These are the days after Synod. As usual they are days of catching up – hitting practice with an insistent 5 year old, listening to a play by play of the 17 year olds first driving lesson on the way to her MacDonald’s shift, leading a fast paced final training session for 30 exuberant teenage camp counselors. The wonder of real life in Christ puts Synod very quickly into perspective. So then, just what did happen in Hartford?

There was to be sure much that we have come to expect, heightened by the drama of nationally famous speakers, a well planned party to celebrate the 50th, as well as excellent artistic use of image and sound in worship and plenary. There was a good deal of hubris, some theological casseroles containing poisonous ingredients from the realms of other spirits, some of the usual tensions and of course some things that were simply outright hilarious. John Thomas didn’t disappoint his critics, offering again a brittle, defensive, and strange view of our life together. (Joe Malayang and his family were, in contrast, impressive in his retirement testimony.) The administrative crisis in Cleveland, and the interpersonal tensions within the collegium, were painfully visible even to some of the newcomers. All this stuff will be reported as expected in the upcoming Witness and on our webpage. We won’t let you down. (http://www.biblicalwitness.org)

But, there were also some landmark realities. Whether you agree with his politics or not, Barack Obama gave a very clear testimony of personal conversion and faith in Jesus Christ. He appears to be a brother. The name of Jesus was on the lips of speakers, moderators, delegates and participants with great regularity, and for the most part genuinely and appropriately. There were several periods of authentic worship into which any of us could join with little reservation. The Jesus is Lord buttons were far more common than ever before, and Jesus is Lord was affirmed several times in various settings.
The resolution the FAITHFUL AND WELCOMING congregations brought to Synod passed! While some language was modified to read “all” instead of “ECOT”, it was also strengthened with language urging every Association and Conference to accommodate presentations and displays from “all”. It was also strengthened with the language “under the guidance of the Holy Spirit”. It will have a profound impact on what happens next. Bob Thompson and his crew did a superb job in their first Synod outing – praise God!
The Synod backed away from its anti-semitic position on the Israeli, Palestinian conflict and moved toward a renewed consideration of a more balanced view. This happened regardless of the spin it receives. Praise God.

The Resolution promoting “death with dignity” or assisted suicide was derailed by strong opposition from the disabilities advocates within the UCC and was dramatically modified to a study resolution with little bias against the sanctity of human life. The resolution, which passed, bore faint resemblance to the one proposed. Praise God.

And of course as widely reported, the two resolutions calling for a restoration of the Biblical view of marriage were tabled for no action. While not a victory, it does open the door for this issue to continue to return to the Synod on a regular basis.
The real story of this Synod, however, is that GOD IS STILL SPEAKING. As I prayed through these days, it became clear to me that behind the smoke and noise of the marriage resolution explosion in 2005, that the reaffirmation of Jesus as Lord that summer, was more important. A people who call on the name of the Lord, pray in Jesus name, and read their Bibles will be transformed. The power of the gospel can be trusted.

It also was made clear to me that 2007, is to be marked down in the UCC as the year of the Holy Spirit. Calling upon the Holy Spirit to act, to fall fresh on us, to guide, to anoint, was repeated by a wide variety of voices. I am very convicted that God is on the move, to reclaim His churches. Now is the time to rededicate ourselves to this vital mission field in the power and humility of the Holy Spirit. To succeed we will need a network of intercessory prayer. If you are an intercessor, know some, are connected to a team, we need you. We need you now. Email us.
Now, both the expectations and skepticism some of our supporters voice about these Synods is naïve. To expect that the Synod or the corporate leadership of the UCC, or its Conference Ministers, etc. will suddenly reject the ideology to which they have pledged their lives and careers, is unrealistic. We aren’t looking for an action of Synod to somehow grant us acceptance or to give us hope, or save the churches from themselves. This is a thing God alone will do. But Synod does offer hundreds or thousands of vignettes, actions, sound bites, and images that reveal much about the nature of things in the UCC at that particular moment in time. What was revealed in Hartford is that God is about to do something in our churches for which many of us have yearned for a lifetime. It has begun, and will unfold as none of us could have anticipated. It will defy our right/left categories and once again have us dying to ourselves if we hope to live. Stay tuned.

