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, March 25, 2007

Liberalism and Mainline decline

In response to the story that "liberalism" of the 60s has caused mainline decline: But the move to a liberal understanding of faith probably dates back to the late 1700s, the late 1800s in a more recognizable form.

Walking through a divinity school in 1907 you would likely hear far more doubt about basic Christian doctrines and their traditional articulation than you would hear in 2007.

Before there was the National Council of Churches, there was the Federal Council of Churches. The sort of social witness groups, such as Methodist Federation for Social Action, were created around the turn of the last century.

This is all to say that I've noticed the propensity of baby boomers both left and right seem to think that anything of importance must have happened since the 1960s. And since the 60s coincides with the fall off of mainline membership it works great for a certain narrative.

But there was religious liberalism before the membership decline. And there are conservative mainline churches like the Missouri Synod Lutherans who face the same drop off situation and in some respects the Southern Baptists as well.

And of course there are liberal religious groups growing such as Reform Judaism. More interesting is the fact that folks not identifying with any religion has doubled over the last decade or so. That's the biggest growth your seeing.

Having one group of Christians relishing over their growth numbers (which has little or no relation to any Gospel rational) and rejoicing against mainline numbers shows alack of charity and avoids the issue of the overall decline of religious identification in this country.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Not a Monolith

"To penalise someone because of their sexual orientation is like what used to happen to us; to be penalised for something which we could do nothing [about] -- our ethnicity, our race. I would find it quite unacceptable to condemn, persecute a minority that has already been persecuted."

Desmond Tutu, who presented a different view of the Anglican Communion debate recently in Kenya. The Church in the "South" is not a monolith anymore than the church "North" is.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Open Table

In Wyoming a lesbian couple in a Catholic parish was denied communion because of their public opposition to anti-gay marriage legislation that the legislature was considering.

I'm a protestant and not Catholic, but the idea that communion could be used as a litmus test, political or otherwise is disconcerting. Most of the folks Jesus would eat with in the NT would hardly meet any litmus in their day. How can we set them up in our day?

The image I have, with communion is that of an open table fellowship that Jesus practiced with a wide range of "sinners". It's a table that he invites us to, not something we set up, and if he has set that table, who are we to act as bouncers at his banquet?

At our campus ministry we welcome anyone who feels called to the table. Most churches will accept any baptized Christian, but I'm not sure if the welcome is broad enough to include those called to eat who may or may not identify with a given tradition. But they should be.

I've revamped my links and will be adding some new links in the future. I've already added Jspot and Ponderings on a Faith Journey. If you have some recommended additions to the list or know the whereabouts of Beppepodcast and Kinesis, please let me know.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Moral Limits and Foreign Policy

There's been talk on the left on how how it is that we have a narrative of the GOP which speaks of strength and power while the narrative for the Dems is one of weakness.

Especially when you pit a war hero like Kerry vs. Bush, or war heroes like McGovern and Carter who both served in the 2nd World War. The speculation usually is that GOP voters are easily cowed, needing a daddy figure who can rescue them from their fears.

Here's a different thesis. There is something that connects Kerry and McGovern, besides their military record, and there is something that connects Reagan and Bush, besides skipping out of such service. And that something is what the GOP uses for its narrative.

Often democratic candidates speak of limits to US power, whether practical or moral limits. They speak of consideration for the concerns of other nations, for treaty obligations, and for law. The concern for law breaking that attended the spying story is an example.

Often republican candidates revel in the defying of such things as laws, treaties, concern for other nations, the United Nations. Strength is defined to do what one wants without reference to any other concern. Weakness is the willingness to be hemmed in by such things.

Every GOP candidate can sound strong when they laugh at the French or UN resolutions. And every democrat candidate can sound "weak", despite their personal acts of bravery because they want to act in reference to some limit from congress to treaties.

Reinhold Niebuhr wrote a book Children of Light, Children of Darkness. What distinguished the two? The first sees actions; individual as well as national ones with reference to some higher moral ideal that regulates one's individual interests and desires.

Children of Darkness are folks where individual interest and will is sufficient to justify any and all actions. "What can mixture can light have with darkness?" the apostle Paul asks? I'm not sure, but I think it's defining the foreign policy debate today.

Does that mean that the children of light always gets it right? Not for Niebuhr, in fact he thinks that the children of darkness is more likely to have a better sense of human nature and work it for their own ends. There can be a naivety among the children of light.

Does this mean that lightness and darkness depends on party? No. It means that often strength is treated as being free from obligation. When you see a foreign policy that talks this way, it's one which is not moral. When there are limits, a place for morality comes in.

Friday, March 09, 2007

One Cheer for Mohler

I find almost nothing to agree with when it comes to Al Mohler. But when you find something it's worth pointing it out. It's Ann Coulter use of the word faggot against Edwards.

"So..why would Ann Coulter use that word? And, even more troubling to me, why would any in her audience laugh? It is meant to hurt when boys use it in the locker room, and it was meant to hurt when Ann Coulter used it when speaking to a conservative audience."

