Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

GOP “Budget Alternative”: No Details Except Massive Tax Giveaway to the Rich

Angry at Democrats for calling them the “Party of No,” and rising to Pres. Obama’s challenge to present an alternate budget instead of just criticizing his, today the Republican Party unveiled—-NOTHING.  Even friendly reporters kept asking for details.  No projections of deficits. No details on what would be cut or how the essential services would be funded.  Zip.  Nada. Zilch.  No  ideas.

Oh,  wait.  There was one concrete proposal:  To cut the top tax rate from 35% (one of the lowest in the industrialized world) to  25%!  That’s it.  A huge tax giveaway to the wealthiest of Americans–the only ones who AREN’T hurting from this recession.   How would this be paid for? No answer. You know why? Because it cannot be answered:

To pay for that HUGE revenue loss, the government would essentially have to shut down.   You couldn’t run the government for a month on that loss of revenue.  You think we have crumbling infrastructure NOW, you wait until that kicked in.  The military would run out of bullets in a year with that budget.  OR, we’d borrow even more than now. Except that no one,  not China, not Europe, not India, NO ONE would loan the U.S. dime one with a “budget” that had no revenue projections, no details of any kind but proposed such a MASSIVE tax giveaway to the very people who put us  into this mess in the first place.  In fact, they would call their markers due and we’d go into complete Great Depression II overnight.

The Republicans also know this is a farce because they know it has no chance of getting past Congress.  The Bush tax cuts will be repealed which will take the top tax rate up to 39%–the rate of the Clinton years.  In the Eisenhower years, when we had the largest U.S. middle class, the top tax rate was 90%!

And  don’t talk to me about deep-cutting the government. Wrong, the history of tax cuts shows that it seldom, if ever, cuts govt.  It just  has  to be paid for later with bigger tax increases.

The GOP truly is the Party of NO NEW IDEAS.  

UPDATE:  Senate Guru  notes that the GOP apparently gave the writers of South Park an advanced copy of their “budget.” I’ve reproduced it below.:



March 26, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) Pushes Prison Reform

I like Jim Webb. Don’t get me wrong; we have disagreements on numerous issues.  I believe that the Democratic Party should be at the forefront of every struggle for human rights and civil liberties and Webb believes that while Democrats were right to  back the Civil Rights movement, we should have “stayed neutral” in the debates over women’s rights and gay rights.   I am a pacifist and Webb is about as pro-military as one can get–although he is anti-nuke and thinks that the military should  only be used as a last resort (and, thus, this former Sec. of the Navy under Reagan was against the Iraq War from before Day One).

But Webb and I agree that the heart of the Democratic Party must always be the struggle for economic justice for ordinary people.  Fighting poverty, checking the abuses of wealth, and creating a broad middle class–those are the reasons Webb is a Democrat and I share them.  We also share a passion for prison reform. Webb sees, rightly, that the current prison system in the U.S. is broken–and is an economic drag on the nation and a new form of racist slavery.

So, now this Democrat from the socially conservative Commonwealth of Virginia (where he narrowly won his seat in 2006), a state that is second only to TEXAS in quick-but-sloppy trials and death sentences, is pushing for Congress to undertake massive prison reform. This year.  Wow.  Webb wants a complete, top to bottom, review of the nation’s criminal-justice system, with an eye toward greatly reducing the prison population (we now outrank China as first in the world in per capita citizens under lock and key) and reforming the way we incarcerate.

Considering that VA is not only a “law and order” state, but that prison growth is one of the few growth industries in our current economy, Webb has guts.  That’s another reason I like him.  I like politicians who have the guts to take on tough issues even if they shorten their time in office. (Webb, a successful novelist,  hardly needs his government paycheck.)

UPDATE: Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) is co-sponsoring the election, giving Webb some bi-partisan cover.

