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.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Irreconcilable?

Recently a speech by Bob Edgars, head of the National Council of Churches was highlighted by the Prodigal Sheep. In it he speaks of two different Christianities which constitute "two voices that are not reconcilable".

While I know the culture wars and the church break ups make it next to impossible to see how reconciliation is possible, it does disturb me that the head of one of the largest and oldest ecumenical organizations in the country can use such language.

That is what an ecumenical agency is supposed to be. They exist to broaden the conversation, to bring opposing sides together, to increase the possibilities of cooperation if not some form of church unity. How does one go from that to speak of the "irreconcilable"?

It raises a question of whether the NCC performs that function or if it's role in the public life is more social justice in nature. It's not that the latter can be ignored. Especially not in this time with torture and secret prisons. We need that voice more than ever.

But I worry about what groups exist that are in a position to bring opposing sides together. If we believe that God affects reconciliation, whether in the ministry of Jesus or in our world today, working for such an end seems key for the church in a divided world.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

A Real Debate

I've been following the right's reactions to the Episcopal convention. I came across Cal Thomas's piece which claims that liberals are trying to be "relevant" and "poll driven" in their inclusion of gay and lesbians.

Conservatives in this debate want to be treated as if they have serious theological concerns when it comes to homosexuality. They don't want to be simply dismissed as bigots and that doing so stops debate. The same consideration needs to be given to liberals as well.

There are real moral and theological reasons that liberals support gay and lesbian inclusion. We are not trying to curry favor. Look at the polls on these culture war issues and ask yourself, who is more in line with it, the Southern Baptists or the Episcopal Church?

If you want to find who is poll driven, look at the two political parties. They shift and turn with the newest polls. If any decision looks costly they abandon it. Look at the Episcopal Church. They are threatened with expulsion from the Communion and continual attacks.

Even if life would be a lot easier in the communion if they stopped insisting that gay and lesbians are welcome they continue to do so anyways. They continue to risk punishments because they as fervently believe in this as much as the right believes their claims.

If there's going to be real discussion, something which is rare, even more so in the church, it's going to have to be over the real theological issues at stake, not simply dimissing the other side with ulterior motives. Let's assume folks really believe in their cause.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Personal News

I usually don't delve into personal news. In fact it took me awhile to start a blog because I thought this was the point of them. But since this news has bearing on the blog, I thought I'd mention it.

I was just hired to be director of University Christian Ministries, a UCC/Disciples ministry in IL. Given that we're the only liberal religious ministry on campus, we have a unique set of responsibilities and opportunities to affect the way religion is seen on campus.

Along with this, I've been exploring the possibilities of ordination within the Disciples of Christ. The first step would be to become a licensed minister for the campus ministry. I've been working with the state conference on this and the requirements for ordination.

I also recently defended my master's thesis in philosophy on Wieman's theory of creative interchange. Much of that work has affected the site and in many ways the reverse. The topic was applying his ideas to the conflicts which continue to plague the mainline.

Lastly, I was unable to afford the UUA convention. But I hope all went well with the gathering. Someday I'll make it to such a meeting, if only to meet up with other UU bloggers. I was able to attend St. Louis Pride and was impressed by the positive religious presence there.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Compromise?

Realizing that the Episcopalians had passed nothing on gay bishops, something demanded by other churches in the Anglican "communion", a last minute resolution was pushed through by the leadership.

It says that the church needs to practice "restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion" Funny language it is.

Jesus would have qualified for this, as someone whose manner of life challenged the wider society and religion. Martin Luther King's life did this as well. It would strike me as a Christian calling that one's life be a challenge for themselves and the world.

In it's language it's not so much a ban on gay bishops as it's a statement that some in the ECUSA believe can be presented to the wider church. But does anyone believe the right will accept this as adequate? You can read virtueonline for their reactions.

One gets the impression that the only way the right can be satisfied is the expulsion of gays, women, and liberals from any role in the church. I respect the intent behind the resolution to keep dialogue going but I wonder if there has ever been dialogue in the first place?

