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Every denomination needs one of these...

Rebuilding a church

Monday, May 14, 2007

The New York Times has an excellent article today about Riverside Church's search for a new minister and how it translates to the challenges in Protestantism as a whole. It's interesting to see who the front runners are in the sweepstakes to be the next leader at Riverside:
At this early stage, the most notable aspect of the search is the dearth of names being bandied about. If Riverside wanted to break the sex line, it could look to the Rev. Vashti McKenzie, a bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal denomination, or the Rev. Suzan Johnson Cook, former president of the Hampton Ministers Conference. Both of these women are African-American, as are two prospective male candidates — the Rev. Calvin O. Butts, pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, and the Rev. Michael Livingston, outgoing president of the National Council of Churches.

“Compared to Bill Coffin or Harry Emerson Fosdick, neither Jim Forbes nor anyone else in mainline Protestantism cuts that kind of profile,” said Mark Silk, director of the Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College in Hartford. “Who are the big dogs today? It’s true in Catholicism, too, for that matter. Where’s the Spellman or the Cushing? The religious leaders worth listening to have to make the case for themselves — running their own organization, writing books, being in the media.”
For some, the selection of the next minister at Riverside is an opportunity to make a statement:
“Riverside’s next minister needs to make a coherent case for liberal Protestantism, and that’s been missing for a long time,” said Randall Balmer, a professor of American religious history at Barnard College and an ordained Episcopal minister. “You need someone who has solid theological understanding and can articulate it speaking to a popular audience.

“The standard conservative criticism,” Professor Ballmer said, “is that the mainline Protestants lost their theological moorings, that they got too far out ahead of the people in the pews. But I think the larger issue is that they were not communicating to the masses.”
Balmer, unintentionally, identifies the problem of liberal Protestants in terms of conservative criticisms. No one is ever going to build Protestant churches back up if the rebuilding is based on conservative criticism. It's like a dog chasing it's tail. Short of Jesus coming back today and setting the record straight, religious liberals and conservatives are always going to disagree on theology.

Balmer is also wrong that liberal Protestants are "not communicating to the masses". Love them or hate them, Jim Wallis and Jesse Jackson are among the most prominent liberal protestants out there and they do communicate effectively. The problem isn't communication, the problem is an inconsistent message that doesn't stick with the masses.

The best example of this is the abhorrent response of Protestants (and all Christians for that matter) to the crisis in Sudan. Religious liberals have been so absolute in their pacifist resistance to the war in Iraq that they can't possibly support the use of force to save hundreds of thousands of starving and displaced people in Sudan.

So what is the religious liberal response to the crisis in Sudan? Protest and email a White House that has already acknowledged the crisis and led the world in condemning Sudan? Yawn.

If there was ever a moral case for armed intervention, it is the crisis in Sudan. Yet, religious liberals are powerless to make such a statement. This isn't a communication problem - the message isn't sticking.

Yet thousands more die. Let's blame it on communication.
posted by UCCtruths, Monday, May 14, 2007


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