I just finished last night, a ten-week study at our church called "Saving Jesus from the Radical Right and the Secular Left". I wish I had had the courage and the audience to teach it to some twenty years ago. Impediments, sadly, were my fear and the perception that no one wanted to hear what progressive Christianity (Xnty) had to say.
First, my fear. My impression is that 80% of United Methodist people in southwest Texas are conservative, meaning that a sizable portion are active fundamentalists, a larger portion are involved evangelicals and the rest of that 80% are passive, status quo conservatives. Of these folks, I have been confronted by some
- with disbelief ["You don't listen to Focus on the Family!"],
- with outrage ["If you don't believe in demons, you don't believe the Bible".] and
- with condemnation [You can't be a Xn if you don't believe the Bible is literally true and infallible.]
In my younger days, I was saddled with Jesus saying that it would be better to have a large stone tied around my neck and that I be cast into the lake than for me to tear down the faith of the little ones. I used that teaching to defend my unwillingness to challenge any of the "little ones".
I was wrong; and now at the age of 66 and now standing on the edge of retirement I have come to understand that my fear had more to do with my own need to be "acceptable" and the ill-founded concern for the advancement of my "career", than the fear of being thrown in the lake.
In 1 John 2 the writer delineates three stages of Xn growth: (1) little children, (2) young adults, and (3) mature Xns. So often I and a vast number of educated United Methodist ministers (who ought to know better) have opted to retard the growth of our "faithful" by preaching a harmless, self-centered, salvation gospel to the static congregations in our charge. When the struggles of the"young adults" have arisen, we, for the most part, have smoothed them over and put the children back into their beds. We have ignored the yearning of so many of our faithful to understand the "mysteries of our faith" that are reserved for those who are mature.
My fear to share my understanding of the "mysteries" is rooted in my own cowardice; and perhaps for my own selfish concern for my "career". So much for fear.
Is there an audience in our churches for dialog concerning progressive theology? I think there is. In my just-finished class of 15, at least five of the student were "conservative to fundamentalist", three t0 five were moderate and the others hopelessly liberal or progressive.
I recruited this class by stating my intention to teach a class of "progressive theology"---or for the unsophisticated, "liberal" theology. Perhaps 25 folks expressed an interest. I asked each of them to read the first chapter of Marcus Borg's book, "Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time". (see Blog Archives, May and the above title) then, if they wanted to take the course, to email me. Fifteen or so did, and we had a great class.
Admittedly, if I had offered this class at some of my smaller, rural churches the class might have been very small, and there might have been even more criticism. But the effort is definitely worth it. We must ask ourselves, how many members of our churches have drifted away because they needed a theology of more substance than what was being offered? How many members of our church have become static and bored with their church relationship, because they are being fed milk, when they need a more substantive food?
In this great church of ours, founded by a man who asked only "Is your heart like my heart?" surely there is a place for our progressive members, within the fold.
[See the blog, Progressive Bibliography, for resources.]