The United Church of Christ (UCC) was established in 1957 with the union of two Protestant denominations: the Congregational Christian Churches and the Evangelical & Reformed Church. For a substantive discussion of UCC’s theological roots and doctrines, click here. Today there are more than 5,100 UCC churches across the United States, served by some 7,500 authorized ministers and attended by 1.1 million lay members. These numbers reflect a recent downward trend in both clergy and church membership. From 2000-2010, for example, UCC experienced a net loss of 696 congregations and about 319,000 members nationwide.
UCC proudly presents itself as an activist denomination that “labor[s] ceaselessly to fight injustice in the United States and abroad”—a church “where Jesus the healer meets Jesus the revolutionary.” It is resolutely committed to congregation-based community organizing, a social-change strategy originally developed by Saul Alinsky.
High on UCC’s list of priorities is its effort to promote greater economic equality—i.e., a “fair balance” of wealth and possessions—among Americans. To achieve this, the Church advocates a steeply “progressive” tax structure that imposes “the heaviest burden on those with the greatest financial means” and then uses those revenues to fund all manner of social-welfare programs.
Lamenting that as a result of the Bush-era tax cuts of the early 2000s “the rich have gotten richer and everyone else has gotten the leftovers,” UCC calls for ending “the tax cuts for the 2% of our wealthiest tax payers while extending them for everyone else.” By UCC’s calculus, the Bush tax reductions exacerbated not only income inequality but also the federal government’s runaway deficits—including even the record $1.4 trillion shortfall of 2009, President Obama‘s first year in office.
To help America recover from the financial crisis that struck the country so hard in 2008, UCC recommends that the federal government engage in massive deficit spending—i.e., “boost the demand for goods and services by buying more itself”—a strategy that in turn will “spur firms to increase production by hiring more workers.” Further, the Church maintains that “public investments” in infrastructure projects—roads, railroads, bridges, schools, “green jobs”—can likewise spark economic growth.
It is noteworthy that UCC traces the 2008 financial crisis mainly to the alleged excesses of unfettered capitalism—i.e., “deregulated and under-regulated banks,” “usury,” “fraud,” “racist lending” pracices, and “excessive greed.”
Affirming “the role of public institutions paid for by taxes for ensuring essential services and protecting the good of the wider community,” UCC opposes the privatization of things like public lands and parks, schools, jails and prisons, roads and highways, police and fire departments, garbage collection services, and the administration of social-welfare programs. As the Church sees it, privately managed enterprises are highly prone to corruption because they are accountable only to “privately-appointed boards and/or shareholders” rather than to the public at large. Thus has UCC long advocated a single-payer, government-run healthcare system as “a right and a priority for all people.” In a similar vein, the Church opposes “risky” proposals to partially privatize the Social Security system that currently provides a “guarantee of retirement income.”
UCC’s environmental ministries lament that the “greed” and “arrogance” underlying American industrial pursuits have rendered, via the pollution they create, much of the nation’s air and water “unfit” to breathe or drink. The Church likewise blames America’s recklessly “unsustainable” levels of energy consumption for “the perilous immediate and long-term worldwide consequences of global warming and climate change” that will have a disproportionate impact on “poor communities and communities of color.” Anthropogenic “environmental degradation,” adds UCC, greatly exacerbates “the instability of local food cultures,” creating “conditions of increased food insecurity, hunger and malnutrition.”
Noting that the United States “imprisons more of its own people than any other country in the world,” UCC calls for “reformation of the nation’s justice system.” Recommended measures include: promoting the “training and rehabilitation of inmates”; employing “alternative sentencing” to reduce “mass incarceration”; addressing “race and class bias” in arrests and sentencing; halting “the growth of the prison-industrial complex”; and improving “prison conditions” for those behind bars.
UCC contends that the voting rights of nonwhite minorities have been “significantly undermined” in recent years through such measures as “stringent voter identification laws,” “rollbacks in early voting,” and the 2014 Supreme Court decision that “eliminated key provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.” (For details of that decision and its implications, click here.)
Citing “images throughout Scripture calling us to ‘beat swords into plowshares [and] spears into pruning hooks’ (Isaiah 2:4),” UCC condemns America’s “militarism” and urges policy makers to “restrain Pentagon spending” and reallocate resources toward “humanitarian and developmental needs, conflict prevention, and civilian peace-building initiatives.”
UCC supports full “reproductive justice” that encompasses abortion rights which allow women to only “bear children they want to have,” and “to not bear children” if that is their choice. Moreover, the Church supports government mandates requiring health insurers to cover the costs associated with all forms of birth control including abortifacients and sterilization.
“Poverty and racism” rank among the “primary causes of injustice” in America’s public schools,” says UCC, lamenting that poor and “ethnic minority” children are “disproportionately” relegated to “overcrowded and deteriorated facilities.” The church identifies public-school funding as one of the “foremost civil rights issues in the twenty-first century.”
