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.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Kudos to the Spanish government who joined Canada in passing gay marriage. Unfortunately the only organized religious prescence in the country outside of the Catholic Church is a small evangelical community, which means this legislation was largely one of secular vs. religious forces. Not surprisingly the secular folks were in the right so what does that say about the possibilities of the church?

The Unitarian Universalist Association just recently had their 44th General Assembly. The UUA passed resolutions against the use of torture, in support of tackling world poverty, as well as calling for the abolition of the death penalty and reform of the criminal justice system. One event held by this church gathering was a dance party for delegates and the Fort Worth-Dallas gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.

Few denominations in this country could hold such an event. But there is the United Church of Christ which will be holding it's General Synod July 1-5 in Atlanta and they'll be considering a resolution in support of gay marriage both in the civic arena and within the denomination. It's a move which the president of the UCC has endorsed. A good place to catch up on the proceedings of this gathering and the resolutions being considered is to visit the UCC bloggers site.

Chuck Currie will be one of the folks in Atlanta sharing his thoughts on the goings on of this gathering as the UCC debate everything from investment in Israel to gay marriage to issues of christology. The only disappointment besides my lack of being able to attend these meetings is the media blackout which occurs when religious liberals meet unless of course there is a fight. On the other hand evangelical groups pronouncements regularily get covered.

This ends up producing a lopsided view of the faith. But I think the UCC understands this media terrain which is why they've done a lot to break through this barrier with clever campaigns such as God is Still Speaking, the tv ads showing bouncers throwing folks out of the church and even the adoption of Sponge Bob. They've also done a lot to make their own media, which the new UCC news site and their bloggers site is a testament to. The media saviness of the UCC needs to be rub off on other mainline denominations.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Today, Canada's House of Commons approved 158 to 133 legislation which allows gay and lesbians to marry across the country. I can't even imagine what sort of political changes would have to occur in the US to picture having the debate which has just transpired up north. I do suspect having the largest protestant body in the country, the United Church of Canada, lobbying in support of the legislation helps.

My disappointment in the coverage over this has been the media blackout on the United Church's efforts. Instead the media focus was on groups like the Catholic Church which claimed that such marriages hurt children and Defend Marriage who vowed to vote out lawmakers who supported the legislation in the next general elections. That's the media presentation of the faith these days. But today it's a historic day, worth celebrating for those who favor equality.

Friday, June 24, 2005

I've been reading some Carter Heyward recently, finding inspiration and challenging words which speak to a number of issues the church and our society have been struggling with. I'm headed off to St.Louis Pride this weekend and thinking of the recent ACC decision. Heyward, an Episcopalian priest and theologian, in her book Our Passion for Justice: Images of Power, Sexuality and Liberation, has this to say for those working for a more just world.

"God needs us. Our committment. Our hearts. Our touching and our pleasures. Our bodies, including our common sense, our intelligence, our friendships, our love. God is our liberator, the wellspring of all that we do on behalf of humans and of the earth. And just as surely, we ourselves are liberators of God. Not somebody else, older, wiser, sharper, more astute; we are those upon whom our God depends in the ongoing creation, liberation and blessing of the world."

And of the christological litmus test the right wants to place on the UCC she writes: "Faith is believing not in Jesus, but rather in the power that goes forth from him: the power of God, which is, by it's nature shared never a possession of Jesus, you, me, the US, or the church. The power of God and the power of all persons with faith in this power, is a shared power-moving, giving, received, passed on, celebrated, held in common as ours, not mine alone or his alone or hers alone. God's power does not belong to Jesus.

It belongs to us, to the extent that we pass it on." And for some encouraging news, the UCC is considering a resolution at this up and coming convention to re-create an office dedicated to helping campus ministry work, an area too long neglected by the mainline. USA Today has a piece on the increasing work and books coming out representing progressive Muslim voices. With a number of pride festivities around the country, the role progressive churches typically play in this gets covered in the Boston Globe.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

The US and Canadian churches have been asked to "voluntarily" withdraw from the Anglican Consulative Council and its central finance and standing committees until 2008 for their support of gay and lesbian inclusion in the church. And there's indication that when the split occurs, Rowan Williams, head of the Anglican Communion, will cast his lot with those working for expulsion and punishment.

