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, April 30, 2006

Church News

The effort to push for an anti-gay marriage amendment by conservative Christians have been met by open arms by the Catholic church's hierarchy, with several prominent cardinals and bishops adding their support.

One thinks of the Indigo Girls line "and when the clergy take a vote all the gays will pay again, cause there's more than one kind of criminal white collar" and hope for a "day the war will stop & we'll grow a peaceful crop and a girl can get a wife & we can bring you back to life"

Wesley Blog says that the UCC is "whining" that Tim Russert and much of the mainstream media ignores mainline voices. But if we want to have a genuine discussion of religious faith and culture in this country presenting religious faith from only one side is a poor way to do this.

I apologize for infrequet postings. I've had lots of things happening combined with stress as I try to negotiate the end of the semester, work with the campus ministry, and my recent work with the local school district. Maybe when school gets done things will pick up.

Monday, April 24, 2006

worldview quiz

A worldview test. You are Emergent in your theology. You feel alienated from older forms of church, you don't think they connect to modern culture well. No one knows the whole truth about God, and we have much to learn from each other, and learning takes place in dialogue.

Evangelism should take place in relationships rather than through crusades and altar-calls. People are interested in spirituality and want to ask questions, so the church should help them to do this. Emergent/Postmodern 75% Modern Liberal 68% Fundamentalist 7%

Never considered myself an emergentist before. I should read their books, etc because most of what I read is from liberal protestants between 1880 and 1940. When it comes to worship I'd take "older forms" over what gets called contemporary. But maybe there's a link I haven't been aware of before that should be explored.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Politics and the Church

John Thomas, head of the UCC, gave a speech on the relation of the church to our current politcal landscape which understands the pitfall to the Gospel when it comes a tool for political purposes, a lesson for the religious left and right to heed:

"In a society marked by deep political and ideological alienation, where the fabric of the commonwealth is frayed to the point of tearing, communities that find ways to tolerate difference and live creatively with diversity may be their own form of redemption not simply for themselves, but for all of us.

In order to be this redemptive community, we will need to resist the political interests who would use us for sectarian, partisan, and ultimately deeply dividing interests. Here the challenge is the same for progressive and conservative churches and their leaders.

It is seductive to have political leaders and interests approaching you for your blessing. But do pastors and church leaders really want to have politicians lining up at their door come election time? Do they really want to be welcomed into a world where support and influence are traded like futures on the commodity market?

The Old Testament is clear in its distinction between the prophets of Yahweh and those court prophets who offered their blessing to the king in return for a comfortable place in the court.

The IRS may be the one institution challenging churches to ask the right questions about how best to engage the public square. How strange that when churches and church leaders are tempted to succumb to such political interests, it may be the IRS that helps us keep our integrity and allow us to be the church we are called to be.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

UU in the News

Here's an article covering a UU congregation in RI. In this church "They don't talk about sin and suffering. They don't talk about the right way or wrong way, good way or bad way..And surprisingly, no guilt."

I know this piece was meant to build up the church, but it ended up re-enforcing the idea that religious liberals don't take sin seriously. One would have to come from a position of privilege to honestly attend a church that doesn't talk about sin and suffering.

If religious liberals are to deal with the problems which plague our world we need to tackle such subjects and even be in a position to talk about guilt. Not guilt which paralyzes but the kind which confronts us when we fail to meet the demands that a common life requires.

Without such a thing, religion cannot be transformative, cannot save. But I know that newspapers don't always get religion right. I've also seen UU congregations where folks are challenged and such subjects are broached. Also several UU bloggers write on these concerns.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Happy Birthday

My gray cat, Adler, just turned 1 on April 17th. The copper colored cat, Talula, came from the pound so I'm not sure when her birthday is. I decided that April 19th would be a good day to celebrate her birthday. She turns nine years old this year. Cheers!

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Atonement Thoughts

From a friend of mine: The idea of substitutionary atonement has troubled me throughout the past year. I can understand that we have been separated from God through sin. What I don't understand is how God could be limited by our tit-for-tat system of justice.

Why would God demand payment to atone for one's missteps? What kind of loving God would say, "Everything will be alright between us only after an appropriate sacrifice has been made." And what kind of God would subscribe to a "whipping boy" system by sending an innocent to be punished, thereby releasing others of their guilt?

