Church of Christ), and parish life and leadership (authorization, clergy development, seminary relations, parish leadership, etc.). The current Executive Minister of Local Church Ministries is the Rev. Dr. Stephen L. Sterner
- Wider Church Ministries (WCM) is responsible for partner relations* (relations with churches around the world, missionary work, etc.), local church relations* (as relates to world ministries and missions), global sharing of resources, health and wholeness ministry, and global education and advocacy*. The starred '*' ministries are carried out through the Common Global Ministries Board, a joint instrumentality of the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), based in Indianapolis, Indiana. The current Executive Minister for Wider Church Ministries is the Rev. Cally Rogers-Witte.
- Justice and Witness Ministries (JWM) is responsible for ministries related to economic justice, human rights, justice for women and transformation, public life and social policy, and racial justice. In addition to its offices in Cleveland, JWM also maintains an office on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. The current Executive Minister for Justice and Witness Ministries is Rev. M. Linda Jaramillo. JWM also maintains an office called "Minister for Children, Families and Human Sexuality Advocacy" that promotes the Our Whole Lives sex education curriculum.
The Pension Boards of the United Church of Christ (PB)
operates the employee benefits systems for all settings of the United Church of Christ, including health, dental, and optical insurance, retirement/pension systems, disability and life insurance, and ministerial assistance programs. The Pension Boards offices are located in New York City
, where the headquarters of all UCC national bodies had been located prior to their move to Ohio in the early 1990s.
The United Church Foundation (UCF)
operates a collective financial management and investment system available to any setting of the United Church of Christ that wishes to place its assets with UCF. The United Church Foundation offices are also located in New York City
The United Church of Christ Insurance Board is a nonprofit corporation collectively "owned" by 38 of the 39 Conferences of the United Church of Christ. It is run by a president/CEO and a 15-member Board, of with the full corporate board consisting of participating Conference ministers. The UCCIB administers a property insurance and liability insurance program serving the United Church of Christ and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) churches and related entities.
United Church News
The denomination's official publication, United Church News,
was begun in 1985 by the Rev. W. Evan Golder, founding editor. The current editor, the Rev. J. Bennett Guess, succeeded Golder in 2003 after serving as "minister for communication and mission education" for the UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries
United Church News is published by the Office of Communication, United Church of Christ, which is related to the Proclamation, Identity and Communication Ministry of the United Church of Christ, led by the Rev. Robert Chase of Lakewood, Ohio. Chase began work at the UCC’s national offices in Cleveland in April 1999.
Several regional editions are published by conferences as inserts to the nationally distributed edition. At its inception, the newspaper charged a subscription fee, but in the early 2000s this was discontinued in favor of free distribution. Recently, to save money, UCN reduced frequency of publication.
Previous publications serving the UCC were United Church Herald (1958-1972) and A.D. (1972-1983). United Church Herald was, not surpiringly, a merger of the Congregational Christian Churches' Advance and the Evangelical and Reformed Church's Messenger. A.D. was a joint publication of the UCC and the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. A.D. was discontinued when the UPCUSA merged with the Presbyterian Church in the United States to form the present Presbyterian Church (USA), in order for the new denomination to establish its own official periodical.
Current issues in the United Church of Christ
"God Is Still Speaking" identity campaign
At the 2003 General Synod, the United Church of Christ began a campaign with "emphasis on expanding the UCC's name-brand identity through modern advertising and marketing." that was formally launched Advent 2004. The campaign included coordinated program of evangelism and hospitality training for congregations paired with national and local television "brand" advertising, known as the "God is Still Speaking" campaign or "The Stillspeaking Initiative." The initiative was themed around the quote "Never place a period where God has placed a comma," and campaign materials, including print and broadcast advertising as well as merchandise, featured the quote and a large "comma," with a visual theme in red and black. United Church of Christ congregations were asked to "opt in" to the campaign, signifying their support as well as their willingness to receive training on hospitality and evangelism. An evangelism event was held in Atlanta in August 2005 to promote the campaign. Several renewal groups panned the ad campaign for its efforts to create an ONA/progressive perception of the UCC identity despite its actual majority in centrist/moderate viewpoints. According to John Evans, associate professor of sociology at University of California, San Diego, "The UCC is clearly going after a certain niche in American society who are very progressive and have a particular religious vision that includes inclusiveness... They are becoming the religious brand that is known for this.
