Neither "Progressive" nor "Christian"

Earlier this year the Common Dreams conference drew together people from Australia, North America and the South Pacific to Melbourne, to explore ways that ''progressive religion'' can contribute positively to the common good.

I've just listened to a two part series on "Progressive Christianity" based around interviews with keynote speakers and participants.

The interviews are candid and provide important insights into final stages of decline and decay in the lifecycle of a movement.

Note the denial of the very core of the Christian faith. Note the willingness of denominations to tolerate clergy who deny the faith. Note the self interest that keeps clergy within denominational systems even while they undermine them.

On Christianity’s lack of originality . . .

In the last 20 years, there's just been an explosion of information about how Christianity really got started and all the changes that were made. And for the first time, people are learning that there's nothing in the Christian tradition, not the Virgin birth, not the death on the Cross, not the three-day later Resurrection, not the Ascension, not any of those things that we have laid upon Jesus, are unique to Jesus. They have existed in mythologies in Egypt and other areas as much as 500 years before Jesus.

Reverend Fred Plumer President of The Center for Progressive Christianity in Washington

On taking Jesus down from the cross . . .

In simple language I think what I would like to see is us let Jesus become the human that he was - albeit we might say an enlightened teacher, prophetic teacher, a wise teacher, a wisdom teacher, but essentially taken back down from the cross - and eliminate the need to worship as opposed to becoming a follower. I had a great vision while I was in seminary, literally of a picture in my mind of having a conversation with Jesus and having him say to me 'Take me off the cross, so that you can follow me, you cannot follow me if you're worshipping me.' I don't know where that came from, or what the effect was but that's really the heart and soul of the Progressive movement, at a theological, Christological level.

Fred Plumer

On the doctrine of the Atonement (Christ dying for our sins) . . .

I really do think that's been a curse to the faith.

Fred Plumer

On the nature of mission . . .

A lot of us who are interested in Progressive Christianity are white, middle class Western people and that we really need the voices of people who are marginalised and excluded, to join that progressive conversation, and that we need to examine some of the ways in which we perpetuate other people's oppression, and I think the voices of gay and lesbian people are one way that that comes into the conversation. ,

Reverend Dr Margaret Mayman, senior minister at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Wellington, New Zealand

On the historic Christian faith . . .

I'd be happy to abandon the Apostles’ Creed.

The Very Reverend Jeremy Greaves, Dean of the Anglican Cathedral in Darwin

On why “Progressive Christians” are white, middle class and greying . . .

I remember Jack (Bishop Shelby) Spong saying last time around, when I was clearly the youngest person at the conference, that it doesn't surprise him that young people are absent form this sort of event because so many of these questions are questions that for so many people in their 20s or even 30s, aren't on the horizon yet, and so I'm not sure what it looks like. I don't think that Progressive or this part of the church will ever be full of young people, but I think it certainly has a future, but I'm not sure what that looks like.

Jeremy Greaves

On quietly leaving traditional Christianity behind . . .

For so many of us in ministry, we're locked into a model where the people who sit in the pews pay our salaries, pay our way. I have a wife and three small children to support and so the challenge of being too prophetic and changing too many things too quickly is that there won't be enough people left in the short term to help me survive financially, and that's a brutal and very difficult challenge.

Jeremy Greaves

On the fear that induces silence . . .

For so many of my colleagues in their 60s, which the majority, certainly in the Anglican church clergy are, they can probably get away with doing the same thing for another three or four years, and I have probably 30 years of ministry ahead, and that won't work. And so the real challenge . . . is knowing that we need to be somewhere else, but for me it's the fear that comes with that and perhaps lacking the courage sometimes to go quite as far as we perhaps need to go.

Jeremy Greaves

Full text and audio of the interviews.

Why this deafening silence?

But the intent of the same-sex ' 'sacred union ceremony'' at Brunswick Uniting Church was fairly clear: vows and rings were exchanged, there were prayers and blessings, and a multi-tiered white cake to aid post-service celebrations.

The Uniting Church of Australia has come a long way in the last 30 years since it was formed out of the union of Methodist, Presbyterian and Congregational churches.

The unsurprising decline of the mainline


The decline of the Protestant mainline in America began over 150 years ago. It has continued ever since, picking up momentum since the 1960s.

We don't really need more evidence, but here it is courtesy of George Barna's latest report.

A generation ago the Protestant landscape of America was dominated by the six major mainline denominations (American Baptist; Episcopal Church; the Evangelical Lutheran; the Presbyterian Church (USA); the United Church of Christ; and the United Methodist Church.)

The growth among evangelical and Pentecostal churches since the 1950s, combined with the shrinking of the mainline sector, has diminished mainline churches to just one-fifth of all Protestant congregations today.

Down is the percentage of families with young children, single young adults. Up goes the percentage of adults over 60.

Another hurdle for the mainline bodies has been attracting minorities. These churches struggle in reaching Hispanics and Asians.

Just one-third (31%) of mainline adults believe they have a personal responsibility to discuss their faith with people who have different beliefs.

