United Church of Christ

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This article is about the United States denomination known as "United Church of Christ". For other merged denominations, see United and uniting churches. For other churches that have the words "Church" and "Christ" in their name, see Church of Christ (disambiguation).
United Church of Christ
United Church of Christ logo.png
The official logo of the United Church of Christ.
Classification Protestant
Orientation Mainline Reformed United
Polity Congregationalist
Associations Churches Uniting In Christ
National Council of Churches
World Communion of Reformed Churches
World Council of Churches
Region United States
Headquarters Cleveland, Ohio
Origin 1957
Merge of Evangelical and Reformed Church and the General Council of Congregational Christian Churches
Congregations 5,116
Members 979,239 (As of 2013)
Official website http://www.ucc.org/

The United Church of Christ (UCC) is a mainline Protestant Christian denomination primarily in the Reformed tradition,[1] in historical continuation of the General Council of Congregational Christian churches founded under the influence of New England Puritanism."[2] The Evangelical and Reformed Church and the General Council of the Congregational Christian Churches united in 1957 to form the UCC. These two denominations, which were themselves the result of earlier unions, had their roots in Congregational, Christian, Evangelical, and Reformed denominations. The UCC's 5,116 congregations claim 979,239 members, primarily in the United States.[3]

The UCC maintains full communion with other mainline Protestant denominations. Many of its congregations choose to practice open communion.[4] The denomination places high emphasis on participation in worldwide interfaith and ecumenical efforts.[5][6] The national settings of the UCC have historically favored liberal views on social issues, such as civil rights, LGBT rights, women's rights, and abortion rights. However, United Church of Christ congregations are independent in matters of doctrine and ministry and may not necessarily support the national body's theological or moral stances. It is self-described as "an extremely pluralistic and diverse denomination".[7]

History[edit]

The United Church of Christ was formed when two Protestant churches, the Evangelical and Reformed Church and the General Council of the Congregational Christian Churches united in 1957.[8][9][10] This union adopted an earlier general statement of unity between the two denominations, the 1943 "Basis of Union".[11] At this time, the UCC claimed about two million members.[9] In 1959, in its General Synod, the UCC adopted a broad "Statement of Faith".[12] The UCC adopted its constitution and by-laws in 1961.[9]

Beliefs[edit]

There is no UCC hierarchy or body that can impose any doctrine or worship format onto the individual congregations within the UCC.[13] While individual congregations are supposed to hold guidance from the general synod "in the highest regard", the UCC's constitution requires that the "autonomy of the Local Church is inherent and modifiable only by its own action".[14]

Within this locally focused structure, however, there are central beliefs common to the UCC. The UCC often uses four words to describe itself: "Christian, Reformed, Congregational and Evangelical".[15] While the UCC refers to its evangelical characteristics, it springs from (and is considered part of) mainline Protestantism as opposed to Evangelicalism. The word evangelical in this case more closely corresponds with the original Lutheran origins meaning "of the gospel" as opposed to the Evangelical use of the word. UCC is generally theologically liberal, and the denomination notes that the "Bible, though written in specific historical times and places, still speaks to us in our present condition".[15]

The motto of the United Church of Christ comes from John 17:21: "That they may all be one". The denomination's official literature uses broad doctrinal parameters, emphasizing freedom of individual conscience and local church autonomy.

Historic confessions[edit]

In the United Church of Christ, creeds, confessions, and affirmations of faith function as "testimonies of faith" around which the church gathers rather than as "tests of faith" rigidly prescribing required doctrinal consent. As expressed in 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.[14]

The denomination, therefore, looks to a number of historic confessions as expressing the common faith around which the church gathers, including:

Studies and surveys of beliefs[edit]

In 2001, Hartford Institute for Religion Research did a "Faith Communities Today" (FACT) study[16] that included a survey of United Church of Christ beliefs. Among the results of this were findings that in the UCC, 5.6% of the churches responding to the survey described their members as "very liberal or progressive," 3.4% as "very conservative," 22.4% as "somewhat liberal or progressive," and 23.6% 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%. 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.[17] 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[18] and reflects statistics on attitudes toward 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 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.”

