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A liberal religious renaissance?

Guest Blogger

To some observers, religion and conservatism have become inextricably fused. But to the Rev. John A. Buehrens and theology professor Rebecca Ann Parker, something new is emerging -- a liberal religious renaissance. In their book “A House for Hope: The Promise of Progressive Religion in the 21st Century,” published this month by Beacon Press, the authors outline the history and role of liberal theology in social and political change. Buehrens, past president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, is minister of the First Parish Church in Needham, Mass. Parker is president of Starr King School for the Ministry.

By John A. Buehrens

The new Arizona law prompted a memory. My wife and I once lived in a town in Texas. It was common practice for the police there to pull over people passing through -- often just for “driving while being Hispanic.” We are both ministers. We asked, “Is that how we would want to be treated, if we were Hispanic?” We protested then against racial profiling. We do so now.

My wife was the first woman ordained an Episcopal priest in Texas. I’m a Unitarian. Despite some people considering us to be “the odd couple” among clergy, we have been married since 1972. We apply the same Golden Rule logic to the issue of marriage equality for loving couples of the same gender. In my present Massachusetts congregation I have five such couples, all raising children together. They can marry in this state but still cannot file their federal income taxes as married couples. So we also protest the federal “Defense of Marriage” Act. It doesn’t help to defend our marriage, or any marriage. It gets in the way of applying the Golden Rule.

Conservatives in religion too often operate out of lesser rules, and out of cultural stereo-types of what constitutes a loving family. Too often they seem to pander to the fear of change. And for the past 30 years they have had the loudest religious voice in America. The media, when seeking to be “fair and balanced,” all too often look for the alternative to conservative religion in some loud voice for complete individualism or secularism.

We forget that America was founded by people who were both religious and liberals. Americans of progressive religious values spoke out boldly for the abolition of slavery, for women’s suffrage, for equal opportunity, for fair housing, and, with now ever-increasing urgency, for more responsible environmental stewardship.

America remains “the nation with the soul of a church,” as G.K. Chesterton once said. But even today, most of its religious people are not adherents of the Religious Right. Rather they are overwhelmingly moderate to liberal to progressive in religion. Even secular progressives should recognize that most of their deeply held values are derived from more progressive answers to underlying religious, and even theological, questions.

If we are going to have a sane, civil, values-oriented discussion of any of the many vital issues facing our country, then progressives need to learn to respect their religious roots more, and, when the religious voice is heard, the voice of progressive religion needs to be included. After all, stopping us by saying “You can’t be truly religious; you’re a liberal!” is just another violation of the Golden Rule. And God knows that some more consistent application of that rule would not hurt our present politics one little bit.

By Steven E. Levingston  |  May 17, 2010; 5:30 AM ET
Categories:  Guest Blogger  | Tags: liberal theology, progressive religion  
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Comments

Wake up, Mr. Levingston, you have been dreaming again.

"We protested then against racial profiling. We do so now."

How many safeguards against racial profiling does the Arizona law have to have for liberals to stop whining about "profiling"? If a van packed full of Ukrainians was pulled over for a traffic violation, the state police would ask for ID.

"My wife was the first woman ordained an Episcopal priest in Texas. I’m a Unitarian."

How perfect. With the Episcopal denomination making all Christianity optional, the two social clubs will be be merging soon. (Both social clubs are seeing membership plunging.)

"Too often they [conservatives] seem to pander to the fear of change."

Fear change? Sometimes that is appropriate. When we look at Western Europe, which is abandoning their Christian roots for the religion of secularism, whole societies will be disappearing in a couple of generations.

Posted by: GiveMeThat | May 17, 2010 7:58 AM | Report abuse

"We forget that America was founded by people who were both religious and liberals."

A lie. The correct statement is that our founders had liberals (e.g., Jefferson) to conservatives (e.g, Adams) to arch-religious conservatives (e.g, Benjamin Rush).

"Rather they [American religious people] are overwhelmingly moderate to liberal to progressive in religion."

Another lie. Even in the liberal denominations such as ECUSA or PCUSA, the laity are far more conservative than the clergy.

Wake up, Mr. Levingston. Only liberals are so blind as to not be able see that the experiment with liberalization of the mainstream denominations has been a complete disaster and utter failure. Unfortunately, for some denominations, it is too late. The only solution is to jump off the sinking vessel. This is what is happening in the ECUSA, ELCA, PCUSA. It remains to be seen what will happen with the Methodists.

