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The question for Obama the UCC member is whether he has the courage to stand up in Hartford in front of a sea of liberals and apply his Ottumwa standards to the national UCC church? Or will he look out at his fellow congregants from around America and do just what he did in front of the Iowa UCC Conference — pander?
As a UCC member himself Obama surely knows there are UCC’ers aplenty who “are hungry for change” in the way the UCC has been run for decades. They want to “turn the page on the kind of politics” UCC members have had to endure not for six years but almost fifty. The old politics of the UCC has lost members, entire churches, and millions of dollars in contributions that could easily have been targeted to help seriously suffering human beings but were used instead to fund church bureaucrats lusting for the earthly pleasure of wielding political power. The dissenters do indeed “want a new kind of politics and a new kind of governance” in the United Church of Christ.
WHAT KIND OF CHANGE would that mean? For starters it could consider a revolutionary and refreshingly new approach to the church’s presence in politics — by simply removing the UCC from the political sphere altogether. The OCWM 2007 budget request for the highly political “Justice and Witness” ministry is for $1,462,646. Think of the good that money could do in Obama’s Chicago or my Pennsylvania in providing direct assistance to poor children, seniors, low-income pregnant mothers, people struggling with broken marriages, alcoholism or drug addiction and much more. Yet instead the money will be spent propping up fat-cat Washington-style lobbyists and other church political bureaucracies to lobby people like — well, Senator Obama.
Instead of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars filing FCC petitions against media mogul Rupert Murdoch, or PR campaigns trying to get President Thomas on Meet the Press, or giving the church an increasingly disturbing reputation for anti-Semitism (it was just rebuked — not for the first time — by eight major American Jewish organizations for its statements on Israel ) or trying to “effect the ‘08 presidential elections” — what about the radical idea of simply returning to the humble ways of Christ himself and ministering directly to suffering and needy human beings?
For Senator Obama to say anything approaching this to the liberal hierarchy of the United Church of Christ would instantly give him credibility as a politician of creativity and courage, unafraid to “speak truth to power” about the revolution stirring in the midst of his own church, to seriously walk the talk of his campaign rhetoric. But will he have that courage? Will my fellow UCC member actually stand up in a Hartford convention arena filled with a dwindling band of elitist mainline Protestant liberals and have the nerve to apply what he’s saying in his presidential campaign to his own church?
Will he, to quote Jonathan Edwards, be a vessel for “a very considerable work of God”?