Thursday, November 11, 2004

Who Left Whom

I was at a forum of The Interfaith Alliance in DC this morning that gathered to talk about the religious left -- it doesn't yet get upper case letters like the so-called Religious Right -- and the 2004 elections. One of the forum speakers, perhaps Steven Waldman, editor of BeliefNet but don't hold me to that, asked if liberals have left the church or whether the church has left liberals?
As a self-confessed, practicing, unrepentant liberal who left the church only to find his way back, that question leapt out at me. Sure, millions of progressives who grew up in the church have walked away. However, contrary to what conservative evangelicals would have the country believe, most of those progressives did not leave to embrace some neofundamentalism or to become complete secularists. They left because the mainline church failed to articulate a compelling vision of faith that carries within it a powerful vision of social justice.
It seems ridiculous to even say that, both because it is so painfully obvious, but also because it condemns the mainline church of practicing a profoundly unbiblical faith. Sure, conservatives have said the same thing for years, and, perhaps in spite of themselves, they got one part of it right. But while the conservatives claim that support for liberal social causes is unbiblical, I am suggesting that it was the lack of passionate support for social justice that has been unbiblical. After all, the conservative church once claimed that support for such things as women's rights and the abolition of slavery were unbiblical.
In the present context, the lack of continuous outspoken opposition to the war in Iraq is the unbiblical reality in most mainline congregations. When Jesus said, "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you," I don't think he had in mind shock and awe bombardments, or prison abuse, or 15,000 victims of "collateral damage."
In the present context, the lack of moral outrage from mainline pulpits in the face of budgets that take from the poor and working class (in the form of decreased public support) and give to the rich (in the form of tax breaks) is the unbiblical reality of most of the church. Of course, in the wealthiest country in the world, it's not surprising that few of us want to hear how difficult it may be for the rich to find a place in the household of God.
In the present context, the lack of strong, outspoken, morally courageous support for the full inclusion of gays, lesbians, transgendered and bisexual people in the full life of the church and the broader culture, is the unbiblical reality that mocks the God who "so loved the world" that the Christ came and lived, worked, prayed, broke bread among the poor, the outcast and the marginalized.
These unbiblical positions of much of the mainline church drive thousands of progressives out its doors every day.
And in the face of that reality, the church tries new styles of worship, new strategies for growth, and new arrangements of the chairs on the deck of 1st Titanic Community Church. In the midst of the busy scurrying of church growth strategy, the mainline sits by too timid and too tepid to stand up tirelessly, to speak out powerfully and to struggle relentlessly until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.
Bringing to bear the language, the resources, and the power of our faith in response to the issues of our time is not a church growth strategy. It is, pure and simple, who we are called to be as the church.
Still, if it results in some of my progressive friends joining me for worship on Sunday mornings, I'll celebrate that and welcome them with joy and love.

Monday, November 08, 2004

No Mourning After

The time for mourning is over. By my calculations it ended last Wednesday at midnight. That seems a decent interval, for there is so much work to be done.
The beginning of that work must involve a renewed conversation about faith, culture and politics. When "religious faith" becomes the most important criteria in picking a president, but such faith is defined exclusively as conservative evangelical Christianity, it's way past time for progressive people of faith to reclaim the language of faith. When exit polls and election results paint progressives into a box of public immorality -- the clear implication of the "moral issues" voting patterns -- it's way past time to reframe the cultural debate over public morality. And when two consecutive national elections have raised more questions than they've answered about the fairness of the elections themselves, it's way past time to initiate a broad public conversation about the health of our democracy itself.
So let's begin, again, to define the terms from a perspective of progressive Christian faith.