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, February 29, 2008

Bush and the Church

It's has been remarked by various commentators how every area of government has been politicized under George Bush. But the affects this has had on the mainline church has not recieved much notice.

A few years ago, mainline churches were declared not religious bodies by the US government so as to allow for more restrictions in terms of contacts with Cuba. The mainline church's support of foreign missions in Cuba was affected for the worse as a result.

Now the IRS is threatening the United Church of Christ's status because of Obama's speech to the 2007 General Synod. It's unprecedented for a denomination to be threatened in this manner. Oddly enough, I ended up writing about Obama's speech last year.

While I was critical of Obama's speech, which I believed cross lines of electioneering, it is also clear that the UCC took a number of precautions against crossing any lines from the topic to be spoken of to the banning of placards in the convention center.

But I wonder if there isn't a pattern here. I know two examples may not be enough but I wonder if there are other examples where the mainline church was in the cross hairs of the Bush administration? Has the politicization of our government made the church a target?

I doubt that "defenders" of Christian faith in the media, etc. will be up in arms. They represent the politicization of the church. In other news, Pew has released a new survey on the state of religion in the country. I hope a future post can respond to this.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Same Old Church News

Apparently a Pittsburgh Presbytery committee plans to pursue new charges against the Rev. Janet Edwards for officiating a wedding between two women.

And the top court in the Presbyterian Church USA made clear that ordination of non celibate gay and lesbians is forbidden by the constitution. The local option is dead unless something changes at General Assembly. Back to square one.

More Light argues that such bans do "not offer thoughtful guidance on Christian sexual ethics for (LGBT) persons who are single or in faithful relationships." In the name of morality, in otherwords, moral guidance and support is removed from LGBT folks.

It's hard to see how mainline protestants can use methods which have little relation to their respective traditions to justify GLBT exclusion. In 2008. I doubt many GLBT folks will wait around another 40 years for the church to get it together on this issue.

For a different topic: a friend sent to me a website which has Garfield cartoons without Garfield. Kind of spooky. As the site says "Meet Jon Arbuckle. Let’s laugh and learn with him on a journey deep into the tortured mind of an isolated young everyman.."

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Random Thoughts

Deep Thoughts asks "They claim that thinking about robbing a bank, is the same as robbing the bank. What does it matter what I think?" Actions matter more than thoughts but I don't think thoughts can be dismissed.

There must be a difference between being having a brief desire to "kill someone" while driving in traffic versus someone who sits down to plot how such a murder might take place and plays out the scenario repeatedly in the mind but never commits the act.

The latter while not doing the act probably would disturb us for a reason. Just like the person who downloads rape porn while never raping a person would equally disturb us. There comes a point where entertaining ideas ends up shaping the kind of person we are.

I don't think it's a call to be obsessive about thoughts but Paul's advice still holds "whatever is true, whatever is honorable..whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."

My pastor keeps on refering to fundamentalists as orthodox and our church being liberal, as not as much. I think that cedes something that isn't evident and can obscure how much liberal Protestantism can (and does in her congregation) drink from the well of the tradition.

Bob Cornwall has an excellent essay on the moral price for accepting torture. A key line: "Torture violates the basic dignity of the human person that all religions, in their highest ideals, hold dear. It degrades everyone involved" When we're silent we're also implicated.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Culture War Costs

Here's a post at Shuck and Jive about how the right assumes everyone who has left the Presbyterian Church USA did it in protest against the presence of liberals and gay people in that denomination.

I'm certain that can be the case for some, but I suppose such folks could never consider the idea the opposite occurs as well. I grew up in the PCUSA (and whatever the northern church was pre-1983) but a number of events led me to leave the denomination:

Local fundies who took over the campus ministry at my undergrad school. The renewal groups that targeted Celebrate (a college student gathering), just like they did Re-Imagining (a women's gathering). This gave an idea of what folks were willing to do for political points.

And then there was the case of Paul Capetz, which indicated to me, along with the various church trials against GLBT supportive pastors, that good people were not safe in the denomination. And there really are a lot of good people in the PCUSA.

So I left and found myself in the Disciples of Christ (and in some manner the UCC), which while not always better on these issues, doesn't seem to have big "renewal" groups, nor does it have the polity that can allow a small select group to go after folks.

Is the right's doctrinal purity and stopping gay cooties more important than those of us who have left the denomination over their actions? Hmm. It does speak of a particular blindness where one can't imagine the other. Statements from church fights suggests as much.

