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Why Liberal Christianity Is Losing Influence And Members (And How To S


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Has anybody seen the figures from the Episcopal Church? that membership has dropped nearly 25 percent in the past decade? How about in more conservative churches, which are flourishing? There is a serious problem within Liberal Christianity. We are losing more and more members every day, and unless we do something to stop this hemorrhaging, there will be nothing left.

 

What can we do? First we have to realize something. Conservative Christianity is a default for many Christians, at least in the U.S. Liberal Christianity is harder by nature. It requires the person to think, to rationalize things that many conservatives aren't willing to do. So education from non-condescending, understanding people is key.

 

We also need to explore religion as a valid path to a moral, fulfilling life. Many people see religion as a superfluous thing, and until we can change this, we will continue to lose members.

 

I love Progressive Christianity. It makes sense to me in a way nothing else does, and it allows me to be the sane, skeptical, rational human being I am without having to give up theology, my most passionate field of study. I just don't want to see it go away. I don't want Christianity to be a conservative notion only.

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I would be interested in where you are getting your information. I wouldn't say that conservative churches are "flourishing." I think all Christian organizations are shrinking.

 

Perhaps conservative Christian churches are shrinking at a slower rate than "traditional" liberal (as opposed to progressive - there is a difference) congregations. I think the reason is - reason! Liberal leaning churches embrace science in greater numbers than do conservative churches. In the more traditional, conservative churches, the focus is on the miracles, mysteries and ancient promises of eternal life, gold-plated streets in heaven, etc..

 

The conservative church has also remained the last bastion of long-held belief in the "sin" of homosexuality and the wrongness of equality among the sexes - one of the few places on earth left to seek validation of these old stereotypes. You know; where s*x is a dirty word. Perhaps the bump in attendance is the sound of folks hanging on to their prejudices?

 

I think that the only hope for Christianity today is to embrace a non-theistic, love-centered philosophy based on the teachings of Jesus.

 

Welcome to the Forum, BoundSacrifice.

 

NORM

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I would be interested in where you are getting your information. I wouldn't say that conservative churches are "flourishing." I think all Christian organizations are shrinking.

 

Perhaps conservative Christian churches are shrinking at a slower rate than "traditional" liberal (as opposed to progressive - there is a difference) congregations. I think the reason is - reason! Liberal leaning churches embrace science in greater numbers than do conservative churches. In the more traditional, conservative churches, the focus is on the miracles, mysteries and ancient promises of eternal life, gold-plated streets in heaven, etc..

 

The conservative church has also remained the last bastion of long-held belief in the "sin" of homosexuality and the wrongness of equality among the sexes - one of the few places on earth left to seek validation of these old stereotypes. You know; where s*x is a dirty word. Perhaps the bump in attendance is the sound of folks hanging on to their prejudices?

 

I think that the only hope for Christianity today is to embrace a non-theistic, love-centered philosophy based on the teachings of Jesus.

 

Welcome to the Forum, BoundSacrifice.

 

NORM

 

 

http://www.praytellblog.com/index.php/2012/05/02/stats-on-religion-in-the-us-mostly-depressing-declines-for-catholics-and-mainline-protestants/

 

As you can see, 7th day Adventists and Southern Baptists are doing fine (as well as Mormons for some reason), while the mainline denominations are shrinking. It's just really sad to me.

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BoundSacrifice, if you haven't read it, Diana Butler-Bass has a book that addresses this trend, called "Christianity for the Rest of Us". It's been a while since I've read it, but she notes two main reasons that she feels contribute to many mainline churchs losing their membership versus the growth of the more conservative branches of Christianity.

 

1. The reality of God - Diana thinks that many mainlines are either unsure of or unaffirming of the reality of God. Perhaps this is due to how "small" God has become in our post-Enlightenment culture, or due to the liturgy of traditions, but she feels that mainlines do not go to church to encounter God. When I was younger and a Pentecostal, I loved that faith because God did seem so real, so tangible in our worship services. Their theology aside, they affirmed that God was real and that he could be known and experienced in a very personal way. Diana feels that we, as human beings, long for this, to know God personally. The position of many mainlines, IMO (not Diana's) is that we know decent theology, but the experience side of it is played down. Even in my own life, I do not go to church to encounter God. My more liberal or progressive theology tells me that God is everywhere. So I go to church to be with my friends, not to worship God. For many conversatives, though, worshipping God is the main focus of the church service. You go there to experience God.

