#UCCSynod: United and Uniting

#UCCSynod: United and Uniting

One in series of posts by Southern New England Conference delegates to the 34th General Synod of the United Church of Christ.

I was thrilled that Rev. Dr. Karen Georgia Thompson was elected as the General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ. Dr. Thompson has so many unique perspectives and experiences that make her the perfect person to lead our denomination forward into the future. However, there was some opposition to her election based upon her opinions regarding multiple religious belonging. One sentiment expressed was that it was watering down the essential commitment to Christ.
While others express the importance of multiple religious belonging better than I can, I wanted to share my own experience and perspectives. In addition to my M.Div., I also have a M.A. in comparative theology, examining Hinduism through the lens of my commitment to Christ. While this is not something that pops up regularly in my local church, it is something that I feel very strongly about.
I want to be honest. Sometimes, it is hard to be a Christian. This is not because of the demands of discipleship, although those are many, but because of the bad name that so many Christians have. This is rightfully earned from millennia of hypocrisy that led to the sins of colonialism and more than I have space to name. For a time, I needed to step away from the church, to see if I was still committed to following Jesus or whether I was going to drift away into that “spiritual but not religious” category.
Ironically, it was relationships with people from other religions that made me reevaluate and recommit to Jesus and the church. In both my personal and academic experience, taking other theological teachings seriously does not mean abandoning a Christian principle for a non-Christian one or trying to create some synthetistic hybrid, but seeing Christ’s teachings in a new way. It allowed me to pick up on a nuance that I previously had ignored. For example, learning about how God of Brahman, Paramatma, and Bhagavan is understood in Gaudiya Vaishnavism (part of which you may know as the “Hare Krishnas”) helped me have a richer understanding of my God in Trinity, which in turn helped me appreciate mysterious love of God in the beauty and nuance of the world and people around me.
One thing that allowed me to feel so grounded in the UCC during my explorations was its old idea of being a “united and uniting” church. This is not a question of having us all be united under one theology or one way of being the church. Rather it speaks to God working through us to find a unity in our differences, and strength in our diversity. A God that is Trinity is larger than all the ways we might separate ourselves. Listening to the experiences of people who hold their faith in Jesus in relationship with their other religious commitments increases the diversity of voices in the United Church of Christ. As we welcome the voices of people traditionally silenced, it is important to recognize ideas that do not fit into the little box we define as “Christianity.” And while the “united and uniting” language is pretty old, I think that “God is still speaking” to us in a lot of different ways. If we wish to live out the extravagant welcome that says, “no matter who you are or where you are life’s journey, you are welcome here”, that includes people with multiple religious belonging. But I think Dr. Thompson said it best. We need to make the table larger.


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Gregory N. Baker

Rev. Gregory Baker is the pastor of the United Chruch of Assonet, MA.

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