A Religious Liberal Blog

This site hopefully can provide some vehicle by which I can comment, complain, and once in a while praise the state of religion in this country and around the world from a liberal protestant perspective.

Monday, August 30, 2004

Here's the third in a series of exposes on liberal protestant thinkers.

Carter Heyward

Denomination: Episcopalian

Education: BA at Randolph-Macon Woman's College. MA in Comparative Relgions at Columbia, M.Div. in Religion and Psychiatry at Union Theological. Ph.D. in Systematic Theology at Union Theological Seminary

Position: Howard Chandler Robbins Professor of Theology at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts since 1975. Recepient of the 1988 Distinguished Alumni/ae Award from Union Theological.

Books: Heyward is the author of over a dozen books including Saving Jesus From Those Who are Right; Staying Power: Reflections on Gender, Justice, and Compassion; Touching our Strength: The Erotic as Power and Love of God; When Boundaries Betray Us: Beyond Illusions of What is Ethical in Therapy and Life and; The Redemption of God: A Theology of Mutual Relation.

Project: Carter Heyward is most commonly known as a trailblazer. She was one of 11 women who in 1974 were irregularily ordained to be priests, two years before the Episcopal Church voted to allow such an action. She was one of the first priests in the church to come out of the closet as a lesbian. Today, she works to bless gay and lesbian unions in Massachusetts and push for the expansion of the church to include people who have been historically left out.

For Heyward God is is the power which makes for relationships marked by mutuality and justice. A recent piece by one pastoral candidate summarizes Heyward's vision well:

God “is” our power in mutual relation. God “is” the power of connectedness. Our vocation in life is to find ways to embody that God-ness in our lives. We get to be the hands and feet, the point of connection between God and the world. We get to be the opportunity of dynamic, sparking movement when the still-creating-God births something in the world through our interactions with each other.

Heyward was one of the first authors I read when I started on my own religious journey. Her conception of God provided me some new and fruitful ways of looking again at the question of God. And now working as a student in the field of philosophy, I get surprised at how many times I keep coming back to her work, because it expresses so well what creative interaction with the other can look like.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Jery Falwell, recently, made a number of off the wall claims. His recent visit to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary provided the occassion for this. He spoke of his vision of schools where students never once in their entire educational career are exposed to "ungodly" ideas. This sounds like the behavior of a cult where people are separated so that they can be protected from the evil outside world, a world of different ideas, beliefs, activities than their our own.

He also spoke of the need for "fundamentalist" ministers to take over the leadership of moderate congregations to push them in a fundamentalist direction. He noted that sometimes it takes a full year before that church is who you are. So the goal is for congregations to be in the image of the minister? Is there ever a possibility where a congregation could impact the pastor? Let's just say that Falwell's vision for the church (and for society) is frighteningly authoritarian.

Alas Falwell was bypassed by the GOP convention when it came to speakers. But he is ok with this since Falwell noted that he has had many photo ops with the president. But while there won't be any famous religious right leaders on stage it doesn't mean that there won't be likeminded folks speaking at the event. Donnie McClurkin, for example, will speaking out against the "curse" of homosexuality at the convention. Apparently he has done some work organizing Christians against the "homosexual agenda" thus making him a perfect voice for the GOP this year.

As the GOP convention starts up, some other news items are worth keeping in mind. For the third year in a row poverty has gone up. If you are in the bottom 20% of Americans you saw your incomes go down as more folks ended up losing their health insurance. And now up to 6 million Americans are set to lose their overtime pay with the new rules set up by Bush's labor department. There will be much talk about family at this convention but the rhetoric won't be matching the record.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Working Things Out presents a question not likely to be heard in this election cycle, but should be:Is the American dream the only dream, or even the best dream we can dream? Can we dream beyond the horizon that is the American dream? If there was ever a mission for the church this is it, the expansion of our moral imagination.

