Start with this gem from someone who knows what he’s talking about when speaking of things religious:
Rush Limbaugh : I would submit to you that people on the left are religious, too. Their God is just different. The left has a different God. There’s a religious left in this country.
And, the religious left in this country hates and despises the God of Christianity and Catholicism and whatever else. They despise it because they fear it, because it’s a threat, because that God has moral absolutes. That God has right and wrong, that God doesn’t deal in nuance, that God doesn’t deal in gray area, that God says, “This is right and that is wrong.”
Most of us when we hear the words “Protestant Reformation” think of Martin Luther and his powerful points challenging an established religion and its priests about their behavior and how they had twisted doctrine to support and sustain their considerable social authority.
If in his dissent Luther had great fear for his salvation and the Judgment Bar of God he dealt with that concern very well. Subsequent events are proof that one person’s absolutes are not the absolutes of another and certainly not the absolutes of God.
Had the Catholic absolutes of that time been the absolutes of God – and the Roman authorities certainly attempted and succeeded in many cases in intimidating those who agreed with Luther – God would not have allowed the rise of Protestantism into the “formal” status it enjoys today.
In thinking literally and inerrantly – as the Catholic priesthood had for years insisted it was doing on behalf of all Christians – successful suppression of the Protestant movement leading to its extinction would have been a Divine repudiation. God would have repudiated dissent and the Protestant movement itself with the portent of one terrible day of judgment at the hands of an offended God.
Obvious now is the fact that God did not intervene on the side of those who pretended to a possession of absolute biblical Christian truth. If there was repudiation, it was at the least an indication that the harsh, inflexible and unchanging God was then and is now in fact an illusion.
Today Protestants find themselves widely divided over authority, the literal definition of what it means to be Christian and conflict. The conflict?
The argument between traditional inerrant letter-of-the-law advocates and so-called “liberal Christians” who emphasize an approach to organized religion based more on including reason with faith. There are in truth many non-hardline Christian who easily accept and understand an open-minded application of the meaning of scripture.
As Jim Wallis once wrote:
“A great deal is at stake in this battle for the heart and soul of faith in America and for the nation’s future itself.
We will not allow faith to be put into the service of one political agenda.
This is a call for the rest of the churches to wake up.
This is a call for people of faith everywhere to stand up and let their faith be heard.
This is not a call to be just concerned, or just a little worried, or even just alarmed.
This is a call for clear speech and courageous action.
This is a call to take back our faith, and in the words of the prophet Micah, “to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.”
Inherent in Wallis’s and our own rhetoric needs to be an understanding that Christian comportment remain consistent with those particular ideals upon which Jesus’ life and words are based. Wallis also stated that we must not demonize or vilify those who are our opponents. We must claim that those who disagree with our judgments are still real people of faith. We must not fight the way they do, but fight we must.
We ought never to forget that in advocating for how we believe Jesus meant for us to lead lives modeled after Him, that those with whom we disagree are advocating for the same thing. The difference is in doctrine and form.
Which brings us to this new on-going Reformation-in-Progress and the nature of the reforming seems to be a matter of perspective.
On the one hand, traditional Christian conservatism is experiencing – from a minority element within – a push for more radical political and social applications of what appears to be a somewhat redefined theology that hearkens more to the autocratic punitive-God-sense of the Old Testament. This minority, despite it’s insistence that it is the voice of conservative Christianity, is not that voice and does not represent the majority.
That minority seems opposed to the God-of-compassion that most of us grew up understanding as Jesus’ most powerful social impact on the Israel of His time. In combination with the theology around Atonement and Redemption, Jesus offered a practical means for letter-of-the-law human beings to transition into a compassionate and forgiving society, liberated – at least spiritually- from the either/or governance of God as managed by Jewish leadership and either/or civil obedience as managed by Roman authority.
In that regard, as Wallis wrote, the battle lines are not drawn between two equally powerful points of view. Rather, the public voices around which the publicity arises seem to be the words and actions of the extremists lobbying for or against rapid radical transitions.
In the broad center we find both conservative and liberal Christians whose strongest sense of Christian living has to do with an understanding of a traditional way of looking at the teachings and role of Jesus.
In the center we do not have to reject those who see Jesus as the Savior or as the Word who was with God and who is God. Nor do we have to reject those who see Jesus as a historical figure absent divine status who – in the most powerful and potent of ways – taught humanity about divinity and our relationship to divinity.
In this regard conservatives, fundamentalists, liberals – evangelicals of both perspectives – have in scripture the recorded exhortation of Jesus to take his gospel to all nations. From my own perspective, that exhortation had to do with bearing a message to as many as possible; a message having to do with our relationship to God and how we partake of God’s divinity. The exhortation did not include a mandate to find ways to force an acceptance of Christ, but to bear a message of the knowledge Jesus revealed to all of humanity.
This on-going Reformation will not result in the resolution of who is right over who is wrong. It could, however, result in a victory for one side over another based on human plurality of thought and belief. Such would be a false victory in that both sides would lose,
The success of the historical Protestant Reformation might be best described as a win/win circumstance in that God did not repudiate one point of view at the expense of the other. Both survived and remain powerfully connected to God and Christ today.
The weakness of that victory displays itself among Catholics and Protestants who remain steadfast in their insistence that the other does not have total truth or authority. This typified by Mr. Mohler’s [Southern Baptist Convention] remarks about Pope John Paul as representative of so-called false doctrine according to his [Mr. Mohler’s] definition.
Many of us have a frustration that has been building for years with the moral or ethical direction in which we have as a society been moving.
At issue is not whether the United States was founded with intent that America ultimately becomes a Christian nation. At issue is that we have almost than 250 years of experience living under a Constitution that, in its own way, is one of the most successful historical documents ever. In our history we have seen the evolution of a multi-faceted society based not only on religion and philosophy, but on cultural diversity without which our positive American mythology of a melting pot came to be part of our national psyche.
Under our Constitution we have seen the growth of a habitual way of looking at things – an automatic stance if you will – that allows for diversity of opinion and the freedom to express opinion.
It is hard to make the case that the deterioration of those aspects of society that each of us have deemed “deteriorating” – according to our own sense of common good and the idea of public decency – is the fault of the Constitution and can be remedied by taking its proven formula of success and modifying it into something that codifies a specific viewpoint.
This Reformation, if you will, should not be about legislative, executive or judicial imposition of religious control of the United States. It should be about dialogue over differences and an honest look at the highest good of all concerned.
New theologies whether they be about “Prosperity“, “Dominionism“, “Spiritual Warfare” or the “End Times” ought not be the basis for seeking government power at the expense of society as a whole. If we are to reform our moral and ethical practices in this country, we need to define Jesus’ Good Samaritan, Prodigal Son and Sermon on the Mount in relationship to our power as a diverse society, our prosperity as a tool of reform, our dominant position on a global scale as an instrument of advocating peace, our spiritual and cultural values as a means toward compassion toward one another.