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Article on United Church Requires Considered Response
The writer offers insights and clarifications to points in the article, "Easy-going Church Turns 80."

This letter is a response to the article by David Haskell titled, "Easy-going Church Turns 80."

As an ordained United Church of Canada (UCC) minister who is open enough to read even though I disagree with many of your perspectives, I cannot let your article (by David Haskell) go unchallenged.

I offer these opinions and thoughts as solely my own, for I cannot and do not speak on behalf of the whole denomination.

1. The UCC was not "an early convert to the idea of equal rights." The UCC understands equal rights to be a Gospel imperative and consistent with the ministry of Jesus. It's not something one "converts to" to be in step with society. Quite the opposite.

2. Our leaders are deeply faithly, including former Moderator the Very Rev. Bill Phipps and present Moderator the Right Rev. Peter Short. Their positions/beliefs/theology and those of the rest of the church are because of deeply held faith, and because we have read the Bible, not simply because "we believe in it" or can quote it. When the media report something a church leader says, they often a) quote it out of context; b) goad the leader with statements and questions that reflect the reporter's limited understanding of, and bias against, the Christian faith; and c) deliberately pick something sensational in order to generate controversy and increase readership. The Evangelicals know that themselves, and are frequently berating the media for "misunderstanding them."

3. The article expresses little understanding of [our] varying approaches to Christology (the understanding of who Jesus is for us), and little awareness that the varying approaches cut across the entire Christian spectrum, world-wide. Easy to throw stones if you think yours is the only perspective and all others are wrong!

4. The UCC does not adopt theology and beliefs to "meet the needs of consumers" or "to achieve market penetration." Indeed I would level that criticism squarely at the some of the Evangelical denominations. From where I sit, and from what I read, it seems the Evangelical groups play directly into the individualism and "me first" attitude of society, and deliver the message through the hi-tech, media-glitzy, "the one-with the most toys wins" approach that is consumer and market driven. Please take the 2x4 from your own eye before levelling such criticism.

5. It appears from your article and comments of Rodney Stark that churches which encourage exclusivism ("we alone offer the solution to your spiritual problems") and that demand certain behaviour are the ones which will survive. On the basis of its theological understandings, the UCC is committed to inclusivism and spiritual depth. See comment #1. Our intent is not to create an exclusive group that has the means to salvation, and that perpetuates a "we-they" attitude. If and when that "we-they" attitude is carried into the political arena, society as a whole, indeed the whole world, suffers. We only have to witness some of the rhetoric and violence being perpetrated at the present time to see that reality.

6. The UCC was created in 1925 when Methodists, Congregationalists and 2/3 of the Presbyterians in Canada came together in unity to form a new denomination, believing Jesus' statement "that all may be one." That union offered a different model to the Christian church than the usual way churches and denominations are created - by a split because of a theological or style difference or a "we-they" attitude. In the intervening 80 years, our denomination has developed into a church in its own right, highly regarded around the world and a model for other churches and denominations in other countries.

7. The UCC is a strictly Canadian church. We are not supported by funds or institutions from the United States or any other country or group. Since immigrants (and our population is only growing because of immigration) to this country usually seek out a church from their own faith tradition, newcomers are not likely to make the UCC their first spiritual home upon arrival here. But many do come to the UCC later. The UCC of the 1960's (and many other churches) reflected the general "cultural Christianity" of the time. And yes, many of those folks no longer participate in the UCC, or any other church. I believe that the majority of UCC people now are here because of commitment and spiritual depth, not because "it's the place to be" or because of "potential business connections" or any other myriad of reasons that churches attract some folks and not others—whether in the 1960's or this third millennium.

8. Last year, I was fortunate enough to spend time at both the Iona Community in Scotland and the Taize Community in France. I came home from those places convinced that the Christian faith is in good hands. In my first sermon back, I told my congregation and I stand by this statement: "Whether or not our congregation survives and continues, whether or not the UCC survives and continues, whether or not any church or denomination survives and continues, is not the question. God is bigger than any particular church or denomination or political party. And God's work will be done in whatever way God chooses. The mission and ministry of Jesus Christ will continue, and people will be touched by the Spirit of God at work in their lives. Thanks be to God."

I regret this "feedback" is so lengthy, but the article by Haskell deserves a considered and reflective response. Again I emphasize these are strictly my own thoughts and responses to the article.




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