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, February 23, 2005

In a meeting of the Anglican primates, the head of the Episcopal Church, Frank Griswold faced a great deal of ostracization because of his support of gay and lesbians, including the bishop of NH. Other church heads refused to be photographed with Griswold, refused to share communion with him, and debated what punitive actions might be appropriate.

"Homosexual marriages are part of a new ideology of evil that is insidiously threatening society" Pope John Paul says in a new book. I'm not sure how loving committment gets such a designation. Those liberal democracies which have moved in the direction of equality for gay and lesbians get labeled anti-gospel and nihilistic by the pope as well.

The theologian, John Sanders is being removed his position at Huntington College, because of his writings which suggest that the future is open for God, not determined. And Beth Stroud is appealing the United Methodist church trial which stripped her ordination because she's an open lesbian. And here's a list of some theologians the Vatican has gone after during Pope John Paul's reign.

All these quick items raise questions for me, in terms of what it means to identify as Christian, when any attempt at creatively working with the tradition is taken to be a heresy to be stamped out, where the inclusion of gay and lesbians can split denominations and produce profound enimty, where difference is to be treated as a threat instead of an instrument which God might use to call us to account.

The church should at least be a place where some level of friendship might be achieved, even if agape is an impossible ideal, but now these differences make people in the pews enemies to one another (and makes the church inexplicable to anyone outside of it). The result is the very reversal of the Gospel, which is reconciliation with one another and with God.

Monday, February 21, 2005

David Horowitz, known for harassing liberal academics, has decided to put together a site which contains a database that gives "information" on a wide range of left of center groups and individuals. His categorizations and descriptions are off the wall. Under the religious left he includes the Ayatollah Khomeini with Cornel West and the National Council of Churches.

The description of West is of interest. He says that West claims to be a prophet, conjuring up the idea that he's religiously delusional, since the word has a connotation of a person with a unique, perhaps ephocal relationship with God. One can assume that Horowitz has not read West's writings. Or perhaps he's largely unfamiliar with the usuage of the word "prophetic" in the mainline protestant context.

Prophetic religion, a term used by Reinhold Niebuhr, describes the social critique one would give to a society, so that it can live up to a higher ethical ideal (usually religious in nature). Such a religious response can be found in the prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures who took up the cause of the poor, the oppressed, the mariginalized, as an expression of God's word for a people. In this sense, the whole church is called to act prophetically.

But I suppose linking William Schulz, head of Amnesty International and former head of the UUA with terrorists such as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi gives some indication of the nature of this site. Horowitz is not interested in accurate descriptions as much as he's interested in over the top polemic which paints anyone who is left of center as traitors who are in league with the terrorists. What's disturbing is that it's just this rhetoric which has made him so popular among many on the right.

Friday, February 18, 2005

A quick item before I head off to TN: "During 2004, 102 churches started or affiliated with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Since 2001, Disciples have added more than 20,000 persons in 289 congregations to their number. At the current rate, the denomination will achieve its goal of 1,000 new churches by 2011, 9 years ahead of the target year 2020!". Yes you read correctly. The Disciples, a mainline protestant denomination is experiencing some growth. This should shock anyone across the spectrum, but it should also be a cause for some hope.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Though my posting has not been as frequent as I'd like, this weekend I'll be in Memphis delivering a paper on George Herbert Mead's views on religion and community at the Midsouth Philosophy Conference so there won't be much activity until early next week. The paper focuses on the way in which figures such as Jesus broke down barriers and provided a basis for building wider forms of community.

Thinking of community, or the breakdown of it, a liberal congregation in the conservative Episcopal diocese of Pittsburgh is requesting alternative oversight from a liberal bishop, more amenable to the church. Such a move has been an all too common occurance with conservative churches seeking like minded bishops, but this is the first instance I've seen of it work the other way. The distintegration of the ECUSA and it's polity is moving full speed ahead.

And something which could tear up the Church of England is the return of heresy courts. It's a measure designed to stop "liberal clergy from diluting traditional teaching" in the church. Which is to say that if the clergy do not affirm a list of propositional statement such as a literal virgin birth you can expect them to face these courts. But shouldn't certain religious claims at least bear some relation to what we know of the world today?

And if the answer is affirmative, than some reconstruction in the way we think and use certain Christian symbols and doctrinal claims is in order, for anyone who seeks to responsibily navigate both the tradition and the world we know of today. Trying to use courts to stop this process treats religion as static as if our interactions with God has ceased. Ultimacy then is placed on particular forms of religious expression, the dangers of such a move ought to be apparent.