So, I got Webb’s back. How about you?  Contact Pres. Obama and tell him that you support Sen. Webb’s efforts for comprehensive criminal-justice and prison reform THIS YEAR.  Then contact your U.S. Representative to Congress and tell her or him the same thing.  Then contact both of your U.S. Senators and tell them, too.  Then, write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper and urge support.  Sen. Webb is having a major public  event on this initiative this weekend.  By Monday, Gentle Readers, let’s try for 50,000 emails,  letters, or phone calls to Congress and the White House and, at least 25,000 letters to editors of major newspapers throughout the country.  That won’t be all we need to do,  but it should give Sen. Webb’s efforts a major jump start.  Recruit all your family and friends to  do the same.

Oh,  and if any of you are police  or corrections or judges or work in the criminal justice system, or if you are clergy (especially prison chaplains or ministers who have spent time visiting prisoners) or have family who are either victims of crime or have been incarcerated for any reason, PLEASE include your experiences and insights in your contacts with media and Congress and the White House.

March 26, 2009 Posted by | criminal juste | 5 Comments

R. I. P. John Hope Franklin (1915-2009)

The prominent historian John Hope Franklin (1915-2009) passed away today.  He both chronicled and help to make America a more just, less race segregated, nation.  The first African-American historian at a major “white” college (Brooklyn College), the first African-American chair of the history dept. at Duke  University, and first to hold an endowed chair at Duke, Franklin was also the first black president of the American Historical Association.  He was awarded the Medal of Freedom (the highest civilian order given by our government) by Pres. Bill Clinton.  His groundbreaking history textbook From Slavery to Freedom was the first widely used textbook that showed the presence of African-Americans in all of American history–at event after event where the white participants were regularly mentioned in history textbooks and the black participants were not mentioned.

March 25, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Proud Papa–But Nervous!

Yesterday, I put my 13 year old daughter, Molly, on an airplane bound for France and Spain.  Yes, she will be chaparoned–It’s an educational tour with her Spanish Club and the French Club and, in addition to the teacher, there are 3 other responsible adults.  Yes, she earned most of the money herself, working for over a year to get to this point (although many people in our church essentially overpaid her for odd jobs).  Yes, I am excited for her.

But, still, I am nervous.  A 13 year old girl flying without family to Europe? What was I thinking? And she’s tall, which makes her look older than she  is and that invites trouble.  ARRGH! She won’t be back until 04 April.

Molly wants to work for the United Nations, so I am glad she is getting a stamp on her passport long before I did. Sure,  I changed my mind repeatedly on what I wanted to do and she may, too, but I am proud to have the kind of kid who even THINKS about working for peace, human rights, development, etc by dedicating herself to global public service.  She has been in the Model UN and in the mock KY Legislature–all in Middle School. 

Next year, she starts high school. Because of her 4.0 GPA, high test scores, teacher recommendations, and after school public service,  she has won admission to the International  Baccalaureate program at Atherton High School, a magnet program.  The IB program (which kicks in the last 2 years of high school, building on Advanced Placement classes in Frosh and Sophomore years) is equivalent to two years of college work and is recognized by university programs all over the world.  There are only 15 high schools nationwide which offer it.  I know the trip to France (Versailles and Paris) and Spain (Madrid and Barcelona) will contribute greatly to her education and confidence.

But I’m still nervous.

March 25, 2009 Posted by | family | 6 Comments

New Hampshire House Repeals Death Penalty

This just in, the New Hampshire House of Representatives has just voted to repeal the death penalty in New Hampshire.  The legislation now goes to the NH Senate.  Gov.  John Lynch (D) has promised to veto the legislation if it reaches his desk!  NH citizens who disagree with this promise and want the death penalty repealed can send Gov. Lynch a message here.

This has happened in New Hampshire before.  In the 1990s, NH voted to repeal the death penalty and then-Gov. (now Sen.) Jeane Shaheen (D-NH) vetoed it.  Clearly NH people and legislators are not in agreement with their governors, even when the latter are Democrats!  But the ’90s was a time when public support for capital punishment (and the number of executions) was reaching all time highs.  Since 2000, the number of executions has plummeted nationwide (though still remaining high in Texas, Virginia, and Florida) and public support for capital punishment has also decreased–though not as fast or thoroughly as abolitionists like myself would want.