Relationships with other denominations[edit]

One of the UCC's central beliefs is that it is "called to be a united and uniting church."[19] Because of this, the UCC is involved in Churches Uniting in Christ, an organization seeking to establish full communion among nine Protestant denominations in America.[20] Currently, the UCC has entered into an ecumenical partnership with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and through A Formula of Agreement, signed in 1997, is in full communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church (USA), and the Reformed Church in America.[20] Internationally, the UCC has been in full communion with the Union Evangelischer Kirchen (Union of Evangelical Churches) in Germany since 1981.[21] The UEK is an organization of 13 Reformed and United Landeskirchen (regional churches) within the federation of Protestant churches known as the Evangelical Church of Germany.

In 1982 the World Council of Churches published "Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry",[22] 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.[23]

Relationships with other religions[edit]

The United Church of Christ facilitates bilateral dialogues with many faith groups, including members of the Jewish and Muslim communities. This includes membership in the National Muslim-Christian Initiative.[24]

Structure[edit]

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 given to the local church, many see United Church of Christ polity as closer to congregationalism; however, with ordination and pastoral oversight of licensed, commissioned and ordained ministers conducted by Associations, and General Synod representation given to Conferences instead of congregational delegates, certain similarities to presbyterian polity are also visible.

Local churches[edit]

First Congregational Church[4] of Long Beach, California, a local church of the United Church of Christ.
Old South Church, Boston, Massachusetts

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 or Christian Connection origin, have numerous relatively independent "boards" that oversee different aspects of church life, with annual or more frequent meetings (often conducted after a worship service on a Sunday afternoon) of the entire congregation to elect officers, approve budgets and set congregational policy. Other churches, mainly of Evangelical and Reformed descent, have one central "church council" or "consistory" that handles most or all affairs in a manner somewhat akin to a Presbyterian session, while still holding an annual congregational meeting for the purpose of electing officers and/or ratifying annual budgets. Still others, usually those congregations started after the 1957 merger, have structures incorporating aspects of both, or other alternative organizational structures entirely.

In almost all cases, though, the selection of a minister for the congregation is, in keeping with the Reformed tradition of the "priesthood of all believers," vested in a congregational meeting, held usually after a special ad hoc committee searches on the congregation's behalf for a candidate. Members of the congregation vote for or against the committee's recommended candidate for the pastorate, usually immediately after the candidate has preached a "trial sermon;" candidates are usually presented one at a time and not as a field of several to be selected from. Typically the candidate must secure anywhere from 60 to 90 percent affirmative votes from the membership before the congregation issues a formal call to the candidate; this depends on the provisions in the congregation's particular constitution and/or by-laws. Local churches have, in addition to the freedom to hire ministers and lay staff, the sole power to dismiss them also. However, unlike purely congregational polities, the association has the main authority to ordain clergy and grant membership, or "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). Such standing, among other things, permits a minister to participate in the UCC clergy pension and insurance plans. Local churches are usually aided in searching for and calling ordained clergy through a denominationally coordinated "search-and-call" system, usually facilitated by staff at the conference level. However, the local church may, for various reasons, opt not to avail itself of the conference placement system, and is free to do so without fear of retaliation, which would likely occur in synodical or presbyterian polities. Participation in the process, though, is usually a sign of the congregation's loyalty to the larger denomination and its work.

At the end of 2008, 5,320 churches were reported to be within the UCC, averaging 210 members. Sixteen churches were reported to have over 2,000 members, but 64% had fewer than 200 members.[25] The latter statistic probably indicates where most of the denomination's declining membership has occurred, in formerly mid-sized congregations between 200 and 500 members or so. The reduction in a typical church's size has also meant that, increasingly, many congregations are no longer able, as they once were, to afford a full-time, seminary-educated pastor, and that some of them have to rely on alternatives such as one of their members serving the church under a license, the use of recently retired clergy on a short-term basis, or ordained ministers serving the church on a half-time (or less) basis while earning their primary income from chaplaincies or other occupations. While this has been occurring to a lesser degree in other mainline denominations as well, the UCC's congregational polity allows for churches to adopt such approaches without ecclesiological restraint, as might happen in a more hierarchical denominational structure.

