Does The United Church of Christ (UCC) Have A Big-City, Big-Church, Liberal Bias?

(Originally published on December 5, 2016, on the United Church of Christ’s Center for Analytics, Research, and Data (CARD) Blog site.)

Does the United Church of Christ (UCC) have a big-city, big-church, liberal bias? I’ve been hearing UCC lay people—and remarkably, pastors—level this charge, in three different Conferences and in various churches, since my “privilege-of-call” days in the Potomac Association of the Central Atlantic Conference in the early 1990s. Two recent instances:

  • This past spring, a UCC pastor acquaintance complained to me that “those folks in Cleveland” (i.e., our denomination’s national staff) “do small and rural churches a disservice” when they “push us to become Open and Affirming,” embrace the Black Lives Matter movement, and advocate for social justice.  He asked: “Why don’t they just stop talking and leave us alone?” For reasons I don’t understand, my colleague confronts and regales me with this message every chance he gets. Sometimes I succeed in avoiding him.
  • In April 2016, a respondent to one of my postings on this blog site wrote: “I’m a liberal member of a politically moderate congregation…. We recently voted to allow same gender marriage, but not to become ONA, a decision I supported. The attitudes of the conference and national UCC towards my more conservative brothers and sisters does nothing but alienate and disparage them, and certainly does not bring them to church. I agree with 99% of the social justice issues the UCC supports, but I am tiring of the condescension towards my brothers and sisters who believe differently than I do. We disagree on many issues but serve the same Jesus.”

Do these church leaders and pastors have a point? Does the UCC have a big-city, big-church, liberal bias?

These questions have particular salience because, by the UCC’s own admission, “nearly half (46.5%) of all UCC congregations have 50 or fewer people in worship each week, and nearly 8 in 10 [UCC] congregations (79.5%) have 100 or fewer people in worship.” Thus, “the United Church of Christ is a denomination of small churches”—and such churches are “more likely to have a majority of participants possessing conservative theological [and perhaps, political and socio-cultural] outlooks.” Moreover, small churches “adap[t] less readily to change”/are “not as willing to make changes,” and are “more uncertain about their future” (“FACTs on Smaller Congregations:  Findings from the United Church of Christ 2015 Faith Communities Today [FACT] Survey of Congregations”).

So, given this reality—that the UCC is made up predominantly of smaller congregations, and that such churches have conservative, risk-averse and resistant-to-change tendencies—why is our denomination so insistent on embracing a progressive theology, advocating for social justice, and speaking truth to power? Doesn’t that prove that the UCC has a big-city, big-church, liberal bias?

 

To read the rest of this article, click onto the United Church of Christ’s Center for Analytics, Research, and Data (CARD) website,

Does The United Church of Christ (UCC) Have A Big-City, Big-Church, Liberal Bias?

How Our StillSpeaking God Is Transforming Her StillConsequential Church, But Church People Are StillResisting and StillTalking Past One Another

(Originally published on October 2, 2016, on the United Church of Christ’s Center for Analytics, Research, and Data (CARD) Blog site.)

Churches and denominations are being buffeted by momentous social change—and many good church people are in denial about, or are resisting, what is happening all around them.

For example, recent Barna Group research suggests that “many of those outside [of] Christianity, especially younger adults, have little trust in the Christian faith” or in churchgoers. They view Christianity as homophobicjudgmentalhypocriticaltoo involved in politicsout of touch with realitynot accepting of others, and confusing. Worse, many Millennial and older churchgoers “share the[se] same negative perceptions” (David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyon, Unchristian:  What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity…and Why It Matters [Baker, 2007], pp. 9-32).

And Duke University’s 2015 National Congregations Study report on “Religious Congregations in 21st Century America” revealed that:

  • Most churches are small and getting smaller; “the average congregation in America is down from a median of 80 participants in 1998 to 70” or fewer today.
  • “All congregations are aging, but white mainline congregations are older,” and are aging faster.
  • Mainline Protestant denominations are losing members; meanwhile, the number of Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and “nones” in the United States has grown precipitously since 1998.
  • “Congregations are less connected to denominations.” Churches’ “financial contributions to denominations have been in relative decline since 1998.
  • Many full- and part-time paid pastoral leaders are second-career. Sixteen percent of pastors serve more than one congregation; 34% are bi-vocational. Nearly 14% of congregations are led by unpaid pastors.”

But it’s not just the church that’s changing; dramatic transformations are occurring within even the most stable and conservative of American institutions—and their traditional patrons and defenders are struggling to adjust to the new realities.

Consider the proud tradition of U.S. naval aviation. Since World War II, American aircraft carriers have patrolled the world’s oceans, and aircraft flown by Navy and Marine pilots have owned the skies.

But on May 14, 2013, for the first time in history, an unmanned jet aircraft was successfully launched from, and recovered on, the deck of the aircraft carrier USS George H. W. Bush.

 

To read the rest of this article, click onto the United Church of Christ’s Center for Analytics, Research, and Data (CARD) website,

https://carducc.wordpress.com/2016/10/02/how-our-stillspeaking-god-is-transforming-her-stillconsequential-church-but-church-people-are-stillresisting-and-stilltalking-past-one-another/

 

UCC Evangelicals and Progressives: How They’re Different. Why It Matters.

(Originally published on September 5, 2016, on the United Church of Christ’s Center for Analytics, Research, and Data (CARD) Blog site.)

Recently, some United Church of Christ (UCC) friends asked me what the difference is between Progressive and Evangelical churches and beliefs. With more passion than wisdom, I bit off on their bait.

I said that Evangelical congregations can be Southern Baptist, Reformed, Wesleyan, and Lutheran (Missouri Synod). They can belong to charismatic or Pentecostal fellowships like the Assemblies of God and the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee). Or they can have the words, Independent or Bible Church in their names.

Mainline Protestant churches may be Presbyterian (USA), Episcopal, Disciples of Christ, United Methodist, Lutheran (ELCA), American Baptist, Unitarian-Universalist, and United Church of Christ.

I added that Black and ethnic congregations are often theologically Evangelical and socially Progressive.

Mainline churches (including UCC congregations) can be more or less Progressive or Evangelical, depending on their individual histories, cultures, and locations. In cities they tend to be Progressive; in rural America, they lean Evangelical. This can make it exasperatingly difficult for someone who relocates from, say, California or Massachusetts to Central New York, and starts visiting rural UCC congregations hoping to find a church like the one she attended in San Francisco or Boston!

My friends did not like my explanations. Annette, a congregant, said that all my talk about the differences between churches was divisive and upsetting to inclusive, ecumenically-minded UCC people. Besides, such comparisons would likely be imprecise—so wouldn’t it be better if I talked about churches’ similarities, instead?!!!

I responded that, yes, theological language and distinctions can be vague and confusing, but there is no other medium for learning about churches, dispelling misinformation, or coming to terms with our own religious beliefs and values.

 

To read the rest of this article, click onto the United Church of Christ’s Center for Analytics, Research, and Data (CARD) website,

UCC Evangelicals and Progressives: How They’re Different. Why It Matters.