Posted by: GiveMeThat | May 17, 2010 8:21 AM | Report abuse

I completely agree with you Mr. Levingston, and it's about time for liberal and moderate religious to speak out about the injustices that are occurring within our society. Many of our "Founding Fathers" were actually Deists and not conservative Christians like the religious right would like Americans to believe.

Religion is certainly a cornerstone within our society, but it is not the religion of hate, injustice and judgment that led to the evolution of American Society. It is the religion of tolerance, compassion,social justice, and loving the sinner while hating the sin.

Most of my friends are liberal to moderate Christians, Muslims and Jews, and we all work together as activists to resist and transform the hate and venom that often comes from the direction of the religious right. We also spend a good deal of time defending the religious life to others who have been driven away from religion because they have only been hearing the injustices espoused by religious conservatives and they wish to be no part of it!

Hopefully, by leading through example religious progressives can show that there is an alternative to either secularism or religious conservative indoctrinated hate and injustice. Shalom.

Posted by: Feylynne | May 17, 2010 11:29 AM | Report abuse

The problem with the word conservative is that political conservatism and Christian conservatism aren't really the same things. As a New Testament Christian I'm very interested in conserving (not changing) the faith of Jesus which I follow. Jesus himself, however, was very about changing a good number of things that political conservatives in the United States support. So when it comes to capital punishment, constant war, and criminalizing Mexican families for wanting a better life, I guess I'm a liberal, conservative Christian. Because I believe that's what Jesus is also.

monty keeling

Posted by: cstation | May 17, 2010 11:35 AM | Report abuse

Religion is for gullible people who are afraid of death... doesn't matter if your liberal or conservative, if you believe in that garbage, you're pretty stupid.

Posted by: kenk3 | May 17, 2010 12:30 PM | Report abuse

"Another lie. Even in the liberal denominations such as ECUSA or PCUSA, the laity are far more conservative than the clergy."

And you're basing this on...what, exactly? I have been a confirmed Episcopalian for many years, and I can comfortably say that most of the Episcopalians I know are quite liberal.

Posted by: lizgwiz | May 17, 2010 12:43 PM | Report abuse

What has GiveMeThat been smoking? You can GiveMeSomeOfThat!

If a van full of evangelical Baptists was stopped, should the cop ask them all for ID and arrest anyone without same?

"With the Episcopal denomination making all Christianity optional, the two social clubs will be be merging soon."

How perfect. The only ones left will the Southern Baptists who will reinstate the Sons of Ham doctrine and put the colored folks back in chains.

"Only liberals are so blind as to not be able see that the experiment with liberalization of the mainstream denominations has been a complete disaster and utter failure. "

NO, only the conservatives are so blind as to see that the conservative experiment ended when the USA won the War of Southern Treason and the civil rights laws made it clear that the conservative Sons of Ham doctrine was a failure.

You do remember the Sons of Ham, don't you? The conservative interpretation of the bible that would allow whites a god-given right to hold blacks in slavery. What did it take, 150 years or so for the conservative christians to finally back off, like the Mormons did?

Posted by: Garak | May 17, 2010 1:59 PM | Report abuse

Right off the bat he says that both he and his wife are ministers. That tells you that he doesn't take the Bible literaly. Women are not to teach men. So, as a Bible believer, I take that as a hint that he ignores some of the Bible and then takes other verses out of context to mean something totally different than who it was written to and what it really teaches about. Why would I take some man's opinion of what scripture teaches when it goes against scripture. It's the same old thing that has been around since Eve. Yeah hath God said. Man making his own religion. It's still unbelief.

Posted by: awatts1 | May 17, 2010 2:22 PM | Report abuse

Sensible and well written article.

Like Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and yes, George Washington, I have no respect for right wing religious crap.

I think that I am absolutely correct in the belief that us Agnostics (who don't actually deny the possible existence of some sort of controlling factor of the universe) follow the "Golden Rule" more closely than most self styled "Christians".

Posted by: lufrank1 | May 17, 2010 2:42 PM | Report abuse

I put up a web site that health care is also a moral issue. At 1000 hits a week, I think a lot of people are disappointed when they realize the direction of the web site...
BobLeoanrd
http://christiansagainsthealthcare.com

Posted by: bestbobleonard | May 17, 2010 2:47 PM | Report abuse

awatts1 says, "Right off the bat he says that both he and his wife are ministers. That tells you that he doesn't take the Bible literaly. Women are not to teach men. So, as a Bible believer, I take that as a hint that he ignores some of the Bible and then takes other verses out of context."

