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.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Apparently the socially conservative issues which the Bush campaign has used so effectively in garnering evangelical support has proved itself a barrier in capturing support from moderate to liberals who make up the bulk of the Jewish population. It appears some religious voters actually value pluralism and are repelled by anti-gay campaigns. How does this fit into the story that we've heard over the religion/secular divide which at times was not distinguished from a right/left divide in this country? Perhaps the story the media tells about religion and politics needs adjustment?

Monday, October 25, 2004

Here's exhibit A on how to hurt interfaith relations and in this instance it's between the Presbyterian Church USA and the Jewish community. There was a falling out between these two groups over the the decision to fund a Jewish messianic congregation as well as the selective divestment campaign which targets companies profiting from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Efforts were made to engage in some level of dialogue but things ran into a bit of a snag recently when a Presbyterian group decided to meet with a known terrorist organization, Hezbollah, which has killed hundreds of Americans and Israelis.

During the meeting a statement was made from a member of the presbyterian contingent which would prove to be astonishing. Not just because of it's praise of Hezbollah but because of it's attack on Jewish dialogue efforts. "I'd like to say that according to my recent experience, relations and conversations with Islamic leaders are a lot easier than dealings and dialogue with Jewish leaders." Though Presbyterian leaders have denounced the visit and comments I suspect this event will inflict lasting damage to interfaith relations.

Of course producing a split between liberal religious movements, in this case Reform Judaism and the Presbyterian Church is great news on the right and will be exploited heavily, which is a shame. This liberal Jewish/Protestant relationship has been essential for advancing a number of progressive causes and values from the civil rights movement to gay and lesbian equality. To have such a relationship so carelessly damaged benefits the right, but it doesn't do anything to advance a progressive religious vision here or abroad.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

This last friday a worship service was held on our campus. It was advertised as an ecumenical event seeking to bring together Christians of all denominations and backgrounds together in worship. As one student at the event noted "We need to expand to include other ministries on campus. We can help and encourage one another no matter what the denomination." Unfortunately this picture is not quite accurate.

I've been involved in the last few years with a mainline campus ministry program called University Christian Ministries and while this common worship program is in it's second year UCM has never been invited to participate. So last spring I decided to be a bit proactive, seeking to become involved, trying to find the contacts necessary to participate in the event and it's planning. But I kept getting the run around over this last year. Finally I had a chance to talk to a leader of the event during the friday service.

I discovered that that we were not overlooked. Rather it was a conscious decision to not include us, because we weren't "biblical christians". What was a biblical Christian? Apparently someone who held to biblical inerrancy and a number of other evangelical beliefs. I imagine the rainbow flag at our campus ministry center or our interfaith work was not a plus in our favor. But it was a disconcerting moment. There was the dishonest way in which event was advertised.

And there was a painful reminder that being in the mainline today, especially if one is liberal, too often excludes one from the greater christian community. In this case the oldest campus ministry at my school was not allowed to worship with other christian groups. But such incidences have become the norm in our religious and political life, as the anglican drama suggests. What does it mean to identify with a tradition which has largely become dominated by folks that consider you an adversary?

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Well, the long awaited Windsor Report was released this last Monday, the document whose goal it is to hold the Anglican communion together. My pessimistic predictions were not realized. I thought this was a document which aimed at punishment of the Episcopal Church for it's inclusion of gay and lesbians. My reliance on conservative Anglican sites for news on this unfolding drama led me to think that perhaps even expulsion was imminent. But as the primate of Ireland who lead the commission noted "you cannot impose reconciliation".

Instead of dealing with the thorny issue of sexuality which has divided the church, the report's focus is on those measures which might allow the communion to hold together. It's focus was on preventing practices which have alienated different provinces from each other. Liberals received a call to provide theological justification for gay and lesbian ordination. It also asks for a moratorium on such ordinations until the issue is worked out within the communion.

Apologies for actions which have caused deeper divisions on both sides are required as well. The efforts to cross diocesan lines as conservative congregations are using outside bishops against their liberal leadership is not permissable either. Instead the oversight plans the Episcopal Church already has in place which works with the bishop of the given diocese needs to be followed. Efforts to demonize gays and lesbians are also rejected. And there is a call for all sides to use temperate language.

