Friday, July 14, 2017

Why Should You Care What Happened at the General Synod of the United Church of Christ?

If you'd rather just skip all my wordiness, click here to watch this video.

I just returned from the General Synod of the United Church of Christ, our church's denomination.  (BTW--"synod" means church council or assembly.  I had to look it up too.)  At this national meeting of our church which takes place every other year, they always urge us to share about what happened during this meeting with the people back in the pews.  That sounds easy, but sitting down to write about it, however, is a bit daunting.  Don't get me wrong, it's an awesome experience.  Especially this year where I just feel bombarded by negative news of greed, intolerance, racism xenophobia and incivility, it was refreshing to sit with my tribe of Christians.  It was inspiring to be with so many Christians who believe following Jesus means working for God's peace and justice.  Yet, I won't lie--you kind of had to be there to understand how great it was.  

Every year I've served as minister in every church I've served, the board inevitably does not have enough money to do everything it wants to do--salaries of staff, building repairs, ministries and programs, etc.  Also inevitably, when it comes time to write a church budget I feel the need to justify what we give to our denomination when I already feel we aren't giving enough.  I realize that lay leaders do not do this church thing for a living.  For lay folks, who struggle to make time for their local congregation in the midst of their busy lives, making head space for the denomination is a lot to ask.  Also, we are in a time of decreasing institutional loyalty; we are consumers and will go where we find the best product regardless of brand..  We certainly feel that at the local church level--people want to attend and consume but not join and give.  The same is doubly true for denominations.  

There are plenty of things having to do with denominations that probably should die.  They were organizations built largely for the 19th and 20th centuries with bureaucracies that often forget that they were meant to serve local congregations rather than local congregations serving them.  In a day when technology can enable a church member to connect with someone on the other side of the world and connect with people of all different faiths, a denomination doesn't hold the same lock on information, doctrine and mission.  So why should we care?  For that matter, why should we care about what a bunch of church folks did in a convention center last week when most of us are just trying to get through the day?

The following is my best effort to answer those questions for you.

If you're like me, you take in the news most of the day through radio in the car, push notifications on my phone, TV in the evening and articles shared on social media.  A whole lot of that news is bad--craven politicians giving breaks to the rich while taking away healthcare for the poor, violence and war around the world including threats of terrorism everywhere, the never ending plagues of racism, prejudice against LGBTQ people, violence against women, neglect of children--the list goes on and on.  

Routinely one of the most galling components of every news cycle is some person or group doing something abominable in the name of religion, whether that horrific act is a terrorist act or justifying cuts to government aid for the least in our society.  This category of news--the religious violence and religious justification for oppression--is what gets me most.  Isn't it bad enough that people are greedy and violent, must they (we?) bring God into their (our?) dastardly deeds?  The God I believe in abhors such actions, so why isn't anyone offering a different view of religion, Christianity in particular?

Well it turns out, one church, the United Church of Christ, is living out a vision of God's justice and peace,  If you believe caring for the earth is a Christian value and Christians should be advocating for our government to fight climate change, guess what?  The UCC is doing that.  (Read in The Boston Globe about the UCC resolution passed at General Synod in response to the Trump administration's withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement.   Also, during General Synod, the UCC honored members of the Sioux tribe who have fought against the Dakota Access Pipeline.  Also, environmental activist Aaron Mair spoke about the correlation between environmental damage and race.)

If you think Jesus' teaching about caring for those whom society calls "the least of these" means providing access to healthcare for people who can't afford it, the UCC is speaking out for that.  (Read about the protest in Washington D.C. just before General Synod that UCC leaders participated in to demand healthcare for all.)  

If you think the church should be a place where people who do not have power in society should have not only a voice but space to use their God-given abilities and talents, then look no further than the UCC which is intentionally putting women, people of color and LGBYQ people in positions of leadership.  (Read about the UCC electing Traci Blackmon as Executive Minister for Justice and Witness Ministries.  Blackmon was the pastor of Christ the King UCC in Florissant, MO and led many of the powerful responses to the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO.)

If you think the teachings of Jesus and the Hebrew prophets in scripture stand as a critique of income inequality like what exists in our country, then know the UCC does too.  (Read about how the General Synod endorsed $15 minimum wage.)

If you think Jesus' teachings and actions on non-violence are relevant for our culture being awash in guns and the mass shootings that happen weekly, then you need to know that the UCC does too. (Read about how youth delegates at General Synod led the way in advocating for gun violence to be studied as a major health crisis--current laws do not allow federal funds to go towards the study of gun violence.  Make sure you watch the video the youth made.)

If you think our immigration system is broken and the scapegoating of immigrants is wrong, then you should know that the UCC does too.  (Read about how General Synod approved the UCC to be "an immigrant welcoming church."  Read about how at General Synod delegates marched to protest the deportation of a local artist.)
Maybe you see all the actions on social justice but wonder about the spirituality being promoted by our national church?  If so, then you need to know that at UCC General Synod we heard Glennon Doyle, bestselling author and frequent speaker on Oprah's SuperSoul Sunday. She is a member of the UCC church in Naples, FL and recently married Abby Wambaugh--gold medal winning
soccer superstar. Her words were awesome.  Read the UCC article about her appearance at General Synod)

Unlike so much news about Christians that makes me want to puke--I'm talking about you Franklin Graham--when I read about what the UCC is doing, I am almost guaranteed to feel proud to stand with this group of Christians.  IN a time when people, politicians--and especially Christians--are drawing the lines between people in permanent ink, I'm so grateful to be a part of a Christian body that is doing all it can to erase those lines.  

If my words aren't convincing enough, then click here to watch this video.  

Grace and Peace,

Chase

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