What does it mean when the beliefs and practices of the clergy are entirely opposite from the beliefs and practices of the laity. In the recent debate over contraception (hard for me to believe we would even debate contraception), 98% of American Catholics said they use contraception. Yet, the official church doctrine says contraception is “intrinsically evil” (Vademecum for Confessors 2:4, Feb. 12, 1997).
Catholic hierarchy acts and speaks as though Catholic laity follow this. As if all Catholics are all using the rhythm method and hold the fertility beliefs of Mrs. Duggar.
I think it comes down to the fact that no doctrine is difficult to uphold, if it doesn’t effect you. The cardinals in Rome are not in need of contraception or marriage rights or better healthcare. The laity are. Martin Luther thought priests should marry because there was “nothing in scripture requiring celibacy”. Or maybe it was because he had fallen in love with Katherine von Bora. Celibacy had finally effected him–theologically and personally.
In the UCC, the hierarchy (loosely understood as the National Office, and the Conference) cannot impose any beliefs on the laity or the local clergy. That is why even though the denomination has been encouraging “open and affirming” since the 1985 synod, only a small percentage of churches have officially become ONA. The laity always have the power to decide over the clergy or the hierarchy.
And therefore, the UCC clergy and laity have the privilege of existing in a state of mutual respect, if not mutual agreement. We may not always share the same views–socially or theologically, but we never forget what it means to be Church.