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Let the Light Shine!

June 21, 2007

From the BWF Executive Director:

It has been a season of silence for BWF, in part because there was nothing left to be said. Our witness to the churches, the media, the denominational leadership and the world has been clear and loud. The idolatrous decision in the summer of 2005 to attempt to tell God that marriage was whatever we, in our human delusions, wanted it to be, placed the UCC beyond the boundaries of reality. We called for the president’s resignation, reiterated our witness that Jesus is Lord, the Bible is true, human life and human sexuality are sacred and, well, what more could we say?

It has been an uneasy silence. We have gone to write, proclaim, and publish several times, but we lacked a clear mandate from the Holy Spirit. Meanwhile, we watched significant realities unfold. New voices and movements were raised up by the Holy Spirit. The UCC, despite its energetic public face, spiraled further downward pushing out the Episcopals and Disciples to become the membership loss leader among declining protestant denominations. Churches left. Churches closed. The tears went disregarded. Foolish and false fantasies accusing BWF and anyone else who dared challenge the UCC with participation in some far-fetched scheme of conspiracy exposed an angry insecurity beneath the smiling surface.

But then something happened: On Sunday, May 13th I was given the text of Isaiah 44 to preach in the pulpit at Candia, NH. As I prepared it, the Holy Spirit hindered my use of the key verses 3 – 5, which read:

“For I will pour water on the thirsty land; and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants. They will spring up like grass in a meadow, like poplar trees by flowing streams. One will say, ‘I belong to the Lord’, another will call himself by the name of Jacob; still another will write on his hand ‘The Lord’s”

The Spirit seemed to indicate that these were not for that day. Perplexed, I went on and emphasized other verses in the text. Some weeks later I was in an amazing four day meeting with 900 church leaders from 70 countries worshiping at Holy Trinity Brompton Church in London. As we were worshiping in the Spirit, the worship leader read this text:

“For I will pour water on the thirsty land; and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants. They will spring up like grass in a meadow, like poplar trees by flowing streams. One will say, ‘I belong to the Lord’, another will call himself by the name of Jacob; still another will write on his hand ‘The Lord’s”

At that moment the Holy Spirit spoke very clearly to say, “This text is for the congregations of the United Church of Christ.” I was stunned. How? Why? Why now? On what basis? But again and again this word washed over me for the next two days until I could only be moved to tears: “this word is for the congregations of the United Church of Christ – really!”

What this means next will have to be revealed. We will be at this Synod primarily as intercessors, and we need you to join us as intercessors. If you are willing to pray with us, please email us and let us know. We will share requests as the Lord makes them known. We will be listening – and confident that God is still speaking!

It will be a season to move beyond “right” and “left” to a radical gospel rooted in a radical relationship with Jesus. It will mean being a radical church in the context of much folk religion and cultural confusion.

I believe as we listen that God is going to honor the invitation extended to him by the UCC to speak. GOD IS STILL SPEAKING. And I believe that the key is in the Anniversary theme “LET THE LIGHT SHINE.”

Stay tuned.

On a much lighter note: Irony and Whimsy in Hartford:

Many of you have remarked on the obvious irony of calling the anniversary festivities at Synod 26 in Hartford, “SYNOD IN THE CITY”. My adult children didn’t believe me until they checked out the site. Given our UCC reputation, one can only wonder how this came to pass, but if you want to have some fun, check out the picture comparison between the HBO show and the Hartford show to size up who might be who:

HBO
Hartford

And on a humorous note:

After our April Fool’s Day web page prank, some of you have inquired as to whether in fact John Dorhauer of Missouri is indeed on the payroll of BWF or IRD or both as a double agent tasked to intentionally embarrass the UCC. The answer is absolutely not. We are far above such things. Wouldn’t even think of it. And besides we wouldn’t hire anyone who didn’t know what a Steeplejack was. Then again I suppose if a Steeplejack is one who takes great risks to repair church steeples, I can see where you might think there was a hidden double message, perhaps with some sort of secret clue. But you have to admit that is pretty far fetched – Like the “Steeplejacking” book itself? Oh . . . I see your point, but trust me; there is nothing to it.