Anti-gay stands has become the new orthodoxy, the litmus test for true believers that tells all one needs to know whether one belongs or is an outsider. I can't see how Paul's vision of the church as a body, the belief in the divine commonwealth can ever be had in this situation. It makes me despair for the future of the faith. The future seems to belong to those who see difference as a "cancer" to be removed, instead of a place where God can challenge and grow us.

Dennis Prager, a conservative radio talk show host, has written a column against seeing nature as sacred. The "Judeo-Christian" view is God is outside of nature "wholly separate from the world of His creation and wholly other than what the human mind can conceive or the human imagination depict.", a supernatural creator. The move to worship nature is done by those "who rely on feelings more than reason to form their spiritual beliefs."

But what sort of reasoning can we credit to Dennis Prager? If God is wholly separate from this world, from nature, than God is never to be found within the realm of human experience and is thus unexperiencable. We couldn't even begin to engage in speculative reasoning either since it is so wholly other that such a move would be futile. Upon what basis could we have knowledge of God? Silence would be the appropriate route if one believed as Prager does.

Prager has successfully taken God outside of the world. Even the deists had some route to know God through the laws of nature. The reason that other cultures may have had worship of nature, of ancestors, etc. is because they experienced a real sense of dependence on such things. This at least gives us a place to begin our reasoning: what are those features of our world in which we experience dependence and sustenance?

Prager also has a piece on why God must be referred to with male pronouns. Prager writes "neither men nor women want to be given rules or ruled by a woman"."God must be completely desexualized" and women embody sexuality, men do not. It's "more palatable for women to bow down to a male God than for men to bow down to a female god." Sexuality is bad, women are to be subservient, is that what religious language ought to strive for?

Prager exemplifies the distortions that masculine only language does to religious thought. And since God cannot be reasoned nor experienced upon what ground can he call for any kind of language about God? In other news; Bush has again called for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage in a video address to the Southern Baptist convention. And some conservative Presbyterians and Anglicans have drafted a plan for the creation of a denomination within a denomination. A precursor to a split?

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Yesterday I drove to Chicago to see the band Oasis. It was the first time in five years since I've seen the band and with their new album being one of the best they've ever released, the trip and show ended up being well worth it. Their new album made it to number two on billboard and today Coldplay has the number one album in the country. It's nice that at least in music things seem to be picking up, the age of boy bands seem to have slipped away for now.

Since I've been tagged by Progressive Protestant I thought I'd respond concerning the books I read and treasure. Number of Books: Around 600 with me. Unsure how many other books are stored at my parents house. Last Book I Read and Bought: Chasing Down A Rumor: The Death Of Mainline Denominations by Robert Bacher and Kenneth Inskeep, a sympathetic take on the mainline and it's possibilities

Five Books That Mean The Most To Me: The Meaning of God in Modern Jewish Religion by Mordechai Kaplan which was one of the first books that allowed me to talk about God again. In the Face of Mystery by Gordon Kaufman which was my first exposure to religious naturalism. Experience and Nature by John Dewey, a book protraying a processive world where communication and interconnection forms the heart of his vision.

Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, one of the best statements of the ethical life ever produced in the west. And for fifth, a tie between a number of texts by the Neibuhr brothers which have pointed to and reminded me of the ambiguities of life. And Dorothee Soelle for her work which finds hope in this world of ours. And John Dewey's Common Faith which opened me up to the American philosophic tradition. Magazines I Read Regularly: The Nation, Christian Century, and the American Prospect.

Friday, June 17, 2005

According to Amnesty International's report on US treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo and other prisons around the world the following practices have been used against prisoners: Abduction, Barbed wire, forced to walk barefoot on, Blindfolding "Burking" – hand over detainee’s mouth/nose to prevent breathing, Cell extraction, brutal/punitive use Chemical/pepper spray,

Misuse of Cigarette burns, Claustrophia-inducing techniques, e.g. tied headfirst in sleeping bag, shut in lockers. Death threats, Dietary manipulation, Dogs used to threaten and intimidate, Dousing in cold water, Electric shocks, threats of electric shocks, Exposure to weather and temperature extremes, especially via air-conditioning, Flags, wrapped in Israeli or US flags during or prior to interrogation, Food and water deprivation, Forced shaving, ie of head, body or facial hair, Forcible injections, including with unidentified substances,

Ground, forced to lie on bare ground while agents stand on back or back of legs, Hooding, Hostage-taking, i.e. individuals detained to force surrender of relatives, Humiliation, eg forced crawling, forced to make animal noises, being urinated upon, Immersion in water to induce perception of drowning, Incommunicado detention, Induced perception of suffocation or asyphxiation, Light deprivation, Loud music, noise, yelling, Mock execution, Photography and videoing as humiliation,

