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.

Saturday, February 14, 2009


The Synod of the Pacific is holding a church trial against That All May Freely Serve's Minister Coordinator Lisa Larges and the decision of her presbytery to move forward her ordination in the PCUSA. The trial is because of Large's sexual orientation.

Not so says Jim Berkley, it's really about Larges being "defiantly..sinful. Orientation is irrelevant. This is about homosexual practice." Isn't that on par with saying that it's ok to be Jewish, just don't "practice" Judaism? At one point does the distinction fall apart?

And the Church of England affirms Christ's uniqueness. I suppose nobody could deny uniqueness. The issue is whether the church and certain religious terms serve as exclusive gatekeepers to God. Is that where Anglicanism is going?

The purpose of this resolution is to spur evangelism but must there be a link between that and uniquity? If one has a message that is good news it's worth spreading regardless. Lack of evangelism has more to do with factors that this resolution doesn't touch upon.

Such factors that are worth exploring in future posts. But as an example; I wonder how intelligible this resolution is to folks outside of the church? I wonder if the church is interested in being intelligible to such folks? That's a significant concern if one is interested in outreach.


At 3:15 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why do you have a difficult time with this distinction?

Would you not make the same distinction in regards to an alcoholic? Can we not separate an existing compulsion from acting out on the compulsion?

For the sake of argument it seems to me, he is distinguishing between those with the desire and motivation, and those who act out on those desires and motivations.

Personally I disagree with the use of the term homosexual at all. There has been no definitive scientific evidence that anyone is born with a genetic identity other than heterosexual. While there are different explanations given for the rise of such desires, there is no genetic identifier.

What you have left is to describe those with the inclination as either homosexual, or as I would put it those who have homosex propensities.

Since you consider yourself a "Christian" in some sense, can you show any biblical text that speaks of homosexuality as an identifier of personhood on the same level as heterosexuality? Can you show any text that has even the slightest openness to homosex acts as a positive or even neutral? Or do you think that people with such desires is a post-biblical phenomena?

At 9:19 AM , Blogger orthodox said...

" Isn't that on par with saying that it's ok to be Jewish, just don't "practice" Judaism? At one point does the distinction fall apart?"

Sounds pretty normal for the Church. Jewish people can join the Church, but sacrificing lambs in Church, is not acceptable. Sounds eminently reasonable to me.

" If one has a message that is good news it's worth spreading regardless."

I give up. If its not unique, why is it good news? If what you believe already is an equally good way to God, then how would substituting a different way be good news?

At 8:56 PM , Blogger Dwight said...

Jews sacrifice lambs? Never seen that one in a synagogue before. But while it's clear that you've given a lot of your thoughts on my site, apparently I don't have access to your site?

There does seem to be a consensus in the scientific community that sexual orientation is not something "chosen" The gist of how that is becomes the debate for some.

Though for the purposes of moral reflection, if any particular conclusion was reached it shouldn't have bearing on what makes sexual acts good, worthy, etc. In that, we might have some common ground?

And yes I am a Christian, without quotation marks. Certainly there is same gendered love in scripture, potent, (Johnathan and David?) if not erotic though my understanding of this issue is as much shaped by the testimony of gay and lesbians, the relevant sciences, and the like. In that I believe God can use and speak to us from a range of sources.

At 9:14 PM , Blogger Dwight said...

two more thoughts
time: because what we do (certainly our most significant actions even more so) *are* reflections of who we are.

Lots of things in life are valuable and common to all. Sunsets?

At 5:10 AM , Blogger orthodox said...

"Jews sacrifice lambs? Never seen that one in a synagogue before."

Most don't I guess but some do. I'm sure you get the point though, you don't come to church and practice Judaism, at least the parts which are non-Christian.

"Lots of things in life are valuable and common to all. Sunsets?"

Err... what does this have to do with a distinction between orientation and practice?

"two more thoughts
time: because what we do (certainly our most significant actions even more so) *are* reflections of who we are. "

Like um.... sinners? We sin so we are sinners?

Isn't that kind of the point of Christianity - we're in Church because we're sinners, but we don't promote it, but rather discourage it?

At 4:02 PM , Blogger Dwight said...

I don't think we have agreement on whether sexual orientation is a sin. That likely colors the rest of the discussion. But in the examples given, what we are and what we do ought to be tied up. Certainly a Christian can't claim to be a Christian without doing Christian things. Likewise, how do we expect such a distinction to hold for other groups?

At 8:44 AM , Blogger orthodox said...

"I don't think we have agreement on whether sexual orientation is a sin."