The report does have the feel of a school teacher reprimanding the kids in the playground, something which is captured beautifuly in cartoon form. The disturbing part of the report includes a future proposal whereby the church will produce some essential teachings which will require all the provinces of the communion to sign on to. The proposal if adopted would move the church closer to catholicism and away from it's own heritage.

But perhaps my pessimism was not entirely uncalled for given the reactions of church leaders around the world. Liberals welcomed the report and have begun the process of apologizing coupeling it with calls for discussion while reaffirming the stance of openness to gay and lesbians within the church. Conservatives have criticized much of the report, especially it's failure to punish the Episcopal church and it's closing the door to alternative religious structures outside of the ecusa. Can both sides reside in the same church?

Griswold speaks about dialogue while Akinola speaks about punishing those who "subvert the faith". The ideal for one side is that all are included in the church. An example is Gene Robinson who makes a telling point "I want Archbishop Akinola of Nigeria in my church. I just wish he could want me in his church." But the right sees liberals as anti-Christians who need to be rooted out of the church. A quote capturing such sentiments "Gene Robinson and I worship different gods...so I can have no association whatsoever, even on an entirely theoretical level, with Robinson or anyone who agrees with him" That's the words that no report can fix.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

This is the third question that I tackled for a panel on religion for our school's Faith Week.

How can we tell the difference between right and wrong, true and false?

A.Human beings are finite. Nothing can fully protect the human mind from error, including on matters of religion, ethics, scientific claims, and so forth. But we do have tests and means of weighing claims, which over time have shown their efficacy. But whatever claims we make ought to be subject to change given the best of what we know.

B.The finitude of the human condition means that the world, which we draw from to make our claims, can only be as wide as our experiences, which unfortunately is somewhat narrow. When we think of the advances made in the sciences, one key component has been the development of tools, which allow us to take in more data, and the development of theories, which are able to take in a greater amount of evidence. The widening of the world we experience, to take in more, is going to give us the ability to make claims, which will have stronger basis.

C.To achieve this wider vision of the world we cannot simply rely on ourselves but rather we should draw from a wide range of sources. One protestant thinker John Wesley proposed four such sources for Christians. The first is scripture, the New and the Old Testament. Second is the width and the breadth of the Christian tradition. For us in the mainline, both represent the accumulated wisdom of the ages, several millennia of peoples who have worked over many of the same problems we struggle with today.

D.Third, we ought to rely on reason and fourth human experience. The last two point to the fact that we will in the future continue to learn new things about this life and world of ours, dealing with new problems and situations, developing tools and ways of inquiry that will provide a wider world by which we can make claims. Thus gaining greater insight into God’s ordering activity in this world. So when a Christian, in the mainline, is working out the tough issues, we do not just go to scripture, but also to the relevant sciences, etc.

E.But to achieve a wider world, we need to be able to talk to the widest range of peoples. This points to an issue which many in the mainline Protestant church has taken up, which is the importance of interfaith dialogue. Christianity has been one historical way by which people have made sense of the world and our place within it, but other religions have done likewise and may be attentive to issues and experiences that have not been within our scope. So besides the idea of getting along, interfaith dialogue may have a chance to broaden a number of religious views about the world.

F.Another focus has been to listen to people’s experiences that have been historically left out. Women, gay and lesbians, and others who have historically not been a welcome part of the conversation which has made up Christian tradition so far, are now impacting the way we think about our faith in dramatic ways. As we broaden the range of folks who are listened to, the ability for us to make ethical and other claims about the world increases.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

I ran into this statement on the relationship between science and religion and it was so good that I had to share it with folks, even if this posting doesn't seem to flow from the topics this site has been addressing lately:

And yet one seems to require literality at some point in his creed; we wish to bring our religion at least into the same universe with our science and have them speak with the same voice when they verge, as at their limits they do verge, upon the same great questions of human destiny. Further, we do not believe that either science or religion is irrelevant to conduct, and when they bear upon the same fundamental issues of practice we wish to see a fair understanding between them.

We are open to the opinion that religion does in some way take us beyond reason, and that religious truth must in some measure be clothed in symbols; but we are not open to believe that reason and beyond-reason are separate and independent functions. And surely as any one person rides one consecutive route of experience through time, so surely must all truth that belongs to one person come to the same court and enter into the same total system of his world. - William Ernest Hocking

Thursday, October 14, 2004

The debate last night interested me, even though I was watching it while trying to get over a nasty cold and filled with cold medicine. I agree with those assessments that Kerry did well when talking about the economy, health care, and the minimum wage. But when it came to religious and social values, both sides were lacking. This is partly because of Bush's dishonesty over the future of Roe v. Wade.

