In the old days, letters like this one came in the mail. They were often hand written on that lined notebook paper. What each had in common was that my initial impulse was to write two or three hundred pages on each question.

Now, they come via email. Praise The Lord they don’t come via twitter…140 characters? I couldn’t do it for even one of these questions. Still, sincere questions deserve sincere responses, so here’s the questions and responses. As they used to say on Dragnet, “the names have been changed to protect the innocent.”

Dear Pastor,

My family is looking for a new church home. The church we have recently left has very conservative views on several issues that we do not agree with. After some research it seems that the UCC could fall more in line with our core beliefs but I understand that each congregation has differing stance on some of these issues. Please let me know how your church feels about the following issues:

Gay Rights and God’s view of homosexuality. Do you feel that God can love a homosexual couple as they are or that He would feel their way of life is sinful and needs to change? What do you think would happen if a Gay couple came to your church?
The Bible. Do you feel we must take every part of the bible as the inerrant word of God or can it be viewed less literally?
What is your stance on God and Science. Can they work together or do you believe that faith requires you to deny science?
Women in Leadership. Do you feel that Women can be capable leaders in the church or do you belief this is against God’s plan?

Sorry, I know these are very weighty issues. You can respond in email or call me (XXX-XXX-XXXX) to discuss them. If you would prefer to meet in person instead, I would be open to that as well. I do not feel that a church needs to agree completely on every theological point but I do feel there needs to be an open mindedness and willingness to discuss issues without condemning.

I hope to hear from you soon!

Friendly Inquirer

Friendly Inquirer

Thanks for your interest in our Church. I am happy to speak to you personally, sometime, but felt that a fairly quick reply was in order.

First, let me say that I sometimes describe my perspective on faith this way: “I take the bible seriously, but believe every time we read it we are in ‘interpretation’ mode. I am theologically moderate; what I mean by that is that theology (how we understand God) begins with the ‘trying on’ of a particular theological tradition and as we grow in our faith we may (and ought to) change our perspective. Socially, I am a progressive and I half-jokingly say these perspectives go together: “just like they did for Jesus.”

Our Church is a mixture of perspectives. We are not diverse racially or culturally, but our faith views are diverse. I realize that we have some folks whose perspectives on these matters are quite conservative. Others seem to fall in the camp of what I refer to as ‘progressive.’ What you have below is my response, not a prescription from the congregation.

To your questions:

Gay Rights: The United Church of Christ as a denomination has been on the leading edge of this issue. It has caused no small amount of strife in our region, but personally I think our progressiveness is on the right side of this argument. This congregation (I’ve been here almost 4 years) seems to have a ‘don’t ask –don’t tell’ policy on this. We have members who are gay, whose children are gay, who participate regularly, and who are in positions of leadership. It saddened me that recently a UCC congregation in New Orleans was denied the opportunity to advertise because of this kind of progressive message. I was proud of the church, however. I do know of at least one person who doesn’t feel comfortable bringing their partner to church…but i feel that is slowly changing. I do know that the issue of sexual orientation is non-issue to my 20 something children; even while issues of promiscuity, and marriage fidelity are. On the issue of sin; if someone does believe it is a sin, I would refer them to Jesus’ words on the subject (which were…nothing). He did, however, say “let those without sin cast the first stone.” John 8:7. This issue is not unrelated to my next response.

The Bible is important, as we are a church from the ‘Reformed’ side of the UCC family. My own feeling is that if someone (which our adult bible study did a year ago) studies ‘how the bible came to be,’ the inerrancy stance cannot stand. This is not the same thing as saying that the bible is without authority. We believe it is “God’s Word.” The fact of the matter is that everyone interprets the bible and sections there in. For instance, I enjoy a cheeseburger as well as a shrimp cocktail…both of which are clearly forbidden by the ‘Holiness’ code in Leviticus. Interpretation of the biblical texts has been part and parcel of the lives of Christians since the beginning. It continues. In 1620, when our spiritual forebears prepared to leave Europe for the New World, their pastor, John Robinson, sent them off with this historic commission: “God has yet more light and truth to break forth out of his holy Word.” Even those who want to cling to a ‘literal’ reading of the bible are hesitant to go down to the local jail, to deliver Jesus’ promise to “set the captives free.”

Science: I spent the first six years of my working life as an engineer. My own feeling is that, for instance, the Bible and a Science Textbook are not seeking the same truth. Put another way, I find no inconsistency with Science’s observation and claims about our physical world, and at the same time, Faith’s description of the Ultimate forces at work in it. To put it bluntly, when people ask me about affirming the ‘creation story,’ I generally ask them “which one, Genesis 1 or Genesis 2?” I do, however, accept that God is the Creator.

Women: The United Church of Christ was one of the first denominations to ordain a woman (Antoinette Brown, 1851). At my previous call, early on, someone said to me “we are glad we got you, and not a woman.” From that point on, nearly every time I was away I made sure that the supply pastor was a woman. After my departure to come to Hain’s, they called a very talented woman as their new pastor. We have women who serve at every level of leadership in our congregation. Our current (and some past) President is a woman.

I hope that this brief response was helpful. I encourage you to visit our congregation on a Sunday Morning for worship. In June we move to one service at 9:30 am. If the ‘feel’ is right for you, let me know…I am happy to chat in person. On our door it says, “Everyone Is Welcome.” I pray that is true.

Blessings,

Pastor Jon

Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. ~ Reinhold Niebuhr

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