Larger organizations[edit]

Associations[edit]

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's main ecclesiastical function is to provide primary oversight and authorization of ordained and other authorized ministers; it also is the ecclesiastical link between the local congregation and the larger UCC. The association ordains new ministers, holds ministers' standing in covenant with local churches, and is responsible for disciplinary action; typically a specific ministerial committee handles these duties. Also, an association, again with the assistance of the ministerial committee, admits and removes local congregations from membership in the UCC.

Associations meet at least once annually to elect officers and board members and set budgets for the association's work; fellowship and informational workshops are often conducted during those meetings, which may take place more frequently according to local custom. 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.

Conferences[edit]

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" (formerly "Our Christian World Mission"), the United Church of Christ's denominational support system; unlike most associations, they usually have permanent headquarters and professional staff. The primary ecclesiastical function of a conference is to provide the primary support for the search-and-call process by which churches select ordained leadership; the conference minister and/or his or her associates perform this task in coordination with the congregation's pulpit search committee (see above) and the association to which the congregation belongs (particularly its ministerial committee). Conferences also provide significant programming resources for their constituent churches, such as Christian education resources and support, interpretation of the larger UCC's mission work, and church extension within their bounds (the latter usually conducted in conjunction with the national Local Church Ministries division).

Conferences, like associations, are congregationally representative bodies, with each local church sending ordained and lay delegates. Most current UCC conferences were formed in the several years following the consummation of the national merger in 1961, and in some instances were the unions of former Congregational Christian conferences (led by superintendents) and Evangelical and Reformed synods (led by presidents, some of whom served only on a part-time basis). A few have had territorial adjustments since then; only one conference, the Calvin Synod, composed of Hungarian-heritage Reformed congregations, received exemption from the geographical alignments, with its churches scattered from Connecticut westward to California and southward to Florida. Only one conference has ever withdrawn completely from the denomination: Puerto Rico, expressing disapproval of national UCC tolerance of homosexuality (as well as that of a large number of mainland congregations), departed the denomination in 2006, taking all of its churches.

General Synod[edit]

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 members of the United Church of Christ Board (see below), the officers of the denomination, and representatives of so-called "Historically Underrepresented Groups," such as the disabled, young adults, racial minorities, and gay and lesbian persons.

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, affiliated, and associated ministries[edit]

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.

Covenanted ministries[edit]

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. Dr. Geoffrey Black and the current Associate General Minister is Mr. W. Mark Clark.
  • 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. J. Bennett Guess.
  • 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. Rev. Jim Moos.
  • 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.
Affiliated ministry[edit]

The Pension Boards of the United Church of Christ (PB-UCC) operates the employee benefits systems for all settings of the United Church of Christ, including health, dental, and optical insurance, retirement annuity/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 Insurance Board is a nonprofit corporation collectively "owned" by the Conferences of the United Church of Christ. It is run by a president/CEO and a 19-member Board, with the full corporate board consisting of Conference, Region and Presbytery ministers as well as laypeople. The IB administers a property insurance, liability insurance, and risk management program serving the United Church of Christ, the Presbyterian Church(USA), and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) churches and related entities.[26]

Associated ministry[edit]

United Church Funds (UCF), formerly known as The United Church Foundation, provides low cost, socially responsible, professionally managed Common Investment Funds (CIFs) and other trustee services to any setting of the United Church of Christ. United Church Funds' offices are also located in New York City.