Heaven forbid we we update texts and use our expanding knowledge to better understand the texts. There are plenty of scenarios within the bible that point to women who taught or led congrigations. If you want a literal interpretaton, do you still believe that slavery is fine because you find it in a 3000 yr old text?

Woman can be an apostle like Junia, a disciple like Tabitha/Dorcas, a deacon like Phoebe, evangelists like Euodia and Syntyche, or a judge like Deborah who headed the army of ancient Israel and a pastor as well.

Posted by: cadam72 | May 17, 2010 3:18 PM | Report abuse

I'm a real liberal, i don't fall for fantasy tales written before science. Perhaps the headline could have also read "faith groups make progress in growing its base of consumers" Be careful of labels...

Posted by: MajorFacemask | May 17, 2010 3:56 PM | Report abuse

Look here, Reverend, you are free to compete in the marketplace of ideas. So make up some theological-sounding crap that supports whatever ideology you want to support. Then go out and seek converts. That's how the game is played.

Drive on.

Posted by: ZZim | May 17, 2010 4:12 PM | Report abuse

the abolition of slavery, for women’s suffrage, for equal opportunity, for fair housing, and, with now ever-increasing urgency, for more responsible environmental stewardship.

Unfortunately, there was also the debacle of temperance and prohibition.

Posted by: mbeck1 | May 17, 2010 4:46 PM | Report abuse

To Garak, who seems fixated on the "sons of Ham": Have you read that verse? To say that it justifies slavery is more than a little stretch. And who exactly was responsible for abolition of slavery? Conservative Christians.

In contrast, we have the ridiculous and utterly dishonest contortions that the liberals go to try to gloss over obvious condemnations of homosexuality.

And then we have the ridiculous and utterly dishonest attempt of Mr. Levingston and many others to compare homosexuality with civil rights of ethnic minorities. It makes me glad the Unitarians and the Episcopalians are disappearing.

Posted by: GiveMeThat | May 17, 2010 6:01 PM | Report abuse

Wake up, Christian conservatives. You are not the only Christians in America. Mainstream Christians of many denominations, including tens of millions of Baptists, Methodists, Catholics, Lutherans, and others can easily see themselves included in the non-rightwing categories and worldviews that Mr. Levingston has so eloquently described here. And although some of Levingstons's detractors in this section would like to claim otherwise, liberal Christians are not merely made up of Episcopalians and Unitarians. Nor are these two denominations the only ones with serious and sustained ecumenical outreach to non-Christian faiths, including the myriad of Jewish, Muslim, and Eastern religious congregations that help to form the union that we call the United States of America.

"We protested then against racial profiling. We do so now." It seems incredible that someone would pick on you for saying this. Anyone with their eyes open---or at least anyone with friends who are black or "brown"---surely must see that racial profiling continues to be a huge problem in our country. No matter how much we love and respect our law enforcement officers, they need _our_ guidance in limiting this terrible practice. Unfortunately AZ has gone the other way, with a law that will surely increase racial profiling no matter what lame excuses the pundits and presidential once-also-rans want to fool us into believing. These purported safeguards will do no good, because the very essence of this law is misguided and, yes, unconstitional.

And as for fearing change, no. Don't fear change in terms of secularism or even mainstream religion. Have _faith_ in our great country, and in the ability of its people to use their God-given brains and talents to live good, decent lives, which they will be _far_ more apt to do if state governments are not harrassing them and tearing away their constitutional rights because they don't "look" like one's idea of the Founding Fathers---fathers who were certainly religious (mostly Christian, but also Deist, etc.) and Liberal (but in a mixture of our new sense of the word and, to a far greater extent, the old "liberal commerce" sense of the term). But even then, in the time of the Founding Fathers, it was understood that Americans were not all of one single stripe. There were Catholics in Maryland and Quakers in Pennsylvania, to name just a couple of those "odd" founding groups---as well as newly arriving Germans and other new (and often undocumented) groups arriving all the time. But the Constitution did not say that it was okay for militia or police to pull their carriages over just because they looked Catholic, or German, or Irish, and on and on. Perhaps it was their embrace of religious and philosophical plurality that led them toward such tolerance.

Posted by: truebluepatriot | May 18, 2010 2:20 AM | Report abuse

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