Some people claim that these questions are reflective of our inability to understand the awesomeness of the Divine, but as far as I can tell, this type of cosmic "justice" seems all too human.

My questions about substitutionary atonement became particularly salient when I saw the movie "The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe." In C.S. Lewis's story, the ancient law states that the young boy, Edmund, must be turned over to the White Witch because he betrayed Narnia.

Aslan, the story's Christ-figure, offers up himself in Edmund's place, and this satisfies the White Witch. There is a debt and somebody must pay. While watching the movie, I wondered, "Why is that the law of Narnia? What kind of all-knowing, all-loving Creator would put such a law into place?"

It struck me that the only character referring to the law was the White Witch. Aslan had forgiven Edmund and saw him as the child he was. Perhaps this demand for payment is a human creation. Perhaps God does not require a sacrifice at all.

I set aside some of these thoughts and questions for a few months, and we entered the season of Lent. In late March, I spent one Saturday at a women's clinic that provides abortions. I saw many protesters. I saw some holding up bibles and acting as street preachers.

I saw some standing by large billboard images of bloody limbs, some yelling about Jesus. I saw some following patients and escorts around pushing literature, some photographing patients and escorts to put their pictures up on the web.

Some standing to the side of the escorts talking loudly to their accompanying small children about how "those people" are going to hell unless they turn to Jesus, some eavesdropping on the conversations of escorts to try to catch a name or other piece of information that could be used against them.

I also saw Christ. I saw Christ in the acts of the volunteer escorts as they passively allowed the hurtful words to be hurled. They walked beside the staff and patients, shielding them physically and psychologically. They were not paid to do this.

They simply knew that these people did not deserve the punishments being meted out by the protesters, and they offered up themselves as a small measure of protection.I began to understand the idea of substitutionary atonement. Christ, much like these clinic escorts, takes on the pain of the world that is intended for us.

This is not pain that we deserve in God's view. God does not demand suffering through some cosmic system of debts and repayment. We are targets of the world's limited understanding of justice, and God intervened in this system.

God knows we are children, like Edmund in "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe," and we are simply trying to figure out this thing called life. God does not seek to punish us - or a cosmic "whipping boy" - for our humanness, and yet "for God so loved the world that God gave God's only son." Happy Easter!

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Christianity in Action

"At the invitation of Jimmy Carter nine heads of Baptist denominations met recently and “affirmed their desire to speak and work together to create an authentic and genuine prophetic Baptist voice in these complex times.

They committed themselves to their “obligations as Christians to promote peace with justice, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, care for the sick, welcome the strangers among us, and promote religious liberty and respect for religious diversity.”

Carter, still bringing people together for the good after all these years. I haven't posted on William S Coffin's recent death, but Chuck Currie has links on the life of this prohetic voice from his antiwar activism to his work on glbt inclusion in the church.

This summer the Presbyterians and Episcopalians will have church conventions. A number of major issues confront both churches, so religious progressives in both denominations will have sites which will follow the affairs of their respective gatherings.

Friday, April 14, 2006

The War on Easter

Here's an interesting bit of guerilla evangelism with some tongue in cheek humor. Brian Fleming, the maker of the film The God Who Wasn't There, has set up a group to promote what they call the War on Easter, a rip off from Bill O Reilly's language.

They've been having folks leaflet churches around the country and when possible hide copies of the movie, The God Who Wasn't There in the pews or on the church grounds. It copies the tactics of many evangelicals in spreading the word, which is why in the end the effort will only serve to alienate people.

Think the golden rule. Don't do what you would not want done to you. The same reason that anonymous leaflets, brochures, and confrontational evangelism is annoying when done to atheists will likewise be annoying when done to fundamentalists.

Some will say it's payback but one shouldn't be fooled into thinking that a conversation will begin which such tactics. It's more meant for the edification of the leafleter in the case of fundamentalist evangelists and atheist evangelists, than with the one being targeted.

The film itself is a criticism of fundamentalism, with a mix of some scholars which doubt the existence of Jesus historically. Such a view point, is rare in NT scholarship, though such a debate doesn't have as much bearing on the Christian religion as some might imagine.