The first television advertisement in the campaign, the "Bouncers" advertisement, showed bouncers allowing a white, well-dressed family comprising a straight couple and two children into a church building while rejecting a number of others, including an African American female, a Latino male, a gay couple, and a person using a wheelchair. The text displayed on the screen says "Jesus didn't turn people away. Neither do we." In the initial December 2004 run, the NBC and CBS television networks refused to air an advertisement by the UCC, deeming it too controversial. The winter 2005 issue of The Witness (a renewal group publication) noted, ‘Some controversy continues about the controversy itself. Some reports indicate that NBC and CBS notified the UCC about its decision not to run the “bouncer” ads several months before the campaign launch date, while approving a second “little girl” ad which UCC officials chose not to use until three weeks into the month. All the press releases about this controversy have come from the UCC to coordinate with the release of the Ad. NBC and CBS have not commented, leading some to speculate that the creation of the controversy was an intentional effort to draw attention to the campaign. Ironically, the one major network to accept the Ad is FOX, which is generally considered to be less liberal than the three other networks.’
During Lent 2006, the UCC launched several sites prior to the release of the commercial, including iUCC.org, UCCVitality.org, RejectionHurts.com, AccessibleAirwaves.org Also, at Buford’s request, the commercial was previewed by an estimated 800 people March 17-19 at the UCC’s New England Women’s Gathering. In January 2006, Sojourners Magazine published an inverview of Buford describing the commercial. This Sojourners' information was subsequently published on several forums and blogs, (namely, UCC forums, Philosophy over Coffee, UCCTruths). In reaction, the United Church news stated that "details of UCC's new TV ad [had] emerge[d] earlier than planned" and therefore issued a complete description of the ad a full week before its planned press conference.
In the second major commercial, known as the "Ejector Seat" commercial, church pews "eject" people in a fashion similar to aircraft ejector seats; among the persons "ejected" from the church are an African American mother holding a crying infant, two men holding hands, an Arab-American man, and a person with a walker. The commercial again concluded with the line "Jesus didn't turn people away. Neither do we", and cut to a scene of a diverse church gathering and a voice-over stating "The United Church of Christ: No matter who you are, or where you are on life's journey, you're welcome here." The "Ejector Seat" commercial was originally announced to air during Advent 2005, but due to inadequate funding available at the time, the Executive Council delayed this until Lent 2006.
In December 2006, UCC launched a blog-centered ad campaign. "UCC ads will be placed on various internet sites and blogs, with the hope of reaching general audiences in addition to targeted groups, such as youth, young families with children, gays and lesbians, social justice advocates, and the Spanish-speaking community."
The United Church of Christ Executive Council announced at its April 2006 meeting that the denomination would integrate the campaign into the overall program of the national setting. Ron Buford, the campaign manager, subsequently resigned.
Controversial Resolutions from General Synod XXV (2005)
Two resolutions from the United Church of Christ General Synod XXV, meeting in Atlanta, Georgia
from July 1
–5, 2005, generated significant controversy both in and outside the denomination, some of which continues presently. As noted in the Polity section above, the General Synod cannot enforce positions on local congregations, speaking "to, but not for" them.
