A liberal religious renaissance?
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.
Steven E. Levingston
May 17, 2010; 5:30 AM ET
Categories: Guest Blogger | Tags: liberal theology, progressive religion
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