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, November 30, 2005

And now for a picture of my kitten, Adler, falling asleep in the blinds of my window. Some other links worth looking at include library thing which is site that catalogues your books online. I used it to list some of my theology books. The Episcopal Church's To Set Our Hope in Christ, the theological response to the Windsor Report, is now online and available to read. And I've just added Bad Catholic to my links.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

In discussing the future of the mainline I was wondering about the idea which UUS have pursued over the last several decades; the development of fellowships, even small ones of a dozen or so members, which do not require ordained leadership. Perhaps some certification program could be had for the lay leadership.

One could imagine the possibilities this, for instance, in church planting. Such fellowships could, as many have, grow to be large enough for such things as ordained leadership, but it shouldn’t be a starting requirement for the development of new congregations, something the mainline needs to be serious about.

Also it could provide some means by which smaller churches, which are struggling to keep their doors open, so they could focus on other issues from growth to mission. I haven't read any studies on this, but I'd be curious how this has worked for the UUs. And I'd be interested in seeing how church planting has worked for the mainline.

Monday, November 28, 2005

This is an interesting piece on the new rules banning gay ordination in the Roman Catholic Church. "In recent weeks, some reports have suggested that the document would allow homosexual men to be ordained, as long as they had remained celibate for at least three years during seminary formation.

But the document doesn't say that; there is no discussion of "celibacy" of homosexual candidates. What it does say is that fleeting homosexual tendencies experienced in youth should not represent a bar to ordination - as long as those tendencies are clearly overcome.In other words, a candidate would have to mature out of a homosexual inclination well before ordination."

The NC Southern Baptists have placed a new requirement for membership in their churches. One cannot be a member who "knowingly affirms, approves or endorses homosexual behavior." And the American Baptists, in an effort to avert a split, in their self definition statement, has included an anti-gay line. It's sad that this issue has now become the *central* test of religious faith for many.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

I'm off for Thanksgiving and the weekend. Enjoy the holidays.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

More indications of the church's divisions: The Presbytery of San Diego has voted for a resolution for the eventual withdrawal from the Presbyterian Church. Primates of the Global South have written a letter calling into question Rowan William's leadership. In particular whether he is willing to act with the Anglican "consensus" against gay and lesbians in the church.

Akinola, head of the church in Nigeria said at a recent gathering of conservative Episcopalians that "it was time to choose between remaining part of the "revisionist" U.S. church or joining their biblically faithful counterparts in the worldwide Anglican Communion". Also the Episcopal Church was called "a Non-Christian, Foreign, Alien and Pagan Religion"

The sort of demonization of the other required for such moves, the quickness and eagerness that some have in seeing the church split apart makes me think of Paul's letter to the Corinthians in which he writes:

"The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body.

If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!" On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment.

But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it."

Monday, November 21, 2005

For some encouraging news: Minnesota's largest United Methodist congregation held a service of protest and apology over a recent decision by the denomination's top council to defrock a lesbian pastor and back a Virginia minister who denied a gay man membership. And Desmond Tutu, who fought against apatheid in South Africa, is calling for Anglicans to accept gay and lesbians in the church.

Friday, November 18, 2005

I'm not sure what internet protocol requires but I read such a moving comment at Gay Restorationist that it seemed worth sharing as it suggests the way that one's interactions with others, even across large divides, can affect one another. This is a reaction to the recent amendment to the constitution in TX which bans gay marriage:

"I have wanted to comment here for a while and I'm finally working up the guts. I guess that as a Christian I'm not sure where I stand on homosexuality anymore. I used to think it was so black and white. My husband and I thought and prayed over which way to vote on Prop 2. We ended up voting against it- not that it mattered that much.

My parents would be mortified. Everything seems to be so cut and dry for certain people. We voted against it because even though- at this time- we believe that homosexuality is wrong (it's so easy for us to say that since we've never struggled with it)- we believe that every person should have equal rights.

I watched a program once about a dying gay man who wanted his partner to make decisions and be his beneficiary. Because they had no legal bindings as a "couple", the dying man's parents made every decision and made decisions that his partner knew he would not want. This doesn't seem like moral justice to me.

It broke my heart and it surprised me how defensive of these gay men I became. So- I'm not exactly sure what I'm trying to say. Just know that you're making me think. I'm not sure I agree with you on everything. But I like thinking outside my little suburban stay at home mom world- it's a very small world."

Thursday, November 17, 2005

This is in response to Wesley Blog's post on the language we use to describe God. While we both recognize that God is not captured by neither masculine nor feminine terms, Shane is concerned that our focus on language precludes people from using masculine language. If that is the case, I'd agree with him, that'd be a shame. But then he proceeds to preclude people from using feminine language, repeating the same mistake.