NH has not actually executed anyone for the last 50 years.  In fact, of the 35 U.S. states who have the death penalty on the books, the only two which have carried out ZERO executions since 1976 (the year that the Supreme Court said, in Gregg v. Georgia , that the death penalty could be Constitutional if carried out in a way that was neither arbitrary nor discriminatory) are New Hampshire and Kansas.  (KS has just buried in committee for another year a bill that would repeal its death penalty.)

Will NH follow New  Mexico and New Jersey and become the 3rd U.S. state to repeal the death penalty since 1976? Or will that belong to one of the other states considering such repeal this year like Colorado? Will 2009 be a “tipping point year” for the movement to abolish the death penalty in the U.S.? Stay tuned. (And, as promised, in April I will write a series of blog posts making the case for abolishing the death penalty–and invite debate from the other side.)

March 25, 2009 Posted by | death penalty | 1 Comment

Same-Sex Civil Marriage Passes Vermont Senate

Everyone remembers that Vermont  narrowly passed a same-sex civil union law in 2000: A law that gave gay and lesbian couples SOME, but not ALL of the legal and economic benefits of heterosexual married couples.  In the time since, public support for full (civil) marriage equality has grown considerably in Vermont.  Today, the VT state Senate voted 26-4 in favor of civil marriage equality.  The measure next goes to the House Judiciary.  It is expected to pass the House, too.

The big question is whether Gov. Jim Douglas (R-VT) will sign or veto it. He has opposed the bill, but not threatened to veto it so far.  Public opinion in VT is strongly in favor of passage, but is it enough to override a veto? 

KY is a long way from VT, but I wonder if the national debate has shifted that far since ’04, when anti-same-sex marriage amendments were used in numerous  states to help Pres. George W. Bush to a second term.  One thing’s for sure:  A victory for GLBT rights’ advocates here could be a real morale boost after the Proposition 8 debacle in CA last November.

March 23, 2009 Posted by | GLBT issues | 3 Comments

Financial Media Matters

The media watchdog group, Media Matters, has launched a new website, “Financial Media Matters.”  The site will monitor the financial news, especially the papers (e.g., The Wall Street Journal) and cable channels devoted primarily to financial news, but also the financial news in mainstream media.  It will look for bias, mistatements of fact, coverage of the “woes” of the financial fat cats vs. coverage of labor,  and ordinary people. (Also looking for “pimping” of particular stocks, etc.) On today’s page, the site notes that Joe Scarborough, former Republican Congressman from Florida and host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” falsely claimed that White House Budget Director Peter Orzag “admitted that the Obama Budget will create unsustainable debt.” Orzag said no such thing.

The new site also calls out the Wall Street Journal‘s article on the AIG bonus debacle for omitting the role of the Bush administration back in the Autumn.  And, it wonders if CNBC’s Kudlow is illegally using his show to plug his election candidacy.

Media reform is essential to our democracy.  Citizens can help by using these kind of watchdogs and then responding with calls to Congress and to sponsors  of shows–and wide publicizing of media problems.

March 23, 2009 Posted by | media reform | 5 Comments

Bi-Partisanship to Believe In?

This coming Wednesday 25 March 2009, Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Arlen Specter (R-PA) are introducing the Fair Elections Now Act.  It would create, at long last, a public elections finance system that would ban lobbyist money in elections and would manage to keep the campaigns competitive for candidates who take the money.  I hope it includes mandatory free air time on TV so that candidates don’t have to spend tons of cash on commercials.  If this passes, it should mean that more candidates who are not indebted to special interests (and, thus, are more responsive to the citizens they are supposed to represent) would be elected, strengthening our democracy.

I know some liberals who gave up  on public financing when the Obama campaign managed to out-raise the Republican money machine through the internet and using mostly small contributions and no lobbyists.  But this model cannot be easily replicated without a charismatic figure like Obama and, in a recession, such fundraising is not as likely to be successful.  A level playing field (so  that we pick candidates on the issues, their character, etc., not  on who has enough  money to keep his/her name in front of us the most) is really needed for an effective democracy.

