Saturday, 21 July 2012

Saving Christianity: Liberal or Conservative

Below is my piece for today's "By the Way," the local clergy column in The Medicine Hat News. As I read it again I'm thinking I should have made it clear that I am a Christian who is more on the conservative end of the spectrum than liberal. I agree with Douthat and Marks more than Butler Bass.
As a result of The Episcopal (United States Anglican, that is) Church’s recent General Convention, there’s been a flurry of activity in the press and blogosphere about the fate of “liberal” Christianity. 
For example, New York Times op-ed columnist, Ross Douthat, asks “Can Liberal Christianity be Saved?” He points out that in the last decade The Episcopal Church experienced “something between a decline and a collapse…average Sunday attendance dropped 23 percent, and not a single Episcopal diocese in the country saw churchgoing increase.” He suggests that by being “flexible to the point of indifference on dogma, friendly to sexual liberation in almost every form, willing to blend Christianity with other faiths, and eager to downplay theology entirely in favor of secular political causes…liberal Christianity has simply collapsed.”
In response, Jim John Marks, in his The Life of Meaning blog, asks, “Why Should Liberal Christianity be Saved?” “Getting hip to the culture,” he writes, “is not the way to reach people, and to save them. The culture around us is what people need saving from. The more you look like it, the less effective you can be.”
Then, on the Huff Post Blog, author Diane Butler Bass, reckons the real question is not so much about just liberal Christianity, but “Can Christianity be Saved?” “Decline is not exclusive to the Episcopal Church,” she writes, “nor to liberal denominations--it is a reality facing the whole of American Christianity.” Far from being the problem, “Can Liberal Churches Save Christianity?” she wonders. ‘The twenty-first century has yet to answer that, but I think we may be surprised.”
There are also liberal and conservative expressions of Christianity in Canada and Medicine Hat. We struggle with similar problems. Many of our churches are also in decline. Divisions can, and do, arise here, too. The challenging question for those of us who follow Jesus is how to treat the people with whom we disagree. Jesus is clear on the matter. We are to love, do good to, bless and pray for them; and not just those with whom we disagree; but even our enemies and those who hate, curse, and mistreat us (Luke 6:27-28). When we disagree, even sharply (Acts 15:39), there is always the commandment to love (Mark 12:29-31).
In any case, if there is any saving to be done, Jesus will do it.