Ron Buford taught me a trick that made it so this never happens to me anymore. He said to say, “United Church” then pause and say, “of Christ.” Ron has a passion for the UCC and our uniqueness, and he said this way of saying our name emphasizes that uniqueness. (It’s also because of Ron’s influence that our current UCC logo has those two phrases stacked in different fonts.)
As I’ve learned to say United Church . . . of Christ, it’s helped me to think more deeply about our identity in the UCC. We are a united church, and we are of Christ. Both of those things are important to our identity.
As a non-credal church, we value our theological diversity. We embrace gay Christians and Christians who think gay relationships are a sin. We allow for many different ideas about the divinity of Jesus. Even our identity as a Just Peace Church is rooted in our commitment to be a United Church. When General Synod was asked to declare the UCC a pacifist denomination in the 1970s, they commissioned a study. At the end of that study, the General Synod decided that our diversity required us to acknowledge multiple theologies around responses to war. We committed ourselves to working for Peace with Justice, and allowed individual members to decide what was right and wrong for them.
Some people have difficulty with our identity as a United Church. I had a seminary colleague who was troubled by being part of a denomination that ordained clergy to serve as military chaplains. This person ended up becoming Quaker, valuing theological purity on issues of war over the UCC’s diversity.
On the other end of the spectrum, we are also “of Christ.” We celebrate lots of different ways of being Christian, but we still unite in a desire to follow Jesus. Rather than emphasize a diversity of religions, as the Unitarian Universalists do, we have chosen to stand within one particular tradition.
One of my heroes, Huston Smith, is an expert in world religions, but continues to identify as a Christian. To those who like to dabble in lots of different faith traditions, he says, “If you want to find water, stand in one place and dig as deep as you can.” That’s what being UCC is for me. I certainly find wisdom in other religions, and value my interfaith partners. However, I’ve chosen to stand in one place and dig as deep as I can, rather than dig shallow holes in several different religions.
When people ask me what the United Church of Christ is, I don’t say we’re the most-progressive Christian denomination — even though we’ve certainly led the way, on issues from ordaining women to civil rights. Instead, I tell people we’re the most-inclusive Christian denomination. We are as inclusive as one can possibly be, while still holding onto the Christian tradition. We are the United Church . . . of Christ.