- The resolution "In support of equal marriage rights for all", supported by an estimated 80% of the 884 General Synod Delegates, made the United Church of Christ General Synod the first major Christian deliberative body in the U.S. to make a statement of support for "equal marriage rights for all people, regardless of gender," and is hitherto the largest Christian denominational entity in the U.S. supporting equal marriage rights (although other denominations have affirmed committed relationships for LGBT people in other forms). The resolution's primary focus is on calling for equal access to civil marriage rights regardless of gender; however, the resolution does call upon local congregations and other settings of the United Church of Christ to discussion and discernment around "marriage equality" and encourages congregations "to consider adopting Wedding Policies that do not discriminate against couples based on gender." Although eighty percent (80%) of the delegates at the United Church of Christ General Synod XXV endorsed an "Equal Marriage Rights For All" resolution, national response to the resolution remains mixed. Some in the United Church of Christ have heralded the resolution as furthering the prophetic witness of the United Church of Christ to both church and society. Others in the United Church of Christ viewed this decision unfavorably, though, because the General Synod's highly publicized endorsement may or may not reflect the actual theological opinions held by individual members or their local congregations. The language used that asserts no distinction between same sex marriage and different sex marriage ("Therefore, theologically and biblically, there is neither justification for denying any couple, regardless of gender, the blessings of the church nor for denying equal protection under the law in the granting of a civil marriage license, recognized and respected by all civil entities.") has been considered by some to be an overstepping the Synod's role in asserting theological positions. Of particular note, on June 10, 2006, the Iglesia Evangelica Unida de Puerto Rico, since 1931 a conference of the Congregational Christian Churches/UCC, voted by a 3–1 margin to withdraw its affiliation with the UCC as a body, over the issue.
- United Church of Christ General Synod XXV also passed two resolutions concerning the conflict between Israel and Palestinians in the Middle East. One calls for the use of economic leverage to promote peace in the Middle East, which can include measures such as government lobbying, selective investment, shareholder lobbying, and selective divestment from companies which profit from the continuing Israel-Palestine conflict. The other resolution, named "Tear Down the Wall", calls upon Israel to remove the separation barrier between Israel and the West Bank. Opponents of the "Tear Down the Wall" resolution have noted that the wall's purpose is to prevent terrorist attacks, and that the resolution does not call for a stop to these attacks. The Simon Wiesenthal Center stated that the July 2005 UCC resolutions on divestment from Israel were "functionally anti-Semitic". The Anti-Defamation League stated that those same resolutions are "disappointing and disturbing" and "deeply troubling". In addition to the concerns raised about the merits of the "economic leverage" resolution, additional concerns were raised about the process in which the General Synod approved the resolution. Michael Downs of the United Church of Christ Pension Boards (who would be charged with implementing any divestment of the UCC's Pension Board investments) wrote a letter to UCC President John Thomas expressing concern "with the precedent-setting implications of voted actions, integrity of process and trust."
Criticism of conservative critics
Leaders of the United Church of Christ have recently begun to issue criticism of the Institute for Religion and Democracy
and groups associated with it. In a speech October 14
, President John Thomas accused the IRD of becoming over-involved with conservatives within the UCC. He said:
In the midst of all of this we are increasingly aware of the challenge of groups within and beyond the United Church of Christ that claim to represent the call to honor theological diversity in the United Church of Christ, that encourage the voice of more conservative sisters and brothers among us, but which are in fact intent on disrupting and destroying our life together.
At Gettysburg College on March 6, 2006, Thomas again warned against collusion with the IRD, calling the IRD "a sophisticated 'inside the beltway' organization well funded by conservative foundations and closely aligned with a neo-conservative political agenda." Thomas criticized IRD's association with the Association of Church Renewal, with the Biblical Witness Fellowship, with "Welcoming and Faithful Movement" [sic], and the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Further, Thomas described IRD's modus operandi as follows:
The IRD pursues its political agenda in the churches through three strategies: campaigns of disinformation that seek to discredit church leadership, advocacy efforts at church assemblies seeking to influence church policy, and grass roots organizing which, in some cases, encourages schismatic movements encouraging members and congregations either to redirect mission funding or even to leave their denominations. Indeed, the Mainline churches are facing hardball tactics."
Following the speech, the Simon Wiesenthal Center denied any connection to the IRD and stated:
John Thomas made some conspiratorial charges about the Wiesenthal Center at a recent speech at Gettysburg College. These charges are completely inaccurate and are not based on fact and the irresponsible nature of these comments should make reasonable people wonder if the leadership of the UCC is being equally irresponsible with the facts about the Middle-East."''
Faithful and Welcoming, one of these groups named by Thomas as being aligned with IRD, held their first annual gathering in August 2006 and invited the UCC leadership to dialogue on the future of conservatives and other non-liberals in the UCC. Shortly thereafter, the August–September issue of the United Church News was published during that included a pastoral letter by Thomas and point counterpoint articles by Bob Thompson and Nancy Taylor disagreeing over the goals of Faithful and Welcoming. Thomas' letter does not take an explicit stand on FWC, but is clear that pastors within the UCC need to "distinguish loving critics from hurtful ones" and that not all conservative critics of UCC resolutions should be automatically associated with IRD. Taylor's ONA counterpoint explicitly stated "Thompson is not a loving critic."
