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.