Jesus Christ statue

(Photo credit: Blue Dolphin)

By John Lomperis (@JohnLomperis)

Advocates for churches and Christian institutions reconsidering biblical teaching on sexual morality frequently claim that such cultural accomodationism is “needed” if Christian communities are to have any hope of surviving in an America whose secular culture is increasingly intolerant of moral boundaries for sexual expression (beyond consent).

If one is going to take such arguments seriously, it makes sense to consider how well that has worked in the denomination that has most prominently pioneered enthusiastic abandonment of biblical values on marriage and sex.

The United Church of Christ (UCC) attracted heaps of polarized public attention in 2005 with its embrace of a strong pro-same-sex-marriage stand, for church as well as society. But this was really a sadly unsurprising development in a denomination whose leaders had by that point already harshly excluded evangelicals (within the limits of the UCC’s congregational polity), aggressively promoted secular sexual values, and even allowed local congregations to dually affiliate with the Unitarian Universalist Association for many years.

UCC denominational officials defended high-profile homosexuality-affirming actions in the middle of the previous decade by, among other things, boasting of a presumably controversy-driven increase in traffic to the find-a-church section of the UCC website. To paraphrase this argument: “You naysayers protested, but just you wait and see all the people who will come flocking to our churches as a result of this!” In a rather similar vein, Chicago United Methodist Bishop Sally Dyck defended her recent promotion of same-sex marriage in Illinois (in which she notably misrepresented the UMC’s official position), by framing it as something that will attract non-Christians to attend United Methodist congregations.

So how has such pandering worked out for the UCC?

As of this writing, the UCC stands poised to finally dip below the benchmark of one million members, which is less than half the size it had when it was founded (by merger) in 1962.

According to the most recently available annual report of the denomination’s own Pension Board, the denomination has shed a whopping 37 percent of its congregations since that year, and just in the first decade of the new millennium, it saw a decline of 35 percent in membership, 41 percent in church-school attendance, and 12 percent in the number of congregations.

And prospects for the future do not look much brighter. Contrary to optimistic predictions by progressives that departing conservatives would be replaced by an influx of sexually liberal newcomers, the UCC Pension Board report admits that “the rate of decline is accelerating.” Furthermore, of the remaining congregations, over 40 percent have annual budgets smaller than the “bare minimum for sustaining full-time ministerial leadership and the minimum necessary for mission and ministry.”

This will inevitably take an accelerating toll on beloved, generations-old denominational institutions. Last month, the final convocation was delivered at Bangor Theological Seminary, one of the UCC’s seven seminaries. Last year, in the face of falling enrollments and growing financial pressures, the trustees unanimously decided to cease the seminary’s operations as a degree-granting school after this June, just one year shy of its 200th birthday. So far, there has been talk of continuing the institution as a shadow-of-its-former-self theological center, but the details of this are still undecided.

At least some UCC liberals drew the line at John Thomas, the UCC’s crusading liberal president and general minister for most of the last decade, carrying on an affair with a much-younger subordinate staffer, for whom he eventually divorced his wife. But that is apparently not too much for one of the UCC’s remaining seminaries, Chicago Theological Seminary, where Thomas remains a role model for the denomination’s clergy-in-training as Senior Advisor to the President and Visiting Professor in Church Ministries.

This is a striking fate for a denomination once considered “mainline” in American society. More of the now “sideline” denomination’s seminaries and other institutions will probably shutter their doors within the next decade or two. In all likelihood, I will personally never drive past the construction site for a new UCC congregation. Within my lifetime, I expect to see the 40-year-old Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) eclipse the UCC in membership and worship attendance. It is questionable whether or not the UCC will even survive the twenty-first century. Perhaps it may try to buy some time through merging with the Disciples of Christ, the Metropolitan Community Churches, or even (why not?) the Unitarian Universalist Association.

The spiritual and existential end of a Christian denomination with such a rich heritage should drive any disciple of Jesus to mourn.

In my own denomination, the United Methodist Church, a very vocal minority repeatedly claims that UCC has set a courageous, future-building example for us to follow. Recently, some voices have argued that if non-mainline evangelical churches are to survive among younger generations of Americans, they too must move their approach to sexual morality closer to that of the UCC.

In light of the above, the best response this young adult can offer is: Seriously???


25 Responses to Cultural Pandering No Boon for Shriveling United Church of Christ

  1. J S Lang says:

    The numbers of the UCC’s members and congregations may be even worse than the data indicates. Several declining UCCs have merged with other mainline congregations (usually Disciples of Christ) to form “union” or “federated” congregations. So, Trinity UCC with a membership of 200 might merge with Good Samaritan DC with a membership of 150 to form Redeemer Union Church. If both denominations count Redeemer and its members, then technically no congregation was shut down, and each denomination has actually GAINED members. I have a friend who attends a union church, and he asked his pastor about this, and the pastor seems to think my guess is correct. I know for sure that the UCC and DC merged their mission boards not long ago and may soon be merging others. Given the decline in the mainlines, we’re probably not far from a United Church of America.

