Monday, May 21, 2012

About those liberal Christians: a manifesto

Making the rounds of the blogosphere is the consideration that the definition of "christianity" with the culture wars of gays and abortion is "bad for the brand": 

The exact numbers in this Rachel Held Evans piece, which show that almost all young American non-Christians and even most self-identified young American Christians think that the primary tenet of Christianity is hating on the gays, are a little higher than I've seen from other public opinion surveys. But the general shape is the same. The Millenial Generation has broadly equated Christianity with the political project of conservative Christians at the national level. Which is to say, opposition to abortion and gay marriage, with little room for anything else. ... 
This should really serve as a wake up call to church leaders. The once near-universal brand of American Christianity is being associated with an ever-shrinking size of the American public.. [T]he window of opportunity where people might be willing to consider a more relevant form of modern Christianity is closing.

 It seems that liberal Christians are starting (finally) to speak out against the efforts  of the evangelical right to claim the word "Christian" for themselves.  Ken Locke, a Presbyterian pastor in TN, contemplates why it has taken so long.
Many moderates avoid confronting extremism because it is unseemly. Castigating someone on television would be embarrassing. And yet, it appears that that is the only way to get one’s views across. It seems that only by staking out an extreme position, and vehemently denouncing anyone who even timidly disagrees, is it possible to join the public debate.

Furthermore, thoughtful, nuanced ideas do not lend themselves to brevity. Reduced to sound bites, our positions lose the important context and thought process that gave them birth.

Finally, most moderates are pretty busy. We have parishioners to care for, meetings to chair, weddings and funerals and worship services to lead. Our time is taken up with caring for our flocks, not sharing our views with the world.

But if we do not share our views, how will they be spread? If we don’t say something, how will anyone ever come to appreciate that many people of faith are much more broad and welcoming than our extremists make us appear?
He goes on to enumerate the values of liberal Christianity:
• The Earth is the Lord’s, and when we pollute it, we are destroying God’s property. Issues of global warming aside, we desperately need to radically reduce our pollution.
• Science and Christianity are perfectly compatible. Evolution is real. The world was not created in 144 hours.
• Marriage between consenting adults should be perfectly legal regardless of sexual orientation. Legal protections for both heterosexual and same-sex couples should be equal.
• Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus et al must be treated with respect and consideration. They are God’s children just as much as Christians. Their salvation is in God’s hands, not ours.
• Young people have sex. Young women get pregnant. Abstinence is preferable, but birth control is sensible.
• No one has an abortion on a whim. Legally defining the beginning of life at conception is an act of power against the powerless. The decision to abort should be between the mother, the care-provider and God.
• No single branch of Christianity has a complete and pure understanding of God’s will for humanity.
• Faith has a role in every aspect of life, but often that role is more informative than prescriptive. The Bible says nothing about gun control, capital gains taxes or the U.S. Department of Education per sé. Anyone claiming it does is cherry-picking the text.
• God cares desperately for the poor, the immigrant and the powerless. We neglect them at our peril.
• Life belongs to God, not to the state. Capital punishment is not only failed policy, it is also usurpation of God’s prerogative by the state.
• God does not love any one country more, or less, than any other.
And finally (my emphasis):
I repeat, I am not the only one who believes this. There are lots of us in every denomination. I say to those aching for an alternative to the loudest voices, if you will tune them out and listen to the heartfelt whispers, you will certainly find one that makes your heart sing. 
And I say to my friends and colleagues — now is the time to get over our shyness. We must find time and venues for declaring what it is we believe. Our message is too important to allow it to be drowned out by hysteria and hyperbolae. In season and out of season let us proclaim our message of tolerance and openness until every heart sings with joy.
I think that nails it (to the wall, even).  I hope that all liberal Christians take this year, this election year, to throw open wide the closet doors and come out!

And while I don't think you should claim  that the other side "isn't Christian" (as Rick Santorum famously did of liberal Christians), a robust push back against their rhetoric is essential.  Beginning with a regular,  strong protest every time they claim that their opposition  to liberal values is "because I'm a Christian".  That means, write every paper, email every news channel, speak out in every conversation, and say "They don't speak for Christianity!"  All of you!

Go, do it!


Grandmère Mimi said...

IT, I've been speaking out on my blog for 6 years now, seemingly only to the choir or into the void. The media cover the extremists. I don't know how to change that. Apparently, the not-hateful Christians don't make for a good story.

dr.primrose said...

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington and Notre Dame University both filed lawsuits today challenging the Obama administration's mandate that religiously-affiliated employers offer health insurance for their workers that include coverage for contraception. See here.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Shame on Notre Dame. I'd have thought better of them. I'm not at all surprised by the suit filed by the archdiocese

Counterlight said...

I second Grandmere's first comment. The press loves a freak show, and the far right extremists can be counted on to provide one. Earnest thoughtful arguments don't play well on cable teevee or on the internets. Of course, that shouldn't stop us from making them. Someone will listen.

Perhaps, as the author suggests, the key is not "winning" arguments or ratings wars, but by coming out of our closets. Maybe the remarkable recent success of the gay rights movement in transforming public opinion is instructive. People begin to change their minds when the issue is no longer an abstraction but has the face of someone they know, love, and respect.

I've been out and proud gay and I've been out and proud Christian on my blog. I have a bit of an advantage since I do not write a church blog (though I discuss religious issues frequently). I do attract a non-Christian readership. Some of whom are sympathetic, some tolerant, and others hostile. But, I do get the message out that Christianity is not the Republican Party at prayer, that religions are not defined by their fundamentalist movements.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes the media let the message slip out. Witness this recent column by Brian O'Neill in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Brother David said...


