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.

Monday, June 25, 2007

UCC a campaign stop?

There have been some conservative sites that have bashed the United Church of Christ for having Barack Obama speak at their General Synod. I don't agree with them but the issue did raise questions for me.

Obama used his time at the synod as if it was a campaign stop. His speech was marked with campaign promises, references to his presidential run, and so on. He didn't make a distinction between his role as a UCC member and his role as someone seeking elected office.

UCC does not seem at fault here. His speech was supposed to be on piety and American politics. The convention officials worked to ensure no Obama literature or placards would make it to the floor. In other words, he was there as a prominent UCC member, not as a candidate.

Some have faulted the church because there were Obama tables outside of the convention center. But that is outside of their purview or power. At the Episcopal convention in 03, we had Phelps folks outside the center and the church could do nothing about it.

I do fault Obama for not crafting a speech that avoided the appearance of a stump speech and for having folks organizing outside of the convention center. For not respecting the line between speaking on issues and faith and just plain old soliciting voters.

I doubt Obama will get in trouble for such a move. But it's because the religious right has been so successful in removing the barriers between church and state. The sort of regular intermingling of church and candidates is taken for granted now.

While liberal churches should aggressively seek ways to present our message, it should be done in a way which respects the principle of separation of church and state. That is, we shouldn't copy the tactics of the religious right but choose a more excellent way.

Disclaimer I haven't chosen a candidate, but barring any unforeseen changes in the candidates and the political scene, I plan to support John Edwards. But I hope my comments on the first amendment have standing on their own.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Cat Blogging/Misc.

An earnest looking portrait of my 10 year old girl, Talula. And the Vatican releases 10 rules for the road. I don't always find agreement with statements from the Vatican but these are pretty good.

Next month I'll be celebrating 4 years of blogging. It started with responding to the events of the Anglican communion including my visit to the 2003 Episcopal Convention. This site has expanded a bit though many of the issues are the same.

I've appreciated Father Jake's work on the issues facing the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. I've also appreciate a number of folks on the blog roll including people who comment on here such as Pastor Bob Cornwall and Shuck and Jive.

And a nod goes to Eli, Michael S. and Virginia. And then there's Jonathan who has made the comments section of this site see a lot of traffic. 30 responses to woman pastors threw me for a loop. But people's contributions are always valued.

My position with the campus ministry is ending due to lack of funds. I'm looking at attending seminary this fall, seeking ordination with the Disciples of Christ. This summer will mean a move, and some absence from this site, but I hope guest bloggers can fill in.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007


Another quote from Reinhold Niebuhr, this time from his book Man's Nature and His Communities: Ideally the church is a community of "saved" individuals, who know themselves to be "forgiven sinners"

This ideal should make for humility; but the long history of religious self righteousness reveals that religious experience is more effective in inducing repentance for deviation from common standards than in in inducing repentance for the hatred, bigotry, and prejudice involved in the common standards of race and nation, or church.

The adherent of religion must come to terms with the historic facts, that in all collective behavior religious piety is likely to sanctify historical and contingent viewpoints. Religious piety is more apt to be found claiming the divine for an ally of it's own partial viewpoints. "It has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us"

Rather than showing a humble awareness of the relative aspects of all historical loyalties or as bringing forth the fruits of repentance for shortcomings as judged by the transcendent God. Perhaps human self hood in it's collective form constitutionally is unable to imagine any higher value than the common value of it's devotion.

Hence, the redemptive value of dissident individuals, the prophet, the critic, even the rebel, in a free community.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Women Pastors

Sometimes the news is bleak enough about religion that one gets surprised to find good news. But the Christian Reformed Church has just approved the ordination of women.

But the move to equality has just begun. The next step is working on issues from equal pay to access to positions in congregations. Then on to denominational leadership and input. But it's worth noting the significance of this event.

Growing up I never knew that for some this is a big step. Most of the pastors I knew and know are women. I actually had to be explained as a kid that not all churches are like this nor apparently agreed with Paul's claim in Galatians that all are one in Christ.

I'm not sure how this issue has played out in evangelical churches. While the Southern Baptists took a major step back and continue to think of new ways to not include women in leadership, apparently this not the case with pentecostal bodies who have for years relied on women leadership.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Reworking the Lord's Prayer

I've come across various translations of the Lord's Prayer. There is something right about this, because we're never instructed in the Gospels to say the words in the text, but rather to pray *like* this.

There is a way in which familiarity in religion can breed complacence about the meaning and the power behind particular words, passages of scripture, prayers. It's helpful to sometimes tweak it, decenter the listener to hear these words afresh.

But it's hard to find re workings of this prayer that don't take something vital from those words. I'm thinking of this rendering. The first thing I notice is the focus away from physical needs. So our daily bread is often gone, or in this case coupled with insight.