  2. Mark says:

    Written in response to recent actions by self-styled illuminati in United Methodism:

    To my church and all my faithful disciples,
    Greetings, in self love!
    I sympathize with the inner conflict you must be feeling about all those rigid and insensitive rules and doctrinal positions recorded in the antiquated Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church. I felt the same way when Moses duped the Hebrews into believing that God miraculously etched His Ten Commandments onto slabs of stone. I knew then that it would only be a matter of time before those ten commandments would multiply into a library full of silly, ridiculous, hurtful, inhuman, cruel and arbitrary rules and regulations meant solely to give more power to the priesthood. Those rules were as rigid and arbitrary then as they are now. Such rules kept God’s people peculiar and Hebrew society closed to all except those who believed in the God of Abraham, and obeyed His Will. Following those rules ultimately resulted in the destruction of Israel. Following them now will result in a similar fate for our society, unless we are wise enough to pierce the veil of fiction embodied in the Old Covenant as well as the so-called New Covenant and come to an understanding of what God really wanted us to know concerning His plan for our pleasure, desire and eternal bliss.
    We must not allow God’s Holy Word to contradict our Social Principles! As ministers of the priesthood of believers, we must remember that our creator God did not build His Holy Church. He did not build it! We did! What we do in our churches or in our society is our business, not His! We are all saved and everyone who has ever or will ever live will be in paradise with Him when He returns. Everyone! Jesus was speaking metaphorically when He said He will return as our judge. He wouldn’t judge us. He loves us too much. Now He is God. And God is Love. God’s Love has no room for eternal damnation. Since there is no judgement and no damnation, and since God’s Laws were fulfilled when Jesus came, we are now free to be whatever we choose to be because “we are who we are” just like ” I Am Who I Am”. The Bible tells us that God abides in us. This Has to mean that We, like Him, are all gods, individually, and collectively, we comprise the collective god. There are no other gods before us. We shall never refer to anyone or any behavior as sinner or sin. We shall worship ourselves in our own way, according to our own rules. We shall rewrite our history, ignore the wisdom of our ancestors and make our own way. We shall kill when it is expedient (especially those who have not yet been born), steal when we can get away with it , express our sexuality however we choose and in the manner our urges require without boundaries, lie to prevent unwanted consequences for ourselves or others (especially when we are in positions of power and leadership), desire all things that make us feel good and that meet our needs, especially if they were acquired by others’ hard work. We bless ourselves. We keep ourselves. We make our faces shine on ourselves and are gracious to ourselves. We look upon ourselves with favor and give ourselves peace.

    But, first things first! All like minded disciples of mine must unite in my cause. We must re-write the Book of Discipline now, based on the dogma of liberal post modern ethics supported by the most recent findings and conclusions of social scientific research. We must accept that so-called “Holy Scripture” is simply a collection of ancient stories, myths and legends of the same genre as the sacred writings of many other civilizations and written by men who were ignorant of the basic scientific truths that every modern day child knows by the age of ten. Change is inevitable. It must happen now before our civilization crumbles and we turn to the so-called Will of God and His Truth to save us. We must not let human reason be contaminated by uninformed ancient mythology. Remember, we are gods, so, Unite! Redact! Fight! Rewrite!

    Thus it is written. Thus it is done.

    In My Self Love,
    The prince of the air, pastor of the first unified church of the apostacy

  3. John S. says:

    The arguments about increasing membership, relevance and outreach are just smoke and mirrors. The real goal is to change the stated positions of the church to the “correct” positions regardless of effect. The promised positive effects of this change are merely tools to aid in the sale. They are most effective where theological instruction and bible study are at their weakest. What was yesterday’s sermon? What was taught in your Sunday School class? What percentage of your congregation attends SS or a bible study?

  4. Sandy N says:

    The UCC voted to change its constitution’s reference to “heavenly Father” to “triune God.” Were they expecting feminists to stampede into the churches after that?

  5. bill krill says:

    To suppose the drop in UCC membership is a direct result of their stance on homosexuality is quite a reach. The Christian church has historical fluctuations in attendance every 100 years or so. In addition, the church is always behind the curve when it comes to keeping up with culture changes. While the worlds obviously still needs Christ, quibbling about homosexuality is just the diversion the devil needs to further reduce membership in the church. It’s about love, and mainline churches that miss this are missing the genuine central issue on why folks are not flocking to their doors and staying in their pews. Let’s divide ourselves conservative vs liberal and just blame it on homosexuality; yea, that will work.

