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Wish Progressive Christianity Was A Denomination


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Progressive Christians sometimes exist within denominations that tolerate their point of view (not embrace). Occasionally it seems that a congregation is self identified as progressive (or unitarian christian). I grew up in a congregational church that was Unitarian Christian. However, the church I attend now falls into the first category.

 

I find it challenging because, though about 30% of the congregation is progressive, the church school curriculum and the sermons are Traditional/trinitarian. I have purchased the curriculum for children here in order to teach my daughter a more progressive viewpoint. However, what she learns at church contradicts much of what I teach her.

And I find little outlet and inspiration for my beliefs within the congregation. However, there isn't a more liberal denomination (while still following the teachings of Jesus) that I can find.

 

Does anyone else find themselves feeling a bit lost or sidelined in their church?

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I think the minute anyone tries to do that, come up with some standardized codified set of doctrines and beleifs and way of doing things....and all those orgnaizers and controllers that figure they know better than others how its supposed to be and should tell others what they should beleive and do....well, I think it would be the same minute it would die as PC as we percieve that. That's pretty much, as I see it, when the "original faith" expressed within the NT began that same death.

 

Jenell

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Hi, Light weight. The following brief analysis of PC is my own and carries with it no official sanction or stamp of approval from the leaders of PC. It just reflects what I think, okay?

 

To me, Christianity and most other religions are like narrow channels that attempt to define how we, as human beings, experience the Sacred or, in more religious terms, have a relationship with God. These channels define themselves by holding to certain creeds, statements of faith, dogmas, or traditions that instruct the people within these channels as to how they should experience the Sacred. At one end of the Christian spectrum is the channel that says that God is experienced primarily through the ways that people in the Bible experienced God i.e. the Bible is our guidebook for having a relationship with God. At the other end of the Christian spectrum is the channel that says that God is experienced primarily through Church traditions (liturgy, rites, ordinances, etc.). Because all of these channels tend to define themselves rather narrowly, Christianity has about 38,000 channels to pick from. While these channels have some similarities, they often define themselves by their differences. And they can be rather stringent in telling the people within their channels to stay within their channels, sometimes using threats of hellfire to keep their channels pure and on course.

 

PC, in my opinion, recognizes 1) the complexity of human spiritual/religious experiences and 2) the transcendence or “Moreness” of the Sacred or God. Therefore, it takes the narrow channel of Christianity and opens it up, widens it, perhaps like taking the form of a megaphone or an open-ended funnel to recognize all kinds of spiritual experiences. PC, again imo, has a very strong mystical bent (in the best definition of the word) which recognizes that while there are similarities between our different experiences of and with God, no one has the right or authority to dictate to others what they experiences of God should be like. Rather, we value each other’s experiences as valid for that person and respect the uniqueness of every person’s journey and point-of-view. Each person is his/her own authority in spiritual matters, though recognition is given to similarities in our separate spiritual journeys.

 

Another analogy that comes to mind is that of a single beam of light hitting a prism and being split into an infinite spread of different colors. The single beam of light could represent God, but when we, as humans, experience God, we do in a myriad of ways and no one color or group of colors on the other side of the prism is the “right way.” PCs recognize the color spectrum and celebrate the diversity of colors that come out of each of our hearts. The only downside to the light separation and dispersion is that it loses distinction/differentiation and some people (like me) like distinctions, not for the in/out tendencies, but for the contrast.

 

Therefore, if my analysis and analogies are anywhere near correct, then, as Jenell has said, it is counter-PC to try to make a denomination out of it, to try to enforce creeds, statements of faith, dogmas, or traditions that make it one channel. To standardize it would make it just one more of 38,000 Christian denominations and the movement appreciates and honors diversity, not homogeneity.

 

This in no way prevents us from finding Christian (or other) communities where we feel at home. And it doesn’t stop us, if we are so led and given the freedom, to start small PC groups in our churches or home-churches. But unlike most Christian revolutions, PC does not have a major “revelation” to push, only the notion that we somehow find and enjoy God in our personal experiences and in our relationships with each other.

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I attended a church that had the full spectrum of believers. Fundamentalist conservatives to fundmentalist progressives. Pick an issue - the nature and form of worship or homosexuality - and you would find the full range of views. In the middle were the mainline Presbyterians who had been there since the church's hey-day. Once I was conscious of my very liberal views I always tried to find some truth in another's position. Sometimes I just tried to understand them as humans. We found out later that we had been influential in the faith journey of a friend who became a pastor in his second career.

 

I was going to write a longer post about children but this stops me

For younger children, you have to help them filter Sunday School teaching just as we did for our children. We didn't have to.

If you felt that just helping children process what they hear was not enough my encouraging words perhaps would not be appropriate.

 

Take Care

 

Dutch

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Those are thoughtful reasons for PC to cross denominations. I suppose my frustration lies in the fact that, in our congregation, the sermons, children's education and adult education do not reflect a progressive christian view. We have had small groups of PC's that discuss the bible and other writings. However, sitting in the pew on Sunday morning, I do not feel "at home".

