A Bold Public Voice

At last summer’s General Synod, UCC General Minster and President Geoffrey Black outlined four “Bold, Inspirational Goals” that will shape the next few years of our church’s common life:

  1. A bold, public voice,
  2. Reachable and welcoming congregations,
  3. Engaged discipleship, and
  4. Excellent and diverse leadership.

(For a slightly expanded statement of the “BIGs” see: http://www.ucc.org/ogm/board/pdfs/OGM-12-03-04-Mission-Goals.pdf)

Earlier this week in Charlotte, North Carolina, the United Church of Christ (technically the General Synod of the UCC) filed suit to have restrictive marriage laws in that state found in violation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Why do such a thing?  Isn’t this just a Johnny-come-lately attempt to get on the bandwagon of legal action challenging laws restricting marriage to heterosexual couples?

Well, actually it isn’t.  Even though the General Synod has been on record for a long time about equal marriage rights for all, the church has not entered into legal action about those restrictions.  To date legal actions taken by others contesting restrictive marriage laws have been based in the 14th Amendment – the so-called “equal protection” clause.

But laws in North Carolina go a step farther than merely outlawing same-sex marriage – they criminalize the action of any clergyperson who performs any marriage-like service without a state-issued marriage license.  To many (myself included) this is an outrageous infringement on the free exercise of religion – a freedom guaranteed in the First Amendment.

I’m proud to be a part of a church that is willing to take such a stand, and I see this decision as a manifestation of our intention to become a “Bold Public Voice.” 

But taking such action might be offensive to some.  How should we think about that possibility?

In the opening chapters of the Revelation to John, the writer recounts letters to churches – to Sardis and Philadelphia and others – in which God critiques the life and ministry of each of those churches.  The most famous of these is the letter to the church in Laodicea in which God characterizes the church as neither hot nor cold.  Consequently they are warned that God is about to spit them out.

What it means to be either “hot or cold” can be debated, I am sure, but I’m pretty sure that being boring is an example of the distasteful lukewarm-ness which God finds unacceptable.  Those of us who are church leaders need to carefully take stock of this warning.  Whatever it means to be a disciple – to “Boldly follow Jesus” (as your conference staff has been putting it) – certainly it doesn’t mean always playing it safe and carefully designing ministry so that it never bothers or offends anyone.

You and your people may agree or disagree with the particular action described above (this is the UCC, after all!)….but my question for each of us is this:  “What is bold step, action, position will you and your church take in the cause of following Jesus?”  Is boldness something you are willing to embrace…to practice? 

I pray it will be!  And if it stirs up a little trouble…well then, I guess that’ll be one more way in which you’re like Jesus!

Blessings to you!

Rich Pleva
Conference Minister
UCC in Iowa

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