And because Kerry's position on gay marriage appears designed to not offend, trying to fuzzy the difference between him and Bush on this issue. But it neuters Kerry when it come to one the most important question of this evening: the divisions which mark our political landscape. Kerry should have said, that the attempt to divide people based on sexual orientation, on religion, on the culture war issues which the Bush campaign has banked their re-election on is by definition divisive, a divide and conquer strategy.

But with Bush's pull over the hearts of many religious believers, it's encouraging to see the expansion of websites and outreach which the Kerry campaign and fellow supporters have done to welcome people of faith into the campaign and the democratic party. I thought I'd highlight a few of the sites out there. The DNC has produced a site called John Kerry Shares Our Values. The Kerry site has a section targeting People of Faith. And for an independent site there is, Christians for Kerry-Edwards. And given the battle for the catholic vote, Catholics for Kerry is a helpful resource.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Reform, an evangelical group in England is promising guerilla warfare against liberal bishops by working to prevent funds from supporting such dioceses and by bringing in conservative bishops from other dioceses to perform church functions. The eight bishops who publically supported a celibate gay man, Jeffrey John, as bishop of Reading, are on the top list of targets.

And the Institute on Religion and Democracy had a glowing report on the right wing turn in the United Methodists. But it also provides a chilling picture of their vision for the future of the church, including "reforming" seminaries and the church boards, which is pretty much how the southern baptist right took over. In that context reform of seminaries was done by firing liberal professors, instituting doctrinal litmus tests, and scrapping the practices which make for academic freedom.

And what of liberal ministers, parishes and lay people? IRD has a vision for them as well:

1.We recommend allowing a gracious exit for those who cannot or will not accept the essential beliefs on which the UMC is founded. This is to say that when the right takes over the church, those who disagree will now be considered to be in opposition to the newly defined essential beliefs.

2.The UMC should adopt a fair plan to permit their voluntary, peaceful departure. Their beliefs are strong and sincere. They have a right to believe and worship as they choose, but they do not have the right to divide a Christian Church by undermining its basic beliefs. Again as a mainline church, there has always been room for folks across the spectrum, but now liberals working in the church by definition undermines the right's beliefs.

3.Some of the unfaithful are now talking about leaving; the UMC should aid their departure. They don't want to diaglogue, they want us liberals out of the church as quick as possible. We're the unfaithful, anti-Christian and the like. This is the dynamic that we face in many of the mainline churches. In such a context, what possibilities exist in terms of the church holding together. I'm not sure, but am pessimistic these days.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

During the the religious forum at our school's Faith Week, I was asked to respond to a number of questions representing our mainline campus ministry program. This is the second question that I was asked to address.

What religious rites or practices are meaningful to those in your faith?

Every protestant church, that I’m aware of, has two sacraments: communion and baptism. These have been important for protestant churches because it was believed that the two practices were instituted in the life of Jesus. Communion was a remembrance of the last supper Jesus had with his disciples before his death. Baptism, in the river Jordan, marked the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. But in the life of the church these two sacraments have taken on additional significance.

Baptism has come to signify one’s participation in the life of the church. When infants are baptized the community promises to aid in love and support of the child and their growth. As an adult, baptism represents the decision one has made to become part of the community, in seeking to live out a life faithful to God’s purposes. The water being poured over a person, according to scripture, symbolizes the death of the old self, one, which was self-centered, and the birth of a new self, one, which seek to live embodying God’s love. Baptism, like communion, is a sacrament found in all churches, so that it also come to signify a unity we have with Christians throughout the world and throughout time.

Communion, the sharing of bread and wine, points us to the significance of Jesus’ life and ministry. Traditionally the focus has been on the death of Jesus but increasingly mainline Protestants identify communion with the ministry of openness that Jesus practiced. One example is found in a story told by Jesus of a wealthy man who invites guests to a meal and no one shows up. So he literally goes out into the streets, trying to find anyone he can, the poor, the folks who don’t signify much in society, and invites them all to the meal. Breaking food at that time and today is generally done with people we know, people we are comfortable with. But in communion, everyone is invited to God’s table. Food is a good way of knowing the divisions, which exists between peoples; communion is a way for us to break out of such divisions.