I think this speaks more of our bias as mainline protestants, many of whom are middle class and comfortable enough to feel that insight, or connection with the divine is what is our primary shortfall. We don't as much worry about when our next paycheck is going to come.

Something makes me think that the physical needs would have been central for those listening to Jesus. If we wonder why our churches are white and middle class, it may that we have certain assumptions that get carried into worship and practices which are alien to the experiences of many.

It may be that we don't lack for bread, but if there is a distance between us and the experience of those being responded to in the Gospels, that too could be important for us to be aware of. As Americans how are we like and *not* like those in these stories?

I doubt the word debtors or trespasses communicate the power of sin but neither does mistake. It's hard to think of radical evil as a mistake. And what does it mean to be held back as a replacement from protection from evil? Perhaps those who assume agency find being held back frustrating.

But that seems to have the same middle class bias that was spoken of earlier. When one thinks of radical evil, think Rwanda, protection from evil has a very different meaning than "being held back". And sometimes restraint is called for in leading a good life.

There are some moving words in the translations out there. One of them speaks of God as "The song that beautifies all". I think re workings are fine but I worry if our own class backgrounds end up missing something in these old words, something we need to be attentive to in being bearers of good news.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


A friend of mine sent me an anti-Islamic story that is making the rounds. Some online investigating found the story to have no basis. But below is my response to the overall fear of Islam that grips some evangelicals today.

The story goes that a imam was asked whether Muslims were called to kill Christians and he had to admit yes. But the imam's response is not believable, especially with the number of Quranic passages which speak of respecting the other person, including religious minorities.

"Goodness and evil are not the same. So repel evil with goodness, then the one who had enmity between you becomes a trusted and dear friend" (41:34)

"And fight in the cause of God those who fight against you, and do not commit aggression. Indeed God does not love those who are aggressors," (2:190 )

"And if they (an unbeliever) incline to peace, then incline to it and trust in God; surely He is the Hearing, the Knowing." (8:61)

"there is no compulsion in religion," ( 2:256)

I assume that reading the Qur'an is like reading the Bible. Either you need to have these verses cohere or at least you need to decide how you plan to read the text. Will you read it in a way that increases love of God and of neighbor? Or one that does not?

After all, the Bible also has passages that praise the slaughter of people of other religions.2 Kings 23:20-25 speaks of King Josiah who is clearly a hero in this story.

"He executed the priests of the pagan shrines on their own altars, and he burned human bones on the altars to desecrate them..Never before had there been a king like Josiah, who turned to the LORD with all his heart and soul and strength, obeying all the laws of Moses. And there has never been a king like him since"

Now we could read the Bible as saying that the above action is ok, or we might look to the passages in the Gospels where Jesus speaks of love of neighbor and enemy. Matthew 5-7 and use that as our guide. I'd go with the latter. And most Muslims go with the verses that I quoted from the Qur'an.

I've had the pleasure of working with Muslims and people of other religions through the Carbondale Interfaith Council and they have demonstrated the kind of charity and regard that would serve as a model for others of any faith.

Of course there are bad apples in both religions who will use the Bible and the Qur'an for whatever hateful purpose they want from the KKK to terrorist groups. But why impugn a whole religion or a whole people over a misreading of their scriptures or by the actions of a few? How does that increase our love of God and of neighbor?

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Richard Rorty 1931-2007

Richard Rorty, one of the more well known public intellectuals and philosophers in this country just recently passed away. He will be remembered by many for his role in reviving interest in American pragmatism.

His writings on religion are sparse and not always satisfying. He tends to privatize religion so that it doesn't intrude in public life. But sometimes I think he got something of religion and I'll quote such a passage from his 2000 book, Philosophy and Social Hope.
A pragmatist philosophy of religion must follow Tillich and others in distinguishing quite sharply between faith and belief.

Liberal Protestants are willing to talk about their faith in God, but demur at spelling out just what beliefs that faith includes. Fundamentalists, are happy to enumerate their beliefs by reciting the Creed, and to identify their faith with those beliefs.

The reason the Tillichians think they can get along either without creeds, or with a blessedly vague symbolic interpretation of creedal statements is that they think the point of religion is:

To make the sort of difference to a human life which is made by the presence or absence of love. The best way to make Tillich and fuzziness look good, and to make creeds look bad, is to emphasize the similarity between having faith in God and being in love with another human being.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Evolution and Faith

My stab at creationism has generated more discussion than I thought it would. In response to Jonathan, who has debated me the last few of weeks I thought I'd post on evolution and it's effects on Christian faith.

Evolution means that creation is not only a past event but a present and continuing process. Thus God has to be ever present in the unfolding of life. Deism died with Darwin's origin of species, replaced by Calvin's view that God upholds the world moment by moment.

