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, March 30, 2005

I wanted to thank folks for the thoughtful responses to my easter post. Here's some of the thinking behind my post. Process thinkers make a distinction between objective and personal immortality. One is focused on the way our actions carry on beyond us to affect the future while the latter is some personal existence after death.

I recognize that the church has largely pinned it's hopes on personal immortality, but I was seeking to recast the resurrection in terms of objective immortality. One reason is that I have reason to believe in the latter while after life language has become largely inexplicable to me, especially given an evolutionary understanding of the world.

Should our religious language relate to our understanding of the world? I'd argue yes. I'm not suggesting that such language can fully capture matters of religious concern...only that there is something of it which references the world as we know it. If this is given up, we have the problem on the left of an abandonment of checks over what counts as a valid religious claim.

On the right we have an abandonment to some religious authority which dictates how we will think. But in directing religious claims to the world of experience, we make claims public, subject to criticism, revision and we provide the place where religion can impact and be impacted by other fields of inquiry. It could be one route for a religious vision which integrates all areas of human life.

Friday, March 25, 2005

As Easter approaches there are a number of voices, both on the blogs and in many churches across the country that will triumphally assert the bodily resurrection of Jesus, proclaiming it as the basis for Christian faith. My question is this: can Easter be religiously significant for those of us who are not likely to think in such terms?

I admit that I'm agnostic about the afterlife so what could a phrase like "conquering death" mean for someone in such a situation? William James writes this concering the hope of religious faith: "she says that the best things are the more eternal things, the overlapping things, the things in the universe that throw the last stone, so to speak, and say the final word."

Or as 1 John 2:17 puts it this "world is passing away with all its allurements, but he who does God's will stands for evermore" I'm apt to believe that the faith of Easter is found here, in the hope that despite the array of forces against it, reconciling love has the final word. It wasn't killed at the crucifixion but rather continues when disciples everywhere break bread together.

And that somehow when we participate in this, we're participating in something which is larger than us and will continue on. 1 John writes of eternal life not as a spatial location but rather something which "dwells" within us, when we love one another. It is through one's acts of love that we touch something of immortality.

Sometimes this is not an easy faith to hold, given the state of the world. But 1 John 2:8b calls us to check back at our experience, to see that the "real light is already shining". Instead of looking at an empty tomb, maybe this is the calling we have. To participate with this reconciling spirit and to discern where such a spirit is already at work in this world, trusting that in doing so we're touching the eternal.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

The Scottish Episcopal Church has made it known that sexual orientation is no bar to ordination and that on local level there have been same sex unions blessed within the church. The Scottish church's stance is not surprising but it's openness is an encouraging and important act of solidarity with the US and Canadian churches.

I think it's critical that other liberal churches around the Anglican communion stand up in a similar manner. It also points to the fact that for the right to get the church they want, with out gay and lesbians, without "revisionists", they will have to do more than simply punish the US. They will have to end the communion as we know it.

If folks know their Anglican history, the relationship between the US and Scottish churches go back to 1784, when Scottish bishops consecrated Samuel Seabury, pictured above, as the first bishop in the United States and the first bishop outside of the British Isles.: the birth of the Anglican communion began at that moment. I suppose controversial consecrations are not new in this church.

A cartoonist who did a satirical work on the life of Jesus may end up spending prison time under a blasphemy law in Greece. It's still amazing to think that such laws are in place. And I thought I'd point folks to the Minnesota Indian Ecumenical Ministry, which does good work in the state. Sometimes supporting groups that are making a difference is the only recourse one has in the response to tragedy.

Monday, March 21, 2005

It's been my intention to not post on the Terri Shiavo case because it'd be nice to focus on issues which are not being drummed up by the right..something which is becoming increasingly rare in the mainstream media. But looking at evangelical sites this story is the central one. I even came across a "save Terri blogroll" that must include some 100 plus sites.

In other news a recent government report indicates that 26 prisoners held by the US with the war on terror have died and are "being investigated as criminal homicides, involving prisoner abuse." Yet I've seen no press conferences or cable news coverage for the family of Abdul Wahid who died during interogation while being shakled and gagged. No blogrolls for the family of Dilar Dababa who was killed from a head injury during interogation.

