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Crabtree.jpgMcEnroe2.jpgToday’s Hartford Courant features a commentary by the Rev. Davida Foy Crabtree, conference minister of the Connecticut Conference United Church of Christ, defending the UCC against the IRS investigation into whether the church violated rules against political engagement in the matter of Barack Obama’s address to its General Synod last June. Two days ago, the paper itself stood up (“IRS Goes Overboard”) for the denomination that has more UCC members per square foot in Connecticut than in any other state. A rather more amusing defense than either of the above by radio talk-jock and blogger Colin McEnroe can also be found in today’s Courant. Here’s a taste:

I attended Obama’s speech last summer, and it does not surprise me to learn, now, that the UCC had studiously read up on the IRS rules about this kind of thing and had instructed the 10,000 people in attendance that they were not allowed to bring buttons or signs or banners with such obviously political sentiments as “We Love You, Barack.” The only thing allowed was cookies. You’re going to think I’m making this up, but Connecticut UCCers home-baked 14,000 cookies for this convention as part of a diabolical Congregationalist plot they called — again I am not kidding — “Extravagant Welcome.” (If the cookies didn’t work, they had, I was told, a last-ditch apocalyptic backup plan involving soft cushions.)
The UCC was also carefully monitoring Obama’s speech and was prepared, according to a UCC official on my show this week, to cut his sound if he got too political or broke any other rules.
Really, sending the IRS after these people is like having the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms kick down the door of a bunch of nerds playing Dungeons and Dragons.

To get back to Crabtree, hers is not a bad defense, but along the way she decides to make a grand gesture at her church’s ancient habit of incorporating thisworldly concerns into its mission. To wit:

Not all Christian denominations seek to engage the public arena, but for the United Church of Christ, this is part of our DNA, going all the way back to our forebears in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It has been our teaching since our very beginnings that one cannot divide life into the sacred and the secular; that all of life is seamless.

Three hundred and seventy years ago, a Massachusetts court composed of government officials and clergy tried the most distinguished of Crabtree’s female forebears, Anne Hutchinson, for heresy and packed her off to Rhode Island. Though the merits of IRS v. UCC may be slim, perhaps, at the present juncture, it would have been better not to be reminded of such matters, and of that particular anti-church-state separationist DNA.

  • Asinus Gravis

    You are correct, the Mass. Bay Colony had a lot to be ashamed of on the matter of using the power of the state to impose religious practices and orthodoxy on its citizenry.
    Ann Hutchinson and Roger Williams were more fortunate than some in that they escaped the oppression with their lives. Not all were as fortunate.
    Apparently pride at colonial heritage blinded Crabtree to the very significant constitutional issue involved here–one that Roger Williams championed with his notion of a hedge of separation that should separate the church and the world (government).
    I take it that the UCC supports the constitutional principle and not the colonial abuses.