Activities[edit]

U.S. civil rights movement[edit]

Everett Parker of the United Church of Christ Office of Communication — at the request of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. — organized UCC churches during 1959 against television stations in the southern United States that were imposing news blackouts of information pertaining to the then growing U.S. civil rights movement. The UCC later won a lawsuit that resulted in the federal court decision that the broadcast air waves are public, not private, property, a decision leading toward the proliferation of people of color in television studios and newsrooms.[27]

Social activism[edit]

The UCC national body has been active in numerous traditionally liberal social causes, including support for abortion rights,[28] the United Farm Workers, and the Wilmington Ten.[9] The pro-life ministry in the UCC is done by the United Church of Christ Friends for Life group.[29]

Same-sex marriage[edit]

Churches in the UCC can solemnize same-sex unions.[30] The resolution "In support of equal marriage rights for all", supported by an estimated 80 percent of delegates to the church's 2005 General Synod, made the United Church of Christ the first major Christian deliberative body in the U.S. to endorse "equal marriage rights for all people, regardless of gender," and still the largest Christian denominational entity in the U.S. supporting same-sex marriage. The resolution was one of 32 actions by General Synod and other national bodies, beginning in 1969, which support civil rights for LGBT citizens and urge their full inclusion in the life of the church. The UCC's "Open and Affirming" movement, funded by the UCC Coalition, is the largest LGBT-welcoming-church program in the world with more than 1,100 congregations and 275,000 members.[31]

On April 28, 2014, the UCC filed a lawsuit against the state North Carolina for not permitting same-sex marriage; this lawsuit is America’s first faith-based challenge to same-sex marriage bans.[32][33][34] In the lawsuit, the church argues that prohibiting same sex-marriages violates the freedom of religion, as the ban which would prohibit these unions would force ministers in favor of same-sex marriages to not act on their beliefs.

Same-sex marriage is not supported by some UCC congregations, although the practice is rapidly gaining ground.[31] Opponents included the Iglesia Evangelica Unida de Puerto Rico (United Evangelical Church of Puerto Rico) which voted by a 3–1 margin to withdraw from the UCC after the 2005 General Synod vote.[35] The Biblical Witness Fellowship, a small conservative evangelical organization within the denomination, opposes the denomination's growing support for same-sex relationships.[36]

Apology Resolution[edit]

United Church of Christ was recognized in the Apology Resolution to Native Hawaiians. In the Resolution, Congress recognized the reconciliation made by the UCC in the Eighteenth General Synod for their actions in overthrowing the Kingdom of Hawaii.

Statement on the relationship between Israel and Palestinians[edit]

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".[37] The Anti-Defamation League stated that those same resolutions are "disappointing and disturbing" and "deeply troubling".[38] 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[39] to UCC President John H. Thomas expressing concern "with the precedent-setting implications of voted actions, integrity of process and trust."

Sex education[edit]

The United Church of Christ, along with the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, created several sexual education classes, which were designed for many different age groups. These courses were called Our Whole Lives, or OWL, and aim to provide scientific and unbiased information regarding sexuality, birth control and condoms, and physical biology.

"God Is Still Speaking" banner on a UCC church in Rochester, Minnesota.

"God Is Still Speaking," identity campaign[edit]

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."[40] 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 quotation "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.[41] 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.[42][43] 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."[44]

Criticism[edit]

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. Nonetheless, some critics, mainly social and theological conservatives, are vocal about the UCC's theology, political identity, and cultural milieu.

Theological criticism[edit]

More conservative members of the UCC have complained that the UCC has lost members because of its "theological surrender to the moral and spiritual confusion of contemporary culture.."[36] This movement has focused its complaints on the "often radically liberal political agenda" of the UCC.[36]

Social criticism[edit]

Conservatives have complained that UCC members are "probably the most left-leaning of all major U.S. denominations."[45] These critics have complained that the UCC attempts to control "how liberal Christians should think in politically correct terms about climate controversies, socialized medicine, the U.S. presence in Iraq, immigration and the Welfare State."[45]

Criticism over same-sex marriage[edit]

The UCC has been severely criticized for its stand on same-sex marriage.[citation needed] In fact, citing differences over "the membership and ministry of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Christians," the UCC's Puerto Rico Conference left the church in 2006.[46]

Criticism of sex education[edit]