Because the incarnational moment is likely to be larger than a person, it's a whole complex set of events which led to the formation of ideas, practices, and religious communities of which we are a product of today. Can such a thing do some good in the world? That and not the history question is key.

I have not had a chance to watch the whole film yet. But the good folks who made the movie are sending me and our campus ministry a copy for free. I don't get the indication that any of them are familiar with liberal or mainline protestantism.

I'll be curious if the film addresses this, since it's not the background of the film maker. It's not as if we in the churches don't read the Jesus Seminar, don't have many of the same ethical and social values which animate these folks.

Reading their war on Easter site, they pick any and all churches in their evangelism efforts. One example is Central United Methodist in Winona, MN. A congregation that links the reconciling movement, a group working for gay and lesbian inclusion in the church.

If you want to start a dialogue, then do the things which you would find engaging yourself instead of what you'd find alientating. And recognize that you do have allies in the churches and other religions who share some of the same values. Some common work might make things happen on this front, will this campaign aid that?

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Faith Based Music

Wesley Blog asks why a Methodist sponsored conference picked Emily Saliers of the Indigo Girls to give a talk instead of some Christian artist. Is Shane familiar with the Indigo Girl's music and lyrics?

Their songs are filled with profound religious insights. I count them as my favorite Christian band. Philosophy of Loss, Closer to Fine, All That We Let In, Galileo have messages that make most "contemporary Christian" music pale in comparison.

Their music has been a backdrop to the work of our campus ministry. Their version of the hymn This is My Song is regularily sung at our weekly worship services. My dream is that the Indigo Girls would consider doing a whole cd of hymns like this.

I again offer an apology for my infrequent postings. I hope to rectify this, but we'll see how that goes. Easter is coming soon. This season reminds me of the pressing need to look for resurrections and signs of hope in our world, even when the evidence points the other way.

Friday, April 07, 2006

National Campaigns

Philosophy Over Coffee has wondered about the effectiveness of the recent UCC commercials as well as the national campaign by the church called God is still speaking.

I don't have much thoughts on the recent ad but in terms of the campaign I think it can play a vital role. It may or may not attract many people, though giving folks an alternative religious vision and home has worked for many churches as long as the basics of building religious communities are held to.

But more than that, it's doing something which may seem at odd for congregationalists, and that's creating a national and distinct identity. I remember talking to a UCC college student about the gay marriage debate and he noted "that's what it means to be UCC".

I have my doubts that many members of the Disciples and other churches could say "that's what it means to be a member of my church", to have a sense of what defines us and why it's important. Others may have it, but mainline protestants as a whole don't.

A lot of the mainline have internalized the relativization of the tradition but now struggling with the "what do we do know", what is our message, the gospel, a hope for oneself and for the wider world which energizes mission and makes the church important.

And given the fact that such a message is not the dominant one, something that much of the mainline has not internalized, the efforts to highlight such a thing becomes all the more imperative. It is not sufficient, but this ad campaign is a step in that direction.

I'm headed off to a conference on Josiah Royce and I'll be delivering a paper on his view of original sin. And I've been active in in the prepartions for sending our students off to the Midwest Student Christian Gathering, a midwest mainline student conference. So I apologize for the sparse postings this last week or so.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Episcopal News

In an effort to remain a member of the Anglican Communion, will the Episcopal Church at their next general convention sacrifice gay and lesbian members of the church? According to a recent Advocate article the likelihood is there.

"The bishops are planning to present resolutions at the General Convention banning the blessing of same sex unions and repenting for the consecration of Robinson, reports London's Daily Telegraph. The bishops are also planning to block the consecration of a second gay bishop in California if the diocese there elects a lesbian or gay man."

The problem with this it pleases no one. Many on the right want the ECUSA out of the communion and this response won't satisfy them. And gay and lesbians and supporters will have reason to not trust the church, when their lives can be a pawn in an ecclesiastical fight.

What's worse about such a move is that it doesn't come from any theological center. It's not an expression of where the bishops or the church is at. It's a form of dishonesty to itself and other churches, done for the purposes of institutional needs rather than conviction.

If the ECUSA caves to the threats of the right, there will cease to be in operation autonomous churches in the communion. Such methods can then be repeated on a whole range of issues, so that by threats rather than debate and discussion the church can be changed to one's party's likings. Will then the ECUSA welcome signs be accurate?