    • Mark says:

      The essay argues that the unbiblical stance on homosexual behavior is simply symptomatic of a much larger problem having to do with cultural accomodationism prompted, in part, by ignorance or disregard of historical Christian teaching. The author is not blaming the decline exclusively on homosexuality.

      Churches that affirm libertine teachings on sexuality are also more likely to dismiss other Biblical teachings, eventually reaching a point where people in the pew begin asking each other what’s the point. The church then functions mainly as a social or political enterprise, providing an environment where people may worship what the apostle Paul would have called “the unknown god.”

    • Aaron says:

      35% in 10 years ain’t a cycle, it’s a collapse. The bottom line is that people don’t like fakes. Everyone knows Christianity preaches against homosexuality. Even the unchurched know this. Changing your church’s stance on this shows that you don’t take your beliefs seriously. Why would I wake up on Sunday morning and go give money to a bunch of fakes?

      The closing of Bangor Theological Seminary is a blessing to humanity. It produces graduates who destroy believers, and who try to con non-believers. The grads don’t believe in these fairy tales anymore, but they need to make the remaining members think that they do. And the grads need to make the non-believers think there is something for them at church, when the grads know that there isn’t.

      The UMC better get to purging if it wants to survive as anything more than an organization focused around milking the clueless elderly out of their savings.

    • Adrian C says:

      “Quibbling” is hardly the right word to refer to an issue that the church has been consistent on for two thousand years. Christians can disagree about whether baptism ought to be by immersion or sprinkling. Disagreeing about what constitutes marriage – NOT quibbling.

      Your flippant “it’s about love” can be used to justify pretty much anything. If “it’s about love,” then it’s OK for a married guy to keep a mistress – or twenty – or have five wives – or a nine-year-old boy concubine. God in his wisdom knew that “it’s about love” was a bit too vague and potentially self-serving a guideline, which is why we got the Ten Commandments and other laws. Jesus did say “If you love me, keep my commandments.”

  6. polistra says:

    Really shouldn’t be surprising. Homosexuals are always about 2% of total population. The mass media, operating under full control by the 2%, has led squishy ‘progressives’ to think that everyone is homosexual or potentially so.

    Churches and politicians, believing this nonsense, work very hard to alienate the 98% in order to attract the 2%. They shouldn’t be surprised to find their popularity dropping. When you repel all your potential clients, you should feel lucky that you still have ANY clients!

    • interested observer says:

      “…everyone is homosexual or potentially so.” Yes, even in colleges students are required (if they hold any offices of the student organization) to take classes exploring their own gender and orientation. These classes are offered to all students, but the student body officers are required to take them!!! What could this do to a shy young person who finds it much easier to relate to their same sex, although does not have any same sex attraction? It’s a slippery slope.

      • Jenn says:

        Sigh….no one can be talked into being gay. For God’s sake! Can I talk you into changing the color of your skin? It is not a choice. And yes, let’s vilify the educational system because if things like FACTS don’t fall in line with your belief system then they must be dismissed. Quite eating your time trying to feel morally superior and take care of someone in need- like Christ instructed.

  7. Dennis N Arashiro says:

    “even (why not?) the Unitarian Universalist Association.” Why not, indeed! That would be the inevitable result of progressivism and inclusiveness. Once one wavers on any aspect of a revealed “truth”, the whole house of cards begins to fall. That’s explains my spiritual journey and why I’m a UU. I now spend my time making up my own games with the fallen cards.

  8. Doug says:

    Let’s turn the question around. Do you really believe that with the drastic membership losses we’ve seen in the Roman Catholic Church (masked by gains due only to immigration) or the losses now being suffered by the Southern Baptist Convention that so-called orthodoxy will bring back any of those UCC members? So you want more cowbell.

    My guess is that the UCC is largely a non-Hispanic white denomination that more than likely has had a much lower birth rate among its members than the population in general and has seen some losses of its young people into the “none” category. There are almost certainly many factors at work here.

    • Bill Hocter says:

      Doug-There probably are numerous factors involved in declining Church attendance. However, the important point about the article (I’m Catholic BTW) is that it presents a bit of statistical evidence that changing your moral stances in order to garner popularity has in general not been a winning strategy for Churches. It’s a lsoing ethical move too, but that isn’t news. I might like it better if Cathoicism were attracting more converts, but not at the price of it ceasing to be the Church and faith that I love.

      • Doug says:

        Who said that the UCC and other more liberal denominations have changed their moral stances simply to garner popularity? Some in those denominations may have had the absurd idea that people would come flooding in as a result of the changes, but, nevertheless, I think the evidence clearly indicates that these churches have acted out of conviction. You may disagree with their positions, but their convictions are no less sincere than yours or those of your church.