The need for salvation isn't contingent on Genesis. It's an observable moral fact about the world we live in. Reading a daily paper makes the need apparent. Genesis is a very insightful response to that need but not it's source. I think the temptation is to flip those around.

If we thought of a soul as that which makes us us, our personality, histories then yes other animals have souls. And they partake in God's salvation story as well. The Bible assumes as much. For instance in Hosea, God makes a covenant with the animals.

We shouldn't think of the image of God as based on some criteria that humans have or share because if it's something we have, you'll shortly find that there is somebody who doesn't have it. And they lose out in our society. Rather to say that we are made in the image of God should be indicative of God's posture towards us.

I don't see how sin, redemption, soul, or imagio dei are nullified by evolution. I think some of these concepts are actually strengthened with the story. The one thing that could changes are views about mortality. And that issue I'll save for another post.

Thursday, June 07, 2007


I know the graphic is an old one but it represents what kind of science backs up creationism. You need to click on the graphic to see the image in it's fullest size.

I also wanted to plug a new blog which I'll be adding to the blog roll. It's called Reclaiming the F Word (yes, the F word is faith). Some thought provoking reflections on the church is to be found on this site. An example from her site includes this:

"How come sex is such a big deal that it has, in fact, become the ONLY deal? How come, where pastoral leaders are concerned, our denominations don't have zero tolerance for sloth? Or cynicism? Or arrogance? Or incompetence? Or cowardliness?

Or indifference in the face of injustice, nationalistic aggression, racism, and the kind of rampant consumerism that is killing the planet and creating a gap between rich and poor wide enough for whole continents to fall through?"

Monday, June 04, 2007

Media and the mainline

Check out this graphic from media matters if you want to see the significant voice that religious conservatives have in the media in juxtaposition to progressives.

What is also interesting is that if you look at the progressive speakers, few represent the mainline protestant tradition. It'd be interesting to see how many mainline leaders are asked to speak on matters of faith and theology, not just politics.

Of the list I recognize Jim Edgar from the Nat'l Council of Churches and John Thomas, who heads up the United Church of Christ. Lots of reasons for the public perception about religion and Christianity in particular, but the media coverage certainly plays a part.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Immigration Quote

The Christian faith teaches that our common humanity is more important than our nationality. That all of us, ultimately, are strangers in this world and brothers to the bone; and all in need of amnesty. This belief does not dictate certain policies in a piece of legislation, but it does forbid rage and national chauvinism. And this is worth a reminder as well.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Contra Harris

Sam Harris goes after Chris Hedges as another religious liberal who is busy shielding religion from criticism. Hedges mind you is the author of a book that labels the religious right as fascistic. Sounds critical to me.

"Real religion has nothing to do with superstition, irrational beliefs, or tribalism." says Hedges. Harris rejects the claim given the great amount of superstition and tribalism we find in the world today and he accuses Hedges of sidestepping this.

But Hedges is not describing majority expressions of religion. Instead he focuses on "real religion". Such a religion widens our loyalties. God is the God of the world, not just one group. It calls for the highest reflection because it's object is one which calls out the highest in us.

But Harris replies it's a dodge because he's going after what most people follow. And he trots out poll numbers on several beliefs he finds fantastic. But why judge religion solely on the most crass examples of it. Of course why judge it by the best it can offer either?

I can see that, if we reflect on the best and the worst of it, we might find that religion is neither a poison that ruins everything nor is it the savior of humanity. It's made up of a mix, most people in it neither angelic or demonic, rational or irrational, but a mixture.

Of course one could say that of atheists as well. Looking for the best or the worst and judging it accordingly is a dead end. But there may be resources in a number of religious systems, systems of thought that together might be applied to the problems of human life.

Which is why prematurely shutting down one side, is neither liberal or rational. If we decide before hand that thousands of years of thought and practice must be ignored or never looked at, we're not engaging in the sort of free thought that the times require of us.

I wonder how irrational the bulk of religion is, as practiced by most of us; ie the religion of the churches, synagogues, mosques, and covens. Are they really drenched in irrational beliefs? I doubt so. Maybe the articulation of certain beliefs don't stand up to scrutiny.

But there is a difference between our language and the referent to such language. Maybe God language is not well conceived but that doesn't mean that belief in God must be irrational, including for those not in a position to articulate their beliefs well.

And it wouldn't be irrational if such beliefs really do make sense out of the world. Ancestor worship; given our dependence on those before us, how irrational is such a practice? God saving us; given the transformations we've seen in people, is such a belief out of bounds?

Maybe we would or wouldn't use the same language to describe such things, but it doesn't mean that the person using such language must be irrational, given what function such language could serve in making sense of their own experiences.

And Harris has noted, the role of experience legitimates some religious language. In the case of meditation he makes such an allowance even though for some reason he rules it out for prayer. Maybe not rational, but it suggests which prejudices govern Harris.