John Dorhauer printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon Aug 14, 2006 at 11:52:24 PM EST
John Dorhauer, Talk To Action writer
This new acronym has been adopted by the members of Faithful and Welcoming, the latest renewal group to appear in the United Church of Christ.

It stands for: Evangelical, Conservative, Orthodox, and Traditional. Each of those characteristics has been self-selected by active members of the group who were polled to come up with a term that best describes the membership. Unable to select just one, these four emerged as the most appropriate, and have been arranged to form this acronym.

While in attendance at the first annual meeting of Faithful and Welcoming, I witnessed this term evolve into common parlance among the delegates in attendance. And perhaps the most frequently asked question was whether or not there was a place for ECOTs in the United Church of Christ.

I want to raise a concern about this.

The concern is not about this group selecting these adjectives to describe themselves - I think that for the most part each of them aptly names something that is important to them.

And the concern is not that this new term, ECOT, is developing into the structure of their language in a way that will eventually solidify their base and their identity. That, I think, is the purpose of a useful term like this.

The concern I share is the ease with which it was decided not just that these terms describe them, but that they separate them from the ones precisely whom they feel called to renew.

In other words, these terms were not chosen just because they say something about who they see themselves to be, but also because of the presumption that the rest of the United Church of Christ lacks these characteristics. It is this ground I find myself unwilling to concede. And my fear is that for many of those active in this group, that presumption will go unchallenged.

To be sure, I do not consider myself a Conservative - at least not in the way that phrase has come to be understood in common parlance.

And while some of my own developing theological insights result from concepts that stretch the limits of rigid orthodoxy, much of the rest of it does not: and it becomes difficult then to deny my own claim to be, to a certain extent, orthodox.

I have succeeded in ordained ministry for over 18 years now because of the sensitivity that I have to many of the time honored traditions deeply revered by those whom I have been called to serve.

And with every fiber of my being I long to preach what I believe to be the good news of the gospel: making me, in the truest sense of the meaning of the word, an evangelical.

My point here is that there is a false dichotomy that is being presumed that makes it very difficult for meaningful, productive dialogue to take place between the established, mainline denominations and the renewal groups that exist to challenge them. Too easily is it assumed that to be mainline is to concede the evangelical, conservative, orthodox, and traditional ground to renewalists who believe they have some sort of monopoly on both the language and the content.

I don't think we want to concede that ground.

Many in the United Church of Christ who are not happy with the divisions created by renewal activists are conservative.

Many are evangelical.

Many are orthodox.

Many are traditional.

There has never been a question about whether any of them belong in the United Church of Christ. Whether or not the evangelical, conservative, orthodox and traditional Christians who gathered two weeks ago in Bechtelsville, PA feel they belong is one question; and I was pleased that I was asked to be a part of those deliberations with them as they search for the answer to it.

Whether or not any belong at all is another question entirely; and the answer is an unequivocal yes.

Do ECOTs belong? Let there be no doubt. They do. They have always been an integral part of any mainline denomination, including the United Church of Christ.

Does the particular group of ECOTs known as Faithful and Welcoming believe that they belong? They will have to answer that question.

My hope is that they can affirm their meaningful and essential presence among us all; and that as they do that, gain an understanding that by choosing this language to describe themselves, they ought not assume that they do it to the exclusion of so many others who also treasure what is implied when one calls themselves evangelical, conservative, orthodox, or traditional.

This ECOT thing reminds me of the 1 Cor. "I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ" passage. I think the whole point of what Paul was saying was that diversity in the church is OK, to be expected, and even appreciated.
Thanks for the heads up, as I hadn't heard of ECOT before.

by Tin Soul on Tue Aug 15, 2006 at 04:49:24 AM EST
It is important to bear in mind that this site is not a Christian site, or even a religious site, although we do talk quite a lot about these things. Our topic is the religious right and what to do about it.  In other words, this site is more about politics than it is about religion.

When commenting, please keep in mind that this is not a freewheeling site where any and all comments about whatever pops into our minds are welcome.  

In this instance, while your general comment speaks to the substance of this post, it is presented in a way that is frankly, obscurantist.  Please bear in mind that many readers are not Christians but are interested in the general subject that the mainline churches are under attack by elements of the religious right and their allies. John Dorhauer's posts are about this, and about what some people are trying to do about it. If we drag the conversation off into referencing biblical passages without clearly stating the relevance to the post, in the context of the topic of the site, we are drifting.

In other words, this is a much broader conversation and the conversants are both religious and non-religious, Christian and non-Christian. For this site to be able to be a place where a wide range of people can learn to talk with one another about the topic of this site -- comments and posts must stay on topic.