I would like to share with everyone here something that happened to me today. A violation that gives me concern.

Someone opened a Twitter account in my name and it wasn't me. They opened it with information that was only ever available to participants at Of Course I Could Be Wrong... They opened it using a form of my name that I have never used for an internet account with my primary email address. AFAIR, that address has never appeared publicly, but has been available to a number of you as I have posted here and at a few blogs belonging to some of you. The hash tag associated with the account was an insulting name that Jonathan called me a number of times in the past.

I don't know who, but someone among our group of internet acquaintances has now violated a trust. It was disturbing to me to have this occur. I hope that such a thing does not happen to others. I have taken control of the Twitter account by changing the password and the primary email associated with it and have now closed it.

Please, when folks entrust you with personal information to participate in your blogs, guard that information and the trust that brought it to you as you would guard your own information.

This may have been someone's idea of a joke, but based on my own personal situation living an a nation at war with large and powerful drug syndicates, this was not funny to me.

JCF said...

the key is not "winning" arguments or ratings wars, but by coming out of our closets. Maybe the remarkable recent success of the gay rights movement in transforming public opinion is instructive. People begin to change their minds when the issue is no longer an abstraction but has the face of someone they know, love, and respect.

Very well said, Doug.

JCF said...

the key is not "winning" arguments or ratings wars, but by coming out of our closets. Maybe the remarkable recent success of the gay rights movement in transforming public opinion is instructive. People begin to change their minds when the issue is no longer an abstraction but has the face of someone they know, love, and respect.

Very well said, Doug.

MadPriest said...

Technically they are Christians, but they do not worship the same God as we do. If you were to a person who knows nothing about Christianity a full description of the nature, commandments and actions of the evangelical god and the same for the Roman Catholic god and the same for the liberal/progressive/ broad church (call it what you will) god, that person would come to the conclusion that they were three different gods and three different religions. They would perceive the factions of the universal church to be related to each other no more closely than Islam, Christianity and Judaism is. In fact, they would probably think the evangelicals were muslims, the Catholics were jews and the liberals, buddhists.

dr.primrose said...

Here's another North Carolina appalling sermon advocating locking up all gays behind electrified fences:

"'I figured a way to get rid of all the lesbians and queers,' [Baptist pastor Charles] Worley told churchgoers on May 13. 'Build a great big large fence—50 or 100 mile long—put all the lesbians in there. Fly over and drop some food. Do the same thing with the queers and the homosexuals and have that fence electrified so they can't get out. And you know what, in a few years, they'll die out. Do you know why? They can't reproduce!'

"'It makes me pukin' sick to think about,' Worley added. 'Can you imagine kissing some man?'"

The whole story, with videoclip, can be read here.

dr.primrose said...

One third of Roman Catholics have left the Roman Catholic Church and one in 10 Americans is now an ex-Roman Catholic, according to the National Catholic Reporter -- The hidden exodus: Catholics becoming Protestants. Hat Tip to Episcopal Cafe.

I'm suprised it's that high. But I guess I shouldn't be -- probably half my parish are former Roman Catholics.

Anonymous said...

But you don't seem able to keep their kids, assuming they have kids. It's a one generation thing. You don't keep many of your own kids, so probably it's not personal about the ex-Catholics.
You're shrinking because you don't have the same number of kids you did 50 years ago and you usually don't keep most of the ones you do have. People have other options on Sundays and a lot of other demands. There isn't the same assumption that to be respectable you go to church on Sundays-ironic, considering that it was usually "progressives" who cleared space for those who want nothing to do with any religion or church. The message "It's OK to be a member of another church/religion/agnostic so long as you treat other people well and at least profess "progressive" political views" isn't going to produce, on the whole, much enthusiasm or interest among young people. If it's optional, there are many more entertaining and more obviously useful things to do. If the parents don't talk about it much, if that sense of Mainline complacency is there, you are not going to grow except by those who are more-or-less drifters into your groups.
If people want to do "progressive" politics, they have "progressive" political groups. It's not like 100 years ago (or today in non-White communities or in the 3rd World) where the clergy are often some of the only educated people in a community.
You're a lot older on average than you were just after World War II; "activism" is something done mostly by young people.
You want it both ways: lots of freedom and choice but a powerfully authoritative church to influence politics. If I can choose, I'm going to do what I want to when I want to: move to the suburbs, pay lower taxes, get educated with those in my "tribe". Since Mainline Protestant is still overwhelmingly White and middle/upper middle class, this is also what most of you have been doing too, despite calls and resolutions and programs and "Outreach Officers" to "Celebrate our Diversity!".

Anonymous said...

Who is going to take any group really seriously if it makes up barely 4% of the US population? Mainline Protestants together are that proportion of those 18-30 and it's not increasing. Average Sunday Attendance is down sharply, too.
Why join any group that, statistically, will disappear by the time you're about to turn 50?

JCF said...

Moderation: troll clean-up, Aisle 3.

Why not start your own nihilist website, Brad? Afraid you'll just be talking to yourself? [Nothing new there!] said...

An excellent post, and I particularly liked "no one branch of Christianity perfectly understands God's will".

You say "we need to radically reduce our pollution". I absolutely agree,with one rider "we need to radically reduce our population".

It's so nice, after all these years, to see more moderate voices speaking.

I agree with the comments made here: the media loves a sensational story.

Jane Smith (Pretoria, South Africa)