Critics have complained that the UCC's focus on sex education, including the distribution of condoms, does not provide appropriate moral context for sex and has failed in "reinforcing the traditional Christian ethic reserving sex for marriage."[47]

Sources of criticism[edit]

The conservative-leaning Institute on Religion and Democracy has been consistently critical of the UCC, complaining that the denomination "is stuck in the liberal theology and politics of the 1960s" and makes conservatives feel unwelcome.[48]

Internal critics have also complained that the UCC has "set on a course of dishonest political activism" without the knowledge of the local congregations.[49]

Outcries have been so strong among conservative congregations that they have ended their affiliations with the denomination, in many cases terminating decades of association with one of the UCC's four major traditions. This became especially pronounced in the months following the decision of General Synod 25 to endorse same-sex marriage. Three denominations have in particular been beneficiaries of their decisions: the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches (founded in the late 1950s in opposition to the UCC merger), the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference (founded in the 1940s as a more conservative alternative), and the Evangelical Association of Reformed and Congregational Christian Churches (founded in the 1990s, mostly by E&R-heritage churches). However, quite a number of withdrawing congregations have decided to operate independently, influenced perhaps by the recent growth and success of non-denominational fellowships throughout the U.S.[citation needed]

Still other congregations have decided to remain in the denomination but withhold financial support for "Our Church's Wider Mission" (OCWM). They say their goal is to avoid funding conference and national programs and policies they find objectionable.[citation needed] Many of those churches are openly affiliated with two conservative "renewal" organizations, the Biblical Witness Fellowship and the North Carolina-based Faithful and Welcoming group, both of which have tried, largely unsuccessfully, to lobby the General Synod (and some conferences) to renounce politically and theologically liberal stances on a number of issues.

Barack Obama and the UCC[edit]

A controversy arose over Obama speaking at UCC gatherings, but the IRS found that the UCC had adhered to the prohibition against churches campaigning for political candidates.

In 2007, US Presidential candidate and longtime UCC member Barack Obama spoke at the UCC's Iowa Conference meeting and at the General Synod 26.[50] A complaint filed with the Internal Revenue Service alleged that the UCC promoted Obama's candidacy by having him speak at those meetings.[51]

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."[52] The church had consulted 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.[53]

On February 27, 2008, in an open letter to UCC members, Rev. John H. Thomas announced the creation of The UCC Legal Fund, to aid in the denomination's defense against the IRS.[54] While the denomination expected 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. [55]

Membership[edit]

At the time of its formation, the UCC had over 2 million members in nearly 7,000 churches.[56] The denomination has suffered a 44 percent loss in membership since the mid-1960s.[57] By 1980, membership was at about 1.7 million and by the turn of the century had dropped to 1.3 million.[56] In 2006, the UCC had roughly 1.2 million members in 5,452 churches.[56] According to its 2008 annual report, the United Church of Christ had about 1.1 million members in about 5,300 local congregations.[58] However the 2010 annual report showed a decline of 31,000 members and a loss of 33 congregations since then. The decline in number of congregations continued through 2011, as the 2011 Annual Report shows 5100 member churches.[59] As of the 2014 Annual Yearbook of the UCC, membership is listed as 979,239 members in 5154 local churches.

Membership is concentrated primarily in the Northeast and Midwest. Pennsylvania, a bastion of the German Reformed tradition, has the largest number of members and churches. As of 2000, the state had over 700 congregations and over 200,000 members.[60] The highest membership rates are in the states of Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, situated in the heartland of the American Congregationalist movement.[60]

United Church of Christ institutions[edit]

Officially related educational institutions[edit]

Seminaries[edit]

Colleges and universities[edit]

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.

Secondary academies[edit]

Historically related educational institutions[edit]

Historically related seminaries[edit]

Historically related colleges and universities (Council for Higher Education)[edit]

"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)

Other colleges and universities (historically related, currently unrelated)[edit]

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.

List of prominent UCC churches[edit]

List of famous UCC members[edit]

This section lists notable people known to have been past or present members or raised in the United Church of Christ or its predecessor denominations.