There have been many off topic religious comments (among other kinds of off topic comments) in the past few months and the site owners have mostly ignored it in hopes that site participants will eventully get with the general direction of the conversation.

It is time for all site participants to consider that everything we write here is part of a wider conversation about the religious right and what to do about it. That conversation ought to give us plenty to talk about.

by Frederick Clarkson on Tue Aug 15, 2006 at 12:06:12 PM EST

I'm most definitely 'on-board' with the purposes you stated! I will say that it would be hard to discuss the religious right without touching on their religion. But I see what you mean about being obscuristic in my post, and it won't happen again. Thanks for the gentle but firm criticism.

by Tin Soul on Wed Aug 16, 2006 at 05:58:31 AM EST
its ok and even necessary to talk about the religious aspects of the religious right. (we are not an antireligious or even an areligious site). The trick is to talk about it in a way that moves the conversation forward, more than being a personal aside, or a personal or group battle over which has the True Christianity; or opinions about this interpretation or that.

Sometimes such things matter in terms of understanding why one faction or another understands scripture in certain ways and that can be very useful. While some of us might "object" to the interpretations, the point is not our objections, but our effort to better understand formidable adversaries.

And sure, the various flavors of Christianity need to come to terms with the struggle over the very definition of Christianity too; or at least figure out a way to make religious pluralism and heterodoxy strong and flexible enough to withstand the onslaught.

I don't know if this clarifies or further confuses the picture. There is no one pure approach. After all, understanding and countering the attacks on the mainline churches is, in my view, an important part of the wider struggle; and the battles have many religious dimensions, as John Dorhauer and others writing about this help us to understand all the time.

Part of my hope is that all this will gain allies for the churches, who could certainly use some. And in turn, offer an excellent case example of how we all need to overcome our parochialisms in order to rise to the historic ocasion in which we find ourselves.

by Frederick Clarkson on Wed Aug 16, 2006 at 01:11:26 PM EST

John raises some good questions.

"Do ECOTs belong? Let there be no doubt. They do. They have always been an integral part of any mainline denomination, including the United Church of Christ."

Glad to hear it in print!

"they ought not assume that they do it to the exclusion of so many others who also treasure what is implied when one calls themselves evangelical, conservative, orthodox, or traditional."

AS a FWC board member, I agree!  

IF one is not officially "ONA" are they by implication "Closed & Condemning? I trust not. Is there a range of views possible?

 Thanks again for your openness and candor.

Steven Clifford


by SClifford on Thu Aug 17, 2006 at 12:41:07 AM EST

The point John makes, that specifiying the ECOT qualities seems intended to imply that non-'renewal' (i.e., non-rightist) members of the church lack them, reminded me of the similar technique by which the political right in the late 1970s and early 1980s defined their opponents in describing themselves.  They emphasized their own patriotism and "family values" -- and implied that those who opposed the rightist policies were therefore disloyal to the country and destructive to families.

Granted, the growth of the right in that period was a literally reactionary movement. It was a backlash in response to social changes that did, in fact, threaten a narrow conception of family, and in response to the difficulty many Americans had in being proud of our country after its actions in Viet Nam and southeast asia (and Chile, and...) .

But it was the failure of liberals and those on the left to reclaim the flag and families (not "the" family) that set the stage for the damage the right was able to do in the culture wars of the next twenty-plus years.  So John's refusal to cede key qualities to the rightist 'renewers', and his explicit embrace of those qualities (even if they're conceived somewhat more broadly than in the ECOT schema), is a very important step in preventing the division that the rightists are seeking to create.

by Nell on Thu Aug 17, 2006 at 10:58:06 PM EST

That is a good insight, and the perfect analogy for what we are experiencing. I do not think it a coincidence that the religious right is employing the same tactic used by the political right.
Shalom, Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer "Time makes ancient good uncouth; we must onward still and upward who would keep abreast of truth." from Lowell, "The Present Crisis"
by John Dorhauer on Fri Aug 18, 2006 at 09:58:57 AM EST

You've made some good points.  

I applaud John's statement precisely because none of the 'rightists' and especially the religious rightists in my acquaintance are not conciously seeking to create a division.  As one of those who voted to authorize the term "ECOT" for the group John mentioned,  I would gladly accept  more accurate descriptors. The group struggled and found flaws with every suggestion proposed and remains open to others if given constructively.

Attributing motives without evidence detracts from the good points you've made. Can you elaborate?



by SClifford on Sat Aug 19, 2006 at 12:30:23 AM EST
I described a rhetorical technique, and said nothing about motives.

Please help me understand your criticism by making specific references to what I've written.

by Nell on Fri Oct 13, 2006 at 01:36:54 PM EST

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