Apparently Jim Berkley doesn't think it is a sin, and you are in violent agreement. Why do you think you might be in disagreement with me?

"But in the examples given, what we are and what we do ought to be tied up. Certainly a Christian can't claim to be a Christian without doing Christian things.".

Okay....so let's see.... if we don't do Christian things, then we ought not claim the moniker "Christian". And if don't do homosexual things, we need not wear the moniker "homosexual".

That sounds good to me. That makes so-called "Orientation" to be irrelevant, as Jim Berkley stated. We can rest in agreement perhaps? Orientation is irrelevant unless practiced, and you seem to have proven it.

At 9:06 AM , Blogger Dwight said...

I'm pretty sure Berkeley does think it's a sin. My point was not to remove orientation as an idea, only to say that orientation, one's identity is shaped by what we do, to go after our actions is to go after us. It's Berkeley who holds to this distinction, makes it all important.

At 5:11 PM , Blogger orthodox said...

Why would you say he thinks an orientation is a sin when he is on record as saying it is "irrelevant"?

"to go after our actions is to go after us."

Isn't the bible a book that "goes after" us all based on our actions? That's kind of a core point of the religion, is it not?

At 10:25 PM , Blogger Dwight said...

He seems to think orientation is irrelevant because he's cut that off from action all together. In that I disagree with him.

At 10:49 PM , Blogger orthodox said...

Didn't you just "cut it off from action"? You're on record as saying you've got little right to claim the name "Christian" if you don't do Christian things. So if you have a Christian "orientation", and yet don't do Christian things, then your Christian "orientation" is apparently irrelevant, since you won't grant the moniker "Christian" to that person. You've deemed their orientation to be irrelevant.

At 4:17 PM , Blogger Dwight said...

I'm not saying orientation is not relevant. What I'm saying is they it is interdependent upon our actions. Both feed into each other. Cutting any part off in the way Jim does doesn't make sense to me.

At 7:25 PM , Blogger orthodox said...

I hardly think Jim was denying that ones "orientation" can impact ones actions. He was saying orientation was irrelevant to the question of ordination.

You've said it is irrelevant to whether you will grant the name "Christian" to someone. So you're both willing to say it is irrelevant in circumstances.

At 8:20 PM , Blogger Dwight said...

I never said that. I've been pretty clear what I've said. Action and being are intertwined, feed into each other. The book of James is helpful here. Without one you don't have the other. You may disagree but don't misrepresent my views. Thanks

At 7:53 AM , Blogger orthodox said...

"Action and being are intertwined, feed into each other. Without one you don't have the other."

That's just it - some people have one and don't have the other. They have a sinful nature, but they don't act it out. They perhaps have a homosexual orientation, but they don't act it out. A core point of Christianity is that we are to avoid acting out parts of our natural inclinations.

According to your argument, if I have an inclination to anger and violence, then I must act it out.

Can you see the difference between ordaining someone who has inclinations to anger, and someone who actually acts out and expresses anger openly and without restraint? Can you see that one can be ordained, and the other can't?

At 2:52 PM , Blogger Dwight said...

I can see the difference, but inclination to anger would still be a problem. Unless such an inclination by practice had been so undone (by acting without anger so much) that it wouldn't be proper to think of it as an inclination anymore. Which I think is possible (Aristotle's ethics are based on such a move)

Btw, I've received a lot of questions. But I don't know your denomination, never have evaluated your posts (which are closed off to me) so it seems a bit one sided at this point. I don't mind doing it, just saying..

At 6:50 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, I have missed all the discussion. I only now checked back.

Speaking of "scientific consensus" is not the same as scientific proof. All recent scientific research that has attempted to find a "gay gene" have proven fruitless, despite a bias and hope to find one. There is, in fact, more biological evidence for alcoholism. Scientific consensus is a bogus way of saying there is no proof, but this is where our culture is going, so why not. This is what happened with the removal of homosexuality as a disfunction in the DSM. It was all politically motivated, even with violence from pro-gay mobs. Even if a "gay gene" were found, it would only indicate a falleness within some humans akin to alcoholism, and would still not show an identity.