Yet mainline churches are awash with money. They generate more than $15 billion in donations each year. During the past decade the median church budget of mainline congregations is up 51%.

A decade ago the median age of mainline Senior Pastors was 48; today it is 55. Only 12% of them claim to have the spiritual gift of leadership.

Adherents attend church services less frequency than they used to. Volunteerism in these churches is down by an alarming 21% since 1998.

Less than half (49%) of all adherents describe themselves as “absolutely committed to Christianity.”

A majority are not involved in some type of personal discipleship activity. Less than half contend that the Bible is accurate in the life principles it teaches. Only half of all mainline adults say that they are on a personal quest for spiritual truth. And when asked to identify their highest priority in life, less than one out of every ten mainline adults (9%) says some aspect of faith constitutes their top priority.

Report Examines the State of Mainline Protestant Churches

Wishing you a "progressive" Xmas

Xmas-billboard-09.jpg A "progressive" Anglican church in Auckland, New Zealand has erected a billboard depicting Mary looking dejected after unsatisfying sex with Joseph.

The huge ad shows the unhappy couple in bed accompanied by the slogan: "Poor Joseph. God was a hard act to follow." In the fresco-style work, Joseph looks down red-faced while an anguished Mary looks to the heavens.

The vicar of St Matthew's, the Venerable Glynn Cardy, said it was a cutting-edge strategy to engage non-believers.

He rejects the "fundamentalist" view that Christianity is about individual salvation. The St Matthew's website states,

For fundamentalist Christians the incarnation is about the miraculous arrival of a baby soon to die and by his blood save us. For progressive Christians the incarnation is about the miracle of this planet earth and all life that exists here.

The Christmas billboard outside St Matthew-in-the-City lampoons literalism and invites people to think again about what a miracle is. Is the miracle a male God sending forth his divine sperm, or is the miracle that God is and always has been among the poor?

Apparently you don't have to be a Christian to be "progressive". You can be a Hindu, Muslim, or Buddhist. What progressives hold in common are is commitment to inclusiveness, tolerance, peace, social justice, human rights, and open thought.

Progressive Christians recognize the faithfulness of other people who have other names for the way to God's realm, and acknowledge that their ways are true for them, as our ways are true for us.

Whatever else this "progressive" faith is, it is not Christian. How can an archdeacon of the Anglican church promote such views? Something is very wrong.

Why Episcopalian decline matters


New York Times: How many members of the Episcopal Church are there in this country?

Bishop Schori: About 2.2 million. It used to be larger percentagewise, but Episcopalians tend to be better-educated and tend to reproduce at lower rates than some other denominations. Roman Catholics and Mormons both have theological reasons for producing lots of children.

Times: Episcopalians aren’t interested in replenishing their ranks by having children?

Bishop: No. It’s probably the opposite. We encourage people to pay attention to the stewardship of the earth and not use more than their portion.

Since this 2006 interview, Katharine Jefferts Schori, 26th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, has continued to preside over a "percentagewise" decline.

From 2004-2008 the Episcopalians lost 10% of its active membership, a staggering 190,527 people. Attendance fell by 11% from 795,765 to 705,257, a loss of 90,508 people.

The church is overwhelmingly white (87%) and aging (51% over 50). In the next 10-15 years 27% of Episcopalians will die of old age and they will not be replaced.

Two thirds of parishes have experienced serious conflict in the last five years, A third have been through multiple serious conflicts. Almost half of all serious conflict was over the ordination of gay bishops and clergy (47%). The second most common cause of serious conflict? The priest's leadership style (29%). This is a denomination at odds with its constituency.

No surprises here. The Episcopalian church continues in its free-fall to oblivion. That trend will continue. It's over for the Episcopal Church as a denomination. That's not to say it's the death of a denomination. Asset-rich religious organizations don't die quickly. They linger on life support. Each time a congregation closes, the denomination wins the lottery in the form of asset sales.

Make no mistake, this is the fruit of theological liberalism. There is no other pattern of history.

You may be wondering, "Why the fuss?" On a global scale the decline of the Episcopalians matters very little. All over the world where Anglicans remain true to a biblical faith and gospel faithfulness, the church is growing, especially among the global "South". The poor are choosing which gospel to believe; which Jesus to follow. They are the future of the Anglican tradition.

In that perspective, Episcopalian decline is tragic for the Episcopalians but of marginal importance for world Christianity.

Why the fuss? Because this is not just about Episcopal decline. This drift to a more secular, socially acceptable version of the faith, is a recurring trend of history. Eventually the outcome is decline, decay and collapse.

The Episcopalians represent the last gasp of the old liberalism that accommodated modernity. Today, as Driscoll points out, a new liberalism accommodates postmodernity. It will suffer the same fate as its modernist counterpart.

That's why Episcopalian decline matters.

10 antidotes for that sinking feeling

To help you pass the time as you go under, here's 10 suggestions as you listen to the tune of "Nearer my God to Thee." ... Throw a few million dollars/pounds/euros/shekels at "new missional initiatives," but make sure you never evaluate their effectiveness or viability.