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, December 29, 2004

Philocrites highlighted an interesting article in the American Prospect. It's a chronicle of how the left has lost the art of associated living where there is people to people interactions, which build the sort of relationships where by change can occur, and hearts and minds can be changed. There was the trade labor movement and the church, but with the decline of the labor movement and the loosening of ties of religion and neigbhorhood, there is little which connects us with one another.

At the same time, with the rise of the evangelicalism, churches have acted as just this form of association among those on the right, connecting them to the greater community. How did the church become to be seen as the domain of the right in the first place? There does appear to be a snowball affect. As religion is now largely seen as conservative, the possibility of liberals being attracted, what less staying in the church continues to decline. And the more it declines, the more faith is associated with the right and so the cyles goes. But what started the cycle?

Two-thirds of those born between 1946 and 1964 who were raised in the mainline Christian denominations left the churches in which they were raised. Some went to evangelical churches. Most simply left the church, working on their own path. One can imagine that if they had remained in the church, the dynamics of American religion would look quite different then it does today. What churches were left behind? The ones whose values and ideas could play in terms of a progressive vision for this country. As one article notes:

These were congregations and denominations that were open to science and said one could believe in God and learn from Darwin. These were groups that emphasized the place of reason in faith. They were in the forefront of the civil rights movement and gave a priority to civic involvement and social justice. They prized tolerance and respect for other religions.

If those with liberal values, want to have that level of community. If they'd like to see religious faith which is open to science, to other religions, committed to questioning as well as social justice. If they are not associated with another religious community and are open to working with others on the big questions of life and meaning with the use of Christian images and stories then maybe mainline Protestant churches are something to take a look at again. Maybe this is one way in which the language of faith can be learned anew. If millions of Americans became involved with the mainline again, the dynamics of religion would take quite a turn.

That was my shameless plug for the mainline. But something which is important is the groups folks are contributing to for the relief of those suffering from the Tsuanmi disaster which has killed almost 80,000 people in Asia. The death toll could skyrocket even more because of the possibilities of disease. Without clean water, respiratory and waterborne diseases could break out within days, putting millions at grave risk according to UNICEF. Some trusted groups which are doing good work on the ground include UNICEF, Doctors Without Borders and the Church World Service.

Monday, December 27, 2004

I came across an interesting article concerning Kentucky. Apparently 1 in 3 adults in the state are unchurched. But with all the talk about sharing the gospel and stepping up evangelism by religious leaders in the piece, what interested me was the responses of folks who no longer identify with the church and the faith:

One couple was said to value universal religious ideals such as helping the needy, but they are turned off by what they see as intolerance. Several said they are turned off by churches that preach that homosexuality is sinful and that only Christians are going to heaven."My division from religion came when I could not sit in catechism and believe that little kids in Africa were condemned" said Ruth Fister of Louisville, who sat knitting scarves at a long table with other self-proclaimed agnostics and atheists.

I don't think it's a coincidence that the folks not identifying with a religion has climbed as fast as the increase in evangelical and conservative churches. I could agree with everything these folks who were estranged from the church said, but I found a home in mainline Protestantism, where I could value religious pluralism and the contribution of gay and lesbians to the church. But as Christian faith is now largely identified with a set of right wing politics and a certain evangelical belief structure, many are finding themselves cut off from the faith.

So now the mainline should know what it's mission field is. There are hopeful signs, such as the UCC ad campaign. But there are discouraging signs, such as the cutbacks in campus ministry by denominations like the Presbyterian Church. And then there's this story by blogopotamus about how impossible it was to find mainline churches in Des Moines who would advertize their Christmas services or make any room to be accessible for seekers.

I also wanted to advertize a few sites. For some reason I thought Heretic's Corner had bowed out but the site is active with a number of thought provoking posts. For deconstructing the claims of evangelicals and seeking to present a liberal religious alternative there's the blog I'm a Christian Too. And there's Fundamillenium, a site which has linked me, and I haven't had a chance yet to return the favor.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Finals and the holiday preparations are finished, which gives me some breathing room and time to accomplish things, like posting on this blog on a more regular basis.