And in Brazil, a new gay and lesbian congregation affiliated with Metropolitan Community Church has opened and is engaging in mission and outreach to a population in the country which has rarely found a religious home. As the regional bishop noted "We affirm and celebrate all those who look for integration"

Considering the huge divisions which mark the life of the mainline church over sexuality issues, sometimes I head over to the United Church of Canada's site to see what they are up to these days. This denomination, the largest in the country, has taken the lead for same sex unions in Canada, has about the only creedal statement that I could sign my name too, and now has just set up an excellent resource page on marriage and the church.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

The former head of the Anglican Communion, George Carey will be visiting Virginia. Why? To oversee the consecration of a number of confirmations, something which typically the area bishop would perform. Problem? Those seeking out Carey's services are to the right and oppose VA's bishop Peter Lee and his vote for Gene Robinson to be bishop of NH.

The result? Bishops who supported Robinson are facing widespread efforts by the right to break off any pastoral or polity based relationships between them and conservative congregations, usually using foreign conservative bishops to aid them in the task. Church schism? Aided by a former Archbishop of Canterbury? Bishop Lee in this case nipped the showdown right from the start by not opposing Carey's visit and work in the area. But this visit is still a sign of a church which is deeply fractured. Carey's visit only exacerbates these divisions.

Correction noted: I previously called the former archbishop Andrew Carey, which is actually his son.

The Jewish forward has a column which urges monotheism so as to battle the effects of relativism, of which polytheism has come to symbolize for this author. I have a different take on the issue. Monotheism, ideally, ought to be a relativizer of sorts. Otherwise whatever we place as absolute, in this case the author wants to place American ideals as absolute, has a way of displacing God. In such a view, how does God get to enter the picture in a manner which calls our ideals into account?

Crosses at a Bush campaign rally? There's some line which has been crossed where faith is being pressed into the service of politics. Is it appropriate to use a symbol of self emptying in such a manner? And the intemperate language used at such a rally (Kerry wants to destroy this country apparently) highlights Chuck Currie's and Beppe Blog's concern on how overtop language is damaging the possibilities of democratic discourse.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Just a quick note, Bethquick, a progressive United Methodist blog will soon be linked to this site. Her musings on the church, ministry, and the world make for an excellent read. And now for the second installment of highlighting liberal protestant thinkers:

John Cobb

Denomination: Methodist

Education: University of Chicago, 1947-50 MA 1949, Ph.D. 1952 from the Divinity School, University of Chicago

Position: Emeritus Professor, Claremont School of Theology and Claremont Graduate School, Co-Director of the Center for Process Studies, Co-Founder of Progressive Christians Uniting, Co-winner of the Grawemeyer Award of Ideas Improving World Order.

Project: Cobb is one of the central figures in process theology today. He has spent much of his career integrating a relational process vision and Christian faith. Process thought is usually associated with the metaphysics of Alfred North Whitehead who saw reality as marked by events which are continually reconstituting themselves by taking in the other into itself.

Such a view insists that we are constituted by our relations with other people and with the whole cosmos. That we live in a world which is fully interdependent. John Cobb draws out the implications of such thought not just on Christian doctrinal claims but also on the social, political, and environmental problems that we face today. Of particular interest to me is how he applies it to questions of religious pluralism and interfaith dialogue. For him, the openess to self transformation in dialogue with the other is central.

Books: John Cobb has written over 30 books on a range of subjects. Some work out a process understanding of God and God's relationship to human life. Some works include A Christian Natural Theology, God and the World, and Talking about God. Others tackle social and political problems such as A Theology of Ecology, Sustaining the Common Good, and The Earthist Challenge to Economism. Other focus on interfaith dialogue including Death or Dialogue, Beyond Dialogue: Toward a Mutual Transformation of Christianity and Buddhism, and Christ in a Pluralistic Age.

Here's a site which includes a number of his articles that focus on some social and political problems we face today. This is where he has put much of his energies in recent years, articulating and organizing a progressive vision of Christian faith that ought to be a part of the public conversation.