And Norman Kansfield a Reformed Church of America pastor and president of New Brunswick Theological Seminary was relieved of his post, after he blessed the same sex union of his own daughter. Apparently the process which follows will likely lead to formal charges at the denomination's general synod. As Chuck Currie notes this pastor "showed love for his daughter" and abided by "Jesus’ theology of the open table. His actions should be a model for all parents – and all Christians"

I suppose if there was a discussion of the differences between evangelicals and more liberal people of faith...it's over this issue of defining who is in and who is out. If the right could for a moment pause from the use of trials and courts and charges of heresy, the breakdown of the church might slow down a bit, maybe could begin listen to another, and imagine that somehow the other side has value, which God is working with, which we need to be attentive to. But the use of retribution needs to end if this is ever to happen.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

And now for some alarming news, Ohio is considering legislation which as the headline notes is aimed to counter "college liberalism". Some provisions would include prohibiting "public and private college professors from presenting opinions as fact or penalizing students for expressing their views. Professors would not be allowed to introduce controversial material unrelated to the course."

If this legislation was passed and enforced it would mean the death of the university, especially in liberal arts departments in this country. Part of the reason is the ever expansive definition of what is included as "liberal". Most academic disciplines have ways of approaching their subject material which would likely receive such a designation. For instance evolution, the basic building block to modern biology or reading sacred texts with historical critical tools are both likely to be seen as "liberal".

Years ago I used to be involved with InterVarsity and there was a professor known as a "christian hater" who delighted in destroying people's faith. Taking the course, I discovered that she was actually a member of the UCC and her crime was reading the Bible as literature, along with other ancient writings. But if a student was offended and did not believe there was equal time (such as treating the Bible as God's holy revelation) then the professor would get penalized.

The other problem is the distinction of fact and opinion, which the authors of this legislation seem oblivious to. What counts as opinion? Especially in a field like philosophy the most thought out reflections that have engaged the history of western thought could be treated as opinion, so that equal time with some tract could be easily demanded. And what counts as "controversial"? And how do we determine what is not in the purview of the course? Will there be right wing monitors in classes?

And will there be subjects that these disciplines will not be allowed to touch or question? When a professor in North Carolina gets in trouble for assigning freshmen the Qur'an, I assume the answer will be yes. The only provision which makes sense is efforts to prevent students from being penalized for disagreements with the professor, but every university has an appeals process for grading and such a thing is already prohibited.

The author of this legislation "questioned why lawmakers should approve funding for universities with professors who would send some students out in the world to vote against the very public policy that their parents have elected us for.” If the goal of a school is to insure that students do not have different thoughts after they are done then before, why have universities or liberal arts curriculm? Why not simply have trade schools where one learns their immediate craft. That should solve the problem.

This legislation is being worked on in a number of states, but given the right wing drum beat against universities, professors, and tales of "left wing indoctrination", I assume this will become an effort which gathers steam and if it does professors will be subject to persecution. This is a prospect that I don't think troubles the right. If one looks at the abandonment of academic rights in conservative religious contexts, this pattern already exists.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

I have come across some excellent posts by others on the ELCA report which recommended the ban against glbt clergy and same sex unions remain. Progressive Protestant writes about his recent decision to leave the ELCA and join the UCC, which takes an open stance to gay and lesbians. They've "decided that its works will be hot. There’s a thirst for justice and a yearning for God’s foolish wisdom that I can’t help but be invigorated by."

And at Gay Spirituality there's a claim which I think ought to be considered by all the mainline churches which are wrestling over the gay issue: "Is it possible that God's Spirit is already active in the lives of these people in ways we would never have guessed? Is it possible that God is surprising us even now? These are the questions that we must ask today. And we can only ask them by closing our Bibles long enough to quietly and respectfully listen to the lives of those gay and lesbian Christians before us now."

And thinking of where God's spirit may be at work, the Red Cross will be meeting with Bush over the issue of abuse and torture of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan. While too many churches have been silent over this issues, it's been groups like the Red Cross and the ACLU who have been making public the crimes being done by this government in our name. This recent episode has made me think that when folks are looking at the church to see what God is up to, much of the time they are looking in the wrong place.

I wanted to highlight some sites of interest. Tom Harpur, a Canadian theologian and columnist has a site with his articles. I don't always find myself in agreement with his thought but he's a good resource because he's one of the few mainline religious thinkers who is able to raise issues today in the public arena. Kent Gustavson is being added to my links. His posts combine music, religious insight, and cultural criticism which makes for a good read.

Monday, February 07, 2005

This posting is going to seem quite disconnected. I wanted to highlight two sites which link up the postings of progressive Christian blogs, including this blog. Kinja which was set up by Philocrites and Unright Christian Blogs which was set up by Connexions. Both are helpful in finding out what a wide range of folks are writing on.