On a side note: the fundamentalist take over of my undergrad campus ministry was really the last time I was a member of the PCUSA. The later examples are reasons why I shy away from the PCUSA despite the great people I know in that denomination.

In some ways, in college, I was a good candidate for someone dropping out of Christianity and the church all together. But some friends pointed me to a progressive ministry where my questions were welcomed as opposed to deeming me a heretic.

That campus ministry is, in large measure, why I am in the church today. It's why I'm committed to seeing a progressive Christian presence on college campuses today. If the mainline has a future it's to be found here. But that's for a another story and post.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Friendship, Justice, and the Church

Even the Devils Believe has a thought provoking post on the question of love, rights, and mutual sacrafice in community and explores the thought of Katheryn Tanner and Rowan Williams.

The distinction I work with is Aristotles: there is a different way of ordering life among friends and the wider society. One is defined by love while the other has an element of justice. Justice is necessary when we don’t actively seek the good of others, to build them up, etc.

So then we need external rules to at least mitigate against the possibility of abuse, ie an injustice from occuring. How does that relate to the church? Well the fact that we’re not a society of friends is a scandal, the scandal of the church.

But this appears to be a given because of our fallen world. So how does one develop an ecclessiology fitting to the ideal (agapic love) and the reality (injustice by those with power over others). That’s a tension I don’t think the we've ever found a satisfactory answer to.

I think one model is the one explored in this post. If one can have a congregationalism that takes it’s relations to the wider church seriously there is a possibility that decision making will occur among people who have personal interactions and relations.

If we do have personal relations the possibility of a genuine friendship among people is greater than when we're dealing with the abstract "them". In the early church, bishops generally served a conregation or maybe a city. Maybe another model?

Friday, February 15, 2008

Science and Faith

The UCC is starting a campaign to connect religious faith and science and to bypass the old conflict between the two. Evolution Sunday is another attempt, by honoring the work of Darwin and biology in our attempt to understand God's world.

If we agree with Augustine that truth is undivided, that knowledge gained from other disciplines should have significance for our religion, that faith should seek to illuminate and not obscure our vision of the world, then such a campaign is a necessary one.

It also serves to open faith up to those who refuse to shelve what they know about the world to walk into a church. A recommendation for the Disciples of Christ. You tube is a potent way to present the church to an online audience, something the UCC has already discovered.

And to follow a popular online meme, Chris Tessone needed to tag a 5th person for this, so I'm volunteering for that role. It works like this: Grab the nearest book. Open to p. 123. Go down to the 5th sentence. Type in the following 3 sentences. Tag five people.

I'm modifying this: I don't know 5 blogs who haven't done this and I'm technically going to type four sentences. This is from the 1933 volume containing a debate between Max Otto, Clyde Macintosh, and Henry Nelson Wieman titled Is There a God? Wieman says:
But humans, at least part of the time, do dream of the best possible that ever may come to pass, and strive for it as a collective enterprise for all human kind throughout history. This striving is religion.

Now the best possible..can be a possibility, only because of something on in existence which makes it a possibility. This something going on, especially in respect to what exceeds the conscious control and projects of man, is God.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The God of the Living

There has been some discussion on the way some Christians are able to exploit human weakness, get folks who are down and out, and use that as a reason why they need God and the church.

I have no doubt that God and the church can make a way for people in desperate straits. But we can't reside there. Faith and God doesn't begin and end in crises situations, but rather over the whole of life, in the good and heroic situations as well the bad and the mundane.

That's not to downplay the role faith can play in a crises, but the kind of religion which stays there or has to induce it in an exploitative manner speaks badly of the religion founded by a man who called people into life.

One German theologian who highlights this issue is Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was martyred by the Nazis but while in prison he wrote this on April 30th, 1944:
Religious people speak of God when human perception is at an end, or human resources fail; it is really always the Deus ex machina they call to their aid, either for the so called solving of insoluble problems or as support in human failures

Always, that is to say, helping out human weakness or on the borders of human existence. Of necessity, that can only go on until men can, by their own strength push those borders a little further, so that God becomes superfluous as a Deus ex machina.

I have come to be doubtful even about talking of "borders of human existence" It always seems to me that in talking thus we are only seeking to frantically to make room for God.

I should like to speak of God not on the borders of life but at its center, therefore not in death but in his life. On the borders it seems to me better to hold our peace and leave the problem unsolved.