I mentioned the word sacrament, which is a practice that embodies God’s presence. Communion and baptism, when they point us to God’s reconciling love in this world, take on the status of sacraments. But there can be a tendency to lift these two rites up in a way which makes us forget that all of life should be a sacrament, that is to say that everything we do ought to embody God’s love. So life it’s self should have a sacramental quality to it.

And in fact, many of the practices we experience in church do just that even if they are not labeled a “rite” or a “sacrament”. When the pastor visits an infirmed parishioner he or she is practicing a sacrament. The person who volunteers at the soup kitchen is engaging in a sacrament. The nun who is arrested, protesting a nuclear weapons facility, is practicing a sacrament. Much of the fondest memories in and out of church, were we learned love, saw self sacrifice, learned the virtues, whether from parents, friends, meaningful events in our life are of a sacramental nature. The call is to make all of life a sacrament, and ideally communion and our baptism are reminders of this very call.

Monday, October 11, 2004

As I noted earlier, I'm hoping the site will return to normal, in both my own postings as well as the layout of the site. Lots of religious news is occuring as both the presidential election nears as well as the up and coming Lambeth Report which will lay out the options for the future of the Anglican Communion.

The Australian Anglican's recent gathering "affirmed its fierce opposition to liberal elements" in the church. Gay unions were ruled out. The ban on gay and lesbian clergy was reaffirmed. And the gathering also supported the efforts of Australian government to ban same sex unions, thus supporting discrimination within the public arena.

What was telling was the comments by one bishop who said" We don't hold this position as a matter of mere tradition but as the scriptures dictate". This distinction is only tenable within a particular fundamentalist view of religious authority. And yet using the dreaded F word to describe their views will illicit tremendous protest. But what other word describes the way scripture is being used in this instance?

Why won't the Anglican communion hold together? Because the right cannot tolerate the existence of religious liberals in the church. The goal is not to find some framework where a diverse group of folks can live together. It's rather the elimination of those "elements" which the right labels as anti-Christian. Some comments by the Archbishop of Nigeria concerning the Episcopal Church point to the right's line of reasoning and subsequent actions.

Akinola is urging conservative congregations who wish to leave the Episcopal Church to participate in a church framework that he would lead. He charges "The Episcopal Church has created a new religion...It doesn't take the Gospel seriously. We are not in communion with the Episcopal Church now." He also talks down the possibility of holding the communion together arguing that it is likely "beyond repair". As he claims that the Episcopal Church "has intentionally and deliberately given up the faith.”

This is the central dynamic that I suspect gets lost on many liberals. It's because we're apt to see the other side as wrong in terms of some of their beliefs and practices. But disagreements are common in the church, always have been, and they can be worked out. But the right on the other hand, see liberals not just as wrong but rather they tend to see us as the enemy, as stridently anti-Christian, as ones who have "given up the faith".

So while liberals are busy trying to figure out how the church can be held together, the right has been working overtime to figure how they can kick the liberals out of the church all together. Two different aims going on, and given the numbers my hunch is the right is going to be able to pull off their goals. I know I'm dealing in generalities but I don't think my assessment is too far off.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

I haven't received word from blogger yet on how to retrieve my archives and lost links. I can spend a bit of time to find those missing links, but really do need blogger's help in how to get my archives back. As Father Jake notes, this is a good reason why one needs to save their template, something I unfortunately did not do.

This last week during my school's Faith Week I was given the task to give a short answer to the question: what are the tenets of Christian faith from a liberal protestant perspective. My answer has more personalist language then I would normally use, but the purpose was to a broader range of thought in the mainline, not simply my own thoughts. So in any case, this was my little attempt:

I believe one of the central claims in Christianity is that the universe as we know it is neither hostile nor indifferent to our striving for a life which is marked by meaning and goodness. Rather as Martin Luther King writes: There is some creative force that works for togetherness, a creative force in the universe that works to bring the disconnected aspects of reality into a harmonious whole.

This power, which our tradition identifies as God, is embodied in any number of relationships, including the ones we have with our natural world. But more often than not it’s experienced in our interactions with other people. This is probably why personal language about God has been such a central element of our tradition. And because God is personal, God has purposes, in this case working to make the world increasingly marked by goodness and connectedness.