In the Sudan, the US is opposing the efforts to bring folks to justice who have committed war crimes under an international tribune. This administration is also slashing food aid programs which are directed to the poorest in the world. The Bush team has worked overtime to kill off the Kyoto accords, opposing any efforts which could reduce the threat of global warming. And now we have documents emerging with the freedom of information act which points to the widespread use of torture which received approval among the highest reaches of gov't.

But unfortunately the stories which dominated the news about the Christian faith in this season were about "saving" Christmas The spectacle was not a high point for the faith since the message of reconciliation was buried under the efforts to affirm the "brand" name of Christianity. We had groups of Christians organizing to make department stores say Merry Christmas, not Happy Holidays. We had hundreds who would come out to protest the effort to remove some creche on some public property. And of course we had the usual defamations against liberals.

Wouldn't it be more of a religious witness if our efforts were directed to tackling poverty and holding this government accountable by working to end the use of torture? Instead we get our faith linked up with efforts to insure that the brand name of Christianity is endorsed in public parades and in shopping malls. The prince of peace is a symbol which doesn't seem to solicit efforts to bring reconciliation and peace in the world as much as it's become a bludgeon which can be used against "secularists" and folks in blue states who use the wrong turn of the phrase.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

This long abscence is a pain, but key for me in getting my final projects put together. But I thought I'd break my silence for a bit, to post on Bill O'Reilly. He recently wrote a column on "christmas haters". Apparently Bill is incensed that from communities to companies, there is a move to celebrate the "holidays". Now I think much fuss is made on all sides during this season, but side stepping legal arguments, Bill's piece seems to suggest that since we Christians are the majority, everyone else needs to suck it up. A sort of might, or in this case, majority, makes right. I suppose consideration for folks of other religions can't be bothered with during this joyous season.

But O'Reilly sees a conspiracy here. If we don't have creches on courtyards, if New York City has a holiday instead of a Christmas tree, then this will loosen the "Judeo-Christian" hold on the country, which is what is standing in the way of things like gay marriage. Not sure how the term "Judeo" snuck in on a Christmas column, but it's always a bit odd to see Judaism being brought into to defend some socially conservative views. Especially since Reform Judaism, the largest Jewish movement in the country, supports same sex unions. By the way, so does the United Church of Canada, the largest protestant body in that country.

If Christianity, was moved by it's highest ideals, then I have my doubts that stopping people who love each other because they're gay, would be the central goal of the religion. And certainly it wouldn't be making sure everyone says Merry Christmas instead of Happy Holidays. It would rather be seeking to address the brutality of torture which seems to be a feature of the US treatment of prisoners from Iraq to Guatanamo Bay. If half the energy being used to "defend" Christmas was used in outrage against the use of torture and the abrogration of the Geneva Convention, then maybe our government would have to pause and take note. And then maybe the religion's hold on our country would actually mean something worthwhile.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Ok, so I'm on break from the blog because I have enough on my plate with papers and grading but the temptation to post has gotten to me.

While the ad produced by the UCC has had a good deal of success in spiking interest in the denomination some on the right are not happy with the ad. The IRD, which applauded the defrocking of Beth Stroud, can't believe that some churches could be protrayed as not being open. Jim Berkley, who has brought up charges against the Rev. Jane Spahr for her blessing of a same sex union, believes that the church is welcoming to folks of varying sexualities.

I admit, I'm confused by their reactions. How do you bring up heresy trials and then smart over the impression that the church is not an open place to be? I don't get it. And to include another example we have the The Central City Lutheran Mission in San Bernardino CA, an urban ministry that serves the poor and homeless. They have been stripped of their recognition by the ELCA because they installed an associate pastor who is in a committed lesbian relationship.

