You may be familiar with the United Church of Christ’s 2004 national ad campaign to spread our message of extravagant welcome. The three videos below were aired in areas around the country, and they were refused in others for being too controversial. They speak boldly of our values. We believe that God is all-loving and that everyone is included in God’s embrace. Everyone means everyone, without exception. For us, this is Jesus’ message and it transcends the narrow-mindedness of some forms of Christian expression. Our communion table is open to all, and we strive for diversity in our members, our churches, and our leadership. As we like to say, no matter who you are, no matter where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome in the United Church of Christ.
Open Minds, Open Hearts
As United Church of Christ, we are committed to hearing anew God’s ancient story. We take the Bible seriously though not always literally. We embrace modern biblical scholarship as well as the traditions of our ancestors, realizing that it is the “responsibility of the Church in each generation to make this faith its own in reality of worship, in honesty of thought and expression, and in purity of heart before God.” (From the Preamble to the UCC Constitution.)
As all of us children of the living God, we believe that each of us has a perspective to lend to our understanding of God and that our understanding is most complete when we come together in community, with our different gifts and our different challenges. We believe that everyone comes to her own relationship with God in her own way. Because of this, our churches reflect a rainbow of beliefs, all working to bring Jesus’ message alive in new ways and in new times and circumstances.
Our denomination’s mission is to change lives and thereby change the world, always trusting in God’s grace, Jesus’ love, and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. We value open minds and open hearts, knowing that we are called “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8). We are united and uniting, reformed and reforming, committed in the name of Jesus to the ongoing transformation of our lives, our communities, and our world.
Living a Tradition of Boldness
The United Church of Christ, which was formed in 1957 by the merger of four Christian traditions: the Christian Church, the Congregational Church, the Reformed Church, and the Evangelical Synod of North America. Each of these branches of the UCC has played a seminal role in the social and moral evolution of the United States. And the UCC continues to be a bold Christian voice speaking out for principles of justice, inclusion, and care of the creation that ground our faith.
Most recently, the UCC filed a historic lawsuit supporting First Amendment rights for clergy performing same-sex marriage in North Carolina.
The UCC in History
This tradition of bold Christian witness in society goes back to the beginning of our nation’s founding, and the constituent churches of the United Church of Christ have left marks throughout American religious and political history.
Seeking spiritual freedom, Pilgrims and Puritans left Europe for the New World. Pilgrims and Puritans later formed the Congregational churches, committed to a type of church governance that prioritized the spiritual autonomy of individual congregations over unyielding obedience to creeds and doctrines. Pastor John Robinson calls upon the first Pilgrims of the Great Migration to keep their hearts and minds open because “the Lord hath more light and truth yet to break forth from his Holy Word.” We continue to believe that God has more to say in our own time.
The Congregationalists called Lemuel Haynes as the pastor to South Granville Congregational Church in New York. Rev. Haynes was the first African American ordained by a Protestant denomination to serve an all-white congregation. He served South Granville Congregational Church for eleven year and become a renowned writer and preacher.
Enslaved Africans commandeered the slave ship, Amistad, and were subsequently captured and jailed in Connecticut while the ship’s owners sued for their return as property. Congregationalists and other Christians organized a campaign to free the Amistad captives. They were freed after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that people are not property. In 1846, Congregationalist leader Lewis Tappan was one of the founders of the American Missionary Association, the first anti-slavery society in the United States.
Antoinette Brown was the first woman ordained as a Christian minister since New Testament times. She may have been the first woman in history elected to serve as pastor to a Christian congregation. At her ordination, Methodist minister Luther Lee defended “a woman’s right to preach the Gospel.” He quotes from the New Testament: “There is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Evangelical and Reformed theologian Reinhold Niebuhr preached the sermon that introduced the world to the now-famous Serenity Prayer: “God give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things that should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.”
Evangelical and Reformed theologian Paul Tillich published The Courage to Be, which was included on the New York Public Library’s Books of the Century list. “Doubt is not the opposite of faith;” Tillich wrote, “it is one element of faith.” And perhaps most famously he said, “The first duty of love is to listen.”
In the 1950s and 1960s, southern television stations imposed a news blackout on the growing civil rights movement. Martin Luther King, Jr. asked the United Church of Christ to intervene. Everett Parker of the UCC’s Office of Communication organized churches and won a Federal Court ruling determining that the airwaves are public, not private property. This led to minorities being included in newsrooms and television stations around the country.
The Golden Gate Association of the UCC’s Northern California Nevada Conference ordained William R. Johnson, the first openly gay minister in a mainline Christian denomination.
In the following decades, the UCC’s General Synod has advocated for equal rights for LGBT people in the church and throughout society, calling on UCC congregations to welcome gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender members and leaders. Advocacy for LGBT remains an important UCC concern as we strive to embrace all of God’s people in our church and in our wider communities.
The United Church of Christ published The New Century Hymnal, then then only hymnal by a Christian church that honored equally male and female images of God. The New Century Hymnal includes tradition and contemporary hymns and is used by UCC churches across the nation.
“We acknowledge the limitations of our words while we confess that in Jesus Christ the word of God became flesh and lived within history,” wrote Thomas Dipko, a UCC executive who played a key role in shaping the new hymnal.
On July 4, 2005, the United Church of Christ General Synod overwhelmingly passed a resolution supporting same-gender marriage equality and continues its advocacy from a Christian perspective.
UCC General Minister and President John Thomas said that the Synod “has acted courageously to declare freedom, affirming marriage equality, affirming the civil rights of same-gender couples … and encouraging our local churches to celebrate and bless those marriages.”