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.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Here's a wierd newspaper article "Bishop Spong steps up fight against evangelism". I figure that the newspaper mistakenly failed to use the word evangelicalism. Evangelism is simply spreading the good news, a calling every church across traditions ought to be embracing. But the fact that evangelism and evangelicalism are seen as the same tells us much about how the mainstream media covers religion.

According to the article, "Evangelical churches, with their focus on the Bible as the infallible word of God have been growing for decades despite Spong's prediction that they would fade. None of this seems to faze Spong." But the issue is not whether evangelical bodies have grown. It's the fact that they are drawing from a smaller pool. The number of folks who have claimed non religion as their category has *doubled* since 1990.

As religion continues to be identified with particular set of conservative views, more and more people are unable or unwilling to identify with the Christian tradition. Spong is hitting on something that ought not be swept under the rug simply because the Southern Baptists added 1% or so to their rolls. By the way Spong was at a recent conference for spiritual progressives in CA. The Witherspoon Society has an article which covers that event.

Monday, July 25, 2005

I apologize for the minimal postings in the last few weeks. I have some major deadlines for summer projects which are rapidly coming up so I expect that until their done posting will remain lighter than I would like . But there have been some religious news stories which have grabbed my attention and I thought I'd highlight them. Aslo I can be caught posting every once in a while at the Progressive Protestant site during this summer slowdown.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada voted to defeat a motion at the tenth national convention to allow a local option for pastors to perform blessings for same-sex couples. It was worded so that when a large majority of a congregation and the pastor supported such a move they could perform such unions. I was hoping that the courage of the Canadian church might make a difference in terms of the ELCA in the US but it was not to be this year.

A new site by Harry Reid is not a bad start in connecting democrats and religious voters. Instead of bashing the religious right or mimicking them by pulling God into every debate the site simply highlights those areas in which democrats and faith groups are able to work together on things from immigration to poverty issues. Highlighting these connections could help in restoring the idea that democrats listen to and take seriously religious people.

I've noticed a line of argument on a number of conservative sites which is a bit disturbing. In response to a liberal Catholic author one site wrote that if liberals had their way "the priesthood would be full of soft, effeminate, self-seeking, bleeding-heart sissies. Not exactly the kind of priesthood I or anyone with any sense wants." Why this bashing the feminine? How does gender come into how we label ourselves and our opponents? Have other folks noticed this line of argument increasing on the web?

Thursday, July 21, 2005

And now for some tidbits. I wrote a column for useless knowledge mag. It's a piece which takes to task evangelicals and atheists who debate standard apologetics, missing more significant issues in the process. Janet Edwards, a presbyterian pastor and descendant of Jonathan Edwards, could be facing a church trial over her blessing of a same sex and interfaith marriage. The continual attack on ministers in the mainline is discouraging.

Congressman Tom Tancredo (R-CO) on talk radio said that the U.S. could take out Islamic holy sites, including Mecca if the US faced a catastrophic attack from Islamic fundamentalists. Isn't this about on par with launching a nuke at the Vatican if the IRA was to launch a major attack on the UK? Wonder what this has done for the US image in the middle east?

Apparently being a member of a left of center group makes you a suspect to our government. The FBI is now collecting thousand of pages of info on such groups for their counter terrorism efforts, from the ACLU to Greenpeace to United for Peace and Justice. And public faith based funds goes to groups which discriminate, including a Mississippi adoption agency which won't work with Catholic parents.

And in more encouraging news, there's an interesting piece on the conversations occurring in United Church of Christ congregations throughout South Dakota on the recent gay marriage vote. And seminarians and labor organizers are working together to improve working conditions for folks. Perhaps a model for seminaries and unions across the country? And the Presbyterian Church is trying to provide relief for immigrants, many of whom have born the brunt of our nation's heat wave.

Monday, July 18, 2005

The Catholic Bishops of Canada has recently announced, that the church will not baptize the child of a same-sex couple if both parents want to sign the certificate of baptism. A cardinal warns Catholics to not embrace "neo-darwinian" evolution. And Ratzinger apparently has written against the Harry Potter series. The Catholic Church is rapidly moving to the positions of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Quick post for what is supposed to be my break. The Church of England's synod has voted to remove the barriers for women's ordination as bishops. I wonder what rationale allows for women's ordination but not for the role of bishop? Conservatives are threatening to leave the church over this move and relations with the Anglican south could grow more frayed. It's not just gays but women who are taken to be a threat these days.

Some interesting articles I've come across include Karen Armstrong's piece on the double standard with the media and Islam when it comes to terrorism as opposed to other religions. Blogopotamus asks some questions about those who have a defensiveness and need for clear boundaries of who and what is in and what is out when it comes to religion. And a tragic story over the costs of anti-gay church teaching.

