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.

Sunday, January 30, 2005


This year marks the 50th anniversary of the ordination of women as ministers and the 75th anniversary of women being ordained as elders in the Presbyterian Church USA. And next year will mark 100 years of women being allowed to serve as deacons in this denomination. The PCUSA has a helpful site marking this occassion which includes ways to celebrate in worship and reflection as well as providing some historical and theological resources.

I grew up PCUSA and knew of women ministers through much of my childhood so it came as a bit of a shock growing up to find out that some denominations did not ordain women. How could one take seriously a church who would use such an arbitrary line to shut out the gifts of a whole segment of the population? One hopes that such an experience will be similar to what future generations in the church will have when it comes to glbt ordination and the inclusion of their gifts in the church.

On a related note, the board of directors of my campus ministry last week passed a resolution with unanimous support which declares us open and affirming of glbt folks. We will be affiliating with the open and affirming programs of the United Church of Christ and the Disciples of Christ. In practice we've been an open place, but there never was any formal recognition of this reality. And since such affiliations are rare in our region, maybe we can become a unique resource.

Around the world, Anglican bishops meeting in Nigeria don't believe that the Episcopal Church's apology for the strife caused by Gene Robinson's consecration is adequate. They want an apology for the ordination itself. Here's the problem I've never seen a conservative site acknowledge. What if the church does not believe they did anything wrong by the consecration? What if liberals actually believe this act was an expression of the demands of the Gospel? To demand renunciation of this act tantamount to asking the ECUSA to lie. That's a demand no one can ask in good faith.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Wesley Blog highlights a column by Katha Pollitt. In it she criticizes Jim Wallis and his role of trying to get the democrats to not be shy about relating politics and religious faith. Admittedly Pollitt is not sympathetic when she covers religion. But I do think that labeling her and the magazine she writes for, The Nation as folks who "hate Jesus and Christians" is over the top. A number of religious authors, including Harvey Cox contribute to the magazine and some smart thinking about religion has come from it's pages.

And it obscures a point which Pollitt raises which is important to think about. How does one engage in the language of religious faith which takes it seriously without excluding a whole swath of Americans? I believe Martin Luther King was able to do this, sensitive to the insights of a number of religions, working with secular as well as religious groups, in painting a vision for justice. But it's not an easy thing and we need to be cognizant of this.

How does one relate to religion in a way which preserves neutrality of the government to specific religions? Clearly this is not a concern of the Bush administration, but a religious left should not simply copy the tactics, becoming the mirror of the religious right. This is not to say that Wallis is not concerned about either issue and in that I think Pollitt is not fair in her criticism. But these two issues are ones that need consideration.

And here's some ecumenical cooperation which suggests that the divisions this and other countries face is not one of doctrine as much as values. A piece in a UK paper talks about the common ground muslims and evangelicals have discovered in opposing gay rights and other social issues. And in the US atheist and humanist groups have begun to recognize the potential cooperation which can be had with mainline protestant groups.

Monday, January 24, 2005

I apologize for the lapse in postings. The start of a new semester has kept me away from the blog. But this news item is particularily encouraging to me. It's a piece on the United Church of Canada. They are the largest protestant denomination in the country and they have come out in support of legislation which would open marriage up to gay and lesbians.

If there's a question why some of the political dynamics are different between the US and Canada, the role that religious bodies play in this debate is certainly a factor. The moderator of the United Church recently released a statement on this issue and it's of the better ones I've come across because of it's dynamic view of the relationship with tradition and the situation we find ourselves today:

"I understand tradition to be a living treasure. Tradition is not to be confused with habit, custom, or convention. These are simply vessels that seek to hold the living tradition of God's presence in the world. Habit, custom, and convention are not themselves the light; they come to bear witness to the light. In Christian tradition the measure by which we choose a course of action is the measure of the love of Christ, a measure that judges even scripture. It is never legitimate to use the words of scripture to promote a loveless agenda."

This strikes me as the application of the division between the creator and the created and understanding what is worthy of ultimacy and what serves as an instrument. There is the God of life, of love and there are particular traditions, institutions, which ideally seek to put itself into the service of such a reality. Otherwise we're apt to think the instruments themselves are ultimate, a perpetual danger for the church today I think.