Is Muslim life valued in this country? Are there prayer vigils for the families who have lost their loves ones in US prisons? The religious right is able to get congress to have a special session for one person. Yet there doesn't seem to be any effort to get congress to investigate these deaths. No special session to pass legislation which would ban sending prisoners to known torture states. Until that day comes our faith and country has been shamed.

Other items: My Irony is up and going again. I've also added Body and Soul to the blogroll. I still haven't posted on the Episcopal House of Bishop's meeting, but some of the best thoughts on the subject can be found at Father Jake's site including this piece and this one. And a catholic diocese refuses to lead a gay man's funeral in CA. I didn't realize that funerals, not just communion can be used as a weapon these days.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

From a friend of mine:

This being the third year of the war in Iraq, it is becoming easier and easier to forget that the toll of death for our own troops has now passed 1,500, or to ignore the nervous breakdowns the surviving troops are having. The increase in the suicide rate, the pain of those who survived but are missing parts of their bodies and perhaps of their souls.

Easy to overlook that over 100,000 civilians in Iraq have been killed. Easy to grow accustomed to the charges of torture and murder at the hands of US interrogating officials in Afghanistan, Guantanamo, and Iraq. Easy to forget that the cost of the war is now running to about 300 billion dollars - at a time when we face cut backs to health care, human services, and aid to the poor.

The key is not ever to get "used" to these events, where they become the normal backdrop of our lives. Rather they need to remain causes of outrage as when they first happened...otherwise an easy normalcy takes over which makes it's peace with this state of affairs. One response is to support legislation which would ban the U.S. practice of shipping prisoners to countries that we have reason to believe engage in torture.

Here's a piece on a minister who has spent a lifetime of resistance, William Sloane Coffin, chaplain at Yale during the Vietnam War. He was an organizer in many of the campaigns for peace and justice during the last 40 plus years. He has recently turned 80 despite his numerous health problems. His new book, Letters to a Doubter which comes out this summer will undoubtedly speak important truths to the world we live in today.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

I've noticed a number of news items where refusal to share communion is being used as a means express disagreement with others. We have conservative priests refusing to share communion with their liberal bishop in the UK. The anglican primates upset about the US and Canadian church's stance open stance on gay and lesbians refuse to share communion with them. And those who actively support glbt inclusion in the Catholic church are to be denied communion.

Frank Griswold claims that "communion is a gift from God and not something we simply create, communion is about deep relationship created by God." The above examples have reversed this, thinking that human agreement creates this relationship...but I'm not sure how to make sense of a sacrament if they are right. If it actually testifies to a reality beyond itself then the reality is not governed by what we do, recognize, or regulate but is rather dependent on God's work in the world. The only question is whether we'll celebrate this work.

Joe Conason argues that the religious right's backing of Bush, even when he attacks poverty programs is born out some vindictive theolory which seeks to punish the poor. I'm apt to disagree. I think there's a compartmentalization of issues, since Bush is tackling the big issues of abortion, gays, and the courts other issues are simply not important. The result for the poor is the same unfortunately. Thankfully the mainline is challenging Bush's priorities.

Amy Sullivan looks to apathy in explaining why the religious left is not a key factor in today's public arena. Could be, but ignoring the decline in mainline membership and the internal fights in these churches misses something important in this story. Daily Kos has a piece on some of the GOP connected groups and individuals who are funding these fights. They recognize that a silenced mainline is key if religion is not to challenge them.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Following the religious news and over the last few years, including the breakup of the anglican communion, has made me face the stark reality of how liberals are situated and viewed within the greater church. We are seen as apostates and worse and while small in relation to the whole church, we're a threat to be removed. The resulting clashes from this has worn my faith down a bit. Preliminary conclusions come to mind after following such fights.

I think the bishop of Uganda is right when he questions whether it really is the case that we have more which unites us than divides us in the church? Do liberals and evangelicals mean the same thing when we talk about God, Jesus, the church, and salvation? Is there any religious symbol which solicits a common response? Thinking there is commonality where little exists, gives some liberals an inaccurate view of the crises, that somehow church unity is just around the corner.

On the other hand many evangelicals believe that liberals have no religious convictions and simply act to curry favor with the culture. I doubt whether culture can somehow be separated from any religious expression, including their own. I suspect the southern baptists are more faithful representatives of our current culture than episcopalians. In any case the right seems surprised when liberals stand for their convictions, even when punishment is heaped on them.

