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Time for liberal religion to seize the moment

Time for liberal religion to seize the moment

Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie writing in the Huffington Post:

This is liberal religion’s moment, if only liberal religious leaders will be wise enough to seize it.

In the first place, religion remains remarkably robust in America. Boom-and-bust, wax-and-wane cycles are the rule of American experience. True, Americans are devoted to autonomy and personal freedom, which can undermine religious commitment, but that notwithstanding, religion has always come storming back from periods of dormancy and decline. And as Professor Peter Berger reminds us, the search for meaning and the need to find significance in our lives are eternal human concerns to which religion provides the response. Berger notes as well that the secularization of Europe is an exception rather than the rule of modern history, and while in America it may apply to certain elites, it does not apply to us all.

In the second place, it is liberal religion that has the most to offer now, and is most likely to bridge the contradictions of the modern era. It offers commitment to family, but a more expansive view of what families might look in these tumultuous times. It offers belief in God and tradition, but without the dangerous absolutes that too often banish questioning and doubt. And it offers concern for the poor and the needy. This does not mean mindless, knee-jerk political liberalism, but it does mean giving direction on poverty, justice, war, and the great issues of the day. For liberal religious people, it is blasphemous to cloak yourself in religion while denying justice to the oppressed and mercy to the suffering.

The simple fact is that liberal religion can reach out to young Americans in ways that conservative religion cannot. It can be innovative and idiosyncratic. It can offer endless experimentation. It can demonstrate a fierce willingness to open itself to outside cultures. And it can fully embrace modernity and reason, while balancing, most of the time, the new and the old.

Read the whole thing.


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Anand Gnanadesikan

Thanks David.

I think that liberal Christianity has much to offer.

But feeling superior is generally a pathway to mediocrity.

Bill Simpson

Maybe let’s also be clear about what we mean by “conservative christianity.” It’s hard for me not to see the “conservative” as someone who thinks being inside the magic circle equates to staunch defense of a limited range of dogmas. Unfortunately, these pet dogmas are anti-rational (e.g., biblical literalism) and tend to bolster the status quo and savage behavior toward the environment and marginalized people (e.g., Calvinism and the prosperity gospel). So much energy gets expended in celestial bookkeeping that little is left over for simple compassion. Conservatives appear to go to church Sunday to evade the responsibility of seeking a fairer world and portray themselves as victims in order to evade facing the real pain their mentality creates in the real world.

Anand Gnanadesikan


*Conservatives appear to go to church Sunday to evade the responsibility of seeking a fairer world and portray themselves as victims in order to evade facing the real pain their mentality creates in the real world.*

Which is why Episcopalians do so much more relief than evangelicals…. oh wait.

World Vision is more than 100 times bigger than Episcopal Relief and Development. Samaritans purse is 20 times larger. So let’s not get all superior about how much better liberal Christians are at taking care of the poor.

And if we want to whinge about being small, we’re still much bigger than Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church network. Look at

That said, I do agree that there’s a strong temptation to replace faith with belief. And there are certain branches of conservative Christianity where this is arguably pathological. It’s just that I see that as a temptation for all of us, not just conservatives.


Bill Simpson

You seem to confuse charity with justice and, therefore, illustrate my point perfectly.

David Streever

Bill, please don’t be snarky; I think Anand’s reply shows an understanding of your points, and a desire to drive the conversation forward. Let’s try to be good to each other here.

Herry M. Merryman

I would argue that what is really being discussed is “Liberal Theology.” In this regard, I think Michael J. Langford’s wonderful little book on this topic is instructive. He identifies eleven characteristics of the liberal tradition in theology:

– A use of the Bible that is not always literal
– Reason and revelation in harmony
– A non-legalist account of redemption
– The possibility of salvation outside a narrow path
– Toleration
– Original sin, but not original guilt
– Belief in free will
– A view of providence that respects the integrity of the natural order
– The joint need for both faith and works
– A minimal number of basic teachings
– A range of acceptable lifestyles

The “Liberal Tradition” described here is an approach to religion (in this case, Christianity), not an orthodoxy. It is this approach which holds more promise, I believe, for the modern world, inasmuch as it fully embraces the Enlightenment and pluralism in discerning what God desires and intends for us.

Christopher Johnson

If it weren’t for the fact that lefist pseudo-religiosity is dying faster than it can be documented…

David Streever

You clearly don’t do yoga.

David Allen

What is the leftist pseudo-religiosity which you claim is dying?

Paul Woodrum

As good Episcopalians, we’ll ponder this for forty years then, when the hot flash has passed, go back to our usual routine.

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