The things that make for a conspiracy
John Dorhauer printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Tue Feb 06, 2007 at 12:40:41 PM EST
Churches can, and do, vote to leave my denomination: the United Church of Christ.

Churches vote to affiliate with my denomination.

Often, when I talk about the former, I refer to conspiratorial tactics. And when I do, I am asked why I don't allude to conspiracies when churches vote to leave their own denomination to join us.

Though I find the question disingenuous (because those who ask it know the answer, and use the question as a clever tool to delude others who are less informed about the internal dynamics involved in these matters), I will respond to it here.

On the (a name which, like the Institute on Religion and  Democracy, suggests something to the uninformed other than what it actually is) website, the question is posed in this way:

When the Cathedral of Hope in Dallas decided to leave their denomination (the Metropolitan Community Churches) for the UCC, did we consider that a conspiracy?

To answer as directly as possible: no. `We' (those of us in the United Church of Christ who write and talk about conspiracy tactics leveled against our churches to remove them from the denomination) do not consider that a conspiracy.

So, what are the differences?


Whether we are talking about the Cathedral of Hope in Dallas, or any other number of churches who have recently affiliated with the United Church of Christ, we are talking about congregations who have initiated dialogue with us. We have not recruited them. We have not sent trained activists into their churches to foment dissent. We have not authored pamphlets that we then circulate through trained activists, pamphlets that describe their denomination as, among other things, not believing in the Lordship of Jesus Christ, not believing in the authority of scripture, not believing in the resurrection. We have not circulated among their membership newspapers and newsletters and fund-raising letters that for decades have printed defamatory and inaccurate information about their denomination. We have not gone on recruiting junkets to seminaries looking for `Godly Pastors' who will become a part of a clandestine network of congregational leaders trained to foment dissent in the local church.

The United Church of Christ has produced a handbook for churches considering affiliation with the denomination. We give this handbook to any church that contacts us interested in affiliation. We do not recruit, look for, ask for, or begin conversations with these churches. We respond to requests from congregations interested in exploring a process that may or may not lead to affiliation. The handbook states:

"As deeply and sincerely as the UCC welcomes new local churches, we also recognize the importance of discernment in our lives together. Careful preliminary discussions should reveal God's will for a suitable relationship. Sometimes a local church and an Association of the UCC will continue exploring covenant, at least for the present time. We affirm our solidarity in Christ with all who believe, and celebrate our unity, even if exploration ends at this stage."

At no time do we distribute anything in print that defames their present denomination. At no time do we interfere with their members by introducing damning information meant to cast aspersion on the beliefs of their current denomination. At no time do we ally with a covert operative or agency whose purpose is to train activists to be sent into congregations to spread words of dissent or pass resolutions to be voted on that will divide a congregation.

The handbook goes on to say:

"The Church and the Association developing covenant will remain in this relationship until both are comfortable that ample time and effort have been devoted to discerning God's will."

I have personally been directly involved in four such cases where local churches have explored affiliation with the denomination. Three of the four ended in full standing being granted to already existing congregations. Each of them took years of dialogue and faith exploration to fully execute.
They involved extensive research and commitment on the part of both parties involved.

The United Church of Christ remains a full, loyal, and honored ecumenical partner. It recognizes the right of every faith tradition to both exist, and express itself with theological integrity and clarity. Some, but certainly not all, of our theological assumptions are divergent from many of our ecumenical partners, but we remain staunchly committed to the principle that our essential beliefs are strong enough to unite us in spite of our differences.

For this reason, we never recruit churches that hold their standing in another denomination. We never denigrate another for their personal beliefs - be that `other' an individual, a congregation, or a denomination. And we certainly do not feel called, authorized, or permitted by God to engage in conspiratorial, covert tactics meant to erode a local church's confidence in its leaders, its denominational affiliation, nor it theological integrity.