On the international stage, UCC charges that America’s treatment of foreign enemies in detention is unnecessarily brutal. Proclaiming its own “obligation to … ensure that no person is tortured or abused,” for instance, the Church maintains that the waterboarding of known terrorists is a form of torture for which the U.S. should earnestly “seek repentance [and] forgiveness.”
Asserting that “the Bible is unambiguous in calling us to welcome aliens and strangers in our land,” UCC supports comprehensive immigration reform that provides “a fair and expedient process for undocumented immigrants and their families to attain citizenship.” When scores of thousands of unaccompanied Central American children flooded across the U.S.-Mexico border in 2014, the Church not only opposed suggestions that the border should be sealed in order to stop the influx, but also declared that “as people of faith we have an ethical obligation to care for the most vulnerable among us.”
To “restore just economic relations between nations,” UCC calls on the governments of industrialized countries to forgive the debts that developing countries have incurred since the 1980s by borrowing large sums of money from them.
UCC views the United States as a nation where white people routinely believe in their own “racial superiority and entitlement over others,” where “unequal treatment” commonly “disadvantages people of color,” and where economic handicaps “associated with race and ethnicity” are widespread. To address these matters, the Church seeks to eliminate “societal policies and structures” that perpetuate racism. Foremost among those structures are capitalism and globalization—“unfair systems” that unjustly “benefit some and hurt others” while creating a “global economic order” of “increasing disparity.” Because “a relative few are hoarding an increasingly large amount of the world’s resources,” the Church feels a duty to speak on behalf of “the poor, oppressed and marginalized.”
In June 2016, UCC posted an infographic on its Facebook page under the title, “10 Ways You Can Actively Reject Your White Privilege.” Emphasizing that white people are inherently and irremediably racist, no matter what efforts they may make not to be, it read as follows:
1. Take up minimal space during anti-racism dialogues and protests.
2. Stop contributing to gentrification and calling it “urban development.”
3. Listen when people call you on your microaggressions.
4. Never invite people of color to the table for the sake of claiming diversity.
5. Refrain from using your non-white friends as your “urban dictionary.”
6. Stop lifting up non-confrontational people of color as examples of what POC activism should be.
7. Call your friends, family and co-workers out on racism–even if a POC isn’t in the room.
8. Understand that all anti-racism work doesn’t look the same and advocate accordingly.
9. Realize that all discussions about race aren’t for you. And be okay with it.
10. Recognize that you’re still racist. No matter what.
The UCC dogma that paints all white people as racists has evolved over a long period of time. It was evident as early as the 1960s, when Rev. Albert Cleage of Detroit’s Central United Church of Christ preached a gospel of Black Power and resolved to “dehonkify” Jesus, whom he depicted as a black revolutionary. At the time, UCC praised Cleage for helping to “make the church more sensitive to and aware of its need to respond to the agenda of black people.”
In early May 2008, the UCC website promoted an upcoming May 18 “sacred conversation on race” in which white participants would be encouraged to acknowledge “the sins” of their “ancestors” and their own “failures to confront racism.” Meanwhile, non-whites who had “suffered the ravages of racism” would be urged to nobly resist the very understandable “temptation to despair” and “rightful indignation.” Such a “conversation” was urgently needed, said UCC, because “the quality of life for the majority of racial and ethnic people is worse today in many ways than it was during the 1960s.”
The UCC and Israel
Vis à vis the intractable Mideast conflict, UCC identifies Israel‘s “occupation” of Palestinian lands as the principal cause of the repeated wars that have “caused a significant number of Palestinians to be displaced from their homes” ever since 1948. Among the Church’s likeminded “partners” in its “Israel-Palestine Ministry” are such organizations as B’Tselem, the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel, Kairos Palestine, the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, and the YWCA of Palestine.
In 2005, UCC leadership adopted an “economic leverage” resolution featuring “the use of selective divestment” against Israeli business interests, and called on the Jewish state to “tear down” its West Bank security barrier. That same year, the Church drafted a resolution charging that over the decades, “Israeli governments and Zionist expansionist organizations” had “progressively dispossessed the lands and property of Palestinians, who have maintained an historic presence and retain deep roots in the land.” In 2014, UCC voiced its approval, in principle, of “divestment from companies that profit from the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, and [a] boycott of products produced in such territories by Israeli companies.” And in June 2015, UCC’s general synod formally voted—by a margin of 508 to 124—to proceed with its divestment program.
In August 2016, UCC offered its church leaders and parishioners a guide titled Promoting a Just Peace in Palestine-Israel, which begins with a reference to the 2009 Kairos Palestine Document titled A Moment of Truth, and is described as a Palestinian-Christian call for all the world’s churches to “stand with the Oppressed in Palestine-Israel” and “help [them] get [their] freedom back.”
For additional information on UCC, click here.