Thursday, April 19, 2007

Synod Resolutions: The Fluffy

This category is for resolutions more theological in nature. I call them "fluffy" because they don't really feature a practical side. They're usually nice statements that most people get behind, and that may work in a spirit-affirming, publically declarative sense, but then everyone goes home and says, "Now what?"

There are two that fit this category: Reaffirming our Faith to Retain Our Churches and Returning to Unity and Diversity in the United Church of Christ. These resolutions are similar in purpose, the former much more detailed and well-written. So I'll focus on the first.

First, a brief anecdote from the Synod in Atlanta. At that Synod, two resolutions were presented for consideration: one explicitly declaring that the UCC recognizes Jesus as Lord and a second establishing the classic cross, crown, and orb with motto as the official UCC symbol over and against the comma of the God is Still Speaking initiative. When I blogged about these resolutions, I stuck them in their own category: The Non-Issues. Many across the denomination seemed to agree...these were initially resolutions very reactive in nature. There was never a question that "Jesus is Lord" remains the UCC's most basic confession, and the comma was never intended to replace the cross, crown, and orb (although in the case of the latter, I would have agreed that for a time the comma was so much more prominent). When these resolutions were presented for a vote, the committee to which they were assigned combined them into one well-written piece re-affirming the confession and symbol as central to the life of the UCC. Even so, someone stepped to one of the red microphones and used a stance of radical local church autonomy to state that no member of the UCC should be required to believe anything. I think I editorialized that slightly, but after the excellent re-wording of these resolutions and the fact that we are still a Christian denomination last I checked, this man stepping to the mic and saying what he said seemed pretty absurd.

A second anecdote. Back in college I was more "conservative" than I presently am. In truth, I was perhaps moderate with some "conservative" leanings. It was around that time that the first manifestation of the online discussion forums appeared on the UCC website. I happily joined in and, looking back, this was probably the beginning of my internet addiction. Anyway, I made a post calling myself a "liberal evangelical" or "evangelical liberal." I can't remember which way I phrased it, but it was to describe my moderate stance. I gave little description of what I really meant by the phrase, but it didn't stop a more "liberal" poster from chiming in that if I appeared before her Church and Ministry department seeking ordination, she'd vote me down without a second thought. What did she really know about me? Absolutely nothing. But for her, the use of the term "evangelical" was enough.

By the way, I've been ordained for over two years. How you like me now?

While I stuck these two resolutions in The Fluffy category, I still see value in the statement that they make. The first resolution attributes the UCC's loss of churches and membership to a trend that they call "denominational re-alignment." That is, denominations and churches are aligning themselves with people who believe like they do, "liberals" with "liberals," and "conservatives" with "conservatives." This resolution cites recent events and experiences within the UCC as evidence that this trend is real: "conservative" members and churches leaving, "liberal" members and churches staying or joining. The resolution doesn't cite this, but I'll go a step further and lift up the growing tendency of those within the denomination to align themselves with one movement over and against another (ONA, FWC, BWF, M-O-U-S-E) as evidence of a divide. Some aren't re-aligning by leaving...many are re-aligning while staying.

The first resolution cites a few of our founding documents in support of a unified church. The first is the Basis of Union with Interpretations which recognizes that we are united under one God and in one catholic Church. The other is the Preamble to the UCC Constitution, which recognizes, among other things, Jesus as Lord and sole head of the church ("The UCC Constitution requires us to believe something! We need to change it!"). The resolution calls for a re-affirmation of essential beliefs as laid out by these documents in an effort to give more "conservative" members a reason to remain within the denomination. Above everything else, the spirit of this resolution states, we hold to a common confession even if we differ in non-essential matters. One may argue what is essential and non-essential, but first and foremost this resolution holds up these founding "testimonies" as statements under which all may unite.

These resolutions remain in The Fluffy category. Their passing would be a nice statement to make, but how would it play out? The "Reaffirming our Faith" resolution does offer a few suggestions, such as giving equal voice to more "conservative" ideas at meetings and in publications. Beyond that, however, the constant struggle remains between people of differing views attempting to seek the kingdom of God together. We can deal with it by reacting against all percieved "tests" of faith. We can deal with it by stuffing others into preconcieved categories. Or we can swallow our pride a little and listen.

Still, one has to wonder what that means for actually carrying out the church's mission and not just talking. Do we wait for complete consensus to make a statement or carry out a project? A 2/3 or 51% majority? What does unity around essentials while attempting to address non-essentials look like?