 

Our denomination, UCC, does not require one to ascent to a creed/dogma. But the reality is that the sermons/commentaries/education have a decidedly non PC slant. I know this isn't true of all UCC's. We did have a PC pastor for a while and I saw what a difference it made in my faith journey. But I know that many in our congregation who don't share a PC view did not then feel at all at home.

 

I can teach my children on my own, but then they don't have the benefit of being part of the community with their friends. The curriculum, chosen by those that don't share PC ideas, has a destination in mind (and its not where I want my children to go).

 

Truly, I'm at that point that I am beginning to reject the value of participating in organized religion at all. But perhaps thats a topic better suited for a different forum :)

 

How do other PC's handle these challenges if you are in a congregation where PC views are a minority?

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Yvonne, from my experiences with my two local UU churches (which is, of course) very limited, they are very progressive socially being involved in issues of justice and humanitarian efforts here in the DFW area of Texas. Their worship services were very open and of a meditative/reflection style. But neither of them, to my knowledge, mentions God nor Jesus so, just for me, I find them to be a bit nebulous and/or bland. So there is little in the way of progressive theology because God is not much in the picture.

 

My local UCC, which is, imo, a wonderful Congregational church, has very progressive theology and social action. But the worship style there is very liturgical and traditional which, again, just isn't me.

 

I would love to find a church that has progressive theology AND worship/meditation times that are more "lively", engaging all of my senses. But I haven't found one yet. So, for now, I just try to love the people I am with and judiciously raise some eyebrows from time to time when it seems appropriate. :D

 

Watch for my next post on what you would like to see in a PC service.

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Perhaps itis best that PC NOT form into their own separate little denomination, congregateinto their own little enclave,but remained dispersed throughout the church of other deniminations to serve as agents of Progressive influuence and growth within those churches. Be the "salt."

 

Jenell

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The joy of being a PC is we can visit any house of worship. If our children could be relaxed and inspirored in any setting would be more than what I could ask. The growing in friendship is a problem, but they would grow inside. My children our adults so the bow was bent and the arrow sent. We aimed it without control of where the arrow would fall so we are still watching the arrow streak across the sky. I hope those arrows never come down.

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Progressives aren't the only one who are called to be "salt" or the light of the world. Jesus doesn't make distinctions, so why do we? If we cannot call others in Christ whom we disagree with as being part of the Body of Christ, then we failed. Then I wonder if the Holy Spirit is really in us. Jesus wants us to love everyone, not agree with people politically.

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Matt, within its scriptural context, Jesus called his followers to be salt and light to the world. But not all Christians follow Jesus. Some follow the Pope. Some follow the Bible. Some follow the apostle Paul. Some follow their religious traditions. Some follow their denominations. Some follow after “mammon” or power, often invoking the name of God or Jesus in doing so. And some blindly follow what Christianity or the Church at large teaches.

And yet there have been many down through history that have indeed been salt and light to the world. We celebrated one such person yesterday. They have lived out the teachings of Jesus to the best of their ability and the Spirit’s enablement, and, as the result, the world has become better for their presence, and often for their sacrifice.

 

Yes, all who claim to follow Jesus should be salt and light to the world. But as pastor Robin Meyers says, it is one thing to worship Jesus, it is another to follow him. The first cost us nothing. The second may cost us everything.

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Matt, i made no suggestion that progressives are the ONLY ones called to be the salt. I don't think that, and would never suggest it. Don't think any of the others here, at least as I've come to know them, would either. But to ANY that would feel the call to be the salt, you have to recognize that means to go out and actualy be salt somewhere salt is needed, not just gather our salty robes up around us and hide out all together in some little salt cave of our own somewhere.

 

Jenell

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LW, I feel your frustration. Sadly I think this is a common problem for us and is why many PCers stay away from church all togeather.

 

I think you have several options.

 

Find a new church

Go to the Pastor and see if they would support a PC sunday school class. Or a PC study group.

Become active in the church governance and push for liberalization especially when you go searching for a new pastor (when ever that happens).

 

None easy but worthwhile

 

or just live with it.

 

steve

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Something that gets into so many discussions here is how much it matters, how much difference it makes, within any church or congregation, what the pastor's views and positions and beliefs are. As some have noted, some actually could be said to be preaching the same sermon every Sunday, no matter how different the scriptural passages of test they may be working from in any given sermon.

 

I've observed that myself in churches. The pastor sets the tone for the whole church. And if there are any problems in that pastor, his views, theology, attitudes and beliefs, it creates a problem throughout the church. I've seen situations in which there might be some SS or bible study teachers trying to explore different territory, perspectives, views, in their morning classes, and then 45 minutes later, the pastor preaches down whatever was accomplished, takes it right back to his narrow view, even contradciting what others may have covered.