Religious Liberal has a birthday. I started this site on 7/11/2003 and the next day began posting about Gene Robinson. It's kind of fun to go back to see some amazing understatements about the controversy which would erupt over the affair. The religious connections the blog world creates has been amazing. But reading religious news has also been depressing, so it's hard to say if this site has been a good but we'll see what the future brings us.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

I've lost my internet for a few days and this is coupeled with some pressing deadlines, so perhaps losing such access was God's way of saying that I need to get going on these other projects for now. In any case, I expect little or no postings to occur for the next few weeks as I try to take care of these deadlines. But there's been enough discouraging news that I wanted to highlight them.

Communion, which represents God's unbrokered kingdom, where all are welcome to the table, epitomized by the parable where the wealthy man went into the streets to drag anyone in who would partake in his banquet, has now become a political statement, a dividing line separating those who are in and those who are out.

Pope Benedict is urging the denial of communion for those who disagree with the church on reproductive choice and gay marriage, which are starting to become litmus tests for the church. A number of members of Canada's parliament are being denied communion by the church over their support of the recently passed gay marriage bill. One member noted that she has largely been unable to attend mass since the legislation passed.

"It hurts that you're told that you're not welcome to be a part of something that was very precious in your life..Getting the courage to go back, it's tough because you feel ostracized as far as what you believe..You become intimidated going into a church because you don't know, will I be welcome, will I be stared at?''

What the church is doing against those who find themselves in the minority Scalia proposes for the US government against religious minorities in our country. In the recent 10 commandments case Scalia writes "the Establishment Clause permits this disregard of polytheists..just as it permits the disregard of devout atheists." Government, he wrote, may favor religion "over irreligion."

So yes it does matter who becomes the next supreme court justice. Will we as a nation embrace pluralism or gov't endorsed religion? Saveourcourts.org is a group worth checking out in this fight. And lastly a Presbyterian campus pastor faces a heresy trial for his role in blessing same sex unions in TX. Suffice it to say that the direction the church and our nation is going is alarming. Maybe the world will look better when I get back from my break.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Chuck Currie speculates on the growth possibilities of the United Church of Christ after they recently voted overwhelmingly to support gay marriage in the church and the greater society. I found out a bit of the response when I attended my own UCC congregation today and discovered that it was packed full of new folks I haven't met before. I spoke with some of them and the biggest reason they came was because of the recent UCC vote.

Our pastor spoke about the synod meeting in Atlanta and on what it means to be UCC and in this I saw some some building blocks for renewal. Some of it is the appreciation so many have over finding a church which is finally open for them. Some of it is the creation of a theological identity and meaning, which the mainline has sorely lacked over the years. Our own local congregation has grown quite a bit over the last few years for having both.

So I think Chuck Currie is right to believe that this could make a difference for the denomination overall. But there are costs in acting in a prophetic matter as his site recounts this story in Middlebrook VA: "A small fire was set in St. John’s Reformed United Church of Christ this morning and anti-gay graffiti was painted on the side of the building". What vision of religion must one have that burning a church could be considered justified?

With the news of the UCC, other denominational gatherings have gotten less exposure but their contribution to a better world ought not go unnoticed. In particular the Religious Society of Friends, ie the Quakers, had their national gathering this July 2-9. It was titled Weaving the Blessed Tapestry and included worship, a talk by John Spong, and apparently some amazing music. And the Disciples of Christ will have their convention July 23-27.

Also the Methodists in the UK are moving to bless same sex unions. The Grand Canyon Synod of the ELCA Lutherans is the 23rd of 65 synods in the country to join a movement toward full acceptance of gays after as they voted to affirm that all people “are welcome within the membership of the synod, and that, as members, are welcome to full participation in the organizational and sacramental life of this church,”

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Leaders representing all the major religions have made statements of consolation in response to the London bombings. The Salvation Army is assisting the emergency services there, offering comfort and refreshments. For those who want to support relief the Red Cross is also doing important work in response to this tragedy. One site noted:

"Incidents like these don't discriminate. All human beings, whether Jewish or Sikh, Muslim or Christian are targets. As a city that celebrates cultural diversity, Londoners have been united in condemning what has happened. It didn't matter your background. It didn't matter what color your skin was or your religion, what mattered was Londoners commitment to come together and not let those who caused the bombings feel as if they have won anything."

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

I found this picture of Jesus laughing and it caught my eye. It's odd to think how rare it is to find a portrait that has Jesus expressing such a basic human response as laughter. I don't post very often on Jesus. I'm afraid that he'll be made into a superman or perhaps become a brand ID to trump one religion over another. Yet he remains a compelling figure and central to the stories we tell about our faith.

