Saturday, January 19, 2008

A Future?

Years ago, when I worked for a short while on the Nuclear Freeze campaign, I recall the shock that a friend expressed when he learned that I was going to the Divinity School. “What’s a good progressive like you doing in a divinity school?” he wanted to know. I tried to explain that there was a tradition of progressive Christianity, but he had never encountered it. Most folks haven’t.
For most Americans, Christianity has become synonymous with a particular legalistic, conservative, evangelical movement whose vocal, media-savvy leaders are quick to condemn anyone who sees the world differently than they do.
Gays and other sexual minorities? An abomination. Women? Remain silent and “gracefully submissive,” in the words of the Southern Baptist Convention. Jews? In need of salvation. Feminists, lesbians, the ACLU, People for the American Way? Responsible for September 11, according to Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell.
At a meeting of conservative Presbyterians a while back, one speaker said that liberals were like bugs devouring the foundation of the church. He called for stomping as the appropriate response to such an infestation. I’m not sure, but I believe they broke into a spontaneous version of “Guide My Feet” at that point!
In the face of such attacks from some conservatives and such widespread ignorance from the population as a whole, we have to ask: is there a future for progressive Christianity?
Forty years back, Martin Luther King asked a similar question in his Letter from the Birmingham City Jail, lamenting a church drifting into irrelevance because it was too timid to address the pressing issues of the day.
Is it simply too late to ask again? Is it worth the effort?