Author Topic: 'Progressive' Christianity  (Read 3345 times)

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Offline Brigid of Kildare

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'Progressive' Christianity
« on: January 19, 2003, 10:08:22 AM »
Christians in my part of the world have been much exercised recently by a conference of so-called 'Progressive Christians" recycling what sounded like pretty old heresies. Now the Church of Ireland Gazette gives us an insight into the motivations of one of the organizers. I can't wait to see next week's Gazette's letters page! Brigid

‘Progressive’ activist’s paganism interest

Mr Wayne Simmons, who was involved in organising the recent ‘Progressive Christianity’ conference at Castlewellan, Co. Down, under the auspices of the United States-based Centre for Progressive Christianity (TCPC), has told the Gazette of his interest in tarot cards and paganism.

Asked for his own views on the historic Christian doctrines of the Incarnation and the Trinity, Belfast-based Mr Simmons was unsure. He said he saw no reason to believe or disbelieve in the Incarnation but did not feel it was ‘necessary’. Regarding the Trinity, he said there was ‘lots of biblical evidence’ for the teaching, but pointed out that there have been differing views on the subject. He said that many pagans believe in a divine trinity of sorts.

Mr Simmons said that all Christianity ‘borrows much from ancient paganism,’ and explained: ‘For example, the Christian calendar sits on the pagan timeline for almost identical celebrations. The legend of St Brigid is an adaptation of a Celtic pagan goddess and the Christ figure within Christianity performs a similar dying/resurrection/redeeming role as Dionysus within ancient Greek mythology.’

Asked if he could understand that many Christians would have difficulty reconciling paganism and the use of tarot cards with the Christian faith, Mr Simmons said he could, but felt this might simply be out of prejudice based on ‘ignorance’ and ‘fear of the unknown’. He added: ‘I think spirituality is complex and varied. I believe if some Christians were to learn more about the nature and practice of many contemporary pagans they may feel more comfortable with the terminology.’

Mr Simmons, who said he regarded himself as a Christian but did not belong to any denomination, said he was a ‘dabbler’ in wicca, a nature religion. He said he had been brought up as a Christian fundamentalist but now was keen to explore religion in a comparative way. He said he was ‘one of the 27% of 24 to 45-year-olds who according to the Belfast Telegraph’s millennium survey never go to church,’ adding: ‘The mission of TCPC is to make Christianity relevant to people like me without forcing any type of dogma down my throat.’

Mr Simmons stressed to the Gazette that he had expressed his views in a personal capacity and not as a representative of TCPC.
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Offline Brigid of Kildare

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Re:'Progressive' Christianity
« Reply #1 on: January 19, 2003, 10:23:10 AM »
And here is an account of the proceedings themselves. Do any of our US friends know of the Reverend Mr Adams? Sounds like he would have the blessing of that other US "progressive" - Bishop Spong!

Irish ‘progressive’ Christians meet

By Canon Charles Kenny

About 40 people, clergy and lay, Roman Catholic, Anglican and Free Church, young and old, from North and South, turned up for a conference on ‘Progressive Christianity’ amid the beautiful setting of the Slieve Croob Inn near Castlewellan, Co. Down, from Thursday 31st October to Saturday 2nd November.

The keynote speaker, the Revd James Adams, was for more than 30 years rector of the episcopal St Mark’s church in Washington DC. There he emphasized that the hallmark of God’s people should be down-to-earth following in the footsteps of Jesus rather than doctrinal expertise or theological orthodoxy. Jim argues that this is in accordance with the procedure of Jesus himself and with the judgement of New Testament writers. (The essential message of the letter to the Ephesians is: "Love one another", not "Believe what you are told".) Also, as rector of a thriving parish church, Jim is convinced that a parish church with such a policy works in practice, attracting and enthusing churchgoers.

In 1994 Jim established The Centre for Progressive Christianity (TCPC) with a website of interesting, thought-provoking material. He is in contact with nearly 200 affiliated churches and faith communities in 25 countries throughout the world.

Under the heading ‘Religion doesn’t have to be irrelevant, ineffectual, repressive’ Jim introduced his listeners to his Eight Points. He invited us to join with Christians who (point 1) "follow the way to God that we have found in the life and teachings of Jesus" and (point 5) "think that the way we behave towards one another and other people is more important than the way we talk about our beliefs".

Formal response came from Sr Anne Codd who, while by and large accepting as valid the eight points, felt that perhaps there was a vagueness as to who "we" are whom people were invited to join; more definition is needed as to what exactly is this community of God’s people of which we are invited to become part.

Wayne Simmons spoke movingly of how fresh and appealing this Progressive Christianity is to one like himself who had abandoned the "narrow, mean-minded fundamentalist" Christianity he had grown up with in Belfast. He particularly appreciated point 6: "We find more promise in the quest for understanding than we do in absolute certainty."

Point 2 brings Progressive Christianity into conflict with some. We "respect people who follow other ways to God, acknowledging that their ways are as true for them as our way is true for us". On the Friday morning a member of the Belfast Jewish community and the president of Belfast’s Islamic Centre, after sharing breakfast at the same table, addressed us on being small minority communities in Northern Ireland.