 

2. The nature of epistomology - In this crazy, mixed up, confusiong world, we want answers to life's problems and challenges. For many mainlines and progressives, we know that there are no magic bullets, no "one-size-fits-all" answers to life. For many of us, life is not about finding unassailable answers, but about a journey, about experience and growth. Many of us are able to hold to questions that seem to have no resolution and even to appreciate and hold in tension different so-called answers because we are aware of and know the importance of context. In contrast, the more conservative branches of Christianity offer people solid answers via proof-texting the Bible or presenting systematic theologies that attempt to help people prioritize their beliefs in order to resolve tensions. This is, I admit, an attractive method. Who would not want the Bible to be an "answer book" that would give us infallible and inerrant answers to all of life's questions and problems? But we progressives know that the Bible and Christianity itself doesn't really work that way. The Bible is filled with a plethora of questions and different answers, all part of the faith of the Jews or of the early church. And Christianity is so splintered that it, too, presents many different viewpoints to those who are honest seekers.

 

Nevertheless, Diana's book highlights a few mainline churches that are growing, and growing well. She does think that they are doing so because 1) they affirm that God is real and can be experienced personally and 2) religious education in these churches focuses on asking the right questions, especially regarding the role of the Church i.e. should the Church's main function be to worship God corporately or to be an agent for good transformation in the location that it exists?

 

Me, I'm torn. I love my church (a local UMC) for its loving people and the work it does in our community. But I don't go there to "feel" God (though I sometimes think it happens anyway). And my UMC is still high-church enough that it doesn't really deal with post-modern questions. It recites the Creeds and thinks those should answer any questions seekers may have.

 

Will our mainline churches address these issues? Can or should they? We'll see, I suppose.

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As I understand, the fastest growing religous group in the US is the 'NONES' - those with no religous affiliation whatsoever.

 

I don't know the exact reasons why this is so, but I suspect the internet and our information age has a lot to do with it. When in our history before the internet were we ever exposed to, or had such access to, the resources we have today about biblical scholarship, historical Jesus, and so much science that explains so many things simply attributed before to 'God'?

 

I see the decline in mainline churches a direct result of this information age.

 

I see any rise in conservative Christianity as people seeking a security blanket in these times of financial crisis and insecurity, and as Wayseeker points out, for the purpose of community - fellowship and friendship with like-minded folk.

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Good point, Paul. Although, on a technicality, I'm not sure if a group with no religious affiliation could be considered the fastest growing religious group. :)

 

In your opinion, would this be the same or related to the group that is "Spiritual, But Not Religious"?

 

Bill

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In your opinion, would this be the same or related to the group that is "Spiritual, But Not Religious"?

 

Bill

 

Quite possibly so, Bill. I believe the statistics arrive from census data where people answering the question tick their religion as 'none', as opposed to say Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, etc. So it is probably less a case of rising atheism and more a case of people not affiliating with a specific religion. I actually think the category "Spiritual, but not religous" could be on the rise too if such data was collected anywhere.

Edited by PaulS
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BoundSacrifice, if you haven't read it, Diana Butler-Bass has a book that addresses this trend, called "Christianity for the Rest of Us". It's been a while since I've read it, but she notes two main reasons that she feels contribute to many mainline churchs losing their membership versus the growth of the more conservative branches of Christianity.

 

1. The reality of God - Diana thinks that many mainlines are either unsure of or unaffirming of the reality of God. Perhaps this is due to how "small" God has become in our post-Enlightenment culture, or due to the liturgy of traditions, but she feels that mainlines do not go to church to encounter God. When I was younger and a Pentecostal, I loved that faith because God did seem so real, so tangible in our worship services. Their theology aside, they affirmed that God was real and that he could be known and experienced in a very personal way. Diana feels that we, as human beings, long for this, to know God personally. The position of many mainlines, IMO (not Diana's) is that we know decent theology, but the experience side of it is played down. Even in my own life, I do not go to church to encounter God. My more liberal or progressive theology tells me that God is everywhere. So I go to church to be with my friends, not to worship God. For many conversatives, though, worshipping God is the main focus of the church service. You go there to experience God.