I don't see the resolution as an indication that gay and lesbians are not fully welcome in the Episcopal church. But I worry that this compromise doesn't represent the mind of the ECUSA nor will it offer anything to those determined to see the ECUSA supplanted.

I worry about the democratic process which led to its passage. Apparently the debate was severely limited, the resolution had little time for deliberation, and strong arm rhetoric was used on the delegates, which is not fair to them or the church.

The spirit behind the resolution is commendable but it assumes that the ECUSA has someone to negotiate with first, where both sides really want to hear each other and want to live together. No resolution can produce that. Only God working on those involved can.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Year of the Woman

One of the things which may or may not receive comment but it's worth highlighting is the selection of three women leaders to lead three protestant denominations in the US during this year.

Earlier this year Sharon Watkins was chosen to lead the Disciples of Christ. And this week Joan Gray was elected to lead the Presbyterian Church USA and Katherine Jefferts Schori was chosen to lead the Episcopal Church.

It's an historical moment for the church. Schori is the first woman leader in the Anglican Communion, the reaction against her by the right has been as swift as against Gene Robinson, suggesting a link with the issue of including women and gay and lesbians.

Correction: These three join Nancy Wilson, who was selected as the moderator of the Metropolitan Community Churches last year. Maybe the strides made in the inclusion of women gives us a map and lessons for gay and lesbian inclusion in the future.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Close Gitmo

Conditions at Guantanamo are in the news with the suicide of three prisoners. Such an event was "foreseeable in light of the harsh and prolonged conditions of their detention, and reinforces the need for the urgent closure of the detention centre"

The US response to the suicides? “Martyr operations are a form of terrorism." As one person noted at Republic of T: "That’s what the Romans said about the Christians." Are we the new Rome? How does the church respond to such a reality?

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Convention Time

Back in August of 2003 I started this blog partly in response to my visit to the Episcopal convention in Minneapolis where saw lay delegates debate the selection of Gene Robinson as bishop.

Though I'm not Episcopalian the church has produced a number of folks and actions that provided me space to work out my faith, to question things without feeling that I needed to walk away from the church. Btw Susan Russell site is covering the 2006 gathering.

The Presbyterians are meeting as well. They've just selected a moderator who said that she can't get her mind around the idea that homosexuality is part of God's plan. The mainline sometimes has a curious sense of what it means to split the difference.

Some of have suggested have that the Southern Baptists meeting has taken a more measured route in keeping the independence of their women's division, in voting down proposals for baptists to leave the public schools. Is it a sign of a shift in the denomination?

If I can get the money or a ride I plan to attend next week's UUA general assembly. What's odd is that I've never been to the assembly of my own denomination, the Disciples of Christ. That's going to have to change for next year. I admit, I'm a sucker for such things.

Friday, June 09, 2006

News Bias

Richard Ostling has a piece on the problems that religious groups face if gay marriage becomes legal in more places. The bias in the piece is that no consideration given to religious groups who do support gay marriage.

They've into problems because gay marriage is illegal in most places. There was the case of the two Unitarian ministers who were charged by the a NY district attorney with "solemnizing" gay marriages. They could have faced up to two years in prison for their actions.

Ostling's piece also conflates churches with religious agencies which receive federal and state funds, quasi public groups like the Catholic Charities in Boston would not be in a position to discriminate. And yet that doesn't mean that congregations would face the same thing.

No church has ever been forced to perform an interracial marriage or been forced to admit women pastors, etc. The change in the laws did affect public agencies, not churches. The piece, not having this distinction, ends up increasing fears among conservative churches.

I've noticed that Ostling and another religious reporters tend to be one sided when it comes to religion, usually skewed to the right. Another example is a piece which claims that social justice work by the Methodist means less members, repeating the claims of the IRD.

I wanted to note the defeat of the federal marriage amendment. I think the tide is turning on that issue. The Minnesota Methodists recently voted to support gay marriage in the church and the United Church of Christ applauds the defeat of the FMA.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Marriage Amendment

The senate is debating the Federal Marriage Amendment. Republic of T gives reasons the why writing this kind of discrimination into the constitution harms families. Clergy for Fairness goes into the religious opposition to this amendment.