However, Faithful and Welcoming is not and was not aligned with IRD. This controversy stemmed from a short-lived link to IRD inadvertently posted on the FWC website's links page. This link was not representative of an association or alignment with IRD.
Thomas' letter said:
It is clear that we face two kinds of critics today. There are many loving critics who care deeply for this church, seek ways to support it, and yearn for its growth and vitality. They find themselves in dissent from some of the positions of the General Synod and its leaders, finding in the Bible and the church's tradition differing understandings of how we are to view contemporary social and moral issues. We need to listen with care, humility and deep respect to these loving critics, assuring them of their honored place within the diverse life of this church, finding ways for them to support those aspects of our national and global ministries that they can fully embrace. We need to be open to the truth that they have spiritual insights to nurture, even challenge us toward greater faithfulness.
It's also the case that there are critics who do not love this church, who seek to disrupt, distract, diminish, even destroy our life. These critics, within and beyond, encourage local churches to withhold financial support of our wider ministries, offer advice and counsel on how to leave the denomination, establish parallel structures for the placement of clergy and the sending of mission personnel, and regularly disseminate deliberately misleading or false information about the denomination and its leaders. Those who love this church, and cherish its legacy, need to be clear in saying no to this form of critique which falls outside the bounds of acceptable Christian behavior.
Discerning between these two types of critics is one of the great challenges of leadership today. It requires a deep humility to embrace the loving critics, no matter how uncomfortable their critique may be, never saying, "I have no need of you." But it also requires the courage to name those whose actions are out of bounds, saying to those who would disrupt, distract, even destroy, "I will not let you damage what is precious or diminish a vocation that is a critical dimension of the Gospel witness." Such discernment is not easy. May God grant us the wisdom required for it, and the discipline to do it.
Thompson voices his contention that the UCC is attempting a realignment along the lines of Tony Campolo's 1995 book, Can Mainline Denominations Make a Comeback? [that] advocated the "realignment" of denominations based on ideological lines. Thompson says, "numerous individuals — along with entire congregations — have expressed interest in joining the UCC because of its bold pronouncements and extravagant welcome. More important than the numbers lost and gained, whatever they turn out to be, is this dual reality: those leaving the UCC more than likely consider themselves evangelical, conservative, orthodox, or traditional (ECOT) and those finding the UCC are likely liberal or progressive."... "We [FWC] do not seek to divide or disrupt. We are not a cover for an exit strategy. We are simply asking that our presence be recognized and valued."
In response, Taylor writes, "while Thompson writes that his Faithful and Welcoming Churches "are not a cover for an exit strategy" from the UCC, his activities tell a different story" she lists several including that "Thompson's own church, Corinth Reformed Church in Hickory, N.C., has dropped UCC from its name and the FWC website encourages other UCC congregations to drop UCC from their names. Moreover, his church has scheduled a congregational vote for September 9, 2007 regarding its continued UCC affiliation." She further criticizes Thompson for his church's withholding of OCWM funds, and concludes, "Thompson is not a loving critic."
General Synod 26
The 2007 General Synod featured a "Synod in the City" outdoor bazaar
throughout the central city of Hartford, Connecticut
with speakers, street musicians, and circus acts, as a celebration of the denomination's 50th anniversary. Several notable speakers such as Marian Wright Edelman
, Lynn Redgrave
, Bill Moyers
's John Hockenberry
, Leonard Pitts, Jr.
, Kevin Phillips
, Senator Barack Obama
, Ray Kurzweil
, the Rev. Peter Gomes
, and DJ Davey D
were present during the festivities.
Barack Obama's membership in the UCC
In June 2007, US Presidential candidate and longtime UCC member Barack Obama
was invited to speak at the UCC's Iowa Conference meeting and also at the General Synod 26 a week later in Hartford, Connecticut
. A complaint was subsequently filed with the Internal Revenue Service
alleging that the UCC promoted Obama's candidacy by allowing him to speak at those meetings.
