Friday, July 01, 2005

Awaiting Theocratic Fireworks

Chuck Currie marked his second day guest blogging on the new blog site of the United Church of Christ by writing about.... bloggers!

The UCC is breaking new ground this week, using an official blog to provide information and commentary on the proceedings of its biennial conference, or General Synod, to church members not in attendance and to the wider public. Response to the UCC blog is already lighting up the blogosphere, which is always interested in new developments, as Currie shows. He writes: "There will be a lot more in the coming days. Stay tuned." Indeed. And in the run up to the vote on marriage equality, and whatever the outcome, the blogopshere will light up like the Fourth of July. And the fireworks will not all be celebratory.

The UCC is poised to become the first major Christian denomination to endorse marriage equality. Even in considering such a move, it has been under attack by conservative and evangelical groups. The other day for example, UCC President John Thomas endorsed the marriage equality resolution that will be considered by the General Synod. Imediately, a UCC rightwing caucus, the Biblical Witness Fellowship, demanded Thomas' resignation, declaring "He now now longer enjoys the credibility to continue as a religious leader of a Christian church." One can only imagine this outfit's reaction if the General Synod passes the marriage equality resolution.

This group is affiliated with the rightist Institute on Religion and Democracy, which has a twenty year history of external agitation and opposition to the social justice missions of the mainline denominations. IRD sponsors a network of conservative "renewal" groups that oppose the historic social justice mission and democratic traditions of the mainline churches. The annual meeting of this group is held in conjunction with the National Association of Evangelicals.

Last year, when the UCC sought to air a television ad that sought to portray the church as a place of welcome to all during the Christmas season, the Biblical Witness Fellowship joined with IRD in denouncing the ad. The tiny group is often given far more play in the media than they represent in numbers.

The UCC's General Synod is an elected and representative body in the Congregational tradition. As the UCC points out on its web site, "Because every UCC congregation is self-governing, its [the General Synod's] resolutions speak 'to' but not 'for' the local church." In other words, if the synod endorses same sex marriage, it does not mean that local churches are required to perform any. But if groups like the Biblical Witness Fellowship got their way, they would be seeking to create not only conservative doctrine, but to police doctrinal purity.

Religion News Service recently reported that Diana Butler Bass, a senior researcher at Virginia Theological Seminary "worried about conservatives' attempts in the UCC and other churches to centralize authority, discipline and doctrinal standards, especially in the UCC where local congregations relish their autonomy. Such a move violates 'the democratic impulses of American Protestantism,' she said."

"'These denominations are so closely tied to the practice of democracy in this country,' she said. 'If they lose that kind of local meeting-house democratic impulse, it makes me wonder what's going on in the larger culture.'"


[Crossposted from FrederickClarkson.com.]

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