With all the fuss over the major network’s non-acceptance of the United Church of Christ ad, one of their mottos has been receiving attention as well. I think it may be nearly as unhelpful a motto as our UM motto “OPen Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.” Theirs is adapted from Gracie Allen: “Never place a period where God has placed a comma” Sounds ok – but it depends on how you take it. Their particular take on it seems to be as a claim that Christianity is fundamentally open. No doctrines, beliefs or practices are consitutive of Christianity for all time. “God is still speaking,” they say, non-controversial as it goes, but in this case it appears to mean something like, ‘The bible is an old outdated book, but fortunately God keeps tells us new stuff to supercede that archaic stuff.”
Susan Ager is right to see this as illustrative of two very different approaches to Christainity. Though I don’t think that “fundamentalism” is the best term to oppose to the apparently always open to major reformulation view she and the UCC seem to advocate (unless all evangelicals and the Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Third World mainstream are all fundamentalists), but I won’t quibble.
I don’t think they really want this “comma” theology, however. Does it mean that everything Christians have said about God or God’s commands are always up for correction? It is certainly popular to say that the scriptural teaching on certain topics (the most popular today are those dealing with sex) are merely expressions of ancient culture, before our current age of enlightenment. But what about the other teachings? Is God’s teaching on faithfhulness, forgiveness, generosity, etc., to be treated with a comma also?
One gets the idea from Susan Ager, and I don’t know if she is a member of the UCC or simply a commmentator, that the driving force is not so much what God says or doesn’t say, but what we like. She says,
When I was a child, our Catholic priest insisted only Catholics would enter heaven. That made me sad, because my friend Beth Ann was Protestant, and it didn’t seem fair.
I’ve had trouble ever since with churches that insist theirs is the only way. The God I know in my heart would not condemn good people who prayed in different ways, even to gods with different names.
“God is love.” We like that. We’ll put a period on that. “Don’t lay with a man as with a woman.” Oooh – that’s mean spirited. We don’t like that. Let’s put a comma there.
Or do they really mean to put a comma there? Do they want to claim that God said those nasty things but has now come to be of a different opinion? Or do they want to claim that God never actually said any such thing? I could be wrong, but I think they’d be more likely to claim the latter. Ludwig Feuerbach could look at this kind of theology and think his projection theory has been confirmed.