      • J S Lang says:

        Having worked for one of the mainline’s national agencies, I know it is definitely true that liberal churches really do think they are doing the right thing out of conviction, not to gain popularity or (obviously) gain members. However, determining “the right thing” occurs under tremendous pressure from groups that are loud, obnoxious, and well-organized – first the feminists, later the gays, then pacifists, enviro-loons, Israel-haters, etc. The pressure groups share the bureaucrats’ unconcern for membership figures, just as they share the disdain for the Bible and Christian tradition. The bureaucrats wimp out under the pressure, then do the mental gymnastics to convince themselves they are doing the will of God.

    • Mark says:

      Interesting point.

      All churches have lost members, but the ones doing better tend to be more orthodox in their beliefs. Chesterton said that the purpose of an open mind, like an open mouth, is to eventually come down on something hard. Orthodox faith is more apt to provide that.

      While liberal religious institutions receive less scrutiny owing to a sympathetic media, our culture that has been conditioned to be suspicious of organized religion in general.

      Quantitative statistics indicate that the media/Holllywood/large segments of academia have antipathy toward historic Christian faith. Their tremendous power to influence has taken hold in a big way.

  9. [...] Lomperis at the Institute of Religion and Democracy has written a convincing, tightly-argued piece that old-line Protestant churches that compromise their allegiance to biblical moral truth are [...]

  10. I could go into detail about the United Church of Christ’s New Century Hymnal here and how singing from it might want to make someone want to leave the UCC, but I won’t. All I’ll say is that Jesus Christ is no longer ‘King’ of kings and ‘Lord’ of lords in this book–they have removed both terms. Not even well-known Gospel Hymns like ‘Blessed assurance’ and ‘Old Rugged Cross’ were left alone. And just try singing their version of ‘Crown Him with many crowns’ (#301) without wanting to throw up. Hopefully Spirit-led congregants will think about this when trying to worship in a UCC congregation. The UCC is killing itself with liberal theology, and that’s all there is to it.

    • J S Lang says:

      You forgot to mention “Onward, Christian Soldiers,” which would win the prize as Hymn Most Hated By Liberals, who apparently are such kneejerk pacifists that they can’t grasp that this beloved hymn is referring to spiritual warfare, an important New Testament concept (also the great hymn tune ever composed).

      I looked up the “revised” version of “Crown Him with Many Crowns.” Yeah, that is really awful. When something is altered that much, better they had just ditched the whole thing. It’s as bad as the newer hymns, the ones that show that being “inclusive” apparently requires having no feel at all for poetic words worth singing.

      They included one “sexist” hymn, “Father Almighty, Bless us With Your Blessing” – apparently it’s OK because it was written by a Unitarian.

      • I didn’t mention ‘Onward, Christian soldiers’ because the UCC isn’t the only denomination to delete it from their hymnal. The current Evangelical Lutheran (not to be confused with the Missouri Synod Lutherans), Presbyterian (and this includes the hymnal the Presbys are set to release around June!), and Disciples of Christ hymnals do not have this hymn. And the Methodists attempted to delete it from the 1989 hymnal, but there was a huge uprising in the church over it, and the committee voted at the last minute to include it. Most Baptists use nondenominational hymnals that are hugely conservative in theology and still include ‘Onward…’, Stand up for Jesus’, ‘Fight the good fight’, ‘Soldiers of Christ arise’ and a few others. ‘Onward’ is a favorite of my family.

      • J S Lang says:

        I have a friend who is a UM pastor (he’s a Christian), and he said his congregation got REAL worked up when they heard that “Onward” was going to be dropped. I’m happily an ex-UM, but still glad they chose to retain the hymn,also “Soldiers of Christ, Arise,” although they dumped “Fight the Good Fight” and “The Son of God Goes Forth to War.” Give them a few more years and they inevitably do whatever the Episcs do.

  11. [...] Cultural Pandering No Boon for Shriveling United Church of Christ (juicyecumenism.com) [...]

  12. [...] Advocates for churches and Christian institutions reconsidering biblical teaching on sexual morality frequently claim that such cultural accomodationism is “needed” if Christian communities are to have any hope of surviving in an America whose secular culture is increasingly intolerant of moral boundaries for sexual expression. …. Click here for full story [...]

  13. [...] Writing at Juicy Ecumenism, John Lomperis shows how The United Church of Christ (UCC) sought to revive its dying membership by taking a liberal, unbiblical position on homosexuality in order to woo displaced homosexuals. The leaders of the UCC said it would raise their membership and revive their ailing congregations. What was the result? Lomperis says: [...]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>