One comment posted on this site proposed that the best thing to do was to be the church. Question is, how do we become the church, when you have denominations who for the next decade or so will be caught up in damaging fights. It's hard in such a context to go about the church's business, which is to point people to obedience to that creative work acting in the world to transform and save us. I'm tempted to think that the only way to do such a thing and not to become consumed by the conflicts is some form of separation.

But such a separation represents a failure on part of the whole church. I have my doubts that any corner of the church is fully sensitive to God's workings in the world and I believe (thinking of Paul's example of the body) that we need each other, to correct, to broaden how each part of the church does it's work. But if we're caught in continual conflict, we're not learning from each other as it is...and one can't force oneself on another. Robinson wants a church with Akinola in it, but the reverse is not the case. Thus the dilemma.

I'm not sure of the solution, but for myself, I will remain the protestant I've always been, but I won't join a religious body unless they have gone past the gay wars, which a small handful of groups have done. If we are to do the church's business than having church councils debate the status of persons in such a manner is no longer appropriate. Question: what do folks think of the idea of a new protestant denomination, a united church?

Friday, March 11, 2005

I had a question: one of my favorite blogs, one which has been on my blogroll since I started this site in 2003, My Irony, seems to be missing. I've searched on google but does anyone know if this site is up and if so, where the current location is? Also wanted to highlight a religious album of sorts which has captivated me: Tori Amo's The Beekeeper. If you ever liked Tori's work in the past, this album is worth it, and explores a number of themes of religious significance.

I also wanted to thank Wesley Blog for the generosity which underscored his post about my frustration with the church. This weekend I'll try to address his comments. I also had a chance to listen to a talk by Henry Nelson Wieman on the question of God which he delivered 40 years ago. But it's very pertinent to the situation we face today and it's spurred some thoughts and maybe some optimism in me. If it's possible to take a cassette and put it into mp3 form, it'd be great to share with folks online.

Jim Berkley, who brought heresy charges against Jane Spahr for blessing a same sex union, has a recent post praising Greg Venables, bishop of the Southern Cone for his clarity in the fights of the Anglican communion. "We can learn from him as we overhear his conversations with his church" says Berkley. But is it conversation we're hearing? Conversation usually describes a process of co-learning from one another. All we have here is the throwing down of gauntlets and punishments being meted out.

"Rule Change Lets C.I.A. Freely Send Suspects Abroad to Jails" to countries which we know regularily tortures people says a NY Times piece. One hears that evangelical bodies really do speak aout other issues than stopping gays from marrying, but if this is so, I think this issue would be a good one for folks across the spectrum in the church to protest.

Diane Knippers tries to dismiss any Christian who voted for John Kerry as she urges the democrats to move right and "seek out advice from religious leaders who have a genuine constituency", which presumably would be evangelical right denominations. Knipper's primary work is with the IRD which spends an inordinate amount of time trying to move mainline churches to the right, push heresy trials and in some instances, splits. If liberals are so insignificant why is her life's work dedicated to going after us in the mainline?

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

So Rowan Williams has decided to not attend a gathering of US and Canadian bishops next month because of the "present situation". I wonder what possibilities actually exist for dialogue over the future of the communion, when Williams believes he cannot in any way be associated with the two churches. Is the future of the church now wholly in the hands of the anglican right?

I raised the question of the future of liberals in the church because it seems that our participation too often elicits enmity among conservatives and headaches for church heirarchies. Folks on the theological edges usually find themselves losing out in this clash, whether it's the US and Canadian churches or whether it's the numbers of gay and lesbian clergy and congregations who have been censured or more by denominational bodies.

Not every individual has been affected by these clashes, but it's not hard to find stories of those who have in the mainline. My former academic advisor and religious mentor, a few years ago, felt compelled to relinquish his credentials as an ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church USA because of it's policies against gay and lesbian clergy.

Yes you can of course find progressive outposts within the denominations. I usually end up participating in them. But it doesn't mean one can be immune from the politics of the greater church. Mt.Auburn, a presbyterian congregation in Ohio, found this out when they were punished by their presbytery over actions related to their open stance towards gays and lesbians.

It seems odd to be wondering about one's place in the Christian church, given my own academic passion for forms of american protestant thought, but I'm not sure that the sort of ideas and work that theologians in the first half of the last century were working on could find reception in today's church, especially since we're still having a sexuality debate that seems largely unaffected by modernity.