Friday, August 20, 2004

I've decided to steal an idea from the blog Evangelical Outpost. This site has started to highlight famous evangelical leaders and thinkers. Given how little exposure mainline theologians receive, I thought I'd copy the idea for this site.

Gordon Kaufman

Denomination: Mennonite

Education: AB Bethel College, MA Northwestern University, BD Yale Divinity School, PhD Yale University, LHD Bethel College

Position: Mallinckrodt Professor of Divinity (Emeritus) at Harvard University where he has taught since 1963. Previously a professor at Pomona College and Vanderbilt. He is a past president of the American Academy of Religion and of the American Theological Society, as well as a member of the Society for Buddhist-Christian Studies.

Books: Kaufman is the author of over 10 books which have had a dramatic impact on how many in the mainline have considered the question of God language. Among these are An Essay on Theological Method, God The Problem, Theology for a Nuclear Age, and In the Face of Mystery.

That last work earned him the 1995 American Academy of Religion Award for excellence among constructive books in religion. It was this book which provided a way for me to see naturalism as a positive framework to think through religious questions. His newest book In the Beginning..Creativity I've just ordered and hope to post some thoughts on soon.

Project: To provide for an evolutionary and socio-historical account of human existence. From that place one can start to evaluate what factors and activities are at play which strengthen the possibilities of this world and human life. It is through such discernment that one can begin to orientate our activities in ways appropriate to such realities.

The problem has been the way traditional Christian language gives us a conceptual framework which does not make sense of this account of the world which has developed over the last few centuries. This is a problem because without the ability to discern correctly our relation to the world we're not likely to solve the deepest crises which plague human life.

Kaufman's task is to re-interpet and re-imagine Christian language, especially the central symbols of the faith such as God, Christ, and the Church in a manner which takes account of this newer picture of the world, thus providing a basis by which our religious faith can become a resource in tackling the problems which tear up our world.

One article which highlights his thought is his piece for Cross Currents titled Re-conceiving God and Humanity in Light of Today's Ecological Consciousness: A Brief Statement.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

If Jewish voters could determine this election, John Kerry would win by a landslide as recent polling has Kerry leading 75% to Bush 22%. Whenever the topic of religion and the presidential campaign comes up, facts like this would seem relevant if religion was not invariably typecast as evangelical protestant.

Ok..so I took another online quiz. A number of questions are asked to determine whether you have a "biblical" worldview. Not surprising, as a religious liberal, my score was pretty low. But the categories and the questions constituting the test is the odd thing. From the flat tax to separation of church and state to evolution, you soon discover that this is not a test trying to sort out doctrinal claims.

It's trying to situate you in relation to a particular right wing agenda. If you are not on the right, regardless of your orthodoxy, it's impossible to get a high score. But the categories where I ranked highest and the lowest surprised me. Because I believe that moral judgements are possible I got 50% of the questions right, ie I have a moderate biblical worldview.

My worst category was science, since I believe in evolution I received a -12% and got labeled as a Communist, Marxist, Socialist, Secular Humanist Worldview Thinker. Wow. How did marxism get lumped in with biology? And why are all these labels strung together in this way?

I don't know why, but the test is interesting, if anything to get a picture of what people mean by "biblical" in today's political climate. And for a continuation of yesterday's post, there's a great new website where you can report any left wing activities from the pulpit. It's aptly called Rat Out a Church. They even have a nice picture of a rat dressed up in clerical robes with Kerry signs.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

The right picks up on a bad idea....spying in the churches. The Religious Freedom Action Coalition is sending volunteers to attend liberal, mainline, and african american churches to monitor and report any activities which are deemed as partisan. I wonder if there's any line which folks are not willing to cross in the culture wars today.

Sojourners has a petition/ad campaign which calls attention to the problem of identifying Christianity with any one party. As the petition notes: We believe all candidates should be examined by measuring their policies against the complete range of Christian ethics and values.