Barry Lynn, an ordained UCC minister and the executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, stated that although he personally would not have invited a Presidential candidate to speak at the meetings, he believed "the Internal Revenue Service permits this to happen. The church had consulted with lawyers prior to the event to make sure they were following the law and had instructed those in attendance that no Obama campaign material would be allowed in the meeting. Nevertheless, in February 2008, the IRS sent a letter to the church stating that it was launching an inquiry into the matter.
On February 27, 2008, in an open letter to UCC members, Rev. John Thomas announced the creation of The UCC Legal Fund, to aid in the denomination's defense against the IRS. While the denomination expects legal expenses to surpass six figures, it halted donations after raising $59,564 in less than a week.
In May 2008, the IRS issued a letter which states that the UCC had taken appropriate steps and that the denomination's tax status was not in jeopardy.
The United Church of Christ is in a relationship of full communion
with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
, the Presbyterian Church (USA)
, and the Reformed Church in America
through a formal declaration known as the Formula of Agreement
, with the Union Evangelischer Kirchen
(Union of Evangelical Churches) in Germany, and with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
through an ecumenical partnership. The church is a founding member of Churches Uniting in Christ
and is in dialogue about deeper relations with the Alliance of Baptists
. It is a member of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA
(NCC), the World Alliance of Reformed Churches
(WARC), and the World Council of Churches
. The UCC also allies with other denominations in support of Church World Service
efforts in domestic and foreign development and relief efforts.
United Church of Christ institutions
Officially related educational institutions
Colleges and universities
These 18 schools have affirmed the purposes of the United Church of Christ Council for Higher Education by official action and are full members of the Council.
- Catawba College (Salisbury, North Carolina)
- Defiance College (Defiance, Ohio)
- Dillard University (New Orleans, Louisiana)
- Doane College (Crete, Nebraska)
- Drury University (Springfield, Missouri)
- Elmhurst College (Elmhurst, Illinois)
- Elon University (Elon, North Carolina)
- Heidelberg College (Tiffin, Ohio)
- Huston-Tillotson University (Austin, Texas)
- Illinois College (Jacksonville, Illinois)
- Lakeland College (Sheboygan, Wisconsin)
- LeMoyne-Owen College (Memphis, Tennessee)
- Northland College (Ashland, Wisconsin)
- Olivet College (Olivet, Michigan)
- Pacific University (Forest Grove, Oregon)
- Piedmont College (Demorest, Georgia)
- Rocky Mountain College (Billings, Montana)
- Talladega College (Talladega, Alabama)
- Tougaloo College (Tougaloo, Mississippi)
Historically related educational institutions
Historically related seminaries
Historically related colleges and universities (Council for Higher Education)
"These colleges continue to relate to the United Church of Christ through the Council for Higher Education, but chose not to affirm the purposes of the Council. Though in many respects similar to the colleges and universities that have full membership in the Council, these institutions tend to be less intentional about their relationships with the United Church of Christ." (from the United Church of Christ website)
- Beloit College (Beloit, Wisconsin)
- Carleton College (Northfield, Minnesota)
- Cedar Crest College (Allentown, Pennsylvania)
- Fisk University (Nashville, Tennessee)
- Franklin and Marshall College (Lancaster, Pennsylvania)
- Grinnell College (Grinnell, Iowa)
- Hood College (Frederick, Maryland)
- Ripon College (Ripon, Wisconsin)
- Ursinus College (Collegeville, Pennsylvania)
- Westminster College of Salt Lake City (Salt Lake City, Utah)
Other historical colleges and universities (unrelated)
These colleges and universities were founded by or are otherwise related historically to the denomination or its predecessors, but no longer maintain any direct relationship.
- Dartmouth College (Hanover, New Hampshire)
- Harvard University (Cambridge, Massachusetts) — was founded by Congregationalists, but sided with the Unitarians in their 1825 breakaway.
- Yale University (New Haven, Connecticut)
- Chamberlain College of Nursing, formerly Deaconess College of Nursing (St. Louis, Missouri)
- Rollins College (Winter Park, Florida)
- New College Florida (Sarasota, Florida)
- Oberlin College (Oberlin, Ohio)
- Pomona College (Claremont, California)
- Tohoku Gakuin University (Sendai, Japan)
- Whitman College (Walla Walla, Washington) — briefly associated with the Congragational Church in the early 1900s.