Monday, March 07, 2005

I've been asked: what would it mean to leave Christianity? I think I may have mispoken in that my theological committments have not changed and my interest in certain forms of protestant thought, especially the religious naturalism of the chicago school continues. I don't really have another religion in mind as much as I'm struggling with what it means to identify as Christian, given the direction the religion has taken in this country and around the world. I'll post on this issue next time.

In other news Father Roger Haight, formerly at Weston Jesuit School of Theology, has recently joined the growing list of theologians who have been punished by the Vatican. The case centers around Haight's book Jesus: Symbol of God, which was criticized as having too low of a christology. He's now forbidden from teaching as a catholic theologian. It's cases like this which makes me wonder how freedom of inquiry is ever able to find expression in certain religious contexts.

'Seventeen scholars from 12 campuses have released a strong statement against a proposal that the ELCA Lutheran officially maintain its stance against same-sex ceremonies and gay clergy while tolerating dissent from that policy.' Apparently they want the power to punishcongregations and ministers so as to not "fatally extend the boundaries of diversity". I also came across a website called, Good Soil. It's a group of folks working to extend the boundaries of the ELCA to include gay and lesbians into the full life and ministry of the church.

For those following the evolution in public schools controversy, there might be some frustration at seeing religion being pitted against biology. Now there's an online effort to gather signatures of clergy and others who work for religious institutions which urges a recognition that it's possible to believe in God and evolution, religious faith and the findings of the sciences. Click here if you're interested in adding your name or finding out about this effort.

I also wanted to highlight Questioning Christian's site which has a number of thought provoking posts on the future of the Anglican communion. And a quote from everyvoice.net which captures a level of frustration some of us hold whenever we hear the Anglican primates are about to meet.

"I am determined to avoid every assembly of bishops. I have never seen a single instance in which a synod did any good. Strife and ambition dominate them to an incredible degree. From councils and synods I will keep myself at a distance, for I have experienced that most of them, to speak with moderation, are not worth much. I will not sit in the seat of synods, while geese and cranes confusedly wrangle."-St. Gregory Nazianzen, A.D. 382

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

This was originally going to be a post on why I am leaving christianity. But some calvinist voice in me raises the problem that I didn't choose this religion, it chose me, given my history. It has and continues to provide the grammar of faith, the way I think about the central issues of human life and existence. If there's a crises of faith it's not over some set of beliefs.

I remain a theist, who believes that something of God's character is revealed in the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. I suppose what I've lost faith in is the state of the religion itself and the direction it's heading. A sort of conservative reaction has taken hold of it in much of the world and the few places where liberal religious faith can be found is treated as a threat to be expunged.

Thus the recourse to heresy trials and denominational splits. The case of the Anglican Communion is one of the most dramatic examples of this trend. Now we're being told that removing the Canadian and US churches from the consultative council does not equal expulsion and the church could potentially be put together in the future.

But does anyone believe that these two churches will now declare homosexuality evil because of the right's coercive tactics? Can one imagine the conservatives in the communion deciding to accept them back without the adoption of such a stance? The church is split, one is just waiting for the formal institutional events which will verify this situation. What makes this inevitable is not the issue or even the church's profound differences.

Rather it's the tactic of demonization and punishment which has consistently been used in this dispute. It hardens battle lines, it makes communication impossible. But when the right holds victory parties over this recent event, it's hard to see where communication is being sought. Rather victory is sought. And since Rowan Williams seems to determined to stick with the victors, the room for liberals in the Anglican communion will be eliminated soon.

This fight is also playing out in other mainline bodies, such as the call to go after gay and lesbian clergy in the PCUSA as well as those urging liberals to leave the United Methodist church. I raise these items, because while I know this is not the case in evangelical church bodies, I'm not sure that being a liberal is a safe thing to be in much of the mainline today either.

My thoughts on the mainline and the prospects for religious liberals in the church is going to have to be a multi-part series. I'll pick up where I left off next time. I've appreciated the e-mails and the comments on the site. It's good to read about what folks are doing and working out across the country who share similar concerns. I will be fixing my links in the next few days, to reflect a number of new blogs which have come to my attention as of late.

I've written a letter to my school paper in response to one evangelical's attempt at apologetics, and I'd also point out some really thought provoking posts which I've been working on in my head at Progressive Protestant including this and this. And yes I'm in the above photo, second from the left backrow in a 1977 christmas program. I thought a few folks I know back in Montana might go for it.