As a "Christian" (I use quotes because I believe that those who call themselves liberal or progressive have a totally different faith system than historic orthodox Christianity and depart almost entirely from all that is essential. for more on this I would refer any readers to J. Gresham Machen's work on liberalism found here: http://www.biblebelievers.com/machen/index.html)

As a "christian" you would of course be committed to the Word of God and rightly dividing it. Yet, you show a disdain for the Bible to even allude that there is any sexuality in David and Jonathan's relationship and it shows a great deal of ignorance about relationships among ancient near- eastern men and cultures. I have asked you to show me anything that would be decisively favorable about homosex practice in the Bible and you have shown none, except to allude to David and Jonathan with a question mark, showing disdain for the Biblical text. How about showing me that there is anything in the Bible that would indicate homosexuality as an identity? Everywhere I read anything that even touches upon the subject it speaks of it as an act. Could you help me here?

If you can show none of these things, then why would you consider this a valid Christian perspective, when everything in the Bible would indicate a negative view of homosex activity and nothing about homosexuality as an identity equivalent with heterosexuality? Would it not be better to just discard the entire christian mantle and call yourself something that would more accurately reflects your belief systems? I have found most "liberal christians" to be more pantheistic with some more agnostic. Why not come up with a term that would indicate new age spirituality practices, with pantheism and universalism mixed in? Would not something like this be more honest?

At 7:50 PM , Blogger Dwight said...


I identify as Christian because I believe that I do hold to the fundamental insights of Christian faith. I don't see where disdain enters into this in terms of the Bible. I think we're dragging the Bible into a debate they never had, a bit anachronistic really. I think there are biblical principles behind any relationships, same gendered or not that I'd be happy to chat with ya about.

The Bible is the central story of our faith. But I do think it forms a part, not the whole story of our faith. I'd also note Wesley's Quadrilateral, the 3 stools of Anglicanism as examples of how Christian faith draws from a range of resources in seeking to be faithful.

I've read and own Machen's work but it was a characture of liberal Christianity from that time period and it's even less indicative of that current today. As for claiming something else. I'm not a universalist, I'm not a pantheist, there's almost nothing from the new age I identify with. I do identify as a liberal, a protestant, reformed, congregationalist Christian. They are just more accurate markers given my faith commitments, the community I find myself in, etc.

At 8:46 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is wonderful to hear that you hold to the essentials of the faith. Can you tell me what those essentials are?

Also, you never replied to my questions regarding your posting.

My comment on disdain is in your use of David and Jonathan to indicate anything even remotely sexual. My comment remains valid, regarding your use of the infallible Biblical witness.

At 10:29 PM , Blogger Dwight said...


If I give a list, I'm sure I'm leaving something out, so feel free to ask if you believe I did. I believe in much of the creedal format. In God who creates and upholds all things. In the fall and need for redemption. In the incarnation and God's saving work in Christ. In the hope that all things will be taken up into God and God's purpose. I'm sure there's more to be explored.

As for proof texts for this original debate. As I noted, I don't think there's a proof text case for either side on this issue.

At 10:40 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

You use the terms without defining them, just as Machen indicates about liberalism. His book is just as pertinent today (if not more so) than when it was first written.

What do you mean by incarnation? Do you believe in a personal God existing in three persons?
Do you believe in the literal bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ who is the only one who is fully God and fully man? Do you believe that there is salvation only in Jesus Christ, which is received by grace through faith only in Jesus? Do you believe in the infallibility of the scriptures?

At 10:43 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

What precisely do you mean by "In the hope that all things will be taken up into God and God's purpose." This sounds very pan(en)theistic to me.

At 11:13 PM , Blogger Dwight said...

Well you must be a liberal then because you didn't define salvation, infallibility, or any of your other terms. I suppose that's more to do with the limit of this format than any insight of Machen.

"What do you mean by incarnation?"

God becoming manifest to us in the world, in particular in the person of Jesus.

"Do you believe in a personal God existing in three persons?"

I believe we can have a personal relationship with God and can experience that in different ways, of which the trinity is a potent description of this.

"Do you believe in the literal bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ"

I believe in the resurrection. I suspect it looks more like the theophany Paul describes than the belief that I suspect your committed to.

"Who is the only one who is fully God and fully man?"

I can say that Jesus is one in whom something of God's character is made evident to us.

"Do you believe that there is salvation only in Jesus Christ,"

I believe salvation is only found in God (Christ as the power of God working for our salvation would make this a tautology, ie there is no salvation apart from God's power of salvation)

"which is received by grace through faith only in Jesus?"

Through God's grace yes. Determined or restricted by acceptance of propositional beliefs. No.

"Do you believe in the infallibility of the scriptures?"

No. We may meet the Word in Scripture, but the Word should never be collapsed into scripture.