"It demeans homosexuals and should be banned from any acceptable discourse. How can homosexuals think anything but the worst of a movement that would laugh at the use of this slur? How can we think any better of ourselves if we stand by and let it happen?"

There's been some talk on why the conservative movement so readily embraces Coulter and the language of gay bashing and "feminizing' the opposition. I'm glad that Mohler is upset about this.

But the whole religious and cultural apparatus that props up a vision of "masculinity" and feeds opposition to gay and lesbians is under girded by the much of the evangelical movement today. I don't expect Mohler can or has the resources to address this.

Especially when he has devoted much of his time promoting this view. At least when one of it's negative fruits comes to bear he recognizes it as such. Maybe that's a starting point to begin a conversation about gender, sexuality, and other such issues to choke off such fruit.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Discussing Theology

I ran across this exchange between Jeremiah Wright and Sean Hannity. Wright is the pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, the home congregation of Senator Barack Obama.

The right has decided that African American Christianity is a form of separatism. A quote by Wright: "The African-centered point of view does not assume..separatism. It assumes Africans speaking for themselves as subjects in history, not objects in history."

What does it mean to be a subject, not an object? That's a concept worth exploring, but obviously Hannity and Colmes was not the place to do it. It becomes clear how few avenues exist to meaningfully talk about religion and philosophy in a public forum today. That's a shame.

That became evident when Wright pressed Hannity on his knowledge and background with black liberation theology. How is it that in the media it is possible to make a number of definitive claims about a subject, particularly religion without any background.

There was a time when the media would go to a Tillich or a Niebuhr when raising a religious question. Now background on religion or philosophy is not needed to make pronouncements on these subjects. Any politician, any scientist, heck Ann Coulter will do.

That's unfortunate. Not just because it feeds into a negative view of religion in this country. But because it prevents any sort of honest discussion about the topic in a way which connects with the resources that are out there.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Myths to Live By

The newest issue of Free Inquiry and they had a piece by Richard Dawkins and in this he presents a question: why not appeal to universal morality rather than the Bible to mediate morality?

It's odd to read about universal morality, because it's something that is progressive for Dawkins. This vision is being negotiated over time, but always in a better state than before. I'm not sure where the evidence for this can be found, except in isolated cases.

From genocide to slavery our atrocities as humans continues. And if the cases for improvement are isolated, than have we reached a universal morality? I can grant that life is better for gays now than 3o years ago in a few places. And Dawkins appeals to this issue.

But in most of the world, this is *not* the case. Witness Nigeria's consideration of legislation which bans any gays from meeting with each other, supporting organizations, etc. So isn't the universal really some modern liberal sensibilities that Dawkins holds?

I hold them as well. But such ideas have a history and connect little with most of the globe, so what makes them universal? The other question is if we are negotiating these moral standards, why close off resources, including thousands of years of tradition?

Why not look at the Bible, the Qur'an, Homer, Plato as well as the best minds and resources of today in wrestling with the question: how shall we live? We may find something objectionable in these texts, but that's no different than finding things wrong with current thought.

There is no pure standpoint (universal morality) to judge ancient texts. There is nothing higher to appeal to evaluate ancient and current moral understandings. So all we have is us, our history, our tradition, and the resulting engagement of these things.

And in the end, where do we learn these things but by stories/myths, whether it's the myth of Genesis or the myth of progressive development? We're story tellers and listeners of stories. Not abstract philosophic treatises but stories capture the mind.

I'm not sure what Dawkins replaces this with but it may be that the limits of modern atheism is the lack of a good story and the means to communicate that story in an engaging fashion so as to build communities, raise children, and communicate values.

That is, atheism is really bad at perpetuating memes.

Sunday, March 04, 2007


For the last few months this blog has not seen a lot of new posts. I'm hoping to change that. This site keeps me connected and gives me a good excuse to read a number of excellent blogs out there.

But I've had a number of things that have prevented from posting. There's been the conflict I've had with the campus ministry I work with over it's primary identity and mission. Getting that nailed down has been a concern in establishing a long term basis for student ministry.

In this process I've discovered something about myself. I love conflict and fighting the good fight when it's against "those folks" such as the religious right. It's invigorating. But when it's an internal conflict, with folks who are in the same group, it emotionally tears me down.

The expense of graduate school, lack of funding, etc. has moved me to a decision to leave school for awhile and go job hunting both close as well as in far off places. Getting some financial wherewithal is good but it takes me away from present tasks to be done.

This has made the blog come to a standstill. I still owe Gay Spirituality a post as well. I'm thinking that instead of giving up something for Lent, it would be good to put something forward, in this case postings for this site. It could be a discipline of sorts.

Two notes: the picture is of Adler, my youngest cat, who likes being covered when possible. I've been following the presidential race. And closely examining Obama and Richardson. But I thought I'd plug nice interview with Edwards about his faith.