“I’m Going To Make Stuff Up And Say That’s Why The UMC Is In So Much Trouble”

[T]here comes a time when the ideological leanings become more important than the faith; the tail wags the dog, and little identifiably Christian substrate remains. Conservative Christianity can, if unchecked, devolve into fundamentalism or state religion. Progressive Christianity, on the other side of the coin, can devolve into paganism or mere activism.  It is the latter I wish to address here, using two examples that recently came to my attention. – Rev. Drew McIntyre, “When Progressive Christianity ‘Nukes The Fridge'”, United Methodist Insight, September 5, 2014

As we United Methodists continue our discussions over the future of our denomination, few things strike me as more fun than reading as article such as the one Rev. Drew McIntyre recently published at United Methodist Insight.  Purporting to be a set of criticisms of what he calls “progressive Christianity”, and culled from a website called ProgressiveChristianity.org, McIntyre goes on to insist that this list – from whom, exactly?  which denomination do they represent?  Who are the creators of this list?  What is their agenda?* – represents everything that is wrong with “progressive Christianity”.  It might seem time-consuming and tendentious to go through the eight points McIntyre lists from the website, but what the heck.  It is the Spirit that counts, and I struggle to find a Spirit in McIntyre’s article other than making a point about something . . . without actually referencing anything at all.  In fact, as I read his article, an image came to my mind:

A visual representation of Drew McIntyre's article: Burning A Straw Man

A visual representation of Drew McIntyre’s article: Burning A Straw Man

  • “Jesus is about having an experience of the divine that is no more valid than anyone else’s.”  Even St. Paul insisted that those born without the Law who yet abided by the Law were counted as those living under the Law.  Like with Abraham, this faithfulness is accounted righteousness because it is obedience born in a promise.  Furthermore, I would never be so insutling, let alone presumptuous, as to claim that adherents of other faiths were either in error, damned, or (what is most vile) worshiping demons.  Faithful practitioners of Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and the thousands of other expressions of religious yearning in human beings are responding to their own Scriptures (written or oral), tradition, reason, and experience.  The Spirit blows where it will, and I refuse to play God and deny the validity of these others’s experiences.  I would witness to my own faith, to what Jesus Christ means for me; I would never say that my or my church or my entire faith history somehow trumps theirs.  Nothing in the Bible would insist I do so, and the bloody history of “missions” councils against any such action.
  • “There are many paths to experiencing this “Oneness” of the universe.”  See above.  Also see the Bible: “In my house there are many mansions.  If it were not so would I have told you?”  Open your mind, people. to the merest possibility that Truth is not a thing we possess, but a Divine Reality that possesses us.  In all sorts of forms and shapes and traditions.
  • “Questions are (absolutely?) more important than absolutes.” What, pray tell, are absolutes?  How can human languages, in their fleeting, contingent nature, capture such a thing?  How is denying the validity of questions regarding faith in any way helpful in spreading the Gospel?  What about all the questions within the Scriptures themselves?  Are they somehow out of bounds, too?  Or are there hidden answers to those questions of which I and many others are not aware?  Since you don’t seem to understand what an absolute is, or how it might be possible in a fleeting, contingent entropic Universe to produce an absolute (even the speed of light isn’t absolute; it is only relevant to the particular frame of reference in which it is measured), I’m not sure what your point here is other than to insist absolutes are real.
  • “We should all be really, really nice to each other. ”  To which I would say, “Brothers and sisters, love one another as I have loved you.”  “Love is patient and kind, never jealous or boastful.  Love does not rejoice in the wrong, but rejoices in the right.”  I could go on, but I hate proof-texting something so obvious.

I will offer one more, a favorite of mine with which I have dealt for years.

Notice what is absent? No mention of truth, or revelation, or Scripture as inspired or even useful.  Jesus is a window to the cosmic soup of love and warm feelings, but there is no indication he is any more special than Gandhi or Steve Jobs.  And of course, no mention of the Trinity.

Ah, yes.  “Truth”.  Because, you see, that’s what Christianity is really all about.  Saying the right words in the right way, which is what constitutes “truth”.  Except, alas, for that whole thing where Jesus refuses to tell Pilate what Truth is because earlier in St. John’s Gospel he has declared that He is in fact “the Truth”, along with the Way and the Life.  Truth is not something about which we speak, or a set of words that when strung together properly meshes with the flow of the Universe God created.  For Christians, Truth is a Person, a Divine Person, who pursues us, grasps us, refuses to let us go, even as we struggle – sometimes even breaking free, forcing that Truth to chase after us, relentlessly, passionately, with a devotion that is eternal – to fit this experience in to our lives.

I would suggest that rather than go after some obscure website that offers short-hand views that, while perhaps not to Rev. McIntyre’s liking, are hardly outside any traditional view of Christianity of which I’m aware, he focus his attention on how these views can work to build and sustain a denomination that continues to argue over trivia and minutiae.   Offering space for those whose beliefs do not coincide with one another is as much a hallmark of the tradition of John Wesley as mentioning the Trinity: “Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike?  May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion?  Without all doubt, we may.  Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences.”

*From the “About Us” page of ProgressiveChristianity.org: “Progressive Christianity is an open, intelligent, and collaborative approach to the Christian tradition and the life and teachings of Jesus that creates a pathway into an authentic and relevant religious experience.”  This meaningless collection of words says nothing at all, further adding to my conviction that McIntyre’s ire is misplaced.


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About gksafford

I'm a middle-aged theologically educated clergy spouse, living in the Midwest. My children are the most important thing in my life. Right behind them and my wife is music. I'm most interested in teaching people to listen to contemporary music with ears of faith. Everything else you read on here is straw.
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