"What precisely do you mean by "In the hope that all things will be taken up into God and God's purpose." This sounds very pan(en)theistic to me"

It's an eschatological hope that all things find their place within God's good purposes. But it doesn't mean it will happen, it doesn't mean that it has happened. It certainly doesn't mean that everything is in God (pantheism or panentheism). It means the same as when Paul envisions "God being all in all"

At 3:52 AM , Blogger Virginia said...

Dwight, you might want to let this one go. "Timeforthetruth" doesn't understand science, because s/he claims there is a difference between scientific proof and scientific consensus. In reality, anyone with a basic understanding of science knows there is no such thing as "scientific proof" and there is ONLY "scientific consensus." Everything science has ever claimed is based on consensus, never once based on proof. "Proof" is not a scientifically valid concept. Anyway, s/he also seems fixated on genetics instead of recognizing all the other causes of behavior/orientation/personality/whatever - including prenatal influences, early childhood experience, and the calling of God in our lives. Personally, I follow the calling of God, and I know that I am doing so when my action rests on that which "all the law and prophets" rest - Love of God and love of neighbor. I suspect my love of God and compulsion to follow God's will for my life has genetic, environmental, and choice influences. (Side note: People made similar mistakes - demanding "proof", etc - about lefthandness, which like same-gender-orientation has a lot of causes and like same-gender-orientation was once considered an evil compulsion. We laugh at them now, but people suffered because of their ignorance of science, causality, and theology.)

At 1:32 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

All you have said would work very well within a universal unitarian theology. Why do you not simply identify with that group?

You claim that Machen is outdated, yet all you have said is almost exactly how Machen identified liberalism. It is clearly a very different religion/philosophy than Orthodox historic Christianity found in all the historic creeds.

Whether or not you like it, your view is echoed in popularized new age philosophies, such as that of Oprah, without the crystals, etc.

How is your view of the incarnation any different than that of panentheists. In fact, you have said almot exactly what Alfred Whitehad once wrote. Your view of scripture seems to be a cross between Barth and Rauschenbush (probably not spelling his name right), which again is not orthodox Christianity in any sense, but rather is between neoorthodox and liberal.
You deny the literal bodily resurrection, which would indicate that you reject Christianity.

From all that you have written here, your views are clearly more in line with Universal Unitarians. Why confuse people by calling all congregations under the label of Christian? You seem comfortable with the label of Liberal. So if you don't quite feel comfortable knowing that you are a UU, why not simply go with liberal church, or something that would clearly indicate this? Does this not seem more honest? I like honesty in labeling.

Thank you for the discussion.


Thank you for the kind words. It is good to know that the scientific community by consensus has agreed that there is such a thing as gravity, or I might just float away. I believe there are plenty of things that have been proven by science, but thank you for your kind and gently imput.

At 1:47 PM , Blogger Dwight said...


Machen says liberals are not concerned with salvation and transformation. For me and most liberals I know, it's the central frame for understanding Christian faith. That error alone makes much of Machen's criticisms fall flat.

Pantheism and Panentheism is that the whole world is in God. I don't assert that. So I'm not one. (Neither is Whitehead btw) I'm not UU because I think the idea of a "universal spirituality" is implausible at best. I'm not new age because the power of positive thinking is something I reject. so why you may use these frames for identifying liberals, they don't work.

On the other hand, outside of the question of resurrection (where I draw from Paul), you assert that somehow my statements are not basic Christianity. In that I don't see how, just your assertions. Since I've been engaged with my denomination on these issues for years, I have a pretty good sense that I represent the center theologically. So I have no reason to disavow my religious understanding and heritage.

At 1:50 PM , Blogger Dwight said...

I should note, that I do recognize that I operate out of a liberal protestant tradition which is as old as evangelicalism. So there may be differences to be pointed to, but we're both protestants and much of the same boat. At least Orthodoxy can rest on the idea that he represents some continuous tradition but you and I come from the reformation, folks trying to change things and critique the church. So I'm not sure how one side is so comfortable in disqualifying the other side.

At 3:34 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is very simple. My views resonate very closely with all of the great creeds, many of which go way back long before the Reformation. Evangelicalism has it's roots not only in a straight-forward reading of the New Testament, but also resonates very strongly with the core theologies of nearly all the church fathers. Martin Luther credited much to Augustine for instance.