 

2. The nature of epistomology - In this crazy, mixed up, confusiong world, we want answers to life's problems and challenges. For many mainlines and progressives, we know that there are no magic bullets, no "one-size-fits-all" answers to life. For many of us, life is not about finding unassailable answers, but about a journey, about experience and growth. Many of us are able to hold to questions that seem to have no resolution and even to appreciate and hold in tension different so-called answers because we are aware of and know the importance of context. In contrast, the more conservative branches of Christianity offer people solid answers via proof-texting the Bible or presenting systematic theologies that attempt to help people prioritize their beliefs in order to resolve tensions. This is, I admit, an attractive method. Who would not want the Bible to be an "answer book" that would give us infallible and inerrant answers to all of life's questions and problems? But we progressives know that the Bible and Christianity itself doesn't really work that way. The Bible is filled with a plethora of questions and different answers, all part of the faith of the Jews or of the early church. And Christianity is so splintered that it, too, presents many different viewpoints to those who are honest seekers.

 

Nevertheless, Diana's book highlights a few mainline churches that are growing, and growing well. She does think that they are doing so because 1) they affirm that God is real and can be experienced personally and 2) religious education in these churches focuses on asking the right questions, especially regarding the role of the Church i.e. should the Church's main function be to worship God corporately or to be an agent for good transformation in the location that it exists?

 

Me, I'm torn. I love my church (a local UMC) for its loving people and the work it does in our community. But I don't go there to "feel" God (though I sometimes think it happens anyway). And my UMC is still high-church enough that it doesn't really deal with post-modern questions. It recites the Creeds and thinks those should answer any questions seekers may have.

 

Will our mainline churches address these issues? Can or should they? We'll see, I suppose.

 

Wow. That elegantly expressed exactly (tongue twister) what I've been thinking for months.

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BoundSacrifice, I think you make excellent points, also. To me, it is not that our conservative brothers and sisters don't think, but that their reasoning is restricted to the views of their particular denominations. I have, in the past, been somewhat questioning and critical of the pluralism here, but it certainly makes for interesting conversations and provides lots of opportunities to see things from another point of view. While this can lead to conflict, it can also lead to growth. But one of the inherent obstacles in conservative Christianity is that it often does want to conserve the views and interpretations of the past. How do we or can we or should we circumvent this?

 

I also think you're right about the need to present religion, not as primarily a set of beliefs, but as a path of wise, moral, and beneficial steps in a journey. Conservatives often criticize the Mainlines as being 'social clubs'. On one level, if the only reason we go to church is out of tradition or because that's where our friends are, their labels of us might be somewhat justified. But if our 'social clubs, existed to actually further the social gospel as Jesus taught it, more conservatives might take notice. Not that many of us aren't doing these things now, but I don't even know everything my church is doing, let alone why, and I'm not sure on what basis I would even try to 'sell' my church to many conservatives. It's a good church, but though it is Mainline, it is conservative in many ways and doesn't seem to know how to wisely move forward. So it continues to do pretty much what it did 50 years ago and our older members are dying off and very few younger people are joining. When I read the gospel stories, regardless of their veracity, I can't help but wonder what made people so drawn to Jesus? And if he is truly here with us in some sense, why aren't people flocking to him? Are we in the way of the Way? :)

Edited by Wayseeker
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Yes, Dutch, that's an interesting (and valid) approach to church growth. The more religious one is, the more children one has.

 

Liberals/progressives may be a bit more "responsible" in this area, but I have no data to back that up.

 

Another factor that comes to mind, although I am not sure exactly how it relates to the OP, is that what the mainline pastors have been taught in seminary as far as historical criticism goes hardly every makes it to the pews. I suspect that this is because, like the rest of us, pastors need jobs. I know for a fact that my pastors (a husband and wife team) support the GBLT movement within Christianity, an issue that the Methodist Church continues to struggle with. But they say nothing about their stance from the pulpit. Perhaps it is because our congregation is older and more conservative. But perhaps there are other reasons, I don't know.

 

What I do know is that my church is a good church. It does good and loving things in our community. It literally feeds the hungry and works with the homeless. Nevertheless, we don't draw in any new members, mainly other Methodists who are moving into the area. So, despite our "good works", my church seems to be quite irrelevant to our community, at least to the younger sector who weren't raised religiously. And, as I mentioned, I'm torn as to whether or not these people should even be "evangelized" to become active in the church. Right or wrong, they don't seem to feel that anything is missing in their lives. They seem quite happy without religion.

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What I do know is that my church is a good church. It does good and loving things in our community. It literally feeds the hungry and works with the homeless. Nevertheless, we don't draw in any new members, mainly other Methodists who are moving into the area. So, despite our "good works", my church seems to be quite irrelevant to our community, at least to the younger sector who weren't raised religiously. And, as I mentioned, I'm torn as to whether or not these people should even be "evangelized" to become active in the church. Right or wrong, they don't seem to feel that anything is missing in their lives. They seem quite happy without religion.

 

 

So true, and in a way so sad. Our church in South Africa, had a focus on doing in the greater community and service, but we did not appeal to the younger generation and numbers dwindled for many reasons, emmigration and changing demographics, (South Afirica is a complex place), but the older generations didn't see their lack of appeal to younger folk, who drifted away either to other churches or out of the church, where they seem quite happy to live without religion. Then we had the Spong lecture and life changed a lot for me. I found there were others who had similar concerns that I had about "Christianity" and the regular church. What is/was/should be the purpose of a Church?

 

At this stage I too have drifted off (a bit further than most into a new country) and have no desire to join a church, yet... And my children who came with us, 21 and 23 now, have likewise drifted off. The younger was initially very focused on finding himself a church home here, he's also distanced himself, "the congregation was so old," he was one of the only young single person there...

 

I appreciate the framework that the church gave me during my childhood and my childrens upbringing, feel I should add to others, but somehow... A photo I took of Whitby Abbey in November, is probably how I feel at the moment. (Can't work out how to place a picture), it is my avatar at the moment.

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Has Church simply become outdated to a degree? Have we socially and culturally evolved to a point where many of the population no longer see any benefit to be gained by committing to a regular worship service and associated committments? If so, does it matter? Has personal 'spirituality' stepped in to fill the gap previously plugged by Church? From a Christian point of view, are people simply tired of being told they are going to go to Hell and has the advent of time (+2000yrs since Jesus lived) simply lessened the message and threat of a warrior-Jesus' 2nd coming?

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Good questions, Paul, very good questions.

 

I was involved in a conversation about "spiritual things" with one of my coworkers last week who is an avid Pentecostal. Gun control, the pros and cons, was what began the conversation, but that subject lead to other subjects and I eventually let him know that I did not believe in many of Christianity's doctrines (Virgin Birth, Trinity, Original Sin, Substitutionary Atonement, Return of Jihad-Jesus). His response was, "Well, you don't believe the Bible then. Why do you even go to church?"

 

My answer sounded so lame. I said, "I go there because that's where my friends are and we are doing some good in our community."

 

Now, he assured me that he went to his church to hear the Word of God, and to worship God Almighty, and to hear "a Word of the Lord" from his preacher, and to receive healing from God. And he proudly told me that goes Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, Tuesday night for Bible Study, and Friday night for deacon's meeting.

 

How can I compete with THAT? He was nice enough not to say, I don't doubt that he thought my church is "dead".

 

And if someone new came to our community and had to pick between a church where the living and holy God is encountered and heard from, and another church where we make sandwiches for people who have nothing to eat, which would they choose?

 

I suppose it comes down to, as we are discussing, what we think the role of the church is or should be. But when I think of Jesus' life, how he formed friendships and did good within his Jewish community, I don't feel so bad. For me, going to church is about relationships. And I think that is a good thing. I don't go there to be involved in a service that corporately strokes God's ego, though, yes, it is high church so we do sing songs of praise. And I do hear God speaking through my pastors. But then, I hear God speaking through my friends there, my family, my kids, almost everywhere.

 

Maybe Church has become outdated to a degree, Paul. I think that the social structures found there would lend themselves to, perhaps, good places for Christian education and social programs. But these things seem to be that antithesis of what many evangelicals (though not all) seem to think that church is all about. Church, for them, seems to be a place where everyone believes the same things. And in our world of mass communication with so much information, religious and otherwise, at our fingertips, finding groups with "group-think" is going to become rarer and rarer, IMO.

 

As I'm sure you know, Spong has written, "Why Christianity Must Change or Die." Pretty good book. But it is, IMO, mostly theological. I would love to see a book on "Why the Church Must Change or Die" that gives us some possibilities for transforming some of our churches. There will always be Christians like my coworker who need that kind of church. But many mainlines don't offer that sort of church experience. So what could they offer more than just a "social club"?

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It seems to me in general people continue to do church and hold to the conventional Christian doctrines as long as it fills some important need in them. It is my view that it is just a matter of time as they go through the trials and tribulations of life and enter into a more personal search/relationship for themselves that they will come to a point where standard answers to their questions no longer satisfy their soul. As many of us have found, that is a critical and often painful part of the journey. It includes a realization that while God does speak through others, that God who is no respecter of persons reveals him/her/it self to all men/woman through life itself and that no single human/religion has a 'corner on God'.

 

And that the teachings don't belong to a book or even a man or woman for they are given freely to all who question so that in the end, all that ask directly , receive, and to all that knock directly, that door is opened. They are written on the hearts of men and not tablets. While Jesus was a wonderful teacher and example to many, it seems to me that the foundation of any church he may have envisioned was as in Mathew 16:17, 18 and that was "hearing from God directly" rather than the tenets of men whose motives may be in question. So, it seems to me, while churches in general may be declining, as long as individuals are getting closer to the true tenets of God, the kingdom is in a sense, 'expanding' here on earth.

 

Joseph

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Joseph,

 

>>It seems to me in general people continue to do church and hold to the conventional Christian doctrines as long as it fills some important need in them.

 

I think your assessment is spot-on. And, as you know, that was and still is the case in my life. I needed (or felt I did) different things in my younger years from church than I do now. As a result, I attend different churches now than I did then. And this notion may well feed into why my church is not growing; it doesn’t meet the spiritual needs of my particular community. Some folks desire more out of a church than just friendships and opportunities to help the less fortunate. Of course, that does raise the question of whether we go to church in order to get our needs met or to meet the needs of others or to try to strike a balance between the two.

 

>> It is my view that it is just a matter of time as they go through the trials and tribulations of life and enter into a more personal search/relationship for themselves that they will come to a point where standard answers to their questions no longer satisfy their soul. As many of us have found, that is a critical and often painful part of the journey. It includes a realization that while God does speak through others, that God who is no respecter of persons reveals him/her/it self to all men/woman through life itself and that no single human/religion has a 'corner on God'.

 

And this raises, at least in my mind, the consideration of how “personal” our religious beliefs and experiences are. Do we, perhaps, miss something in making our faith too “personal”? What has been the bane and the blessing of the Church is that it has offered “community”, a sense of belonging to something (or even Someone) bigger than just ourselves. This power can be and has been abused, but the sense of community, of being part of a larger whole, satisfies something in us. But we are now a very individualistic society that expounds itself on personal freedoms, rights, and privileges. We have “personal” computers, “private” messengers and messages. Our phones have now transitioned to where everyone has their own “personal” phone. The focus is on “I”. iPhones. iPads. iPods. Little about us is communal anymore. In this drift towards individualism, will we soon, if we don’t already, have (tongue-in-cheek) iGod or iJesus or iChrist, religion tailor-made just for ME, that satisfies MY needs, but doesn’t really connect with others or a community any longer?

 

>>While Jesus was a wonderful teacher and example to many, it seems to me that the foundation of any church he may have envisioned was as in Mathew 16:17, 18 and that was "hearing from God directly" rather than the tenets of men whose motives may be in question. So, it seems to me, while churches in general may be declining, as long as individuals are getting closer to the true tenets of God, the kingdom is in a sense, 'expanding' here on earth.

 

Again, I think you are spot-on. Jesus is recorded as saying that it is Spirit that leads us into all truth. So it is not primarily the Bible or the Church or Christianity. It is, according to Jesus, God with us, God in us. We live by the Spirit. We walk by the Spirit. This can be, IMO, a very “personal” thing in a good way, very satisfying to us as persons. But even in saying this, the notion of the “kingdom” is more than just everyone having their own personal cubicle in heaven. J The notion of the kingdom, at least as I see it portrayed in the book of Acts when the Church officially began, is that people were “together”. Individualism was down-played for the sake of the greater good of the community. Granted, that was a different time and place, and I know that. But I guess that what I’m using way too many words to say is that while I agree about the personal aspect of our faith and journey, I’m not too sure how private it should be. If I believed it should be totally private, I wouldn’t even be here. :)

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Joseph,

 

Of course, that does raise the question of whether we go to church in order to get our needs met or to meet the needs of others or to try to strike a balance between the two.

 

I think we can meet the needs of others whether in church, as a group, or individuals. While we work as individuals, if it is not "i" that works then it is in my view as working in unity, each with his/her own assignment. Yet there is One who directs so as it is as in unison.

 

And this raises, at least in my mind, the consideration of how “personal” our religious beliefs and experiences are. Do we, perhaps, miss something in making our faith too “personal”? What has been the bane and the blessing of the Church is that it has offered “community”, a sense of belonging to something (or even Someone) bigger than just ourselves. This power can be and has been abused, but the sense of community, of being part of a larger whole, satisfies something in us. But we are now a very individualistic society that expounds itself on personal freedoms, rights, and privileges. We have “personal” computers, “private” messengers and messages. Our phones have now transitioned to where everyone has their own “personal” phone. The focus is on “I”. iPhones. iPads. iPods. Little about us is communal anymore. In this drift towards individualism, will we soon, if we don’t already, have (tongue-in-cheek) iGod or iJesus or iChrist, religion tailor-made just for ME, that satisfies MY needs, but doesn’t really connect with others or a community any longer?

 

Good question.

Perhaps we can see how in reality, Jesus worked basically alone yet anyone who was not against him was for him or on his side. Perhaps, he opposed no one doing good works even if they were not a part of his immediate community. Perhaps he had no real place to lay his head?

 

 

But I guess that what I’m using way too many words to say is that while I agree about the personal aspect of our faith and journey, I’m not too sure how private it should be. If I believed it should be totally private, I wouldn’t even be here. :)

 

me too

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In a conversation with a conservative Christian about my progressive (heard by them as "heretical", I'm sure) views, the best answer I could give for the reason I was a Progressive Christian as opposed to a Conservative one was this; "The point of religion is not to achieve an 'us-vs.-them' mentality in which we're always on the winning side, but to guide us through life so that we might be better people, and aiding in bringing a better time on Earth not just for our particular group of people, but for everyone. What God wants for this Earth is not for humans to fight each other to extinction over the issue of who has the right theology about Him (or her, whatever, I think God is genderless anyway), but to find common ground and to love each other. God loves us all, regardless of what we think about God. Why can't we give ourselves the same?"

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In a conversation with a conservative Christian about my progressive (heard by them as "heretical", I'm sure) views, the best answer I could give for the reason I was a Progressive Christian as opposed to a Conservative one was this; "The point of religion is not to achieve an 'us-vs.-them' mentality in which we're always on the winning side, but to guide us through life so that we might be better people, and aiding in bringing a better time on Earth not just for our particular group of people, but for everyone. What God wants for this Earth is not for humans to fight each other to extinction over the issue of who has the right theology about Him (or her, whatever, I think God is genderless anyway), but to find common ground and to love each other. God loves us all, regardless of what we think about God. Why can't we give ourselves the same?"

 

Wise words, BoundSacrifice. I agree with you about the “us versus them” mentality and how we deal with that or get over that (although I’m not always successful at practicing what I preach). One of the things that comes up here on the forum from time to time, is our labels and how they often do easily lend themselves to the “us versus them” paradigm. “What is a Christian?” “What is Progressive Christianity?”

 

As soon as we say that we are Christians, there is a lot of baggage that comes with that label. It’s a 2000-year-old religion, how could there not be? And it seems to be the general consensus, due to how vocal conservative, fundamentalist Christians are, they if we are Christians, then those who are not are, by default, judged to be lesser; either lesser in their religious/philosophical views or even, worst case scenario, condemned to hell.

 

Of course, one of the things that progressive Christianity is trying to say is that there are different ways to be Christian and we have the freedom to find the way that works best for us, that makes sense to us, that leads us to transformation or an experience of unity with our God, ourselves, and our fellow human beings. But because the label “Christianity” and “Christian” does have this baggage (which many of us are trying to shed), many who hear “progressive Christian” think it to be an oxymoron or, as you say, a synonym for “heretic”. The label “Christian” has, at the same time, both a rich heritage for bringing some blessing to our world and a bad reputation for being, at times, judgmental and even immoral.

 

At church, I gladly say that I am a Christian. That is the language and culture of the Church. But few there really know how unorthodox I am. My goal there is not to teach theology or to dismantle anyone else’s, but to simply love them and help them as I can.

 

In public, however, I seldom, if ever, say that I am a Christian because I know that people will feel judged by that label and I usually do not have time to explain what a “progressive Christian” is. Lately, if asked, I just tell people that I am a “Jesusian”. This at least let’s folks know that Jesus fits in there somewhere, but that I’m not the typical “turn-or-burn” type Christian. Then, if they inquire further, I have an opportunity to share. If they don’t, no problem.

 

But I appreciate what you said about being blessed to be a blessing. What if our more conservative brothers and sisters, rather than asking, “If you died today, do you know where you will go?”, were to ask, “How can I be a blessing to you today?” Not in an ego-building way, of course, but just in the spirit (and maybe Spirit) of conveying, “You are not truly separate from me. We are in this together with one Father. How can we celebrate this?”

 

>> God loves us all, regardless of what we think about God.

 

This has been the bedrock experience of my life since when I “lost” my Christianity. God loves me just as I am, Christian or not. Regardless of my theology and/or philosophy. But our label of Christianity, for better or worse, is often known for the theology that it holds to and the doctrines it believes.

 

Can we fill the “Christian” or the "Church" wineskins with new wine? Should we? Or does new wine really need new wineskins? I don’t know. Maybe it depends on who we are talking with. But it is interesting to note that Jesus never taught Christianity or called people to be Christians. Nothing wrong with the label. But what’s in the jar?

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The conservative church has also remained the last bastion of long-held belief in the "sin" of homosexuality and the wrongness of equality among the sexes - one of the few places on earth left to seek validation of these old stereotypes. You know; where s*x is a dirty word. Perhaps the bump in attendance is the sound of folks hanging on to their prejudices?

 

Homosexuality is sin. But it no greater a sin than adultery or stealing. Paul puts them all in the same category. However, homosexuals should NOT be denied equal rights.

 

I think that the only hope for Christianity today is to embrace a non-theistic, love-centered philosophy based on the teachings of Jesus.

 

Why do you assume that theism and love are mutually exclusive? Jesus was a theist. His God was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

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Homosexuality is sin. But it no greater a sin than adultery or stealing. Paul puts them all in the same category. However, homosexuals should NOT be denied equal rights.

 

Adultery and stealing involve deceit, harm, and a power imbalance. Homosexuality, like heterosexuality, has the potential to harm as any person does, however the sexual orientation itself is not a sin nor is it anything for any homosexual to be ashamed of.

 

IMO, to categorise homosexualityas a sin using a couple of ambiguous references made by Paul, is more than dubious.

Edited by PaulS
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Homosexuality is sin. But it no greater a sin than adultery or stealing. Paul puts them all in the same category. However, homosexuals should NOT be denied equal rights.

 

Adultery is potentially harmful behavior to someone who has invested trust in the other person. Stealing is a crime against human civilization in most societies. Homosexuality is a defining characteristic of how some people experience romantic love - not given to choice in the same way you did not choose your sexual orientation. What is the true purpose of labeling it a sin?

 

Sin is a word that no longer has meaning to me. It is a relic of an era that went the way of witch trials and shunning.

 

 

 

Why do you assume that theism and love are mutually exclusive? Jesus was a theist. His God was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

 

You misread my statement. I did not say that theism and love are mutually exclusive. There are plenty of folks I know who embrace traditional Christianity, Judaism or Islam - and can love their fellow man. What I said was quite plain: a philosophy based purely on love is not dependent on whether or not some character in a book is supernatural. Love is a verb, not a theological paradigm. In my opinion, Christianity can blossom and thrive if it were to embrace the Creed of Love (as is so beautifully described in Paul's letter to the Corinthians) instead of the Apostle's Creed.

 

 

 

NORM

Edited by NORM
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I am rather new to this Liberal Progressive movement- having only been within the last 5 years discovered that I had slipped into it. I would like to make a few observations on why "our" numbers are shrinking. One, I think it is more difficult to be a progressive Christian. It was easy as a Fundamentalist Pastor, all I had to do was stay within the parameters of "the faith" and never question or doubt the faith. (The latter was becoming more difficult for me) It was easy because I knew all the answers to all the questions. But now as a "liberal-progressive," I realize I do not have all the answers and even some of the questions- I question.

That may be one reason why the numbers are shrinking-because it requires much more work and study- and alot more honesty with oneself and others.

Secondly, no one really "evangelized" me into the progressive side of Christianity. I am beginning to wonder about that. Why didn't someone approach me with some "liberal" wisdom?

Oh, there were people who planted some seeds- like a Presbyterian History Professor who came up to me after one of my lectures and said "Ed, I know what your problem is -you only see black and white , no gray!" Yet He wasn't advocating that I become a liberal.

The final thought is - the evaneglical Fundamentalist camp offers something that people are looking for in this world- the security of having "the truth." Our numbers may be shrinking because in a world of pain, poverty, injustice etc- people do not want an insecure faith- a faith with doubt- a faith that doesn't have all the answers. if we want to see our numbers increase- we need to begin to adrress that issue- why a faith with doubt is the real faith...that real security is found in accepting the realization that we do not have all the answers. That faith is not about the answers or the questions.

something I was thinking about...ed

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I think that there are several reasons that add up and lead to the decline of progressive churches. A lot of the following (if not all) has already been touched upon by others in this thread.

 

First, we have ideological secularization, which is the result of bringing reason to the table. After a certain point in their lives, most people simply aren't able to buy into the more fantastic portrayal of reality. As a result they graduate from the church intellectually and join the ranks of what Spong calls the "church alumni."

 

Second, the very institutional structures themselves no longer match up with what is expected for a more postmodern/emerging culture. As the vision of the family changes, so too does the vision for how authority is transmitted through a system. Church structure is hierarchical (even if it is democratic) with regards to power. Emerging folks don't like being told how things are going to be done.

 

Third, there are issues of time and location. People are extremely busy. They aren't always able to slot time for church events. Furthermore, with employment pressures increasing, there is an increasing need for downtime. So, when the time is available, it's arguably better for their health to spend time on recovery than church events.

 

Fourth, the unique services that church offers has largely been taken over by others in the information age. Years ago, if one wanted to learn about Christianity, then one needed to hear it from the professional Christian, the pastor. That meant going to where the pastor was: church. Now, books and audio can be found in bookstores or online, and people can engage on their own time in their own space. Christian communities for conversation can be found online (like this forum).

 

Fifth, there is an issue of identity. This has mainly to do with a barrier that prevents outsiders from wanting to become insiders. Christianity is primarily understood as the evangelical type. Secular progressives often want nothing to do with it, and may see joining as a move backward in their development.

 

In short, the social void that churches have filled for people in a certain point in life is no longer there. Personally, I don't see this as a bad thing. I believe that the future of progressive Christianity is with the "nones/spiritually but not religious." Will congregations survive? Sure, and they can thrive as long as they are able to remain relevant for their larger communities. But for the most part I believe that the very form that progressive Christianity takes is going to look much different than a denominational/congregational model.

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