United Church of Christ Seeks to End Feud with Scientists

The United Church of Christ announced Tuesday the launch of its new web-based advertising campaign to reach out to scientists to end the age-old rift between the religious and scientific community.

Efforts toward reconciliation include the purchase of ads on more than 30 popular science-oriented blogs for the month of February. The ads aim to promote both a pro-science, pro-faith message.

"Our hope is to begin to move the church to the place where its public image, public witness and public identity is one of a community of faith that is eager to engage science and to welcome and honor scientists," said the Rev. John H. Thomas, the UCC's general minister and president, in a statement.

The 1.2 million-member UCC said the science campaign is part of its "God is still speaking" initiative, which seeks to reach out to groups of people that have been marginalized by the church, either intentionally or unintentionally.

"And, frankly, when it comes to persons engaged in scientific inquiry – geneticists, mathematicians, chemists, engineers, science teachers and students – the church has a history of communicating disinterest, distrust and even hostility," Thomas noted.

The UCC's latest outreach to scientists comes alongside the release of a Pastoral Letter on Science and Technology – authored by UCC head Thomas and a nine-member working group of scientists and theologians – that calls the church to "open themselves and our theology to the momentous conceptual changes of our time."

The pastoral letter, "A New Voice Arising," will be distributed in February to each of the UCC's 5,700 local churches. Materials will accompany the letter with suggestions on how churches can host opportunities to study and share about science-related topics in small groups.

The UCC is considered the most liberal Protestant denomination and was the first mainline denomination to endorse gay "marriage" in 2005. Last year it welcomed a Dallas gay megachurch, Cathedral of Hope, to its denomination. The Cathedral claims some 4,300 members and describes itself as the "world's largest liberal Christian church with a primary outreach to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people."

Conservative Christian critics have said the UCC makes up for its lack of Christian evangelism by political activism.

"Is there a more-left wing Protestant denomination in America than the Episcopal Church? Yes! The 1 million member United Church of Christ (UCC) has lost nearly 1 million member over the last several decades," wrote Mark D. Tooley, director of the United Methodist committee at the Institute on Religion and Democracy, in a column last year.

Recently, UCC received more media attention following its member, Sen. Barack Obama's (D-Ill.) bid for the White House.

Three prominent scientists have endorsed the pastoral letter: Alan I. Leshner, chief executive of the American Association for the Advancement of Science; Charles Townes, a UCC member who received both the Nobel and Templeton prizes for physics; and Ian G. Barbour, a physicist and theologian who won the 1999 Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion.

"In the same way that UCC states that it cannot ignore the context in which it functions, neither can the scientific community ignore its societal context," Leshner said. "For this reason, we see a dialogue between science and religion as vital."

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