Now that U.S. Senator Barack Obama has formed an exploratory presidential committee you can expect renewed and sometimes vicious attacks on his character - and because he speaks so freely about it - his faith. The senator from Illinois is a member of Trinity United Church of Christ.
Albert Mohler, the Religious Right leader who serves as president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, once famously said:
"The United Church of Christ is so 'inclusive' that one is hard pressed to imagine someone who would not be accepted for membership. As Mark Tooley of the Institute on Religion and Democracy comments, 'The most liberal of America's mainline denominations, the UCC marries gays, or ordains witches, and prefers sit-ins (just name the cause) to evangelistic rallies."
Similar false charges were made today on the right-wing Faith and Action website in an article about Obama.
Inclusiveness is a hallmark of the United Church of Christ (Mohler gets that part right at least) but it is an inclusiveness rooted in the ministry of Jesus who declared with authority that all are welcome in the Kingdom.
In our denomination there are no creeds or tests of faith. From the UCC website:
The United Church of Christ embraces a theological heritage that affirms the Bible as the authoritative witness to the Word of God, the creeds of the ecumenical councils, and the confessions of the Reformation. The UCC has roots in the "covenantal" tradition--meaning there is no centralized authority or hierarchy that can impose any doctrine or form of worship on its members. Christ alone is Head of the church. We seek a balance between freedom of conscience and accountability to the apostolic faith. The UCC therefore receives the historic creeds and confessions of our ancestors as testimonies, but not tests of the faith.
Unlike the Mohler's Southern Baptist church, for example, we do not kick out congregations or exclude individuals over theological or political disagreements. We have conservatives and liberals (if you want to use purely political terms) and a rich diversity. But we also have a shared set of understandings that have been incorporated into a Statement of Faith:
We believe in God, the Eternal Spirit, who is made known to us in Jesus our brother, and to whose deeds we testify:
God calls the worlds into being, creates humankind in the divine image, and sets before us the ways of life and death.
God seeks in holy love to save all people from aimlessness and sin.
God judges all humanity and all nations by that will of righteousness declared through prophets and apostles.
In Jesus Christ, the man of Nazareth, our crucified and risen Lord, God has come to us and shared our common lot, conquering sin and death and reconciling the whole creation to its Creator.
God bestows upon us the Holy Spirit, creating and renewing the church of Jesus Christ, binding in covenant faithful people of all ages, tongues, and races.
God calls us into the church to accept the cost and joy of discipleship, to be servants in the service of the whole human family, to proclaim the gospel to all the world and resist the powers of evil, to share in Christ's baptism and eat at his table,to join him in his passion and victory.
God promises to all who trust in the gospel forgiveness of sins and fullness of grace, courage in the struggle for justice and peace, the presence of the Holy Spirit in trial and rejoicing, and eternal life in that kingdom which has no end.
Blessing and honor, glory and power be unto God.
Everyone knows that during a political campaign one side or the other will attempt to tear down their opponents. One of the reasons Obama is so popular right now is that he has not done that but instead has worked to reach out across partisan lines to address issues of fundamental concern to the American people.
I suspect, however, that some of his opponents will not return the favor and will lash out at anything - even his denomination - if they believe demonizing him will hurt his chances with the voters.
But anyone who questions the Christian commitment of the United Church of Christ - or of Barack Obama - will only bring shame on themselves by bearing false witness and open up questions about their own commitment to living the faith Jesus taught us to live.