Our call is to live in right relation with this power, which makes for good; i.e. God. But we live in a world torn by strife, division, hatred, and wars. We live in a world where those salvific connections with our natural environment and each other face continual challenge. Where hatred and division, seems to have won the day. The hope the Christian faith has is that God’s love wins out in the end. But we believe this is not a vain hope.

For the Christian affirmation is that we have seen such love already embodied in a person; in the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. For there never was a division which he did not seek to cross, never a person who was considered an outsider that Jesus did not include, his life was marked by a such responsiveness to this power of love and connectedness that we believe if one wants to see what God is up to, one can look at his life and ministry.

To be a Christian then is to take up the cause of Jesus. This cause, is the reconciliation of humans to one another, to our natural world, and thus to God. The church, scripture, doctrine, practices, theologies, when done well, have sought to do this and when they have not done this, they have failed at their purpose. To drive this home a bit: Christianity is not the object of our devotion, God is, Christianity is a way, a people, a history which has in it’s higher moments sought to embody God’s reconciling love in the world. This is our call, our burden, and our joy in life.

Monday, October 04, 2004

A housekeeping problem: I've noticed that my archives and most of my links have disappeared on me. I'm not sure how it happened and sent my query off to Blogger to find out how it happened and if it can be fixed. Because I don't know how to get my archives back by myself and finding my links (and the pics I had) will take days that I don't have at this time. So hopefully this problem can be fixed sooner rather then later.

A number of disappointing events have transpired. In New Zealand, the Presbyterians have banned gay and lesbians from any leadership positions within the church. In Minnesota, a lutheran congregation which installed a gay minister is now facing censure by their bishop. And the NY Times covers the coming break up of the Anglican communion, especially as it affects the lives of individual congregations and parishoners here in the US.

And yet with such divisions there are some things which remind us of the interconnected nature of human life and this world. According to a new report: Scientists have worked out the most recent common ancestor of all six billion people alive today probably dwelt in eastern Asia around 1,415BC. And yesterday churches around the world celebrated World Communion Sunday, a sunday pointing to the unity we have under God, as opposed to one forced by humans.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

I want to offer an apology for my abscence. A number of things converged which made it hard to post on the site including finishing some school projects, having a friend stay over at my place, and working out with others our campus ministry's involvement in a university sponsored "faith week" which aims at reconciling religious committments and academic life. If I ever have such a span of time away from the site I'll ty to give a heads up in the future.

I ran across a few headlines which work with the assumption that the evangelical right is Christianity, without any reference to the mainline. One is a story on how Ohio churches are hoping that a state amendment to ban gay marriage will increase voter turn out for George Bush. I assume some churches may hope for this result. But no coverage was given of Christians who might oppose such an amendment or who are not eager for Bush's re-election. It's stories like these which shape the perception of our religion.

As Christianity is increasingly seen in this manner a curious phenomena has started to develop. Churches in the evangelical right are experiencing strong growth while liberal mainline churches are facing dramatic membership losses. But there has been no general increase in religiosity, just a change in it's public face. Because at the same time the number of folks not identifying with any religion is also increasing. Is there a connection? As religion is increasingly linked with a conservative agenda, those with liberal sentiments tend to drop away from the church all together.

If this is a correct description, it's a process which feeds upon itself. As the churches become increasingly conservative, they attract folks with such values and repel others who do not hold such views. As such liberals are not able to participate in the language and practice of the church and so a largely secular culture develops which makes any religious practices seem foreign. And likewise there is a culture which has developed in conservative churches which makes any expression not fitting with their norms appear anti-Christian in their eyes.

In such a situation, liberal Protestantism, might present an alternative to this increasing division. It could find a way of bridging the gulf between religious institutions and practices and liberal values such as pluralism. It could speak of moral reasoning without appeals to dogmatism. It could address the hyper individualism in our society while allowing diverse views, practices to enhance the church and society instead of tearing it apart. I think such a tradition has resources which could bridge the gulf which marks American society, connecting the values of each side.

But I've noticed that folks who trangress the boundaries in our religious/secular wars are not appreciated. As religious liberals we are constantly told that we are not real Christians by those on either side of the divide, that honesty is only found in planting oneself in one camp or the other. And the divisions which such a tradition could address are themselves found within the mainline. Which is why the greater society, imho, will be impacted for the worse if the mainline fails to hold together, fails to become re-invigorated, fails to find it's own theological voice.