Senators Durbin and Specter  expect that a similar bill will have many co-sponsors in the House.  However, I expect it to be strongly opposed by Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) who believes that money and speech are identical and that campaign finance laws thus violate the 1st Amendment’s protections of free speech!! (McConnell infamously appealed the previous attempt at campaign finance reform,  the McCain/Feingold Act, to the Supreme Court and managed to get the best parts of it declared unconstitutional!)

Can a genuinely fair elections law get passed Congress? I am sure Pres. Obama would sign such legislation if it did.  Will the recent  Democratic fundraising successes (in both ’06 and ’08, the Dems out-raised  the GOP) finally convince enough Republicans to cooperate?  Will any election law with teeth pass this incredibly rightwing Supreme Court? 

One thing’s for sure: If the answers to the above questions are all “yes,” and we do get real election reform, then the hedge fund types won’t be calling the shots in D.C. as much–whether they are buying off Dems or Repubs.  We could actually end up with a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” instead of “of the money, by more money, and for the special interests WITH the money.”  Wow.  That would almost be like living in a real democratic republic instead of a plutocracy–like Canada or New Zealand, maybe.

March 23, 2009 Posted by | elections, U.S. politics | 1 Comment

Volcano Monitoring = Wasteful Govt. Spending?

mtredoubt1Remember last month when Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA) complained that the stimulus bill contained “wasteful government spending” like money to monitor volcanoes? Sure, the money to prevent catastrophes like levees breaking during hurricanes or the inability to evacuate people when a volcano erupts is not the biggest stimulus to the economy. But it was only a tiny amount and it DOES prevent the added economic problems of clean up after a natural disaster that does not get enough warning and prevention.

Alaska’s Mt. Redoubt was on the monitoring list.  This weekend, Mt. Redoubt erupted. Repeatedly.

Does anyone know whether or not Gov. Jindal STILL thinks that was a wasteful use of taxpayer money?

Just wondering.

UPDATE:   Jindal’s office finally responds to questions about this, claiming that his criticism of volcano monitoring in the stimulus bill was only a criticism that this belonged in the regular budget, not in a bill designed to create jobs.  Nice try, Bobby.  Here’s the actual quote you said two months ago:  While some of the projects in the bill make sense,  their legislation is larded with wasteful spending.  It includes . . . $140 million for something called “volcano monitoring.” Instead of monitoring volcanos, what Congress should be monitoring is the eruption of spending in Washington, D.C.

The volcano monitoring was thereby left out of the stimulus package and so no advance warning was given about Mt. Redoubt (now six eruptions six Saturday).  The volcanic ash which can penetrate skin, motor vehicles, and even puncture aircraft, is drifting toward Juneau and Wasilla–without any monitoring. And the cleanup will be far costlier than if advance warning had been available.  Gov. Jindal have you asked your fellow conservative Republican, Gov. Sarah Palin, what she thinks of your removal of this “wasteful spending” from the stimulus?

March 23, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Comments Off on Volcano Monitoring = Wasteful Govt. Spending?

Progressive Christianity Today

Progressive Christianity is a movement within Christianity that is willing to question tradition (both traditional practices  and traditional beliefs). If progressive Christians reaffirm a particular traditional belief or practice, it is after having wrestled with it; it’s affirmations are post-critical, not pre-critical and never with unquestioning acceptance.  Progressive Christian faith embraces doubt and ambiguity.  It accepts human diversity:  intentionally building racial/ethnic and economic diversity into its congregations. It also embraces diversity of sexual orientation.  Progressive Christians firmly defend religious liberty and church-state separation and they are committed to social acceptance and partnership with persons of other faiths. (Progressive Christians differ among themselves as to evangelism, the possibility of salvation in other faiths, and related questions, but they are united in working for social equality and tolerance among differing religions.  In other words, whatever the make-up of any heavenly city, the peace of the earthly cities demands respect for alien belief systems–or,  at least, for the persons who hold those belief systems.)