That is profoundly different from what we encounter in many of our local churches that find themselves torn apart by dissent, and who have for decades now encountered voices from without and within defaming their denomination, circulating misleading information that transforms their understanding of their denomination, and eventually planting the seeds that may just lead to disaffiliation.

are the key when churches or pastors deal with attracting new members. Churches will sometimes want to leave a denomination for a variety of reasons; and members churches. As long as those are personal, internal decisions that do not involve either recruitment or defamation. Pastors with integrity and ethical standards know that members of other churches are off-limits when recruiting, and they have a series of steps they take when an active member of another church begins to explore a relationship with them. The same kind of integrity and ethical behavior applies to denominational activities. The UCC has no parallel to the IRD, nor to its conglomerate of renewal groups that do their dirty work for them.
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 Tue Feb 06, 2007 at 02:02:57 PM EST


I can actually speak to the CoH situation directly because I was one of the associate pastors at CoH from 2000-2004, while the congregation was considering at least a joint affiliation with MCC and UCC.  The reason why CoH left MCC in 2003 was complicated, painful and messy, but it really had nothing to do with UCC, especially near the end.

The North Texas Association and the national setting of the UCC kept a very respectful distance from the internal CoH discussions about future affiliations all through the mid-nineties and early 2000's.  Both settings provided information and conversation when asked for specifics around UCC polity, credentialing, affiliation, etc.  They never seemed to initiate or pursue conversations around affiliation.  There was never a disparging word about MCC from UCC, since UCC and MCC have a very healthy and respectful relationship.    

by PastorKev on Tue Feb 06, 2007 at 03:28:53 PM EST

It is helpful to have this perspective. And this sounds very much like every other effort like this that I have been a part of. As a judicatory officer, we are very clear that we take our signals from the local church involved, and that the decisions they make are to be free of our encumberance and influence.
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 Tue Feb 06, 2007 at 10:54:13 PM EST

The continually shifting alliances and schisms among protestant denominations goes back to Martin Luther, and is a tradition that in this country has been ongoing since European protestants first set foot on American soil. From the outside it appears to be all about power, money, and politics. I'm sure those involved, however, feel quite righteous.

by samt3 on Tue Feb 06, 2007 at 09:13:36 PM EST
While religions of all sorts are constantly dividing and remixing, the matter John is writing about is quite new, and taken very seriously on this site.

A number of us who are not direct partiipants in this have written a great deal about the attacks on the mainline churches by outside agents of neoconservatism and the religious right. Its a subject that we think matters, and is not to be written off as 'so what else is new.'

by Frederick Clarkson on Tue Feb 06, 2007 at 10:13:50 PM EST

John -

You noted "We have not authored pamphlets that we then circulate through trained activists, pamphlets that describe their denomination as, among other things, not believing in the Lordship of Jesus Christ, not believing in the authority of scripture, not believing in the resurrection."

I assume you are making reference to the BWF products. What do we do when they use a the UCC candidate's ordination paper to note the candidate doesn't believe in the deity of Jesus or doesn't believe in the physical resurrection, etc? Is there a good comment or blanket comment to give a reply?


by semperreformed on Thu Feb 15, 2007 at 04:04:41 PM EST

John -

How does one reply to the above scenario?

Or do we just avoid it altogether?


by semperreformed on Wed Feb 28, 2007 at 11:59:32 AM EST

for not responding to this sooner, but I didn't catch it while I was tracking responses.

I need to know first of all who 'we' are, and who 'they' are.

Without knowing that, I will say this. Committees on Ministry approve people for ordination, and they alone bear the responsibility for determining first of all what it is that makes one fit for Ministry in and on behalf of the United Church of Christ; and second, whether or not then any particular candidate meets those requirements and has earned the right to be deemed fit for ministry in an on behalf of the UCC.

Those decisions are never made in a vacuum, and are never based solely on any single matter. Those decisions are made typically after years of relationship with a candidate, who is being examined every step of the way. I know in my Association, it takes years of study and preparation - including Psychological evaluations, training in Clinical Pastoral Education, at least three face to face interviews with our Committee, a thorough Ordination examination, among other things.

It is always difficult in a denomination without a theological litmus test to know where the line is drawn that says that ones theological viewpoints disqualify one from being fit for ministry; and every committee that tests that will draw the line in a very different place. It is entirely inappropriate for anyone to pull a single line or two from anyone's ordination paper and use that to discredit the candidate, the committee that examined the candidate, and the church that ordained him or her. We don't know how the candidate responded to questions about that matter in the ordination interview. We don't know what else was shared in the years that they came to know the candidate. We don't know the deliberations of the committee. All of that becomes relevant when pursuing such matters.
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 Mar 02, 2007 at 10:18:19 AM EST

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