List of prominent UCC churches
List of famous UCC members or attendees
This section lists notable people known to have been raised in or current members of the United Church of Christ or its predecessor denominations.
- Daniel Akaka — U.S. Senator from Hawaii (Democrat)
- Max Baucus — U.S. Senator from Montana (Democrat)
- Julian Bond — Chair NAACP (2004–present)
- Walter Brueggemann — contemporary theologian, poet, and UCC minister, retired professor at Columbia Theological Seminary
- William Sloane Coffin — Late Presbyterian/UCC minister and activist; 'pastor, prophet, poet'; former Chaplain at Yale University and Senior Pastor of Riverside Church, New York City
- Common — Rapper, recording artist, member of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago.
- Jon Corzine — Governor of New Jersey (Democrat)
- Howard Dean — Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Former Governor of Vermont (Democrat)
- Mark Fernald — Former New Hampshire State senator
- Donald Hall — United States US Poet Laureate
- Mills Godwin — Former Governor of Virginia
- Bob Graham — Former U.S. Senator from Florida (Democrat)
- Judd Gregg — U.S. Senator from New Hampshire (Republican)
- Jim Jeffords — Former U.S. Senator from Vermont (Independent)
- Roger Johnson - CEO of Western Digital and head of the General Services Administration under President Bill Clinton
- Dean Koontz — American writer and author. Raised UCC, now is Catholic.
- John Williamson Nevin — notable 19th-century theologian
- Barack Obama — U.S. Senator, 2008 presidential candidate
- Robert Orr — Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations
- H. Richard Niebuhr — notable 20th-century theologian
- Reinhold Niebuhr — notable 20th-century theologian
- Sally Pederson — former Lieutenant Governor of Iowa (Democrat)
- Leonard Pitts — Nationally syndicated Pulitzer prize–winning (2004) columnist
- Kwame Raoul — Senator in Illinois State Senate (Democrat)
- Marilynne Robinson — Pulitzer prize-winning (2005) author of the novel Gilead
- Philip Schaff — notable 19th-century theologian
- George Smathers — Democratic Senator from Florida
- Max L. Stackhouse — public theologian and professor at Princeton Theological Seminary
- William "Bill" McKinney — President of Pacific School of Religion, since 1996
- Paul Tillich — notable 20th-century theologian
- Jeri Kehn Thompson - wife of Law & Order star and former U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Fred Thompson
- Oprah Winfrey — entertainment mogul
- Andrew Young — Civil rights leader, ordained UCC pastor, and former member of Congress, UN ambassador, and mayor of Atlanta, Georgia
UCC people notable within the denomination
This section lists theologians and other UCC clergy and laypeople that are notable within the denomination but that may have little name recognition outside the denomination.
- Presidents (year order)
- Others (alphabetical order)
- Ron Buford — coordinator of The Stillspeaking Initiative and former advertising manager for United Church News.
- Gabriel Fackre — Theologian; president, Confessing Christ; Abbot Professor of Christian Theology Emeritus, Andover Newton Theological School
- J. Bennett Guess — Editor of United Church News, the denominational newspaper
- Edith Guffey — Associate General Minister
- Louis Gunnemann — UCC polity theologian and former dean of United Theological Seminary (Twin Cities)
- Douglas Horton — Ecumenist, Minister and General Secretary of the General Council of Congregational Christian Churches, translator of Karl Barth into English, and early force in the formation of the UCC.
- Rev. William Hulteen — 25-year veteran of the former national "Office for Church Life and Leadership" (OCLL) and spokesman for issues of "ordained and lay leadership, theological reflection and education, clergy placement, worship and spirituality, and congregational life".
- M. Linda Jaramillo — Executive Minister for Justice and Witness Ministries (JWM)
- José Malayang — Executive Minister for Local Church Ministries (LCM)
- Rev. Otis Moss III — Pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago
- Elizabeth Nordbeck — Professor of Ecclesiastical History and 11-year dean at Andover Newton Theological School. co-editor of Prism, a UCC denominational journal.
