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A precarious moment for liberal Christianity?

A precarious moment for liberal Christianity?

Liberal Christianity would appear to be on the ropes, judging from declining membership numbers in the Episcopal Church and other increasingly progressive denominations. New York Times columnist Ross Douthat describes the Episcopal Church as “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.” He posits:

The defining idea of liberal Christianity — that faith should spur social reform as well as personal conversion — has been an immensely positive force in our national life. No one should wish for its extinction, or for a world where Christianity becomes the exclusive property of the political right.

What should be wished for, instead, is that liberal Christianity recovers a religious reason for its own existence. As the liberal Protestant scholar Gary Dorrien has pointed out, the Christianity that animated causes such as the Social Gospel and the civil rights movement was much more dogmatic than present-day liberal faith. Its leaders had a “deep grounding in Bible study, family devotions, personal prayer and worship.” They argued for progressive reform in the context of “a personal transcendent God … the divinity of Christ, the need of personal redemption and the importance of Christian missions.”

Today, by contrast, the leaders of the Episcopal Church and similar bodies often don’t seem to be offering anything you can’t already get from a purely secular liberalism. Which suggests that perhaps they should pause, amid their frantic renovations, and consider not just what they would change about historic Christianity, but what they would defend and offer uncompromisingly to the world.

Read entire column here.


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I have a deacon friend who recently returned from a diocesan-sponsored trip to the So. Sudan. We, a deanery in the UK and a diocese in Sweden all engage in diocesan-building programs in Africa. We’ve been there since the so-called “end of their civil war”. TEC and our sister churches stood in the gap between the people of So. Sudan and starvation for years. And the people of So. Sudan remember it: we were there for the love of God and God’s people.

Many secular liberal NGO’s left them. We didn’t. I don’t remember the WSJ or the NYT writing articles about that.

What we get is mockery from the WSJ and a reprimand from the NYT to straighten-up our theology or die.

Precisely what kind of weak theology is it that impels comfortable Yanks and Europeans to travel to the Sudan and spend a month there please?

Perhaps it is not so much our “liberal” theology that turns people off, but rather the character assasination chronically perpetrated on TEC by either the malicious or the lazy in the MSM.

Kevin McGrane


It doesn’t logically follow that declining numbers mean a precarious TEC.

If, for example, I am the owner of a small shop, and someone comes in the count the merchandise of my shelves, the fact that I have fewer items on the shelves could mean several things. It could mean that I have found that I do better when the shop is less cluttered. It may mean that I have an issue with shrinkage. It may mean that my supplier is late in shipping. Or it may mean that I have more items in my stockroom. Or that I am focusing on items with higer margins.

The point is that fewer items on the shelves mean only that I should ask intelligent questions. It doesn’t mean that I should panic, nor does it mean I should leap to a conclusion without additional information.

Eric Bonetti

Christopher Johnson

Let me see if I have this straight. The Episcopal Church did nothing whatsoever about Newark’s megalomaniacal old gasbag while he was still a bishop and let him retire with a full pension. But anybody who brings him up as a criticism of the Episcopal Church(here, say):

is guilty of some kind of infraction of Godwin’s Law. How does that work, exactly?

Chase Danford

JC and Ann, I respectfully disagree about Bp Spong’s influence. I know many people who found their way (back) to the church because of his writings. Also, even if you disagree with him about theology, he was definitely a major advocate for LGBT inclusion. I think too many in the church try to prove their orthodoxy by throwing Bp Spong and his legacy under the bus.

Ann Fontaine

It’s a joke – but now days the only people who mention Bp Spong are TEC detractors – of course he had a strong voice, but he did not lead us to where we are. He spoke what many already thought. I think you need to look up Godwin’s law.

and this was really in regard to the Douhat piece.

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