Of all the angst-ridden group processes Unitarian Universalists have endured in recent years, none has promised so much and produced so little as the quest to find a “theological center.”
I think that quest asked too much. I was much heartened to read what the Rev. John H. Thomas, the General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ had to say on the matter. He spoke at the Potomac Association meeting on Saturday, on which was piggy-backed one of four UCC polity and history institutes I need as a part of my transition to the UCC. One of his addresses was in the required reading, and he graciously sat in for the first forty minutes of the class and answered questions. (That pilot program is extraordinary for any number of reasons. See more.)
Now, there are differences between the UUA and the UCC. The UCC is a confessional, rather than credal, body and even the basis of this confession enshrined in the Basis of Union and Preamble to the Constitution of the United Church of Christ has lots of wiggle room. For instance, the Preamble says the UCC looks to
Word of God in the Scriptures, and to the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, to prosper its creative and redemptive work in the world. It claims as its own the faith of the historic Church expressed in the ancient creeds and reclaimed in the basic insights of the Protestant Reformers. It affirms 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.
Thomas repeated to the class — he’s clearly said this before — that while these documents speak of the creeds, confessions and reformers they don’t say which creeds, which confessions or which reformers. The field of UCC theology has field-goals, but there is some disagreement where they are placed. The same can be said for the UUA, even if the field covers different ground. So I think Thomas has something to say to Unitarian Universalists.
In his 2001, he delivered a paper “A Theological Heart: Confessional Commitment in the United Church of Christ Reflection on the Preamble to the Constitution of the United Church of Christ” to west coast chapters of the Confessing Christ organization. In it, he wrote
[L]et me first say a word about language. You’ll notice that I have chosen to use the phrase, “theological heart” rather than “theological center.” I do this, recognizing that Confessing Christ has tried over the years to explore the concept of a theological center for the United Church of Christ. In many ways this has been a helpful and constructive effort and I am grateful to many of you for seeking to engage the church in one of its core responsibilities. In the hyper-sensitive, highly suspicious ecclesial environment in which we live, however, center language almost inevitably suggests a spatial image and raises for someâ€”fairly or unfairlyâ€”the specter of hegemonic control by some over against others. Center implies for many a contrast with periphery or margin, and to historical and contemporary struggles over ecclesiastical power and privilege. This is a particularly sensitive issue in a denomination like the United Church of Christ, where we are less inclined to ask, “which theological voice is normative?” than “which theological voice or voices have been silenced or ignored?”
He has more to say, and the paper is worth a read.
“A Theological Heart” (UCC.org)