Many UCC members suffer from a chronic identity crisis. People ask us, what do United Church of Christ members believe? And—we freeze! We don’t know what to say, because we UCC’ers believe so many things, so many different things. We are priests of paradox, apostles of ambiguity, nattering nabobs of nuance.
And so the UCC produces the “God is still speaking campaign”, including our legacy of firsts, our taglines, with countless videos, pamphlets and little wallet cards all to remind us what we kinda sorta believe. We are exhorted to compose elevator speeches, summations of UCC’ers so pithy they might be recited on an elevator in its fleeting passage between floors.
Do we believe in God? Question—simple. Answer—impossible.
Define “God.” Define “believe.” Define “we.” Define “in.”
Whatever God is or is not, I don’t think God cares what we believe. I don’t think Jesus cares what we believe. I don’t think the Buddha doesn’t care what we believe.
The important question is not what we believe, it’s where we stand.
I want to be extremists for love… where all are welcome.Of course when I say “standing” I’m not talking about a physical posture. Rosa Parks stood on the side of love by remaining seated.I’m talking about a moral stance not just assumed privately in our hearts but witnessed boldly in our families and schools and workplaces and communities, at the State House, in the halls of Congress. I’m talking about faith in action.I’m not talking about sanctimony. I’m talking about intentionality. Understanding that our practice will be imperfect as each of us is imperfect, what is our purpose? What is our aspiration? What is our commitment?
Extremists for love. No matter who you are, you are welcome here.
- When UCC minister Samuel Sewell challenged the institution of slavery in the UC, writing the first anti slavery pamphlet in America, in 1700, “The selling of Joseph, he laid the foundation for the abolitionist movement a century later, he was an extremist for love.
- When the UCC, in 1785, ordained Lemuel Haynes, the first African American pastor ordained by a protestant denomination, we were extremists for love -All are welcome here!
- When the UCC ordained Antoinette Brown in 1854, as the first woman since New Testament times to serve as a Christian minister, and perhaps the first woman in history elected to serve as a Christian pastor to a congregation, we were extremists for love. All are welcome!
- When the UCC, Golden Gate Association in 1972, ordained Bill Johnson as the first openly gay minister in an historical protestant denomination, and went on for the next three decades as a national synod urging the equal rights for homosexual citizens, and to become the first denomination to support equal marriage rights for same sex couples, we were extremists for love. All are welcome!
- When on July 4, 2005 the UCC overwhelming voted as a denomination to support same gender marriage equality,
- when, in 2008, at the height of the debate over same-sex marriage in California during Prop 8 this congregation hung a banner in front of the church entrance, proclaiming to every passerby “Support Marriage Equality. We do.”
- And when your pastor blessed same sex couples, for many years before it was a legal right, and urged all heterosexual couples she married to stand in solidarity with them, until the day, that this became a legal right for all people, we were extremists for love. All are welcome here!
By the way, did you hear that the states that allow same sex marriage have lower divorce rates?In states where same-sex marriages are legally recognized, the divorce rate is 20 percent lower than in states that only allow marriages between a man and a woman. Rachel Maddow says “It turns out gay marriage is a Defense of Marriage Act.” Who knew?
Extremists for love doesn’t require power. It requires courage. Because courage is power.When a child on a playground sticks up for another who is teased or bullied or left out because they’re different, that child is an extremist for love.
Let’s celebrate the blessed uniqueness, within, and among us all! Our true colors, the full spectrum of beautiful differences.
Together, we stand, as As MLK wrote, as Jesus lived, together we stand on the side of love, a still speaking God calling us to confront exclusion and violence based on identity, be it sexual orientation, gender presentation, immigration status, race, class, religions, nationality, physical ability, or any other excuse for harassment.
Our denomination is working for full equality—across the board—for people of all gender identities and sexual orientations.
Extremists for love means treating each other well, whether ally or adversary. “Love is patient;” wrote the Apostle Paul, “love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.”
Extremists for love means being more committed to being reconciled than to being right. Love “does not insist on its own way…. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
A religious person, Rabbi Abraham Heschel taught us, is one “whose greatest passion is compassion, whose greatest strength is love and defiance of despair.”His friend Martin Luther King Jr. added, “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
So when someone asks us what UCC members believe, or why we’re speaking out on gay rights or immigrant rights or disability rights or human rights, or why we bother to drag our sorry selves down to Skyline Community Church on a Sunday morning, let’s tell ‘em: no matter who you are, where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here!
We are extremists for love… no matter who you are, or where you are on your life’s journey, you are welcome here!
Amen and Blessed Be.