Got news? Adios to God the Father?

Gentle readers, you would be amazed at the amount of public relations materials that, day after day, people send via email to your GetReligionistas. Almost all of this stuff comes from people who clearly have never even looked at this website or paid any attention to what we do here. For example, publicists and writers constantly offer to send us religious-market books so that we can review them for our readers.

OK, raise your hand if you have ever read a book review on this weblog, a review written by a GetReligion scribe (let alone a book full of, let's say, Bible commentaries or born-again testimonies).

There should be no hands up at this stage, because we don't write book reviews. We have -- I could probably count them on one hand -- written a few posts about reviews of books that have been published in mainstream news publications. We do this if we think these books and reviews would be of interest to professional journalists who cover news linked to religion.

We also get waves of PR emails about denominational events and the activities -- left and right -- of groups that blend faith and political activism.

One of the most active public-relations groups in this field, on the religious right, holds itself up as a kind of religion-news agency -- Christian Newswire. Many of these PR releases simply promote the views of this or that author of church leader, with the hopes that journalists will call them up and get a quotation or what not.

It seems that I spike about 100 emails from this group a day, most of them unopened.

However, one arrived today that caught my eye because -- gasp -- it contained a real, live news hook worth of mainstream coverage. The release proclaimed:

Meeting at General Synod 28 in Tampa, Florida this weekend -- July 1-5, 2011 -- the historic United Church of Christ will vote on an amendment to eliminate God the Father from Article 5, lines 9-10 of its constitution (pdf).

The Constitution of the denomination has remained unchanged in its theological core since the United Church of Christ's founding in 1957, and remains the covenant connection with the basic truths of Christianity that keeps many churches affiliated who are otherwise alienated by the denominations very liberal agenda.

At this point, the organization behind this public-relations effort becomes perfectly clear:

According to renewal leader David Runnion-Bareford, "Rejecting God as Father in an age of fatherlessness is unthinkable. God acted toward us in amazing grace when He offered to be our Father through the sacrifice of his Son, Jesus Christ who offers us life in his name. This is not something we as humans made up in some other time. Rejecting our Father is act of arrogant rebellion in the name of cultural conformity that only further alienates members, churches, but more importantly God himself. We call the delegates to reject the change for God's sake."

You get the picture. This is a small, vocal conservative group that continues to struggle inside the boundaries of the super Congregationalist and freewheeling United Church of Christ, the small, declining, yet vocal denomination that represents the left edge of the old mainline Protestant world.

So is this a mainstream news story? I would say that it is, since editing the ancient Christian creeds is a highly symbolic act -- even for flocks as hyper-Protestant as the UCC. Of course, this denomination also serves as the home base for a very articulate and important layperson -- President Barack Obama.

But is this a mainstream news story? We will have to see if the event draws coverage. The proposed change has not, as I write these lines, been noted in an advance story of any kind in publications that show up in Google News. The denomination also is not calling attention to this debate (at least not that I can find) on its news website.

However, the Christian Wire release did contain a URL to the document and its proposed change at the heart of the Holy Trinity. It reads:


9 The basic unit of the life and organization of the United Church of Christ is the Local Church.

10 A Local Church is composed of persons who, believing in the triune God as heavenly Father, and accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and depending on the guidance of the Holy Spirit, are organized for Christian worship, for the furtherance of Christian fellowship, and for the ongoing work of Christian witness.

11 In accordance with the custom and usage of a Local Church, persons become members by (a) baptism and either confirmation or profession of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior; (b) reaffirmation or re-profession of faith; or (c) letter of transfer or certification from other Christian churches.

So we ask, "Got news?" Is this a mainstream news story?

If the UCC matters, this is a major news story. We will see.

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