- Charles Shelby Rooks — influential UCC pastor and scholar who, as president of Chicago Theological Seminary from 1974 to 1984, was the first African American to lead a predominantly Euro-American theological school.
- David Runnion-Bareford — Executive Director of Biblical Witness Fellowship since 1994; pastor, Congregational Church, Candia, New Hampshire
- Reuben Sheares, pastor and former executive director of the national Office for Church Life and Leadership for the UCC.
- Nancy S. Taylor — frequent denominational commentator, former Massachusetts Conference minister, and presently pastor of the historic Old South Church in Boston.
- Susan Thistlethwaite — President and Professor of Theology, Chicago Theological Seminary
- Rev. Bob Thompson, president of Faithful and Welcoming Churches; pastor, Corinth Reformed Church, Hickory, North Carolina
- Frederick R. Trost — founding convenor of Confessing Christ; former Conference Minister, Wisconsin Conference
- Cally Rogers-Witte — Executive Minister for Wider Church Ministries (WCM)
- Rev. Jeremiah Wright — retired senior pastor of the 10000-plus-member Trinity United Church of Christ, a predominantly African American Chicago congregation.
- Barbara Brown Zikmund — church historian (Hidden Histories) and President of Hartford Seminary; unsuccessful candidate for General Minister position in 1999.
are used within the UCC in place of common phrases:
- ANTS - Andover Newton Theological School
- AUCE - Association of United Church Educators
- BWF - Biblical Witness Fellowship
- CAIM - Council for American Indian Ministry
- CC - Congregational Christian
- CCHS - Congregational Christian Historical Society
- CCM - Council of Conference Ministers
- CE - Council for Ecumenism
- CHE - Council for Higher Education
- CHHSM - Council for Health and Human Service Ministries
- CHM - Council for Hispanic Ministries
- CR - Collegium Relationship Committee
- CJA - Christians for Justice Action
- COCU - Consultation on Church Union
- COREM - Council for Racial and Ethnic Ministries
- CUCCIAB - Conferences of the United Church of Christ Insurance Advisory Board
- CUE - Mid-America Seminaries, Chicago, United, and Eden
- CYYAM - Council on Youth and Young Adult Ministry
- E&R - Evangelical and Reformed
- EC - Executive Council
- ECOT - evangelical, conservative, orthodox, traditional – an acronym claimed to be invented by FWC to define contradistinction to "progressive" and "fundamentalist" wings of the UCC
- EMR/EMRFA - Equal Marriage Rights resolution of GS25
- EP&P - Evaluation, Planning, and Policy Committee
- ERHS - Evangelical and Reformed Historical Society
- FWC - Faithful And Welcoming Churches
- GISS - God is still speaking (theme for UCC ad campaign)
- GS - General Synod
- GS25 - General Synod 25 held in 2005, approved the EMR
- JWM - Justice and Witness Ministries
- HC - Historical Council
- LCM - Local Church Ministries
- MRSEJ - Ministers for Racial, Social, and Economic Justice (often referred to verbally as "Missus [MRS.] E.J.")
- MOM - Manual on Ministry
- NCCC - National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA
- OCCL - Office for Church Life and Leadership (defunct office under pre-2000 reorganization
- OCWM - Our Church's Wider Mission
- OGHS - One Great Hour of Sharing
- OGM - Office of General Ministries
- OL - Organizational Life Committee
- ONA - Open And Affirming
- PAAM - Pacific Islander and Asian American Ministries
- PB - Pension Boards
- PPC-25 - Program and Planning Committee of the Twenty-fifth General Synod
- TSI - The Still Speaking Initiative (UCC ad campaign)
- UBC - United Black Christians
- UCC - United Church of Christ
- UCCDM - UCC Disabilities Ministries
- UCCLGBTC - United Church Coalition for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Concerns
- UCF - United Church Foundation
- WCM - Wider Church Ministries
- WARC - World Alliance of Reformed Churches
- WCC - World Council of Churches
Websites of groups/caucuses with Executive Council Seats:
Websites of UCC-related groups (including professional associations and other caucuses):
Websites of unofficial but notable UCC groups (including dissent groups, renewal groups, and prophetic groups):