The left-leaning United Church of Christ now wants to be even more politically correct, and to do so its deliberative body has replaced the reference to “Heavenly Father” with the gender neutral term, “triune God,” in the denomination’s constitution.
“In the process of revamping its decades-old constitution, the Protestant denomination’s General Synod endorsed an eye-catching change: It deleted the term ‘Heavenly Father,’ replacing it with ‘triune God,’” Courier Journal reported Saturday.
Though a largely liberal denomination, the United Church of Christ has conservative sections which have objected to the amendment.
“Rejecting God as Father in an age of fatherlessness is unthinkable,” David Runnion-Bareford, executive director of Biblical Witness Fellowship, an evangelical renewal movement within the denomination, told the Journal.
“Inclusive language has been a long-term project in the UCC for at least three decades,” the Journal quoted the Rev. Greg Bain, pastor of Grace-Immanuel United Church of Christ in Louisville, as saying. It was a decision to use “a broader definition” of God, said Bain, who was part of the denomination’s national executive council until recently.
The constitutional revision by the General Synod, which meets biannually, is yet to be ratified by the regional bodies. The UCC has over 5,200 congregations and around 1.08 million members, mostly in the United States – a significant drop from 2.1 million in 1967.
Interestingly, the same synod voted separately to reaffirm the traditional language used in baptizing new Christians in the name of the “Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” the Journal said, adding that the UCC’s research shows that nearly 20 percent of its congregations were using alternative language for “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” for baptism. UCC’s Bain explained that the new agreement intended that such terms only be used in addition to, not instead of, the traditional formula.
In contrast, the Southern Baptist Convention in a 1992 resolution stated, “We state clearly the scriptural witness that God is Spirit, beyond any human gender, and that He is transcendent, beyond the limitations of any human word; but confess that He has uniquely and explicitly revealed Himself to us as Father, by His sovereign and perfect will,” the resolution read.”
The UCC, considered more liberal than most other Christian denominations, also allow ceremonies to sanctify same-sex unions. The General Synod in 2005 passed a resolution making the United Church of Christ the first major Christian legislative body in America to support “equal marriage rights for all people, regardless of gender.” However, some congregations did not support the resolution.
“The General Synod, through sound biblical and theological reflection over many years, has affirmed the full dignity, humanity, and worth of all persons regardless of sexual orientation, an affirmation grounded in our creation in the image of God,” read the Synod’s statement. “We have called for the removal of one’s sexual orientation as a barrier to ordination and to all other forms of service in the church. We understand baptism to be the foundation of one’s incorporation into the body of Christ, affirming the primacy of grace over every other category of human accomplishment or failure or human status, including sexual orientation,” it added.
A 2001 study, “Faith Communities Today,” by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research showed that a majority of the United Church of Christ congregations described their members as “moderate.” It also noted that smaller percentages of self-described liberal and conservative congregations were in almost equal balance, suggesting that the UCC continued to be a theologically-centrist denomination. “However, almost half of liberal churches in the UCC are growing while most moderate and conservative churches are losing members,” noted United Church News.
Hartford Institute Director David Roozen commented that the national church’s pronouncements were often more liberal than the local churches and congregations but its governing structure was formed to allow such disagreements.