The church stands not where the human powers give out, on the borders, but in the center of the village. That is the way it is in the Old Testament and in this sense we still read the New Testament far too little on the basis of the Old.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Being Overlooked

Altoona Atheist has been highlighting a baptist pastor in Kentucky who seems to work at outdoing Fred Phelps. He's been holding mock funerals of key people he hates including Hillary Clinton.

He's recently turned his sites against a "sodomite" United Church of Christ congregation that is open and affirming because of their welcome of gay and lesbians and their work with a number of churches in supporting an AIDS ministry in this community.

The ministry is aptly called the Matthew 25 Aids Services and is sponsored by Mt. Zion UCC, the PCUSA, First United Methodist, First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Community Baptist Church, St. Paul's Episcopal Church, and the Holy Name of Jesus.

I'm glad that this pastor's hate is being called out. It should be. But none of these sites seemed to noticed that in rural Kentucky there is a gay and lesbian open and affirming congregation or that so many churches were working to support an AIDS ministry.

The narrative is: look at the crazy religious bigots. And they do exist. But how easily the work of those Christians who are trying to live out a simple vision of compassion and justice are overlooked, not included in this narrative. I wonder why that is?

I suspect it's the all too human tendency to pick extremes from another group so as to energize us against them. It happens in all sides of these religious, political debates but it doesn't do much to find the common connections that can cut across these divides.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Engaging Others

Chris Tessone made me aware of a another site's post concerning the place of Christianity as it engages others. The author of the blog Diaspora writes:

"It seems that Christian convictions require that we refuse to be just one voice among many within a neutral or secular public sphere. We must refuse a rationality or narrative that is prior to or more fundamental than Christianity."

I may be misreading this post but I think there seems to be a collapsing of the "Christian narrative" and Christ or God in Christ. It's a move I don't think that can be made.

First because Christian tradition is a broad thing indeed. It contains any number of reasonings, methods, committments, and conclusions some that work and some that clash with one another. Getting a single narrative out of that seems unlikely.

But even if one could get such a narrative, all we could really be speaking about is how we as Christians have sought to engage the world, have made sense of our own history, etc. It has all the marks of a human creation. Our fingerprints are all over it.

If it's a human creation than a stronger distinction between that and "God's view" seems to in order. Our ways are not God's way. We confess the finite, limited, historical position by which we have spoken of God. But it is not God.

In this way it's possible to affirm that this world and what God may have for it, is wider, has more elements to it than our Christian narrative or any other narrative can be in a position to recognize. Perhaps something of God can be found in engaging others.

But even if one doesn't affirm this, we don't have to appeal to some universal rationality, neither that of the state or of some public square. All we have to do is to recognize the limits, the finitudes of our own vantage point. Humility can help in engaging others.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Dangerous Women

Here's a piece on several women who have been dismissed from their positions in conservative congregations because they believed in women's equality and the church took a different view.
One of the stories is shocking: You have to imagine a 71-year-old woman showing up for church, one she attended for 50 years, and being arrested because she refused to leave.

As worshipers settled into the pews at Allen Baptist Church, Pastor Jason Burrick grabbed his cellphone and dialed 911. When a dispatcher answered, the preacher said a former congregant was in the sanctuary. “And we need to have her out A.S.A.P.”

Later, 71-year-old Karolyn Caskey, a church member for nearly 50 years who had taught Sunday school and regularly donated 10% of her pension, was led out by a state trooper and a county sheriff’s officer..in handcuffs.
It's hard to imagine a religion which claims "there is no male nor female" in Christ, where open table fellowship defined it's origins has come to this point where elderly women are dragged off by the police for wanting to attend church. God save the church.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

News Update

Shuck and Jive and Faithfully Subversive highlighted the news that historical theology professor Paul Capetz, who is openly gay, had his ordination restored in the Presbyterian Church USA.

While a lot of progressives followed this as a justice issue, for me, there was another dimension. Paul Capetz was my academic advisor at United Theological Seminary and in large measure was the person responsible for helping me to reclaim the Christian faith.

As he writes "I seek to model..an approach to the interpretation of the Christian theological tradition that allows us to engage this complex heritage with our critical questions and contemporary concerns while being open to the..challenges it poses to us.”

He does this in every course, opening up the riches of the tradition from Calvin to current Reformed thought. His respect for that tradition, makes the claims of the right wing hollow and indicates how little communication of ideas happens in these debates.

In other news, my paper on themes common in the Reformed tradition and the American philosopher John Dewey was accepted at the Midsouth Philosophy conference. It's been two years since I've done a conference so I'm looking forward it.