Politicians[edit]

Others[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Rice, Howard L. (1991). Reformed Spirituality. Westminster John Knox Press. p. 9. ISBN 9780664252304. Retrieved 31 October 2012. "The denominations in the United States usually considered to be part of the Reformed tradition include the Presbyterians, the United Church of Christ, the Reformed Church in America, the Christian Reformed Church, and, though it can be debated, the Disciples of Christ." 
  2. ^ Queen, Edward L.; Prothero, Stephen R.; Shattuck, Gardiner H. (1 January 2009). Encyclopedia of American Religious History. Infobase Publishing. p. 818. ISBN 9780816066605. Retrieved 31 October 2012. "Next in size and historical importance is the United Church of Christ, which is the historic continuation of the Congregational churches founded under the influence of New England Puritanism. The United Church of Christ also subsumed the third major Reformed group, the German Reformed, which (then known as the Evangelical and Reformed Church) merged with the Congregationalists in 1957." 
  3. ^ "2012 Statistical Profile". Retrieved 2014-01-21. 
  4. ^ "Ecumenical partnerships and relationships of full communion". Ucc.org. Retrieved 2012-03-12. 
  5. ^ "Interfaith relations". Ucc.org. Retrieved 2012-03-12. 
  6. ^ "Ecumenical and Interfaith Partners". Ucc.org. Retrieved 2012-03-12. 
  7. ^ Zikmund, Barbara B. Hidden Histories in the United Church of Christ - Volume I. 1987, ISBN 0-8298-0753-5. Web: 16 December 2009
  8. ^ "What is the United Church of Christ". ucc.org. Retrieved 2010-01-16. 
  9. ^ a b c d "The United Church of Christ". ucc.org. Retrieved 2010-01-16. 
  10. ^ Gunnemann, Louis H. (1977). The Shaping of the United Church of Christ. United Church Press. ISBN 0829813454. 
  11. ^ "Basis of Union"
  12. ^ "Statement of Faith"
  13. ^ "Testimonies, not Tests". UCC. Retrieved 2010-01-22. [dead link]
  14. ^ a b "Constitution and Bylaws of the United Church of Christ". UCC. Retrieved 2010-01-22. 
  15. ^ a b "What is the United Church of Christ? A brief history". UCC. Retrieved 2010-01-22. [dead link]
  16. ^ Lang, Andy (April 2001). "Denominational identity still important". ucc.org. Archived from the original on 2006-12-20. Retrieved 2006-12-24. 
  17. ^ Smith, Peter (2006-11-05). "United Church of Christ Divided". courier-journal.com. Retrieved 2006-12-24. 
  18. ^ Fowler, Sidney D.; Marjorie H. Royle (2005-06-27). "Worshiping into God's Future: Summaries and Strategies 2005" (PDF). ucc.org. Archived from the original on 2006-12-26. Retrieved 2006-12-27. 
  19. ^ "What we believe". UCC. Retrieved 2010-01-22. 
  20. ^ a b "Ecumenical partnerships and relationships of full communion". UCC. Retrieved 2010-01-22. 
  21. ^ United Church of Christ (1981). "'Kirchengemeinschaft' between the UCC and the Union of Evangelical Churches (UEK) in Germany". 
  22. ^ World Council of Churches (1982). "Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (Faith and Order Paper No. 111, the "Lima Text")". 
  23. ^ "A United Church OF Christ Response to Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry". ucc.org. Retrieved 2006-12-26. 
  24. ^ http://www.ucc.org/synod/pdfs/REPORT-From-the-Committee-on-Ecumenical-and-Interfaith-Relations.pdf
  25. ^ "Research Services". ucc.org. Retrieved 2010-05-19. 
  26. ^ United Church of Christ Insurance Board Who We Are
  27. ^ "UCC Firsts (1959).
  28. ^ Guess, J. Bennett (2009-09-25). "NARAL honors UCC leader as 'champion of choice'". UCC. Retrieved 2010-01-22. 
  29. ^ United Church of Christ Friends for Life Website