And in Illinois, my governor, joined with the moderator of the state conference of the UCC, signed legislation making my state the 14th in the country to ban discrimination against gay and lesbians in the workplace and housing. Two other items. If anyone happens to live in southern Illinois, we're having a progressive Bible study which meets Tuesday nights. Contact me if you're interested. And does anyone know how RSS feeds work? I've noticed some sites which cover liberal religious blogs, but I'm fairly clueless on how that works and how I might get connected up with this.

Monday, January 17, 2005


Here's some quotes of Martin Luther King. I posted them last January but the sentiments behind them are as pertinent as ever:

There is something in human nature that can respond to goodness. So that man is neither innately good nor is he innately bad; he has potentialities for both. Man is not totally depraved; to put it in theological terms, the image of God is never totally gone. There is something within human nature that can be changed and this stands at the top of the whole philosophy of non-violence.

This method (non-violent resistance) is nothing more and nothing less than Christianity in action. It seems to me to be the Christian way of life in solving problems of human relations. The aftermath of nonviolence is the beloved community, while the aftermath of violence is tragic bitterness.

At the center of non-violence stands the principle of love. In speaking of love I am not referring to some sentimental and affectionate emotion. Love in this connection means understanding good will as expressed in the Greek word Agape. It means understanding, redeeming good will for all men.

Along the way of life, someone must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate and evil. The greatest way to do that is through love. I believe firmly that love is a transforming power than can lift a whole community to new horizons of fair play, good will, and justice.

The universe is on the side of justice. One knows that in the struggle for justice he has cosmic companionship. (There is) some creative force that works for togetherness, a creative force in the universe that works to bring the disconnected aspects of reality into a harmonious whole. There is a creative power in the universe that works to bring low gigantic mountains of evil and pull down prodigous hilltops of injustice.

The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.

All life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality.

This call for a world-wide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one's tribe, race, class and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all men. When I speak of love, I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifiying principle of life.

Agape is love seeking to preserve and create community. It is insistence on community even when one seeks to break it. The cross is the eternal expression of the length to which God will go in order to restore broken community. The resurrection is a symbol of God's triumph over all forces that seek to block community. The Holy Spirit is the continuing community creating reality that moves through history. He who works against community is working against the whole of creation.

Therefore, If I respond to hate with a reciprocal hate I do nothing but intensify the cleavage in broken community. I can only only close the gap in broken community with love. If I meet hate with hate, I become depersonalized, because creation is so designed that my personality can only be fullfilled in the context of community.

In the final analysis, agape means a recognition of the fact that all life is interrelated...all humanity is involved in a single process...

Sunday, January 16, 2005

There's been quite a number of folks who occupy the halls of power and media who speak of moral values. But speaking of such things and actually possessing moral authority are two different things. Today our country faces a moral crises of historic proportions and how we respond will shape us for better or worse for some time to come. The issue is over the abandonment of human rights done under the auspices of the war on terror.

We've seen the widespread use of torture with prisoners Guantanamo and Iraq. And it's clear that many in this administration, authorized and then sought ways to not be held accountable for this practice. A number of those responsible for such actions are now being rewarded by apppointment, including Alberto Gonzalez for attorney general. And when torture was not done by this government they flew prisoners to other countries where torture is more regularily practiced.

Then we get the news that those who were not tried for any crime, held without due process are to be held indefintely and this administration is seeking to build more long term prisons to do this. And according to Newsweek consideration of a "Pentagon proposal would send Special Forces teams to advise, support, and possibly train Iraqi squads . . . to target Sunni insurgents and their sympathizers, even across the border into Syria". It's being called the Salvadoran option, named after the El Salvador death squads which killed tens of thousands in the 80s.

Bush's re-election has been seen by many to be an endorsement of this sad episode in our nation's history. I hope they are wrong. But it will take consistent criticism and organized opposition to such practices, so as to at least provide a voice to those who will not stand with such things. Some on the right have tried to rationalize such practices. What is especially disapointing is the silence of many evangelical groups. Mainline protestants on the other hand have raised their voice of opposition to these practices.