I also wanted to respond to Wesley Blog's recent posts on education in liberal seminaries, since I did attend such a school. He criticizes the fact that in many such schools, students are not likely to be exposed to a number of evangelical thinkers. And I agree that this is a shame. But I also have my doubts on how exposed evangelicals are to liberal religious thought in their seminaries. How many folks in such schools have read or are familiar with the work of James Gustafson, John Cobb, Katie Cannon, Marjorie Suhocki, Carter Heyward, and Gordon Kaufman?

One program that I was involved with was a joint course between my seminary and an evangelical seminary where we had major themes of Christian thought taught by two professors, one from each school. Then we'd break up into small groups, mixing up the students from both schools to work out the lecture and the themes on issues from christology to ecclessiology. I'm not sure how prevalent such programs are, but it certainly is one example out there of efforts to break down the barriers between evangelical and liberal protestants.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Well I have two weeks left of the semester. And in that time I get to write a number of papers as well as grade the finals of a number of students. And so I need to take a two week break from the blog. But after I get through the hurdle called the end of the semester I'll be back. I thought in this postI'd highlight some articles on an issue which is still shocking.

The Red Cross has accused the Bush administration "of overseeing the intentional physical and psychological torture of prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay." The Pentagon argues that "evidence" secured through torture can be used in determining whether a person can be imprisoned indefintely in Guantanamo Bay. And a military study of prisoner treatment in Afghanistan points to the same problems, including mistreatment, which has been found in Iraq and Guantamo Bay.

The UN released a recent report condemning the justification of "torture, the humiliation of prisoners or violation of international conventions in the guise of fighting terrorism". The new attorney general to be, Alberto Gonzales, was the White House legal counsel who argued that the Geneva Convention can be discarded in terms of interogation of prisoners, declaring some of the provisions as "quaint".

The picture over the last two years is of an administration that knowingly approved the use of torture. There ought to be some form of legal accountability but moral questions are raised as well. What does it matter if Bush has moral clarity when his moral compass tells him torture can be a legitimate tool. What does it matter if he rests on moral absolutes, if those absolutes don't tell him that the torture and humilitiation of other people is a grave moral wrong?

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Two different religious news stories have been of particular interest to me. One has been the decision by CBS and NBC to not air a tv ad by the United Church of Christ which focuses on the denomination's openness to all people, including gay and lesbians. The ad was deemed too controversial because it implied that other churches were not open and because Bush has come out against gay marriage. As Philocrites writes:

Isn't it amazing that one of the country's most venerable mainline denominations can't even buy the right to share its understanding of the Gospel? Second, it boggles the mind that the White House's grandstanding about a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage could be invoked by a TV network as a reason to exclude any advertisement that even indirectly hints that gay people are welcome to go to church.

It's odd that that a news network openly states that it takes it's orders from Bush's policy goals. This episode points to the difficulty of geting a liberal protestant view into the public arena these days. But there is something that can be done. The UCC has a helpful site which allows folks to send off letters to the respective media outlets in support of the denomination's attempt to have the ad aired.

But is it right to imply other churches are not open? Today as this issue was being debated another decision was made by a church trial in Pennsylvania where United Methodist and lesbian pastor Beth Stroud was convicted 12-1 of "engaging in practices declared by the United Methodist Church to be incompatible with Christian teachingsā€ What was this practice? Being an open lesbian in the church. And the punishment? The stripping of Stroud of her ministerial credentials.

The church is not open as a whole. Certainly not in the evangelical bodies which provided the votes for Bush and the constitutional amendments banning gay marriage. The Southern Baptists for instance, while complaining about the ad had the top three articles on their news site directed against the "homosexual agenda." And increasingly a number of mainline denominations are moving further right on this issue. The United Methodist trial and conviction of Stroud is exhibit A of the problem. It's why the UCC ad was important in its reaching out to people estranged from the church over these sort of actions.