Progressive Christians have a strong emphasis on social and economic justice and care for the poor and oppressed and marginalized.  They also have a strong ecological emphasis:  a focus on care for the Creation.  For Progressive Christians, the life of Jesus as a model for discipleship, and the teachings of Jesus (especially the Sermon on the Mount) are at least as central salvifically as his death and resurrection. This leads them to an ethic that emphasizes love, compassion, promoting justice and mercy and to social action to end poverty, discrimination, and heal the earth of human-caused environmental degradation.  It also leads to work for peace in the world and many progressive Christians are complete pacifists.

The majority of Progressive Christians today fully accept biological evolution as completely compatible with their faith.  Many are deeply influenced by process philosophies and theologies.

Progressive Christianity is largely a movement within Protestantism, but it also embraces a significant minority of Catholics who have been shaped by the emphases of the Second Vatican Council.  (As such, progressive Catholics have found themselves on the defensive  as first Pope John  Paul II and now, even more, Pope Benedict XIII, have rolled back the progressive changes that sprang from Vatican II and are reaffirming a traditional, authoritarian Catholicism.) It is a diverse movement:  Many of its most prominent leaders come from the liberal strands of mainline (now oldline) Protestantism, but it also has roots in 19th C. evangelicalism (which led the movements to abolish slavery and child labor, the first modern feminist movement, peace and anti-imperialism).  Other roots for contemporary Progressive Christianity include the Social Gospel (late 19th/early 20th C.), mid-20th C. Neo-Orthodoxy, various liberation theologies.  It includes the rediscovery of the vibrant dimensions of 16th C. Anabaptists and overlaps the “emergent church” movement within contemporary evangelicalism.

Regular readers of this blog will quickly realize that I consider myself a progressive Christian.  I am a Baptist who draws more from the Anabaptist side of my tradition than from the Puritan side or the later Revivalist strain.  I come from within American evangelicalism and still embrace the best of evangelical Christianity:  deep biblical literacy (increasingly absent in Christians of all stripes, sadly) and a reverence for the Bible’s position as Scripture  and Canon–though rejecting “inerrancy” theories. I also celebrate the traditional evangelical emphasis on conversion (personal, communal, societal) and the need for new birth, but reject the common idea that this makes discipleship optional.  My own doctrinal convictions are more traditional than many other  progressive Christians: I can affirm the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed without crossing my fingers and my mental footnotes are few. (However, I  share the traditional Baptist aversions to creeds as tests of orthodoxy, much less as infallible statements.  All statements of faith, or confessions of faith, are human and limited and flawed and must be open to revision.) I have been far more influenced by Neo-Orthodox  and Liberation theologies than by theological  liberalism–though I have dialogue partners among the liberals.  More than most white Christians in the Anglo-American world, I have been deeply influenced by the Black Church and African-American and Latin American liberation theologies. (African and Asian liberation theologies have played a much smaller role, though I continue to try to broaden my exposure to them, as well as Afro-Caribbean liberation theologies.) I was raised by a feminist mother and married a woman Baptist minister and one of my favorite  theology teachers is a feminist theologian–and all this has had an impact on me, too.

Progressive Christians are not all liberal or progressive in politics, but most are.  I am a democratic socialist in political philosophy–and find the idea that Barack Obama is a socialist to be laughable.  (In fact, I think that Obama’s economics are not much more progressive than Bill Clinton’s–except on financial regulation and certainly not as progressive as FDR, LBJ, Bobby or Ted Kennedy.  His foreign policy is also very Clintonian, not even as progressive as Jimmy Carter’s– a LONG way from anything a democratic socialist would embrace.  As with FDR and LBJ, contextual matters and people movements may push Obama into a more progressive stance than his cautious self would otherwise embrace–on a range of issues.  And the rightwing fearmongers who use “socialism” as a swear word may push him and the country into a more progressive stance  than if they had cooperated with his initial modest reforms.  But no one who has any notion of what socialism, even in democratic form, is could ever label Obama as a “socialist.” It’s laughable.)

