The predominantly gay Dallas megachurch Cathedral of Hope has joined the United Church of Christ, and an AP article on the subject provides some interesting commentary on how this relates to the progressive vision of the UCC. The admission took place after the regional body of the UCC, the North Texas Association, approved the application of the Cathedral of Hope by a vote of 32-9. The AP article reports:
"They are a progressive denomination, and they have taken progressive stands all along," said the Rev. Michael S. Piazza, the cathedral's national pastor and dean. "When they took that vote, it really made it clear that was our home."This is true, although it is interesting that the vote by the North Texas Association was not unanimous. The reasons why some voted against admitting the Cathedral of Hope are unknown to me, but it perhaps suggests that the UCC, though clearly the most progressive of the mainline denominations, is nevertheless facing some internal divisions on this subject. There may be minority factions within the UCC that are resisting the denomination's overall progressive vision.
That being said, this admission of the Cathedral of Hope may simply be one event among many within a process of realignment within the UCC. Some conservative churches may be leaving the UCC, while liberal churches outside the UCC may be joining up. The AP article points out:
About 140 churches in the 5,700-church denomination left the UCC. The Puerto Rico conference of the denomination, which has about 60 churches, also has decided to depart, though some individual churches may stay, said the Rev. Bennett Guess, UCC spokesman.
That number has been partially offset by 65 churches that have expressed interest in joining, the most since the UCC was formed in 1957 by the union of the Congregational Christian Churches in America and the Evangelical and Reformed Church....
"The UCC is clearly going after a certain niche in American society who are very liberal and have a particular religious vision that includes inclusiveness," said John Evans, associate professor of sociology at University of California, San Diego. "They are becoming the religious brand that is known for this."
Another example of this process can be found in the case of Carlton Pearson's church, which I discussed in an earlier posting.
How this mini-realignment will play itself out in the long run is a big question. While the UCC has led the way on most of these kinds of issues and is overall the most progressive of the mainline denominations, other churches that are moving tentatively in a more progressive direction are also facing these same questions. The Episcopal Church, for example, is dealing with some conservative parishes that are seeking to disassociate themselves with that body's Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, perhaps hoping to co-exist within a parallel episcopal structure. This is a much more complicated process than it what we are seeing in the UCC, because the Episcopal Church is not a congregational denomination, and individual congregations cannot simply come and go quite so easily.
As for the UCC, As I have suggested in the past, inclusiveness can mean many things. A church can be inclusive in the sense of welcoming otherwise excluded people to their table, and this is a good thing. But there are other meanings of inclusive--notably, does a church incorporate a broadly inquisitive approach towards theological questions, or is it only settled in one, orthodoxy way of thinking? Whether one type of inclusiveness translates into a progressive and inclusive approach to theological matters is another question--and like many things in the UCC, I think it probably varies from congregation to congregation. But overall, I think that the defining of the UCC as a "religious brand" of inclusiveness can only be a good thing.