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.

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.


At 8:15 AM , Blogger Rebecca said...

I have a friend who lives in Ohio and she's a member of two churches...one she refers to as her "Gay church" because their congregation is very accepting and open to the gay & lesbian community. I'm wondering how they feel about this....hmmmmm

At 6:07 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is very true that the unchurched are likely to look at "Christians" and conclude that the tenets of the faith are that 1. abortion is bad 2. gays are bad 3. women, unless properly submissive and attached to a man, are bad 4. the entire Christian theology is that God created the world in 7 literal 24-hour days. Not very appealing.

The public face of "Christianity", as seen on TV news and in "Christian" mass media, is one of wrath. Not very appealing.

The usual social role of "Christians", as presented in the media, is to vote The Right Way - although once in a blue moon we do get to see the former Pres. Carter promote Habitat for Humanity. Well, the unchurched can vote without help. And unions and social clubs often promote community projects that once were promoted by churches.

I agree - liberal Christians have a HUGE PR problem. How to reclaim the label "Christian" from those who deny it to anyone who doesn't vote Republican and believe in the inerrancy (fundamentalism-style) of Scripture. The press sure isn't going to help - they prefer wrath, it makes better copy.

Rebecca, the "gay-affirming" churches are ones that avoid treating gay people (whether celibate or sexual) as inherently contaminated, a thing that seems hard for most people to do despite the fact that the Bible says about 100 times more about the evil of divorce than about the evil of male prostitution. It has been a long time since divorced people were treated by Protestant denominations as forever contaminated and unworthy of admittance to the community of believers.



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