Propbably because the stories of Jesus present one who was so responsive to God and to other people from the samaritan to the prostitute, there doesn't seem to be any line he won't broach to bring about reconciliation. In this we learn something about God and God's character. But the moment we make Jesus the object of worship something is lost, his humanity and the God to he is always pointing.

Salvation is not a belief about Jesus as much as taking up the cause of Jesus, the reconciliation of humans to one another, to God, to our planet. Trusting and cooperating in God's continual work by which such an effort is not in vain. To be a Christian then to take part in the resources and tools of a religious tradition which has sought, at it's best, to make sense out of this cause and to aid people in it.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

I have a new member of my household. His name is Adler and he's a two month old kitten. My eight year old cat, Talula, has taken to him and I get the impression has adopted him as her son. He comes from the litter of Progressive Protestant's cat Nermal. He's got a number of the newborn pictures on his site but now most of the kittens including Adler have found new homes. With the blog we don't just share ideas but apparently cats as well.

Lots of good news out there. The United Church of Christ by an almost 80% margin voted to support gay marriage. The Rev. John Thomas, president of the denomination said "On this July 4, the UCC has courageously acted to declare freedom, affirming marriage equality, affirming the civil rights of gay..couples to have their relationships recognised as marriages by the state, and encouraging our local churches celebrate those marriages," Given the conservative drift in the mainline such a decisive vote is even more prophetic.

And the International Council of Christians and Jews, an umbrella organization of 38 Jewish-Christian dialogue groups worldwide, which is holding its annual conference in Chicago from July 24-27. The theme is "Healing the World, Working Together: Religion in Global Society". And the Milwaukee Synod of the ELCA Lutheran church has passed a resolution recommending the church permit gay and lesbians in committed relationships to be ordained.

Monday, July 04, 2005

I figured since it's July 4th some post over this day was due. Some liberals can affirm that this is the best nation on earth while others have a hard time seeing it when we can be a society which legitimates torture and occupations. Republic of T has had some posts which asks "just how dedicated this country really is to the ideals it longs to claim." This disconnect can be discouraging.

I can't affirm that this is the best nation on earth or that our conduct is the most laudatory. But I can affirm that this nation has produced some of the highest ideals ever known. From the declaration of independence to the emanicaption proclamation. From the vision of democracy by John Dewey to that of the beloved community by Martin Luther King to the poetry and dreams of Walt Whitman.

And having such ideals matter. They can call us to correction and stand in judgement of our present activities, something that activists from the civil rights and the labor movement have often used. They assure us that we have the resources to make for a better world. While we frequently fail our ideals, it's important to have high ones because we cannot be better than what we can imagine.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Dennis Prager's recent column on why the natural world including other animals have no intrinsic value purports to tell the Judeo-Christian view of things but in fact such a view has little to do with either the monotheism of the bible or the western religious tradition. According to Prager, "Nature has been created for man's use; and on its own, without man, it has no meaning." This sounds like a pernicious form of humanism.

Why? Because it locates value soley within the mind of humans, as if there was no relationship determined by the environment. If I like ice cream it's not simply me imposing this on the food, it's because there are particular ingredients such as chocolate that is agreeable. If it was made of sludge it'd be awful and no amount of imposition by my mind could change this. There are elements in the valued and the valuer, which make up value.

Also Prager looks to human beings and our valuations to determine the importance of others, using human utility as the standard. Monotheism looks to God to determine the importance of any one thing not human likes or dislikes. Augustine's example is that of a spider. Humans find little use for such a creature, many kinds of spiders are poisonous and at best they are a nuisance for us.

But the spider's ultimate value is not determined by human likes or dislikes. Rather the spider's value is in relation to God and God's aims in the world including the whole complex eco-system of which the spider plays it's part. That is God is concerned with the good of the whole and sometimes that may or may not be agreeable to humans. But monotheism pushes us to think of the whole to move beyond our likings to a greater vision of the good.

But Prager would have us forgo this believing that the cosmos was created for human beings. But that's an odd reading of Genesis where God declares the creation good well before humans were created. And in Romans 8:21-22, Paul writes of the salvation story as including the whole universe, not just humans. And the evolutionary account precludes such a human centric reading of our standing in the cosmos.

I highlight this piece because it's important to not confuse right wing politics with orthodoxy. In an effort to move us away from environmentalism Prager has opted for forms of argumentation which give no evidence of monotheism and every evidence of a form of humanism that treats humans as the standard and the be all of creation. If there's any purpose in religion it's to stop such hubris, to remind us of something greater than ourselves.