Delegates at the United Church of Christ's General Synod 28 recently voted overwhelmingly in favor of amending the denomination's constitution so that the phrase “heavenly Father” will no longer be present anywhere in its text.
Instead of reading “A Local Church is composed of persons who, believing in God as heavenly Father,” under the proposal, Article V of the church constitution would read, “A Local Church is composed of persons who, believing in the triune God.”
Delegates passed the proposal 613 to 161 in favor of the changes to the text, as reported by UCNews. Ten delegates abstained from voting.
So why the changes?
The UCC wants to broaden the phrase so as not to be exclusive in its language. Barb Powell, a spokesperson for the denomination, spoke to World Net Daily about the inclusive language already used among many UCC congregations. “In the UCC, our language for God, Christ and the Holy Spirit … is preferred to be more open for different expressions of the Trinity,” she said. “Heavenly Father is just one vision.”
The Biblical Witness Fellowship, a group of UCC pastors and church members that was formed in response to “UCC's theological surrender to the moral and spiritual confusion of contemporary culture,” made their disapproval of the decision clear. David Runnion-Bareford, executive director of BWF and a leader who supported keeping “heavenly Father” in the language of the constitution, spoke out on the organization's website before the vote was taken in Tampa, Fla., last weekend.
“Rejecting God as Father in an age of fatherlessness is unthinkable,” he said. “God acted toward us in amazing grace when He offered to be our Father through the sacrifice of his Son, Jesus Christ who offers us life in his name. This is not something we as humans made up in some other time. Rejecting our Father is act of arrogant rebellion in the name of cultural conformity that only further alienates members, churches, but more importantly God himself.”
Other changes to the constitution include a change in the governing body's structure, though the “heavenly Father” debate is among the most polarizing.
The Rev. Bennett Guess, another spokesperson for the UCC, doesn't see a problem with the changes.
“We are still a Trinitarian denomination,” Guess saidm, USA Today reported. “This was not a theological document. It was a restructuring from five boards to one. And in doing this, we dealt with bylaws written decades ago, before the denomination's commitment to using inclusive and expansive imagery for God.”
The changes to the denomination's constitution are now in the hands of the 38 Conferences of the United Church of Christ, which will decide whether or not to ratify the document before the next General Synod in 2013.