The message of Dr David Warm and Jamal Iweida was as interesting as the respect they showed each other was heartening. The Christian audience was reminded by both speakers that all three traditions are of the People of the Book who share many prophets in common, and that the Golden Age of Spain when Jews, Christians and Moslems lived happily together was under centuries of Islamic rule. This godly situation ended when Christians took over. Dr Warm was forthright that "the Jewish experience of the Moslem world was more benevolent than of the Christian world".

Canon Hilary Wakeman spoke of her concern for the intellectual and moral integrity of contemporary Christians when in religious life we repeat phrases of a former age in a way we wouldn’t dream of in any other area of life. While appreciating that many are happy with the old ways she feared that increasing numbers are unwilling to listen thoughtlessly and to repeat in worship poetic phrases as if they were literally true. She offered an understanding of the perceived godliness of Jesus as an alternative to the Chalcedonian words.

There were further interesting contributions from a psychotherapist who believes she sees the results of secularism in some of her patients. C.G. Jung feared that decline in religion would cause great problems of loss of bearings and loss of meaning in life. Jung warned that religious symbolism arises from the deepest recesses of human consciousness and that the western world was endangering itself by squandering its Judaeo/ Christian heritage.

Friday’s banquet speaker, Dr William Patterson, a Methodist lay preacher, described his own odyssey to an informed faith via an RE teacher who encouraged thoughtfulness and serious questioning on the part of his pupils.

Entertaining storytelling on pagan and Christian hallowe’en, Scottish and Irish Gaelic music from CAIM, a Christian Celtic group, and Taiz+¬ meditations by the Revd Nigel Kirkpatrick and Michael Brush afforded spiritual sustenance to all ages and traditions. Finally, Anne Odling-Smee summed up the gratitude of all of us for the message of Jim Adams and his presence among us. She felt that all religious traditions in Ireland could learn from his vision of parish life.

As present-day Christians search for ways of relating faith to daily life in a way that would win the approval of Our Lord, the question must be raised, especially in Ireland, of doctrinal purity and alleged threats thereto. As we were reminded, even St Augustine commented: "If you think that you understand Him, it isn’t God." Those attending this stimulating conference are grateful to its originator and organizer, Wayne Simmons, a self-described recovering fundamentalist. Taste and see!

Canon Charles Kenny is a retired residentiary Canon of St Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast.

Radicals meet in Co. Down

A conference of "progressive" Christians was held recently near Castlewellan, Co. Down. The main speaker was the Revd James Adams from the United States who outlined the principles of his Centre for Progressive Christianity, which places orthopraxis ahead of orthodoxy and which says that "progressive" Christians find more grace in the search for meaning than in absolute certainty.

Another speaker was Canon Hilary Wakeman who reportedly questioned the usefulness of at least some contemporary religious language. In an account of the gathering which he has sent to the Gazette (and which is published this week on page 5), Canon Charles Kenny, formerly of Belfast Cathedral, says that Canon Wakeman suggested "an understanding of the perceived godliness of Jesus as an alternative to the Chalcedonian words".

In an email from her home in Schull, Co. Cork, Canon Wakeman responded to a request from the Gazette to comment further on this: "What I believe we need to do is to try to get behind labels like ‘second Person of the Trinity’ to what the people who invented them were trying to say, about Jesus, about God. Because the labels have become meaningless; or, at least, [have become] no more meaningful than if I were to say that ‘the one I love is the sun and the moon to me’."
« Last Edit: January 19, 2003, 12:04:22 PM by Brigid of Kildare »
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Offline Neo Tobiah

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Re:'Progressive' Christianity
« Reply #2 on: January 19, 2003, 01:13:29 PM »
In His book Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton said that progress "maintains that we alter the test instead of trying to pass the test." I certainly don't agree with everything that Mr. Chesterton said, but sometimes he hits the nail right on the head; and when he does, he says it with as much wit and potency as any Protestant from his generation (he wrote Orthodoxy while an Anglican). Chesterton goes on:

We often hear it said, for instance, "What is right in one age is wrong in another." This is quite reasonable, if it means that there is a fixed aim, and that certain methods attain at certain times and not at other times. If women, say, desire to be elegant, it may be that they are improved at one time by growing fatter and at another time by growing thinner. But you cannot say that they are improved by ceasing to wish to be elegant and beginning to wish to be oblong. If the standard changes, how can there be improvement, which implies a standard? Nietzsche started a nonsensical idea that men had once sought as good what we now call evil; if it were so, we could not talk of surpassing or even falling short of them. How can you overtake Jones if you walk in the other direction? You cannot discuss whether one people has succeeded more in being miserable than another succeeded in being happy. It would be like discussing whether Milton was more puritanical than a pig is fat. It is true that a man (a silly man) might make change itself his object or ideal. But as an ideal, change itself becomes unchangeable. If the change-worshipper wishes to estimate his own progress, he must be sternly loyal to the ideal of change; he must not begin to flirt gaily with the ideal of monotony. Progress itself cannot progress. It is worth remark, in passing, that when Tennyson, in a wild and rather weak manner, welcomed the idea of infinite alteration in society, he instinctively took a metaphor which suggests an imprisoned tedium. He wrote--"Let the great world spin for ever down the ringing grooves of change." He thought of change itself as an unchangeable groove; and so it  is. Change is about the narrowest and hardest groove that a man  can get into.
« Last Edit: January 19, 2003, 01:15:37 PM by Neo Tobiah »