The reason he makes this move is that male language is "revealed" in the Bible, while female language is us making it up, ie one is God's self revelation, the latter is a form of idolatry. Leaving aside the question of revelation, it's clear that the Bible does use feminine language, describing God like a mother bear, Jesus compares himself to a mother hen, etc. Of course what is more interesting is the wide range of language used in the Bible and the tradition.

God is the living water, we sing of God as a mighty fortress, as the wind, and so forth. If we want to avoid idolatry, the best route is to throw open the doors on the language we use, so we don't imagine that any one phrase captures God. If we become wedded to a particular language, that language and not what it points to, becomes the focus and then the game is up.

I wanted to highlight a few news items: The National Council of Churches, along with a wide range of religious groups, comes out against torture. Sadly enough, I could find no evangelical church who has been willing to take a similar stand, and the church's witness is accordingly weakened in the face of such an evil. And Kofi Annan calls for a conference on religious pluralism as a means to fight increasing extremism, an important goal.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Hi, it's Chris (formerly of Progressive Protestant), guest posting for Dwight today. I'm blogging again over here, but hopefully I'll be blogging here occasionally on politics and theology.

Following the Anglican Global South conference, there have been a number of posts about the future of the Anglican Communion. Father Jake has written about +++Canterbury's alarming answers about the consecration of Gene Robinson and other issues, and the Rev. Canon Mark Harris has discussed irregular ordinations and transfers going on in the ECUSA.

These tense moments in the church take us to the very edges of our faith—congregations on both sides in the ECUSA find themselves subject to bishops of opposite and even hostile orientation, lawsuits fly left and right, and every interaction between people in the church turns into an archetypal battle between liberal and traditionalist instead of contact between human beings who are children of God. We start doing things that are reasonable but not loving or Christian. We defend our turf and forget to forgive.

What I find most troubling in the battle that has ensued since the election and consecration of +Gene is how poorly the left has followed his example in all this. Pro-GLBT bishops should be going out of their way to accomodate the dissenters in their midst in any way that does not compromise pastoral support for GLBT persons in the church. We as Christians are called to hand over our cloaks at the first request, forgive seven times seventy times, and act always with humility—not to defrock dissenting priests and bring lawsuits against each other. +Gene has been as pastoral as possible to all sides, recognizing the genuine pain existing on the traditionalist side, and reconciliation would be closer at hand if others followed his example.

The person I am praying for most in all this, however, is +++Rowan. Jake's post points to one of his answers that essentially abdicates responsibility for leadership in these hard times. Democracy has its place in the church, but our leaders must take their call to prophecy more seriously. Dr. Williams should take his stand not with the majority because it is a majority, but with the truth as he discerns it in his heart through prayer. Anything less places the Anglican Communion—and all of Christianity—at a great disadvantage.

- Chris

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

I aplogize for not posting for the last week. A number of events have ocurred, including being out of town this weekend. I was in Champaign Urbana IL, with Chris Tessone, founder of the Progressive Protestant blog. We participated in a religious service with the Antiochian Independent Catholics and a Unitarian campus ministry.

Both services, while different reached out to people who have not been spoken to, ministered to by the mainline protestant church. They represent in some way a great undercurrent, a group of people who are interested in the big questions and a deepened spirituality but for whom much of the church has been alien, even antagonistic, if not irrelevant to their quest.

Some of them have found a religious community, though there are many more who have not. Can the mainline be in a position to be responsive to such folks? I think the first step is to recognize that we are not mainline, but are rather sidelined, alien to the current society and culture. We are, as much as many of these people, exiles, not the center. God tends to work in such places though.

And there needs to be a committment to be evangelism. Chris Tessone's discussion at the UU campus group was focused on this question. He raised a number of issues that are worth focusing on. How can we spread the word, not to conquer others, but to share, to speak faithfully of our own journey and values in a manner that could provide resources for our world today?

How can we re-think the mainline it's structures, it's self identity in a manner that seeks to be faithful in exile? I put the Disciples logo in the start of this article, because I'm exploring the possibility of ordained ministry through the denomination, believing that they and the mainline have unique resources that can contribute to the issues that effect our world.

Some of this is due to the way that such churches have sought over the last century to integrate the sciences, religious pluralism, and number of issues in modernity with Christian faith. While some have dumped religious faith and others embrace fundamentalism so that this world seems to be increasingly polarized, the mainline has sought to negotiate the messy center.

But such a move finds little sympathy, in a world which is marked by either or. But the mainline route is not a lukewarm response, it's a faithful response, one rooted in Christian faith, recognizing our finitude and limits, even of our best religious ideas, etc. The move to embrace stark divisions is one which seems to forget our standing before the infinite.

I think part of the issue of evangelism is to recognize the faithful place from which the mainline is drawing from. When most people speak a different language, one is apt to distrust our own language, maybe even in a move to ape the dominant culture. In some ways, the IRD plays off of this, in a move to push the mainline from it's history.