Nader continues to defend a form of rhetoric which has usually been associated with anti-semitic groups (some of which got Pat Buchanan in trouble in this last decade) when he speaks about members of congress being "puppets" for Israel. One of the odd things about his campaign is that in most every turn, important democratic and pluralistic values have been tossed by the wayside. Given his record and history of civic activism, this all the more tragic.

The pastor at First Presbyterian in Billings MT (my old stomping grounds) has a moving piece on the church's recent decision to provide for a same sex blessing of a couple who have been together for over 15 years and members of the congregation. As he noted: The church is called to be a blessing. Growing up in Montana, I bet this is one of the first congregations in the state to do such an action as publically as this.

And here's a piece from an organizer in South Africa on the importance of same sex unions within the church. This piece is one of the best I've seen on the subject. A vision of the church and community life is interwoven all through this article.

Christianity is not a solitary faith. We are most alive when we are in community. Lesbian women and gay men are asking that they be allowed to celebrate that they are fully alive in all areas of their lives, their primary relationships, and their community of faith. This requires that the primary relationships of their lives be celebrated and blessed in the context of that community.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

I've been asked in the comments section what my stance is on abortion. It's an issue which I don't spend much time on, though I'm highly resistant to the attempts by folks on the left and the right to make this a litmus test of orthodoxy. The crux of my position is this: development matters. An 8 month abortion is a horrendous thing. A morning after pill is not. In a more ideal world there would exist a political consensus in this country:

There would be concerted efforts to expand the choices for women (in terms of birth control, health care, child care, etc) so that it's less likely that women are forced to face such a decision. There would be legal access to abortion in the early stages, basically first trimester and abortions afterwards would largely be made illegal. And abortion would no longer be a political football, but rather would be something dealt with in more appropriate venues.

The NY Times obituary covers the larger than life Julia Child:
Mrs. Child was a breast cancer survivor, a cat lover, a fervent advocate of Planned Parenthood and an unabashed sensualist with a sly sense of humor. One year she and her husband sent out Valentine's cards with a photograph of them together in the bathtub in Paris. One of her last projects was to be a memoir of her years in France.

Friday, August 13, 2004

An interesting question is posed by Andree Seu. How do we account for good in the world? While certainly evil deserves an explanation, so does good and Andree ends up looking to an omniscient God as the source. I think it's a good question but I would use a different form of reasoning.

Instead of posing the question and having a personal omni-powerful being as the answer, I'd rather ask: what activities can we identify which operate in the world to create the possibilities of good and then identify such processes as divine, as God.

Social Gospel blog asks some good questions about the recently announced resignation of New Jersey's governor Jim McGreevey. And the World Alliance of Reformed Churches meeting is wrestling with how the Christian faith ought to respond to the destructive aspects of globalization and the problem of economic exploitation.

And yes I like many are attracted to online tests. Beppe Blog pointed me to one which quizzed you on what sort famous leader you are most like? The results:

Abe Lincoln: You are a mild mannered assasination victim. You have a peaceful nature and are good at mediating disputes with the exception of the occasional bloody civil war
What Famous Leader Are You?
personality tests by similarminds.com

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Some interesting news items...

Seminarians at various NY schools such as Union and Jewish Theological are organizing to witness to a different vision of our nation and world then what's likely to be presented at the GOP convention at the end of this month. I would love to see the media pick up on this, though they have done a poor job so far of covering the protests at the conventions.

Does religion make one work harder? This article in the UK's Telegraph seems to suggest so when they compare the work rates and religious committments of the US to the rest of Europe. But I don't think this is something to rejoice about.

The word "family" will be bandied about quite a bit this election but the fact that more Americans are working longer and spending less time with their family ought to be a troubling trend, especially if it's being aided by a religious tradition which gave us the sabbath.

Loyalty oaths for catholic lay leaders, given the direction of the church, who can count this as a surprise? If you're in the diocese which includes Portland Oregon, to be a lay leader you must sign a statement which expresses full agreement with the church on homosexuality, birth control, etc. It's like they are looking for new and inventive ways to put the screws on more progressive members of the church.

