A Letter to the Editor Defending the UCC

A Letter to the Editor Defending the UCC

Bob Molsberry, the UCC’s Conference Minister in Ohio, explains: “When Senator Santorum came to my city and dissed my theology, I decided I needed to respond.”

To the Editor
Columbus Dispatch
February 19, 2012

A lot of outlandish things are said on the campaign trail, but Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum went too far on Saturday in Columbus calling President Barack Obama’s theology “phony” and “unbiblical.”

I know something about President Obama’s theology. I’m a leader in the United Church of Christ, the denomination in which Mr. Obama and his family were members for several years. I often resonate with the president’s rhetoric and initiatives, because they often reflect the underlying theology that my venerable denomination professes. Not always, but often. To a certain extent, when Senator Santorum casually dismisses Obama’s theology, he dismisses mine, too. I take that seriously.

“Unbiblical,” Mr. Santorum? On the contrary. According to the prophetic witness, through a thousand years of Old Testament history, nations and rulers were judged on the basis of how well they established justice for the marginalized, compassion for the poor, and healing for the sick. Jesus placed himself squarely within this prophetic tradition when he claimed as his role in Luke’s gospel “to bring good news to the poor.” Since when are such values – often espoused by President Obama – not rock-solid biblical values?

“Phony?” Really, Senator? For nearly 400 years of American religious history, the liberal protestant Christian tradition has struggled to live out this ethic by building institutions of health care and education, abolishing slavery, championing suffrage for women and fair labor laws, and working tirelessly on behalf of civil rights. The American landscape would be vastly different today if it hadn’t been for the faithful witness of these Christian servants. In what ways is the Obama administration deviating from this proud American theological project?

Senator Santorum spoke Saturday of America as “a city on a hill.” How ironic that these words from Matthew’s gospel were first uttered on American soil in 1630 by the Puritan leader, John Winthrop, in describing the Pilgrims’ grand experiment. The United Church of Christ, President Obama’s former church, is the direct descendent of the Pilgrims’ Congregationalist faith.

In my local congregation, members often disagree on issues of faith, but I have never heard members dismiss one another by accusing each other of being “phony” or “unbiblical.” Our distinct congregations don’t always agree. But we refrain from branding those we disagree with as “phony.” In the ecumenical community, the varied Christian faith expressions don’t always see eye to eye. Yet we struggle to stay at the table together, resisting any urge to write off our brothers and sisters in the faith as “unbiblical.”

Senator Santorum has no exclusive claim to the Truth. He is hardly qualified to dismiss the theology of President Obama, or that of any other sincere Christian – no matter how divergent their views might be from his own – as “phony” or “unbiblical.” Millions upon millions of authentic Christian believers hold to exactly the sort of biblically-based, justice-oriented faith that the president professes.

I think we deserve an apology. Or at least an explanation.

the Rev. Robert Molsberry
Conference Minister for the Ohio Conference,
United Church of Christ