On Saturday, July 28, 2012, Margaret Wente wrote in the Toronto Globe and Mail, “nobody cares what the United Church thinks about Israeli settlements, or anything else for that matter, because the United Chuch doesn’t matter any more”. She was speaking about a proposal to come to the UCC General Council this summer about a selective boycott of products produced by Israeli companies in the Palestinian settlements. There have been several responses to this article, including one by Moderator, Mardi Tindal (see http://www.united-church.ca/communications/news/moderator/120730 )
I wrote a response as well. It is longer than allowed as a letter to the editor. Here it is for your perusal. I welcome your comments:
Dear Ms. Wente,
It seems to me that there are at least three major contributions that The United Church of Canada is currently making which are altering or will alter Canadian life. All involve greater respect for others. All have been undertaken with theological understanding.
First, the UCC has led on promoting greater respect for people of diverse sexual orientations. In Canada, this has prepared the ground for and contributed to legalization of same-gender marriage. The compassion of Christ for relationships of committed love and support between people of the same gender has taken precedence over a rule that would bar them from marriage.
Second, the UCC has apologized to native people for disrespecting aboriginal spirituality. We have promised to seek greater understanding and respect for them, their thought, their life and their faith. We have also led other churches and the federal government in advocating reconciliation and repentance with aboriginal peoples over the residential schools issues.
Third, consistent with our respect for native spirituality, the UCC has led in promoting a pluralist approach in a multifaith world. We are not exclusivist (believe in Christ or go to hell), nor are we inclusivist (if you love your neighbour you are Christian whether you know it or not). We are pluralist in our belief that God is the initiator of the world’s diversity of faiths, that this says important things about the nature of God and about what it means for us to be people of faith. At bottom, it means respect for others, an attitude of listening and seeking understanding.
Recently, we have adopted a statement of faith for the 21st century; it speaks of God as “Holy Mystery which is wholly Love”. In God’s otherness, God is mysterious and challenging, but God is also close to us in love. We strive to honour “the priesthood of all believers”; of course this means we are going to have a diversity of views within our communion, some expressing doubts about God, some about the existence of pain, suffering and evil alongside the love and blessing of God. As a conciliar church, our authoritative word in response to God comes out of our councils in which we speak together. We are not authoritarian. We rely on the Spirit of God speaking to us through the diversity of our voices. We rely on the discernment of prayer and worship to guide us. Respect for a diversity of voices is needed in Canadian life these days, now more than ever.
We have lost many members in recent years, particularly over our sexual orientation stance. People have left and formed new habits and new attachments. They may think differently about sexual orientation now, but they don’t come back. Our faithfulness has been costly in that way, and we knew that it would. By the time we disappear entirely, if that is our future, other denominations will have been led by the Spirit into our space; they are learning more about social justice; they will take up the work.
Ms. Wente knows of our past; she acknowledges that the UCC has been “a pillar of Canadian society”. I would hope that she would better understand our present while prognosticating about our future. But I am glad Ms. Wente wrote a column about the UCC (ironic that she says we don’t matter any more and then indicates that we do). It is good to hear from the dying print media about our prospective demise. God bless us all with resurrections.
Rev. Clint Mooney