Physical assault, eg punching, kicking, beatings with hands, hose, batons, guns, etc, Physical exercise to the point of exhaustion, e.g. "ups and downs", carrying rocks Piling, i.e. detainee is sat on or jumped on by one or more people ("dog/pig pile"), Prolonged interrogations, eg 20 hours, Racial and religious taunts, humiliation, Relatives, denial of access to, excessive censorship of communications with,Religious intolerance, eg disrespect for Koran, religious rituals,

Secret detention, Secret transfer,Sensory deprivation, Sexual humiliation, Sexual assault Shackles and handcuffs, excessive and cruel use of. Includes "short shackling", Sleep adjustment, Sleep deprivation, Solitary confinement for prolonged periods, eg months or more than a year, Stress positions, eg prolonged forced kneeling and standing, Stripping, nudity, excessive or humiliating use of, Strip searches, Excessive or humiliating use of, Strobe lighting,

Suspension, with use of handcuffs/shackles, Threat of rape, Threats of reprisals against relatives, Threat of transfer to third country to inspire fear of torture or death, Threat of transfer to Guantánamo. Threats of torture or ill-treatment, Twenty-four hour bright lighting, Withdrawal of "comfort items", including religious items, Withholding of information, e.g. not telling detainee where he is, Withholding of medication, Withholding of toilet facilities, leading to defecation and urination in clothing

Does this upset the right? No, they are upset that Senator Dick Durbin had the temerity to say that these actions are not rightly done by democratic societies, that these are the actions we typically associate with totalitarian regimes and the gulags. Amnesty International has come under attack from the White House for identifying this problem. Red Cross has been under fire for bringing out the documentation behind the mistreatment.

But the right's attacks on the messenger and not on the torture itself destroys any claims they may have to moral authority. It sadly raises the issue, both with the religious as well as the secular right: Are they against torture? Has this become a partisan issue? Honestly? Until we take seriously the proposition that all people are of God, and therefore worthy of basic human rights, any claims to the religious or the moral will be nothing but a lie.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

I just recently took a test to see which theologian I was closest to. Admittedly the list of thinkers were rather limited but I wasn't shocked when Friedrich Schleiermacher was the person closest to my thought. His 1799 work Speeches to Religion's Cultured Despisers, is one of the first systematic liberal treatments of religious faith, by someone who was in the church. He starts with human experience, in particular our sense of dependency on the natural world as the building block for this thought.

Chuck Currie has expressed support for a proposal which will be considered at the United Church of Christ convention which would begin the process of disinvestment by the denomination from companies which benefit from the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. I agree with the goals of such a proposal and agree with Chuck that the charge of anti-semitism is not a legit label for such a move. But nonetheless I hope the UCC tables this effort for now.

An important issue for the church is it's relations with the greater Jewish community, something which has been fractured by similar proposals in other denominations. We share too many values with liberal Judaism to go ahead with something which could endanger future cooperative work. And there are other ways to address the legitimate concerns which prompts such a proposal. The ELCA has considered an investment strategy, funding those efforts which seek to bring reconciliation and peace in the region.

I think liberal protestants and liberal Judaism, in particular the Reform movement, ought to get together to see if there isn't a possible common strategy which could be developed which aims to get the peace process up and going, which seeks to deal with the human rights concerns in this region. That would be powerful, not only to the nation of Israel, but as an example of interfaith work that can overcome differences in the efforts to transform the world.

I want to apologize for the last two laspes in posting. Summer has kept me away from posting in a manner I didn't anticipate. But I do plan to post on a more regular basis in the future, or at least they'll be warning before I take such breaks from the site. This summer I'm reading and hoping to blog on Rheinold Neibuhr, in particular his work An Interpretation of Christian Ethics. And I just purchased a new book titled Chasing Down a Rumor which is a sympathetic take on the mainline and it's possibilities.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

The head of the NY Christian Coalition, notes that we have warning labels for cigs while being gay is far more dangerous. Does he propose warning labels on gay and lesbians, an idea which has been done before? No, he says but the practical result of the right's policies end up accomplishing much of the same affect. For instance in Georgia, the head education commissioner wanted to mandate students telling their parents if they join a glbt student group.

