Fred's Faith--and Obama's
We all know that Mitt Romney's Mormonism has become an issue in the Republican presidential nominating contest, as has Sam Brownback's Opus Dei-assisted conversion to Catholicism, and Rudy Giuliani's tenuous links to Rome. But now there's a fourth GOP candidate whose faith is in question: Fred Thompson.
It probably started with James Dobson's infamous statement back in March about Thompson that he "didn't think he was a Christian." Focus on the Family later issued a weasily "clarification" suggesting that Dobson had actually meant he didn't know one way or another about Fred's faith.
Inquiring minds wanted to know, so (as explained in an illuminating article in The Christian Chronicle) it soon came out that Thompson was baptized in, and has occasionally been identified with, the Churches of Christ. But his second marriage, in 2002, was performed in a United Church of Christ service in Illinois.
As you may or may not know, the similar-sounding Churches of Christ and United Church of Christ are about as similar as a hound dog and a chili dog. The former is a very conservative but loosely organized quasi-denomination that split off from the mainline Disciples of Christ in the early twentieth century, mainly over opposition to the use of musical instruments in church. The latter, formed from the Congregationalist and certain German Reformed churches in the 1940s, is the most liberal of trinitarian American protestant denominations; the UCC happily ordains openly gay and lesbian clergy, and performs same-sex unions. (Indeed, its position casts an interesting light on active UCC member Barack Obama's own position that denominations, not the state, should determine access to "marriage.") Ironically, the denomination the UCC is closest to is the Disciples of Christ.
Having spilled a ridiculous number of words at NewDonkey.com back in October 2005 (sorry, link is not available but you can find it in the archives of that site, in case you're interested) trying to explain Harriet Miers' relationship to the Churches of Christ, I can tell you that the CofC's intensely decentralized nature and hostility to creeds and theological speculation have made it difficult to divine its members' views on much of anything other than biblical inerrancy and liturgical primitivism. Indeed, other conservative evangelicals have been known to complain the CofC'ers are laggards in the fight to ban abortion.
So where does Fred fit in? I dunno, but I'm pretty sure he's going to have to start showing up at church somewhere. And he probably won't be rubbing elbows with Barack Obama in the UCC.