Any help folks reading this site can offer in finding out how religious groups and movements are responding to this situation. Are there evangelical leaders and groups I'm missing who have without equivocation condemned the use of torture by this administration? A number of groups claim to speak with authority, even boast about their own superior ethos, but if they remain silent over one of the central moral issues of our time, they have lost any possible moral authority.

Thursday, January 13, 2005


There's been a whole slew of articles addressing the question of where God was in the tsunami disaster. Many of them present a view of the divine which makes one wonder why such an entity could be worshipped. Philip Jensen, Anglican dean of Sydney thinks that the disaster may be reflective of God's judgment. Albert Mohler, of the Southern Baptists agrees, arguing that Christians are required to see God's hand in this event which has killed 140,000 people while affirming God's goodness.

To have such a view, supposes that human life is worth little, and can be dispensed with if some divine 'good' can be had. In one piece, this translates into God protecting religious shrines while doing nothing to protect human life. The result is we cut God off from human good. It recently has occurred to me, that this might be a line which separates religious adherents, especially in protestantism today. Perhaps liberal protestantism in seeking to humanize religious faith ends up agreeing with Plato who says:

"God, if he be good, is not the author of all things, as the many assert, but he is the cause of a few things only, and not of most things that occur to men; for few are the goods of human life, and many are the evils, and the good only is to be attributed to him; of the evil other causes have to be discovered."

This is not, as Albert Mohler charges, deism or an absent deity. It's rather a God which is found in those things which make for good, for life, and for deepening community. One other item of note: The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America has just released it's long anticipated sexuality report. The recommendations? Maintain the status quo by keeping the ban on gay and lesbian ordination and same sex unions in the church. The denomination has decided that gay and lesbians can be sacraficed for the goal of avoiding conflict. Not a high moment for the church.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005


I wanted to express appreciation for folks who responded to the burglary I was hit with. The good news is it was just a few items which were taken. They can be replaced. My cat is fine, which I admit is a worry of mine in such an event. And for some reason my books on religion and philosophy were not seen as desirable or worthy of stealing.

One of the encouraging things in response to the tsunami disaster has been the amount of interfaith cooperation, services, and good will which have been made evident over this last week or so. I thought I'd highlight some. In Thailand "thousands of people in a soccer stadium lit candles and released paper lanterns that floated to the heavens Wednesday as Christians, Muslims and Buddhists mourned victims of the tsunami"

In Sri Lanka Catholics and Buddhists work together in providing aid for the victims of this disaster. And in Sydney Australia a service was held at city hall which "leaders from the Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh and Jewish faiths all attended and called for unity." It may be that such disasters remind us of things which are important which are not this or that doctrinal point, but rather our common humanity.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Well my house was just burgalized, while I was in it apparently. Lost a game system and some other items...I have to say that this has been quite the week for me.

Sunday, January 09, 2005


Here's a photo of the missing ceiling that I promised. The computer survived the ordeal. I've finished cleaning up the place this weekend, so I can finally have a place to set up the computer. I wanted to thank Wesley Blog for the plug he's done of this site. He was responding to a newspaper piece out of Missoula, MT which happens to be where I did my undergraduate work. The question raised: can evangelicals deal with other issues like poverty and still do work on social conservative issues?

There does appear to be some basis for thinking that social issues often dominate the interests of evangelical communities in a way which other issues do not. I was struck by my conversation with a Southern Baptist campus minister. He informed me that he could never work with the local UCC Disciples campus ministry because of our open stance to gay and lesbians. Now for sure, there are other differences, but homosexuality is increasingly *the* dividing line within religious communities, in determining if you are with us or against us.

If one begins to look at public statements, this perception is re-enforced. If one compares the UCC and the Southern Baptist sites the contrast on the issues which are focused on is striking. The SBC focuses almost exclusively on conservative social issues, except a piece on the environment where regulation is criticized. In the UCC site we have issues such as protecting social security, AIDS, stopping budget cuts of poverty programs, farm labor legislation, and nuclear weapons.