Philocrites highlighted a pew forum report which had some encouraging news for democrats. Half of all mainline protestants voted for John Kerry in 04, a 10% drop off for Bush compared to 00 and the best showing by a democrat in some 40 years. They divided up the mainline and catholic voters as traditionalist, centrist, and modernist. I'm assuming that I'd be a modernist protestant. Almost 80% of such folks voted for John Kerry. This is more reflective of my experience in such circles than what previous studies have indicated where no such demarcations were made.

A 16 year old columnist celebrates the recent comments by Gen.Lieutenant General James Mattis, who claimed that killing Iraqis and Afghans is a "hoot." Apparently manhood is defined by celebrating the joys of killing. I'm wondering what values the right is imparting to kids today? Wesley Blog claims "People are tired of wrestling with the questions- they're looking for answers." Here's one theologian's take on this issue:

"Certainly it is much more difficult to spread a religion which is problematical than to spread one that is treated as fixed and finished. You can always distribute canned fish to the public much more easily than the living squirming animals. Of course the future fish supply depends upon the living fish, not the canned goods. But for immediate results on the fish market canned fish are much more efficiently handled. So it is with static religion. Many of the strongest churches are fundamentalist" HN Wieman (1927)

Saturday, February 05, 2005

I notice that Ecumenical Insanity has questioned progressive Christian sites, including this one, on why there was little or no response to the elections in Iraq. Admittedly, besides the torture issue, I have generally not posted about Iraq. Instead this site has been focused on church politics, inclusion issues, and a dash of theology.

But it is important that Iraq succeeds and that the county is able to build a decent future for themselves. Any steps along that road is a good thing. But what does self determination mean when the US has built four military bases in the country and is seeking the construction of even more? And one other situation, which ought to be disturbing, must end if Iraq is going to be a nation which chooses it's own future:

"Regardless of what happens in the elections, for at least the next year during which the newly elected National Assembly writes a constitution and Iraqis vote for a new government, the Bush administration is going to control the largest pot of money available in Iraq (the $24 billion in U.S. taxpayer money allocated for the reconstruction), the largest military and the rules governing Iraq's economy. Both the money and the rules will, in turn, be overseen by U.S.-appointed inspector generals who sit in every Iraqi ministry with five-year terms and sweeping authority over contracts and regulations."

When this situation begins to end, and Iraq has a government which is not on the beck and call of this administration but can really govern for the interests of Iraq, then celebration will be due. Occupations are not worthy of celebration. As Ecumenical Insanity has noted, this is something which will take years to to work out, so it seems to me that celebrations are a bit premature. But implicit in his post, is an important point: if Iraq fails, it will certainly hurt Bush, but it's more important that Iraq succeeds, something which everyone across the political spectrum should affirm.

The challenge which I've put out earlier though on this subject relates to the question of torture. I'm finding it hard to find conservative sites which without equivocation condemn the use of torture and affirm without hesistancy the Geneva Convention. This is disturbing, as was the senate vote of 60-36 to confirm Alberto Gonzales whose role in shaping our policy in the treatment of prisoners is a shameful episode in our nation's history.

The other issue which I've seen little coverage of is that of Iraqi civilian casulties. Again religious folks across the spectrum should be in a position to recognize that all human life is sacred, that for theists God is the God of the whole world, not just of the US and that our actions in Iraq will determine what sort of harvest is reaped in the future.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Keith Olbermann on MSNBC's Countdown has recently been the target of a campaign by James Dobson's Focus on the Family. It started with a "controversy" over a cartoon character Spongebob, who was being used in a video to teach tolerance to school children. Dobson decided that the video was "sinister" and launched an effort against it and Spongebob. Olbermann was critical of this effort so a campaign including e-mail bombing was launched against him.

Some things worth noting. The US senate is debating the issue of torture and the nomination of Alberto Gonzales. It's still not too late to call your senator and urge the defeat of this nomination. But Dobson's group has largely remained silent on this issue. Rather energies have been directed against this cartoon with tactics which do not reflect well on them or on our religious faith. It baffles my imagination that such groups have been able to capture the language of morals and faith.

This would have been another piece where I complain about the state of religion in this country and the media's coverage of this. But this story is different because of two players. The United Church of Christ, which deserves kudos, for responding to this "controversy" with a mix of humor and gospel. They issued a press release showing that God's welcome even includes those who are maligned, in this case a cartoon character.

Keith Olbermann deserves kudos as well in picking up the UCC response. Tonight he interviewed Katy Hawker, pastor of a UCC congregation in St. Louis, who recently held a service which honored the value of tolerance to which the cartoon character, Spongebob, had come to signify. So instead of an event which embarasses the faith both Olbermann and the UCC was able to use this as an opportunity to give an airing to a more open way of living out one's Christian faith. Cool, eh?