The theological liberal tradition has roots more in the enlightenment, developed more thoroughly among higher critical thinkers and de-mythologizers of the Tubingen school. It is based in doubt...doubt of the historicity of the biblical accounts...doubt of miraculous intervention...doubt of a personal creator God, etc. Your statements clearly indicate that this is the camp you come from. Do not expect me or any of your readers to play the fool and simply accept that liberalism has the same kinds of roots and traditions as historic orthodoxy. By it's very nature "liberal" means freedom from orthodoxy. To attempt to redefine it as some kind of parallel stream, is to diminish both. Liberalism looks back to Schleirmacher, while evangelicalism looks back to a straigh-forward reading of the Bible, church fathers, the Reformed leaders (Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, etc.) and, in America, to the great Puritan Reformers who came long before the term evangelical. Probably the earliest roots of liberalism come from certain forms of Gnosticism (not saying that Liberalism is Gnostic, only some affinities with certain groups), with a mixture of some Greek thinkers -- Gnosticism was rejected by the early church as utterly heretical.

I think you misunderstand my intentions though. I do not have any problem with you choosing to believe what you believe. I have no problem with you attempting to propogate your views. I simply do not like the false advertisement of calling it "christian", when it is really Universalist Unitarian. It is truly a separate religion/philosophy and I simply want all people to understand that and create a clear separation of these groups so that people can make informed decisions and not continue to live in the confusion that exists in so many denominations today. I am afraid that so many people in our churches are massively ignorant. I want them informed of the differences in the belief systems and then give them clear choices. I would think that all "liberals" would want people educated so that they understand the differences and can make educated decisions. Why would this be a problem?

Also your interpretation of Paul's quoting a Greek poet at the Areopagus leaves much to be desired. He does not have a pan(en)theistic view of God. But rather understood in context he is communicating the Omnipresence of the one true God over the polytheistic views of the Greeks, using the words of their own poet. Only if you take the passage out of the context of Acts can you come to your interpretation.

At 3:49 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

When your wrong, your completely wrong.

You wrote.."Machen says liberals are not concerned with salvation and transformation. For me and most liberals I know, it's the central frame for understanding Christian faith. That error alone makes much of Machen's criticisms fall flat."

Liberals reinterpret the ideas of salvation and transformation. Christianity has from the beginning understood that all peoples deserve spiritual death and will go to hell, while salvation means eternal life with a personal God, temporarily in a spiritual existence in heaven and eternally in a transformed physically resurrected and transformed body in a new heaven and earth. Liberalism rejects this utterly and speaks of salvation and transformation in earthly and psychological terms. Machen clearly lays this out.

The rest of what you wrote is wrong as well, especially regarding Whitehead, who by his own admission was a panentheist. I don't know what you are reading, but it clearly is not Whitehead. You have got to be kidding about this one...very funny. Not all UU's believe in a universal spirituality. They have no ultra-clear orthodoxy to their views and yours would resonate very closely with their views. I don't know why you would lump positive thinking with new age. New age has more to do with a smorgasbord of thinking, none of which is better than another. So many might be positive thinkers, certainly not all. It has much more to do with an openness to all views and a radical subjectivism.

My views of liberalism has to do with the father of liberalsm...Schleirmacher.

At 5:10 PM , Blogger Dwight said...


Well, salvation is both. In the Bible it is in any case. It's both a pyschological, a social transformation but it has eternal ramifications as well. We'd probably describe it differently but I don't think any angle can be set aside.

Hartshorne is a panentheist. Many process folks are. But for Whitehead God is the orderer of possibilities and their relevance in the constitution of any particular occassion.

10 years ago I was UU and I've never seen a congregation that did not appeal or believe they were acting out of some universal spirituality. And I wanted to dig deep within a tradition and encounter the transcendent. Not likely in that context. And that's why a smoragsbord approach (which makes everything bland and thin) falls apart.

The New Age is built on the idea positive thought, was called New Thought. That's Ophrah's gig. It's every new age magazine I've read. It's Toelle, I've never seen a new ager not hold to it. But I don't.

Now openness to other views, that's just a basic quality that could rope in folks, including yourself. It doesn't describe any religion. But clearly from my site it's clear that I do have stands, committments, even disagreements. That doesn't seem like "all beliefs are valid" approach to me.

As for Schleiermacher. I'm a big fan, though the theologian I'd identify with more are the Neibuhr brothers and early 20th century American protestant theology in general.

At 5:11 PM , Blogger Dwight said...

quite note: Whitehead's God is one actor, performs a metaphysical action and that's it. A bit different from what I think you're thinking process theology is.

At 5:56 PM , Blogger Dwight said...

One more thing. I did a typo. I meant "quick note" :)

And since I am perfectly happy theologically and otherwise with the Disciples and the UCC, both in leadership and as a lay person, I'm not sure why I would leave? The feeling seems to be mutual, in the church and ministry contexts I've found myself in.


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