For those who would like to explore Progressive Christianity further, here are some links:


For the most part, these days debates between conservative, traditionalist forms of Christianity and progressive ones go on WITHIN denominations  rather than between them.  Most denominations have conservative and progressive wings.  There are exceptions: The Southern Baptist Convention managed to expel  its progressives and most of its centrists or “moderates” during its internal feud in the 1980s and early ’90s.  The Missouri Synod Lutherans did the same in the 1970s.  Other examples could be multiplied.  The  following U.S. denominations are ones where at least 70% of leadership and membership is progressive.

  • The Alliance of BaptistsThis is a small network of progressive Baptist Christians (individuals and congregations) seeking to respond to the call of God in a rapidly changing world.  It began in 1984 as “The Southern Baptist Alliance,” the first organized resistance movement to takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention by fundamentalists. (I was a charter member of the student branch of the SBA at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1986.) Originally, it was dominated by centrists, but as the SBC purge began in earnest most self-described “moderates” ( a term which always struck me as a synonym for “lukewarm”) formed the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in 1994.  Many Alliance congregations are also CBF churches, and other Alliance churches are also aligned with the American Baptist Churches, USA (contemporary form of the old Nothern Baptist Convention).  The Alliance of Baptists is the newest member body of the National Council of Churches of Christ, USA, the mainline ecumenical body.  We were sponsored by two other progressive denominations, the United Church of Christ, and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) with whom we often partner in mission work.
  • Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).  In the 19th C., the American frontier experience gave birth to a renewal movement led by Alexander Campbell and Barton W. Stone that hoped to Restore New Testament Christianity in pristine condition. It also hoped to heal denominational divisions by rejecting creeds and holding only to the final authority of the New Testament (never realizing that it was reading the NT through a particular lense shaped by Scottish Common Sense philosophy and the American frontier experience).  These Restorationists broke into  several groups and the Disciples became the progressive denomination of the Restoration or Stone-Campbell movement.
  • Church of the Brethren.  Originating in 18th C. Germany and originally called the “Dunkers,” the Church of the Brethren was formed by the creative merging of Anabaptist (German Mennonite) and Pietist theologies.  Despite the name, the CoB have long ordained women.  They retain the pacifism of their Anabaptist roots and an orientation toward service.
  • Episcopal Church, U.S.AThis is the U.S. branch of the global Anglican communion and, of course,  it has its traditionalist side.  But in recent years, the progressives have led the Episcopal Church. It was the first Anglican communion to ordain  women and has become the first one to consecrate an openly gay priest as bishop. (Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson, Bishop of New Hampshire.)
  • Friends United MeetingThis is the largest of Quaker denominations in the U.S. and includes both progressives and traditionalists, but even most traditional Quakers are progressive Christians.
  • Metropolitan Community ChurchesThis denomination was founded by Rev. Troy Perry in the 1970s as the first denomination to be fully inclusive of gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and transgender persons.  The MCC’s members are mostly GLBT folk, but also friends and families that do not feel accepted in other denominations.
  • Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of FriendsThis is the most progressive branch of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers).
  • United Church of Christ.  The UCC comes from the liberal end of the Reformed tradition. It is a 1957 merger of the Evangelical and Reformed Church with the Congregationalist Christian Churches.  Both those were the result of earlier mergers:  The Evangelical and Reformed Church was the combination of two immigrant (ethnic German) denominations which had used the Heidelberg Catechism as a mediating stance between Lutherans and Calvinists:  The German Evangelical  Synod and the Reformed Church in the United States.  The Congregational Christian Churches was a merger of Congregationalists (descendants of the Puritans and Pilgrims) with a minority of independent Christian (Stone-Campbell) congregations. 

Denominations with Strong Progressive Wings:  These denominations are not as fully progressive as are the ones listed above. But in each of these denominations, the progressive wing at least approaches 50% of the denomination. 