Some of the religious voices against this amendment include the United Church of Christ, Reform Judaism, the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, the UUs, and Quakers. To call your senator the number is 202-224-3121. And White House's phone number is 202-456-1111.

Questing Christian raises the issue of the language the anglican right and left give to themselves and others, in particular whether it's possible to develop a words which are neutral. One word for the left, which made the rounds in the 20s and 30s, is reconstructionist.

One is not constructing faith from nothing. Rather one takes the materials of the tradition and reworks thems, reconstructs them, in a way fitting to the world we live in, adding our bit in to the process knowing that this process will continue beyond us.

But the word is tainted since some on the christian right who favor theocracy claim the word. But if one looks at Reconstruction Judaism, the name for the movement was chosen in the 30s indicating the original use of the word as a liberal religious label.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

A Response

A conservative Methodist pastor raises some questions so I figured I'd take a stab at them:
Why does the separation of church and state mean clergy cannot speak out against abortion but they can speak out on immigration?
Clergy can free to speak out on any issue they feel moved to speak out on. Though clergy should not be given deference on these issues because they are clergy, they speak as any other citizen does.
Why must I seek to be sensitive to not offend in preaching but I'm not allowed to be offended by crass films
We're called to a higher standard than profiteers. Paul highlights this in a number of passages but to preserve community means we do not seek to be a stumbling block to others. This reflects a thoughtful stance to others that a common life requires.
Why does Limbaugh not get medical privacy that AIDS and cancer patients get?
Because he's a celebrity. It's a dual edge sword because Limbaugh has the followers and financial success as a celebrity so when bad things happen such as his drug addiction, it too takes on celebrity status.
Why can Christians be mocked but not Islam?
Every religion and aspect of society needs the jabbing of humor and satire to knock down our self pretensions. Can it be done in a way which is good naturedly? One way to help in this is to primarily make fun of ourselves instead of others.
Why do social justice passages matter but not sexual immorality passages in the Bible?
This could be asked of the religious right as well in the reverse. The reason is it's assumed justice = lefty politics, sexual morality = religious right politics. I suspect the Bible doesn't fit so neatly into these categories though.
Why are folks raising a stink about illegal wiretapping when a democratic congressman did this against Newt Gingrich and there was no such similar protest?
The difference is that it involved one person and it was recognized as an illegal act. Today the spying covers all Americans and we have an administration who claims to be above the laws that make his spying program illegal. That's a problem everyone shuld be upset over.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Presbyterian Breakup

The Presbyterian's general assembly is meeting this month in Birmingham Alabama and apparently the right is using this as the watershed moment to decide whether they will split the church.

At issue is the Peace, Unity, Purity report, a series of proposals put out by a denominational commission. The right believes it involves a local option that would give flexibility to presbyteries on how they handle issues including gay and lesbian inclusion.

A number of presbyteries have produced statements threatening to leave or at least engage in a "trial separation", if the denomination approves the report. Among these are the presbyteries of San Joaquin in California and Prospect Hill in Iowa.

They write about their concerns over the affectional "bonds" of the community which are at risk if more liberal areas of the church are allowed to be glbt inclusive, but I'm not sure what affections are connecting a church in which coercion govern the day.

Heresy trials do not speak of affection. If their assessment of the PUP is accurate their ability to use coercive instruments will have been stymied Thus the consideration being given to schism. But keeping the ability to coerce will not bring unity or peace to the church.

It may produce uniformity but unity, for Paul, is something which allows differnces to contribute to the whole thus the church is not just the hands or the feet or the arms, it's all of this and each part (even us liberals)is integral to the church being the church.

Without that, all you've got is a group of like minded folks who agree. Instead of the unity Paul envisioned, we have the uniformity that any secular group is able to produce. Instead of a unity under God we have a uniformity based on similar interests and practices.