As you may have heard, eight churches of various Protestant denominations in Fountain Hills, Ariz., have put aside their usual interchurch rivalries and come together in order to combat an enemy common to them all: progressive Christianity.
That's the banner of their "movement" on display outside one of their churches above.
I guess they forgot the concluding question mark--and also, sadly, failed to note that the question they're meaning to ask is so simple Pat Robertson could field the correct answer. The answer is A: Fact. Progressive Christianity does exist. That makes it a fact.
Ha, ha. No, but seriously. Below is the ad placed in the local paper last Wednesday by the church collective whom I'll henceforth call the Gang of 8. (Since using the acronym for my first thought, Churches Rallying Against Progress, would just be wrong.)
The sole progressive church in Fountain Hills--the de facto target of the Gang of 8's campaign -- is The Fountains, a United Methodist church pastored by the estimable David Felten, author of Living the Questions: The Wisdom of Progressive Christianity, the curriculum for which is now being used in over 6,000 churches around the world).
Besides sharing its space with a synagogue and a Buddhist Center, The Fountains also has an ongoing relationship with the Islamic Speakers Bureau of Arizona, sponsoring a number of forums and opportunities for dialogue with their Muslim neighbors.
Their Annual Interfaith Thanksgiving has outgrown The Fountains, and so has begun to meet in a local larger Catholic Church. But not to worry: Fountains' recent capital campaign raised enough money to pay off all their debt and build an expansion to their building.
They're positively thriving!
Which, of course, is part of the problem.
In the ad above we read, "We do not do this to denigrate or belittle the beliefs of others. Our objective is merely to answer some questions."
That's so fair! It's benign, even.
It's also egregiously unfair for Fox News to quote Felten as having said that he and his church are offering, "an option to biblical Christianity." As pastor Felten wrote to me in an email:
That's simply a misquote; I never said that. But of course our critics pounced on the false quote, since it so perfectly feeds their narrative that The Fountains is "unbiblical." A more accurate statement is that we offer an alternative to fundamentalist (or "pop" or "conservative" or "evangelical") Christianity. The Fountains is totally committed to a biblical outlook; it's just not a Fundamentalist outlook. ... I've got several radio interviews coming up this week, and I know the "So you don't teach the Bible?" question will be asked. Now I'll have to keep explaining that the reporter misrepresented what I said. I've asked her [the reporter] to run a correction, but I doubt that will happen.*
Name-calling and the casting of harsh dispersions is typical of bullies and those feeling threatened.
And if there's one message the Gang of 8 is successfully communicating, it's that they're feeling threatened.
Threatened they are, and threatened they should be. For the Christianity they represent is, in a word, ruinous. It holds that the "unrepentant" LGBT person is destined for hell, that wives must be subservient to their husbands, that Christians alone can enjoy a heavenly afterlife.
The Christianity they preach and teach feeds off fear, exclusivity, anger and victimizing "the other."
And right now, in Fountain Hills, Arizona, that "other" is The Fountains UMC.
So remember The Fountains UMC and their pastor in your prayers tonight. If you're not the praying kind, send some love their way. They'd sure appreciate it.
And don't forget to send some love to the Gang of 8, too. They're not evil people. They're just doing the best they can with the dreadful version of Christianity they've been taught. Here's to hoping they learn a new one.
Speaking of which, I wrote the below for the group Unfundamentalist Christians (Facebook page; group blog). It describes an alternative to evangelical Christianity that's as biblical as any Christianity ever was.
- Jesus Christ was divine. In the course of his dutiful incarnation on earth he therefore easily (what with being divine and all) performed what to him alone weren't miracles at all. As a means of providing for the irrevocable reconciliation of humankind to God (and so of course for each person to him or herself) he allowed for his bodily execution on the cross; by way of (yet again) proving that he was divine he then rose from the dead; for the benefit of all people he left behind the totality of him/her self in the form of the indwelling Holy Spirit, which is readily and easily available to everyone.
- The Bible is not a contract stipulating the rules for being a Christian. It is an ancient, massive, infinitely complex tome comprising songs, visions, histories, dreams, parables, commandments, and more. Christians seeking to follow the Word of God must look to all the words of God, ever seeking within those words the spirit of Jesus Christ. This means never failing to choose love, compassion and charity over adherence to any Biblical "law" that in practice or spirit violates Christ's Great Commandment to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
- Christianity is supposed to be all about nothing more (and nothing less!) than living a life of love, compassion, fairness, peace, and humility.
- The Biblical scholarship supporting the idea that Paul never wrote a word condemning natural homosexuality is more credible and persuasive than is the scholarship claiming that he did. Moreover, we remain mystified as to how any follower of Jesus could choose damning an entire population over obeying Jesus' Great Commandment to love God and one's neighbor as oneself.
- God does not want any woman automatically "submitting" to her husband or to anyone else.
- Using masculine pronouns to refer to God is strictly a matter of convention, a profoundly unfortunate necessity of the English language, which to date offers no satisfactory alternative. But God is neither male nor female. God is always, at once, both and unimaginably more.
- The belief that throughout history God chose to introduce himself in different ways into different culture streams is more reasonable, respectful, and compassionate than is the conviction that there is only one correct way to understand and worship God.
- There is no support in the Bible for the morally repugnant idea that hell is an actual place to which God sentences people to spend eternity in mortal agony.
- God's will and intention is to forgive and teach us, not to judge and punish us.
- Anyone desiring to mix Church and State has failed to understand the nature and proper role of either.
- God can handle converting people. Our job is to love people.
- An all-powerful God and the theory of evolution are not incompatible.
- Getting a divorce is painful, and if at all possible should certainly be avoided. But in and of itself divorce is not immoral.
- The single most telling indicator of a person's moral character has nothing to do with how they define or worship God, and everything to do with how they treat others.
*UPDATE: The FOX 10 reporter, Linda Williams, called pastor Felten and profusely apologized for the misquote. The text on the station's website now reads, "The Fountains offers an alternative to fundamentalist Christianity." "Unfortunately," pastor Felten wrote to me, "I think it may be hard (if not impossible) to get the video clip itself changed. But yay, Linda! She was really gracious."