Christianity Today asks the question: Even if they were imperfect choices, do religious Republicans really want such religious Democrats silenced? Yes, they do. Why would the GOP want to give up the monopoly on God-talk in the political arena? Why voluntary cede this advantage they have?

Sunday, August 08, 2004

One of the less-reported consequences of the Iraq war is the new insecurity faced by Iraq's houses of worship, including those of 800,000 Christians

This is from a statement by the National Council of Churches on the situation Christians face in the new Iraq, where they have recently endured a number of terror attacks. The NY Times also reports on a number of Christians who are fleeing the country, many who are headed to Syria, to escape the violence. Providing a context where religious minorities can worship without fear is going to be one of the tests for the new government.

Nicholas Kristof some interesting results when historical critical scholarship is applied to the Qur'an and he asks the question of what such a movement in reading the classical texts could play in reforming Islam. I think it's an exciting development, as much as it when it was first applied to Christian and Jewish scriptures. The only odd thing is how some evangelicals embrace this movement for Islam but not for Christianity. An inconsistent use of the method I'd say.

Friday, August 06, 2004

As I feared, the right was successful in forcing the resignation of Rev. Brenda Bartella Peterson, a Disciples of Christ minister, from her position as the religious outreach director for the Democratic Nat'l Committee.

"The whirlwind was more than I could just about stand. It was amazing," Peterson said yesterday. The problem is: any person who does not represent religious conservatives in this capacity will face the same whirlwind. They've successfuly knocked out two religious advisors, declaring them out of the mainstream. They've so successfully set the terms of what constitutes religion in the public sphere, that any mainline protestant voice will not be allowed to enter into the nat'l discussion, which is why if the DNC chooses someone to replace Rev. Peterson, the right will try to knock them out as well.

As far as I can see, the only way to stop that cycle, is either a.pick someone on the right who finds nothing to agree with Kerry on or b.pick a religious progressive and then stick by your guns, assume the right will launch a campaign and try to weather the storm they'll produce. If they can forever keep progressive religious voices out of the public arena, one might as well pack up, forget about reaching out via religion, just not even broach the subject of religion. The right would be satisified with that route as well.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

The United Methodists face another church trial, this time against Rev. Irene Elizabeth (Beth) Stroud, a pastor in Pennsylvania. Why? Because she is a lesbian who is open about it. The last nat'l convention of the United Methodists closed off any legal possibility for people like Stroud, who has received support and committment from her congregation, from serving in the denomination in an ordained capacity simply because of sexual orientation.

Here's is an interesting piece on why the GOP effort to attract more Jewish voters, even conservative ones, is likely to fall flat, as long as Bush is opposed to expanding federal funding into stem cell research.

The existential threat to the Jewish people — the thing especially older ones fear most — is that they or their loved ones contract a devastating disease for which medical research has slowed, or stopped, due to Bush-supported federal limits on embryonic stem cell research.

I've noticed that the mainstream media, not just the right, seems to take religion, in it's conservative expression, as the norm. As long as this is the case, I'm not sure how progressive religious voices will be heard or part of the national conversation.

An example has been the campaign against Rev. Bartella-Peterson, Disciples of Christ minister and the religious outreach person for the Democratic Nat'l Committee. Apparently she was supportive of the efforts to remove "under God" from the pledge. In that work she was in agreement with every mainline Protestant and Jewish body in this country.

But such agreement is not enough. My fear is that that the right and the media which has bought their line when it comes to religion, will work to have Bartella-Peterson removed or silenced from the campaign, as they successfuly did to Mara Vanderslice whose crime was a history of left activism.

And in a heart breaking vote, 70% of Missourians agreed to ban gay marriage in the state constitution. Does this signal a trend, a direction of how other discriminatory state iniatives will work out in other states? Maybe Newt Gingrich's advice for the GOP to run with issues which divide Americans has some efficacy in today's political climate.