Of course it is possible to be socially conservative and work on a wide range of issues, dealing with poverty, etc. The catholic church might be a good example of this. But I can't find an evangelical denomination or group with power in the public arena that spends much or any effort on issues of reducing poverty, environmental protection, and non-violence. I'm aware though how generalizations fail to hit the mark. I'm keen on finding issues which can solicit greater cooperation across these divisions in our church and society.

Friday, January 07, 2005

I apologize for the last few days of absence. My ceiling has collapsed in my apartment, where once my computer sat. So I've been offline and not able to respond to a number of issues which I've been itching to post on. But I did make the plunge and bought myself a digital camera...I was jealous of what Blogopotamus has been able to do with her camera so tomorrow I'll post a pic or two of the hole which was once my ceiling.

I had wanted to write a post about Alberto Gonzales and the problem of torture, which according to reports from the Red Cross appears to be a widespread practice. The idea that Bush would nominate an attorney general who oversaw the abandonment of the anti-torture provisons of the Geneva Convention ought to be shocking. The administration has since backed away from such moves officially, even while conservative commenators defend them. I admit, I never thought I'd see the day when torture became a partisan issue. What is happening to this country of ours?

And some items to highlight. Progressive Protestant is back with the same thoughtful analysis of the church and culture. Some new posts by blogopotamus, which recount growing up in the early 90s where there was a space to work out one's ideas, religious and otherwise, as a liberal. And my new hero, Barbara Boxer, who was the one senator who challenged the certification of this last election, raising the critical issue of voter disenfranchisement. She also offered a good lesson to the dems on what it means to be an opposition party.

Monday, January 03, 2005

The Agora has a piece on the future of the Christian faith. There is rapid and astonishing growth in places like Africa and Asia. This is coupled by membership decline in more liberal churches in the west. One example is Nigeria where the Anglican Church with 17 million members has the largest active membership in the communion. One suspects that what Christianity may look like in the 21st century will be defined by the developing world.

But the future is something that I have some ambivalence about. Most of the growth is concentrated in those bodies which are stridently conservative, in ways which would likely make evangelicals in the US blush. I remember hearing a Nigerian church leader give a sermon at the last episcopal convention. It was loaded with terms like God's army and infidels. I won't go into his language about homosexuals, but Falwell is much more charitable.

If there was a way in which there could be learning from each other, north and south, liberal and conservative churches, I think something could come of this. But I worry that the forms of religion are so different, that they are going off in different directions. I'd like to think there was some space for a number of forms of Christian faith and that they'd be able to communicate, connect with one another. If not it's likely that a space for liberals forms within the faith will continue to shrink.

And here's a piece on the ongoing campaign by the Bush administration to marginalize the United Nation. It was written by Clare Short, who was the UK's International Development Secretary from 1997 to 2003. She writes that the UN is "the only system we have for taking co-ordinated action to enforce peace, respond to humanitarian crisis and reach environmental agreements" and she highlights the critical role the UN is playing in relief and the future reconstruction of areas in asia devestated by the tsunami.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

With House Majority Leader Tom DeLay facing charges of ethics violations, House Republicans are preparing to make it more difficult to begin ethics investigations and could remove the GOP chairman who presided over the chastisement delivered to DeLay last fall. The pentagon is engaged in a debate over how much and wide should deception be used against other countries and their media, even our allies. Is this the values which were endorsed this year?

But on a more encouraging note, there's been a slew of articles on the religious contribution and cooperation in providing relief to the victims of the tsunami. A number of sites have raised the question of God's goodness with such a tragedy. If God is that which works for the good, then disasters which kill in such a staggering manner, shouldn't be seen as an "act of God". It's even possible to believe that there are events which go against and frustrate God's aims in the world. The question is our response to this.

As blog of the Grateful Bear makes an important point: We can see the hand of God in the response to the disaster, in the overwhelming display of compassion and support from people all over the world. We are all called to let that divine light within us shine forth, and to respond to events we can't understand with acts of compassion, not blaming. Harold Kushner also has a thoughtful response to the problem of evil.