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Mainliners Stand Up!

I use “mainliners” for lack of a better term. I’m a member of a United Methodist congregation, and it will probably shock many of my readers that it is, in United Methodist terms, a fairly conservative one. I’ll even be preaching one service there tomorrow.

The problem I’ve found with mainliners is less that they don’t know what they believe, though they are often accused of that (sometimes justly), but that they sometimes have a hard time believing anyone else could believe something different. For example, in all of the United Methodist congregations of which I’ve been a member (three so far), and in fact generally all those I’ve visited as a teacher, there was a general acceptance of women as pastors. People would discuss the possibility of congregations having difficulty accepting a woman as pastor, but the overwhelming belief among the leadership was that those congregations would come along at some point, and no doubt at all that they should.

Though there have been a wide variety of personal opinions about abortion and abortion rights, there is an overwhelming consensus against violence against abortion clinics and abortion providers and a certain discomfort with protesters holding up signs with mangled fetuses.

While the views in the pew differ very often from more extreme views in Nashville (for non-Methodists, that is the center of Methodist boards and agencies), they also differ from fundamentalist churches and from far right politicians (and obviously far left).

But there often seems to be very little action. We’re often willing to allow extremist viewpoints to dominate the representation of Christianity, and we don’t really want to stand up for who we are and why we believe that Christianity is not about the things that drives the American religious right. Now my point here is not that someone can’t be a Christian and hold right wing views on many topics. Rather I’m saying that those views don’t define Christianity, and it would me a good idea to let people know that there are Christians who differ. Nor should this be limited to political issues, but should reflect theological issues as well.

I was reminded of this when I encountered PamBG’s blog. She is a Methodist pastor in the UK, and she wrote a post on sexism and the Methodist church, in which she said:

We don’t take this theology seriously because we don’t hold it. However, ‘complimentarianism’ is held by many Christians in the United Kingdom including the growing ‘New Frontiers’ denomination. Complimentarianism is ‘preached’ by the Calvinist theologian John Piper who seems to be increasingly popular with many younger Christians in the UK as well as in the US.

I think she’s right, and she’s right not just for British Methodism, but also for American Methodism. There’s a certain arrogance in failing to take seriously movements in other churches, but I suspect there’s more complacency. We’re used to being the second largest protestant denomination here in the U.S. (I don’t know what excuse our British brethren have, but hopefully it’s better than ours!). At the same time we’re in continuous decline. Some people think liberal religion will inevitably decline. Now I prefer to be called a passionate moderate, but I draw the “L” word often enough to at least embrace it with one arm. I’m really talking to everybody who’s to the left of the Southern Baptist Convention, however, moderates, liberals, mainliners, progressives, and any other set I may have missed.

I don’t think liberal religious will inevitably decline, unless its own adherents fail to take it seriously. There are several ways to carry out this failure. One is to assume that one is the voice of the future and thus that everyone else will doubtless follow along as they evolve to new social heights. There is, however, no certainty of that.

Another way is to assume that Christianity, as such, is of no great value. If the adherents don’t consider it valuable, it will inevitably decline.

A third way is to ignore what everyone else is doing because we know where we’re going. But we don’t live in isolation. It’s quite possible that many of the nasty things we pride ourselves on not doing will become the norm while we’re not paying attention. That would be a tragedy, but with our current behavior, I think it would be one we richly deserve.

Even if, especially if your positions differ from the noisy types, this is a good time to stand up and be counted.

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