I've seen how dramatically a church, a congregation, can change tone, become discordant, usually leading to a big turnover in people, just because there's a new pastor teaching/preaching something signficantly different than the one before.

I've seen how a pastor's personal hang-ups and pet peeves and prejudices that get worked into every sermon can soon work their way through the while church.

I've seen this even when the preacher seemed really dedicated and sincerely trying to do a good job. Sometimes it may be carelessness, laziness, or arrogance, but sometimes I thik they just don't know how to preach anything but the same sermon from the same perspective and viewpoint over and over. They don't seem to know how, or be confident in trying, to explore different perspective, bring different things out of any particular passage of text. It's like they have blinders on, that keep them from seeing anything but one narrow, well-worn path from anywhere to anywhere.

I've sometimes wondered if churches would better benefit by a preaching/teaching team, but then there seems often a problem with ego and power that so easily gets involved. That already exists in so very many churches, as it is, usually with one faction supporting the paster's views, and one or more in "opposition"...and that's seems always how it is opposition, not cooperation and trying to bring positive together from different perspectives.

Don't know if there's any solution to that or not. I know that some of the best and most satisfying church situations I've encountered relegated the pastor to something of an overseeing coordinator, with sermon or study presentations by different people each week, sometimes other senior members, sometimes guests from outside. And in those, the pastor obviously took care to coordiante whatever their own input into that day, to the main speaker. Sometimes the pastor did a short intro sermon, sometimes might do the main sermon itself maybe once a month. Just seemed to work so much better.

 

Jenell

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Progressive Christians sometimes exist within denominations that tolerate their point of view (not embrace). Occasionally it seems that a congregation is self identified as progressive (or unitarian christian). I grew up in a congregational church that was Unitarian Christian. However, the church I attend now falls into the first category.

 

I find it challenging because, though about 30% of the congregation is progressive, the church school curriculum and the sermons are Traditional/trinitarian. I have purchased the curriculum for children here in order to teach my daughter a more progressive viewpoint. However, what she learns at church contradicts much of what I teach her.

And I find little outlet and inspiration for my beliefs within the congregation. However, there isn't a more liberal denomination (while still following the teachings of Jesus) that I can find.

 

Does anyone else find themselves feeling a bit lost or sidelined in their church?

Absolutly. I guess that's why J.S.Spong calls us Christians in Exile. Keep an eye on the Center for Progressive Christianity website and look at the events section to see if there will be an event in your area that you could attend with your daughter. I just listened to an interview with Bishop Spong on the Public Radio. You can still listen to it - it is on his websight. The point is - even if our views are in the minority right now there are still LOTS of people who feel the same way you do that you can tap into.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Does anyone else find themselves feeling a bit lost or sidelined in their church?

 

Yes.

 

My grandmother was the perfect PC-er.

 

She attended a Baptist church, but she couldn't tell you anything about the doctrines therein. She couldn't care less if you were a post or pre-tribber. She was a Pan-Millenialist. She believed it would pan out in the end.

 

Her notion of G-d's will was "whatever the Good L-rd put on my plate ev'ry mornin'."

 

Her liturgy was simple: Love the L-rd G-d with all your heart, and treat your neighbor as yourself.

 

She lived on the wrong side of town, and some of the "high-churchers" (that's what she called them) looked down their nose at her. She mingled with the boozers and sewed the britches of the bad kids.

 

The bus kids.

 

She didn't care much for the sermons. She thought the preacher "had an attitude: he yelled at folks, and had no love in his heart."

 

My grandmother basically used the church building as her staging ground for her good works. She stacked cans of food and government cheese (they give you WAY too much cheese) for poor follks, and made pots and pots of the best damn ham and bean soup you ever tasted.

 

She made new dresses and dress shirts for people who lost their jobs.

 

My grandfather was a Jewish atheist.

 

He taught me everything I know about compassion.

 

He was one of the few folks in his town that had a job during the Depression. At one point, there were over 10 families pitched in tents on his farm. He let them pick their own eggs from the chickens, butcher a hog or two, and asked nothing in return.

 

He never darkened the door of the church my grandmother attended.

 

It's a good thing. It might have ruined him.

 

I once thought that my grandmother was the way she was because of her Christianity.

 

I now realize that she was the way she was DESPITE her Christianity.

 

A church my wife and I attended for several years was destroyed by a small group of people who wanted to revert the church "back to basics" - which is code for excluding progressive ideas.

 

All of our friends left the church.

 

We stayed out of loyalty (regular tithers) until the leadership announced from the pulpit that women would no longer be allowed to take part in church governance because it "wasn't Biblical."

 

Whatever. That was the last Sunday we attended a Christian church service.

 

I no longer attend a Christian church. I sometimes take part in a local Minyan, and occasionally go to events at a Unitarian church in the next town.

 

LW, I hope you can find a place that allows you to experience G-d in a way that allows you to express your humanity.

 

NORM

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