  30. ^ Goodstein, LAURIE (2009-07-15), "Episcopal Bishops Give Ground on Gay Marriage", NY Times, retrieved 2010-01-22 
  31. ^ a b "Stances of Faiths on LGBT Issues: United Church of Christ". Human Rights Campaign. Retrieved 2011-11-30. 
  32. ^ http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2014/06/03/4952335/rabbis-group-joins-nc-same-sex.html#.U5MxjShCySo
  33. ^ http://www.advocate.com/politics/religion/2014/06/06/rabbis-join-marriage-equality-fight
  34. ^ Peralta, Eyder "United Church Of Christ Challenges North Carolina Ban On Gay Marriage" NPR April 28th, 2014, retrieved April 19th, 2014 http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/04/28/307793118/united-church-of-christ-challenges-north-carolina-ban-on-gay-marriage
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  36. ^ a b c "An Introduction to the Biblical Witness Fellowship". 1983. Retrieved 2010-01-22. 
  37. ^ Simon WIESENTHAL Center[dead link].
  38. ^ United Church of Christ's Israel Divestment Action "Troubling"; Contravenes Months of Interfaith Dialogue. Adl.org. Retrieved on 2014-04-12.
  39. ^ [2]
  40. ^ Winslow, William (July–August 2003). "UCC leader asks for $1 billion in annual giving by 2007". ucc.org. Archived from the original on 2006-12-20. Retrieved 2006-12-25. 
  41. ^ Thomas, John. "National Evangelism Event". ucc.org. Archived from the original on 2006-12-19. Retrieved 2006-12-25. 
  42. ^ December 2004 Archive
  43. ^ Witness 2005 - Winter
  44. ^ name = "Evans"[3][dead link]
  45. ^ a b Tooley, Mark (2008-09-16). "Religious Left Voter Guides". Institute on Religion & Democracy. Retrieved 2010-01-23. 
  46. ^ "Puerto Rico Church Leaves UCC Over Gay Policies". Christian Post. Associated Press. 2006-06-23. Retrieved 2010-01-23. 
  47. ^ "United Church of Christ Ad Masks Decline" (Press release). Institute on Religion & Democracy. 2008-04-02. Retrieved 2010-01-23. 
  48. ^ "Pass the Offering Plate, Take a Condom United Church of Christ Promotes Contraceptive Distribution in the Sanctuary" (Press release). Institute on Religion & Democracy. 2009-03-25. Retrieved 2010-01-23. 
  49. ^ Hutchins, James. "The Point". Retrieved 2010-01-23. [dead link]
  50. ^ One week before Synod speech, Obama addresses UCC's Iowa Conference
  51. ^ The American Spectator
  52. ^ OneNewsNow.com - Your News Right Now[dead link]
  53. ^ The Associated Press: IRS Investigates Obama's Denomination[dead link]
  54. ^ The United Church of Christ: Support the UCC's legal defense against the IRS[dead link]
  55. ^ The United Church of Christ: Search results for 59,564
  56. ^ a b c "Historic Archive CD and Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches". The National Council of Churches. Retrieved 2009-12-18. 
  57. ^ Minicy Catom Software Engineering Ltd. www.catom.com. "Institute for Global Jewish Affairs – Global Antisemitism, Anti-Israelism, Jewish Studies". Jcpa.org. Retrieved 2012-03-12. 
  58. ^ "2008 Annual Report". ucc.org. Retrieved 2009-07-05. 
  59. ^ "2010 Annual Report". ucc.org. 
  60. ^ a b "2000 Religious Congregations and Membership Study". Glenmary Research Center. Retrieved 2009-12-18. 
  61. ^ In Quest to Be More Welcoming, Yale Is Severing Ties to a Church NY Times, April 12, 2005
  62. ^ A Brief History - New College of Florida, The public liberal arts honors college for the state of Florida[dead link]
  63. ^ pg 10[dead link]
  64. ^ On Eagle Pond Farm The new poet laureate on politics, grief—and Poetry TV
  65. ^ Chatting With Koontz About Faith

External links[edit]

Membership Data: