Tuesday, May 19, 2015

"Let's get ready to rumb-ullllllllllllllllllllllllllllll !

Pastor Dan swims back in to my ken, and what brings him to attention is an interesting topic:  a fight between 9 churches in Phoenix, Arizona; although in this case, it's 8 against 1.

It seems the pastor of The Fountains UMC has annoyed several other churches in Phoenix.  I'm getting the story from one of the links in Pastor Dan's post; admittedly, it's the website of The Fountains, but you can find other links there (if you're curious) and there are photos of the banners, the ads, and the article that has sparked 8 churches to preach in unison against...well, against modern biblical scholarship and 20th century theology, essentially.

Pastor Dan professes no sympathy for "progressive" Christianity, but I cannot but disagree with him.  Especially since the cause of this brouhaha doesn't seem to profess any desire for either a fight, or for "victory":

While this all may seem scary, it has already proven to be tremendous publicity for our church that “Prays Well With Others” with Open Hearts, Open Minds, and Open Doors. Our strategy is to not be defensive or argumentative, but to keep articulating the positive attributes of Progressive Christianity and always err on the side of grace as we move ahead. There are many who are hungry for the message The Fountains offers – we look forward to this situation helping us reach more and more of them!

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us or Pastor David directly. We’re looking forward to an amazing Sunday with lots of new friends and supporters in attendance as we Reach, Touch, and Teach by living and sharing the stories of Jesus!
The 8 churches make their stance rather plain in the ad.  "Progressive," used to modify "Christianity," is in quotes, and the topic is whether this kind of Christianity is "Fact or Fiction."  In my experience, people so concerned about the statements of belief or understanding of another group are trying to reassert their own boundaries.  They are, in essence, trying to reaffirm who they are, by denigrating someone who looks too much like them.

Sort of like "New Atheists" who think all religion is fundamentalist American Christianity, which they must strain every effort to prove they have nothing in common with.  They doth protest too much, in other words.

What I wish I knew was:  what's going on in Phoenix?  The pastor of The Fountains wrote a book on "Progressive Christianity" (that's part of the title), but that was 3 years ago.  The Fountains supports LGBT rights, but so do several UCC churches here in Houston* (of course, we're too small to notice, here).   There is a UCC church in Dallas which made its focus the outreach to the gay community, and I don't think it prompted an organized backlash like this.  Is The Fountains getting local attention for their stance?  Is it attracting new members who like this theology?  Clearly it represents a threat to these 8 very conservative churches (one of the 8 is a Presbyterian church, which denomination has been beset with battles over LGBT rights; the other mainline, non-Baptist church is a MO Synod Lutheran church, an extremely conservative branch of the Lutheran brand).  The question is:  why?

Pastor Dan worries this is a sign the church is both shrinking and becoming more threatening:  it will, he fears, become "more conservative and more liberal."  Eh, I guess.  Seems to me that trend got started with the publishing of The Fundamentals in the early 20th century.*  Or with shifts in thinking in Europe which frightened immigrants in this country who preserved "the Old Country" in amber and held to an unchanging ideal of Europe which, of course, had to change.  As much as American immigrants were supposed to melt away in America, they were allowed to keep their religious practices as a relic of home (hence we have only had one Catholic POTUS, and he had to reassure the Protestants that he wouldn't take orders from Rome).  And home had to stay the way immigrants remembered it; except it refused to, and that, too, was apostasy.

So this is an old and deep divide, and it's working out, or at least the struggle with it, is inevitable.  This is, as far as Diana Butler Bass can see (cited at The Fountains website, but no further), unprecedented.  But since we can't republish "The Fundamentals" again, I suspect this may become a trend around the country.

Which could have ironic results.  Several years ago a UCC church in Texas, the largest in a small Texas town (yeah, still....), decided the UCC was "too liberal" (I guess now we'd say "Progressive") and it left the UCC to start a new denomination, one more to its liking.  It expected many UCC, and other disaffected, congregations to join it.  I don't know that any ever did.  The other UCC church in the town gained members after that split (those who left that congregation to stay in the UCC), and proclaimed itself the "largest UCC church in town."  And it was, of course.  Was that a split between "progressives" and "true Christians"?  If so, history since Luther nailed up his 95 Thesis is replete with such examples.  I pastored a church that had split, decades earlier, over the decision to spend money re-carpeting the main worship space.  The "new church" was a few blocks down the street.

Same as it ever was.

Could the answer to the question "Why"? be the fight over gay rights and gay weddings?  Yeah:

At The American Conservative, Rod Dreher warned that Bush “can’t avoid forever the greatest threat to religious freedom in our present moment: the advance of gay rights.”
According to the trial court’s decision, finding that Stutzman had violated the state’s anti-discrimination law, Stutzman testified in her deposition that Ingersoll “came in and we were just chitchatting and he said that he was going to get married. Wanted something really simple, khaki I believe he said. And I just put my hands on his and told him that because of my relationship with Jesus Christ I couldn’t do that, I couldn’t do his wedding.”
Which is funny, because it was Jesus himself who was criticized for associating with prostitutes and tax collectors.  "More Catholic than the Pope" doesn't begin to express it.

Same as it ever was, indeed.

*if you read all of those posts, you'll find that Henry Emerson Fosdick (who I still think gave his name to "Fearless Fosdick."  Al Capp was very conservative.) in 1922 was already questioning the necessity of the virgin birth, or a literal second coming of Christ, as a part of Christian belief.  Neither of those tenets, by the way, have to be affirmed for one to be considered a Christian, according to the accepted definition of "Christian" among the mainline denominations.   The minimal requirements of  of Christianity are baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (even Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier, the "inclusive" version of the Trinitarian formula, is not acceptable), acceptance of baptism and communion/eucharist as sacraments, and affirmation of Jesus of Nazareth as the Son of God.  The rest is optional.

But:  1922.  As I say, this stuff is still "trickling down."  No doubt Fosdick was looking at the small number of Americans who were members of a religious organization (it had risen slightly since 1920 or so, but been flat since 1906) and trying to do something about it.  When does it ever change?

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