Thankfully the state board of education killed that plan. As Republic of T writes "The possibility of starting a support group at school could be a ray of hope for a lot of them, but if they have to come out to their parents in order to do it, most won’t because they’d face being kicked out of their homes, forced into therapy, or worse. They’ll remain isolated, and many will suffer for it." Such a result could then serve as ammo on why being gay is dangerous. But it is bigotry which is the danger that gay and lesbians face.

The Southern Baptists are considering a resolution which would have parents to investigate whether their schools have gay and lesbian student groups, and if so petition to have such groups banned or take their children out of the school system. The way bigotry works is sustained is isolation from whoever the other is, to which is directed. Because if there was actual contact, maybe even getting to know the other the basis of the bigotry begins to collapse.

Oklahoma passed a resolution limiting books to minors which have gay themes. Alabama is considering legislation which insures the state never spends money on anything which validates the "homosexual lifestyle" including library books, and restricting courses at the university which could touch on the subject. And the Texas governor after signing a gay marriage ban in an evangelical church told gay and lesbians that if they did not like the legislation they should consider leaving the state.

And of course when companies, like Ford,have a history of supporting gay and lesbian equality, including in their own workplace they become the target of large boycott campaigns. The Yukon Anglican church will forbid the employment of folks if they support gay and lesbian inclusion in the church. In just about every area of public life gay and lesbians are attacked from education to the church to their jobs...what is the end goal but the removal of gay and lesbians from the public life of this country?

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

"The churches that require members to hold definite doctrinal beliefs and to share common moral commitments are more likely to grow." This according to Al Mohler, head of Southern Baptist Seminary explains why conservative churches are growing and why liberal churches are declining. But there's a problem here. Mohler doesn't seem to recognize that liberal churches can also hold definite beliefs and share common values. And so he's unable to account for liberal religious groups which do grow.

The United Church of Christ did a study of churches which are growing within the denomination and discovered that having a liberal identity was a key feature of such churches. UUism has had consistent growth over the last 20 years, a group which despite its stated diversity, has a religious identity and shared values. While there is much schadenfreude in the right over mainline numbers, growth is not the result of being liberal or conservative, it rather flows from churches which have a sense of themselves.

The IRD has a humorous press release about a number of mainline religious groups which have supported the use of the filibuster against some of Bush's judicial nominees. If the issue is the religious committments of Bush's nominees how can dems be ok with mainline activism? Maybe because the issue is *not* over having religious committments. It's rather over the extremity of the folks Bush picked such as Brown who called social security a triumph of socialism and Pryor who called Roe an abomination.

Some groups are working to raise an alternative religious vision than that of the religious right. Building the Beloved Community has a bus tour starting this Sunday. It's called Breaking the Silence and it'll include rallies and events throughout the midwest including Chicago, Indianapolis, Columbus and Cleveland. If you're in the area check out the site, bring your friends, and show up. I'm going to attempt make it up to Chicago which coincides with the Rainbow/PUSH convention and some big name speakers.

Also wanted to highlight some websites. The United Church News has just set up an online newswire site. Some area churches in North Carolina has set up a website to advertize the fact that there are progressive religious communities in their area. This sounds like a good idea, especially in areas which most people think of as conservative, this sort of advertizing can do a lot of good. And Catholics for Free Choice has set up a pope watch which includes not just criticism but helpful constructive ideas for the church.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Intuition is more often than not taken to be a reliable cue for many religious liberals, in determining the right course of conduct, but I thought I'd offer a different perspective on this.

I'm apt to think that intuition is the embedded habitual practices, beliefs, attitudes that were likely at one stage a product of reflective thought. Many of them serve us well. One can't be reasoning, deliberating all the time or we'd be paralyzed. We need actions and thought to just flow so that a piano player, ice skater, etc. just does what they do without thinking about keys or movements even if at one stage in the game they had to do this.

On the other hand, there's nothing pure and right inherently about intuition. It's as good as the habits we've acquired whether by accident or design over the years that have shaped us to be who we are. But certainly along the way, some of these have not been good. I think the reformed tradition, is helpful in bringing out the issue of of how many destructive propensities have become embedded in us.

In such a case, intuition can become a poor guide. So that reasoning is needed, bringing whatever it is, (attitudes, habits, etc) to light, to examine it, to see if it ought to be met with approval or disapproval and if the latter to seek to change it. Various religious traditions have resources in terms of helping us with this. Trusting intuition many times works, but it's only as wise as we are, and well...there are plenty of times when none of us are that wise.