But I think if we are willing to embrace our history, as a place to draw from in dealing with our new situation, something might be added to the world today. I wanted to highlight Chris Tessone's new blog. He's moved from Progressive Protestant to Even the Devils Believe as he speaks of his own new religious path as an independent catholic seminarian.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The IRS is threatening All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena California with its tax exempt status because the priest gave an anti-war sermon. I'm baffled. How does speaking out on an issue constitute endorsement of a candidate? Especially when it was specifically mentioned in the sermon that people of good will were supporting both candidates? It's a form of targetting dissent.

Liberal churches have been in the cross hairs of this administration for a while and the response has been to use the government to punish such churches. It happened recently when the government declared that the UCC, the Presbyterian Church, American Baptists and the Disciples were no longer "religious organizations" when it came to travel to Cuba, a status no evangelical church has faced.

I'm not sure how one gets classified as a religious administration when it's only certain religious groups which are favored while others are punished through the mechanisms of government, or at least ignored. While Richard Land of the Southern Baptists was consulted over the supreme court nominations, the Methodist Bishops could never get a hearing with the president over the war. This pattern deserves greater scrutiny then it's received in the past.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

There's been a number of encouraging news stories I thought I'd highlight. The KY Council of Churches met recently and called for an increase in the minimum wage. Mainline Protestant and Jewish leaders met in our nation's capitol to condemn efforts to direct budget cuts against the poor. And a new interfaith group has been founded in Florida to work for social justice.

The Maine Conference of the UCC recently organized a religious rally that included folks from a range of traditions in support of Maine's anti discrimination law. This law, which protects gay and lesbians from job discrimination, etc. is being challenged this fall in the form of a referendum. There was also a piece on Methodists in Texas, who value inclusion and are discouraged by the rulings of the church's judicial council.

And all 65 active bishops of the United Methodist Church produced a pastoral letter in opposition to the judicial council ruling that allowed a minister to deny membership to someone because they were gay. As one bishop put it "I recognize that the church is not of one mind on the issue of homosexuality but I want you to know that the Council of Bishops is of one mind: Gay and lesbian people are not to be excluded from church membership."

Friday, November 04, 2005

Kind of an interesting site. It's a Bible Content Exam which appears to be given to Presbyterian Church USA seminarians. Here's my my shot at it. 100 questions, long exam but it's interesting to see what areas in the Bible you are familiar with and not as familar with.


Thursday, November 03, 2005

This is from Reconciling Ministries Network a group working for full inclusion of gay and lesbians in the life and ministries of the United Methodist Church. You can also see varying reactions over the recent judicial church rulings at Wesley Blog.


All Saints Eve 2005 is a sad day. Comfort will not come easy. As we prepare to name the losses to the church on all Saints Day, the Judicial Council has lengthened the list considerably. In decisions released today, a majority of the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church removed the credentials of Rev. Irene Beth Stroud and allowed the reinstatement of a clergyman that refused to accept a gay person as a member declaring his action permissible.

We call upon all United Methodists to respond in prayers offering care to those in denial, shock, grief, dismay, or anger. We encourage you to gather together.

The decisions of the Judicial Council create a tragic moment in the history of our United Methodist Church. The outcomes were surprising in their severity and in their disregard for United Methodism. The harshness toward clergy continues a pattern; the harshness toward lay members is shocking. Be careful. Often such discriminatory rulings unleash long-harbored hatred.

“At the RMN office we received an email that said we should be horsewhipped as well. The UMC has lost sight of its mission, it has lost sight of its Wesleyan heritage, it has lost sight of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It has discarded its integrity even as it has discarded us,” said Sue Laurie outreach coordinator for RMN.

Beth Stroud is a pastor of tremendous gifts. These gifts were acknowledged by every person in every step of this process. The prosecuting counsel repeated it again on October 27. He opened by saying, “We affirm the wonderful pastoral gifts that Rev. Stroud brings to the table.” But he said that this is about the law.

Then the Judicial Council went where no body of the United Methodist Church has ever gone before. They offered to clergy the discretion to deny membership to a class of persons judged to be unacceptable. This is a slippery slope to applying pastoral prejudice in a variety of situations and has great implications for the future of the UMC.

As we minister within our congregations, we will encounter many emotions: righteous anger and impatience, despair, grief, surprise, and hopelessness. There will also be those who wonder why we are so surprised -- for this describes a reality that they have been living under for a long time.

At this time we need to gather together. We are calling upon Reconciling United Methodists to speak up as they never have before. This Sunday is All Saints Day in our Churches. In the call to worship, in the prayers, in the preaching, in the sacraments, in the singing and in the benediction, let us be authentic in our witness -- let us decry the swirling, toxic waters of the UMC and stand firm on the Rock that is Jesus Christ.

We especially keep those in our prayers who are isolated and do not have Reconciling Congregations or Communities to gather with at this time. Please listen to this pastoral message by Dr. Joretta Marshall (RMN board chair, elect) delivered to Bering Memorial UMC on October 30th: