The church that I currently serve as pastor is Church of The Painted Hills, UCC. It is an inclusive and progressive church. These are the hallmarks of our denomination, The United Church of Christ. We are historically inclusive as a denomination (the first woman and the first black man ever ordained in the United States were Congregational ministers, among other milestones). CPH is also decidedly inclusive and voted to become an Open & Affirming Church on March 8, 1998.
We are also Progressive, which is a little less easy to define, but I like the eight points of The Center for Progressive Christianity’s website. Here are the eight points abbreviated:
1) We have found an approach to God through the life and teachings of Jesus.
2) We recognize the faithfulness of other people who have other names for God and who have identified other ways to God’s realm.
3) We understand communion as inclusive and welcoming of all people.
4) We invite all people to participate in our community and worship life without insisting that they become like us.
5) We know that the way we behave toward one another and toward other people is the fullest expression of what we believe.
6) We find more grace in the search for understanding than we do in dogmatic certainty.
7) We are a community dedicated to peace and justice work, which includes eco-justice.
8) We recognize that being followers of Jesus is costly and requires resistance to evil, which can result in self-sacrifice and martyrdom, as was the case with Martin Luther King Jr., Oscar Romero and many others.
Of course there will be people in our congregation who disagree with some of these points, especially the finer points. That is what makes the United Church of Christ special! We don’t dictate conscience. We honor everyone’s individual conscience and their wrestling with their own faith.
Protestants historically have gotten into what I would call a “dividing frenzy,” dividing into the thousands of denominations that we have today. In order to counter this divisive impulse I think it is important to emphasize Jesus’ words: “Judge not, lest ye be judged (Matthew 7:1).” We are called to be tolerant, even of those who oppose our most passionately held convictions! Being able to suspend judgment and hold opposing views in creative tension while singing “we’ll understand it better by and by” may be the truest expression of faith, humility, and love. This suspension of judgment acknowledges that God is ultimately larger than anything we can codify, categorize, or label with letters, words, and sentences! We cannot pin God down! We can follow Jesus!