  • African Methodist Episcopal (AME) ChurchAfrican Methodist Episcopal Church-ZionBoth these Methodist/Wesleyan denominations were formed by African-Americans during the days when slavery was legal in the United States because they refused to be treated as second class Christians in the white Methodist congregations.  Both the AME and AME Zion denominations have always been strong social progressives and rich sources of Black liberation theology.
  • American Baptist Churches in the USAThe contemporary form of the old Northern Baptist Convention, the American Baptists have always had strong leaders in progressive theology, but have always also had a strong traditional, evangelical wing.  The mix has often been unstable and various conservative groups have split off of the ABC through the years while others have remained within the ABC and formed their own seminaries. 
  • The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA)Formed in 1988 by a merger of three Lutheran denominations  which had previously been divided mostly by immigrant/ethnic history: The American Lutheran Church, the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches, and the Lutheran Church in America.   The ELCA has strong traditionalist features, but also many progressive leaders and congregations.
  • International Council of Community Churches (ICCC)The Community Church movement has always represented Christians who are ecumenical and freedom-minded. In 1950, two networks of such community churches, one predominantly white and the other African-American, united to form the ICCC.  The ICCC stresses racial reconciliation, equality of the sexes in all aspects of church life, ecumenical Christian witness, and unity within diversity in the Body of Christ.  Publishes the Inclusive Pulpit. The ICCC is a member communion of the National Council  of Churches, the World Council  of Churches, and Churches Uniting in Christ.
  • Presbyterian Church (USA).  This is the mainline branch of Presbyterianism in the U.S. (There are more conservative branches.) Rooted in the 16th C. Reformed tradition (Zwingli, Calvin, etc.) as mediated through the Scottish Reformation of John Knox, and the English Westminster divines, Presbyterianism in the U.S. has played a major part in the nation’s history.  The PCUSA is about evenly divided between progressives and traditionalists.
  • The Reformed Church in America. Originating as an immigrant denomination of mostly Dutch and Swiss Calvinists, the RCA is increasingly multi-racial and multi-ethnic and represents the more progressive of the non-Presbyterian Reformed denominations in the U.S.  (The Christian Reformed Church has a similar Dutch Calvinist background, but is much more conservative.) The RCA is more progressive on social and political matters than on theological  ones in which it is fairly traditional, bound by the historic ecumenical creeds of early Christendom (Apostle’s, Nicene, and Athanasian) and by several 16th C. Reformed Confessions of Faith.
  • The United Methodist Church was formed by the reuniting of the Methodist Church with the United Evangelical Brethren.  This followed a previous (1939) merger of Methodist Episcopal Church  and the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, which had been severed by the U.S. Civil War.  Today, the UMC is a global denomination in the Wesleyan-Methodist tradition.  Since the early 20th C., it has rotated between periods when its progressive wing was strongest and others when its conservative evangelical wing was strongest.  Today these seem balanced, but also in very uneasy tension.  As my friend, UMC minister Jonathan Marlowe, points out, today’s UMC also contains severe criticisms of progressive Christianity by “postliberals,” something that is also true  in other denominations.

In future posts, I will link to some major organizations and representative individuals in the Progressive Christian movement in the U.S.  However, this is not just a U.S. or North American phenomenon. I invite readers from other nations to email me with their impressions of the shape of progressive Christianity in their respective nations. I think that is better than an American (me) outlining my perspective on progressive Christianity elsewhere, don’t you?

It is worth repeating at the conclusion:  Many Christians who are quite traditional or conservative in matters of doctrine or church practice are liberal or progressive (or socialist or revolutionary, etc.) in matters of politics.  Likewise, many Christians who are theologically progressive or liberal are centrist or conservative in politics or economics, etc.  The idea that these line up in a neatly predictable fashion is wrong.  I am centrist in doctrinal matters, but progressive in social and political matters. (In my progressive congregation, among those with theological training, I am considered “square” doctrinally, but few are to the left of me politically–as just one example.)

March 22, 2009 Posted by | Christianity, progressive faith, theology, tradition | 9 Comments