July 14, 2006

Schism and the Death of the Religious Left

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 6:02 pm

From Adele Stan, an article on the Christian left in The American Prospect:

However tempting it may be to think of these controversies as the mere internecine struggles of individual churches, to do so would be to ignore their significance for the progressive movement as a whole. Ever since the rise of the religious right, liberals have longed for a religious counterpart on the left. But that notion was always dubious, and the recent turmoil within the Episcopal Church should put it to rest for good. Without the wholehearted participation of the mainline Protestant churches, there can be no religious left remotely comparable to the Christian right in Protestant-dominated America. And churches in the throes of schism hardly have the wherewithal to marshal their resources in the service of battles in the secular political arena.

A schism would be painful for all involved, but in some sense it would be incredibly freeing. What would remain of the ECUSA would be a leading voice, along with the UCC, in an emerging Christian left. I would think those on the secular left should be rooting for just such an outcome.

Those of us in the mainline denominations have these crazy ideas about reconciliation, peacemaking and Christian unity, so none of us want to see our denominations split. But with or without schism, the liberalizing forces in the mainline can’t be stopped. In fact, with the exception of equal rights for gays, leaders of the mainline denominations are already advocating left-of-center policies regarding federal spending on social issues, world hunger, AIDS, and the middle east. And none of these positions are causing threats of schism.

Of course the divisions are all about gay rights, which is a more visceral issue than funding for food stamps. I don’t know what will happen with the ECUSA, or my own denomination, the ELCA, over the next ten years. We will try to avoid schism without sacrificing our deeply held understanding of God’s will, but may not succeed. Regardless, at the other end of this process, there will be a more unified, although perhaps smaller, mainline that will embrace gay rights as well as broader peace and justice issues. I don’t know if it will be called “the Christian left”, but it will be everything Stan and others are looking for. They just have to be patient.


  1. I have a different take. I am a liberal and was raised a United Methodist, but I decided to convert to Catholicism. There were obviously a lot of reasons and I can’t get into all of them here but suffice it to say that, besides the spiritual aspect involved it was mostly a theological decision. Having said that, i knew what I was getting into politically speaking. I just decided that i was tired of me and my churches running away from one dogma and running to another. Schism upon schism had led humanity down miriad rabbit trails that left both me and my Christian brothers lost and further from the Truth (as I see it…humbly)and has now given rise to the radical right, which i despise. I decided to stand and fight and do my small part to bring the Catholic church into the present and future instead of “finding” a church that fit my notions of what a church should be. In the process, I learned the power of the Sacraments, especially Holy Communion and Confession. I know it’s not for everyone but I believe that we will will all be one Church again someday, though it will not look much like any church we see today and I choose to stand and fight for what is right and wrong from within the Church. It’s worth consideration because it gets lonely as a liberal in the oldest church on Earth and all the fundamentalists will need somewhere to go someday!!

    Comment by kenney — July 15, 2006 @ 6:50 pm

  2. “A schism would be painful for all involved, but in some sense
    it would be incredibly freeing.”
    Amen to that!

    True freedom will be gained only when it is recognised that doctrines such as the Trinity, Virgin Birth, and the various ‘divinity’ teachings, impose a barrier between Jesus of Nazareth and the rest of humanity; they misrepresent the values he stood for; they falsify the issues that brought him into collision with the priests; and they conceal the motives of those who caused him to be crucified.

    Until these doctrines are cast aside and the simple message of the New Testament embraced, God’s controversy with humanity, which began in the Garden of Eden and has continued through the ages right to this present moment, will continue unabated.

    Jesus warned his followers to beware the teachings of the Priests. This warning was given at the end of the Abrahamic period. Now, after nearly two thousand years of the New Covenant, nothing has changed. Both Old and New Covenants have been apostasised in the same manner for a similar length of time.
    “He that hath ears, let him hear.”

    Comment by vynette — July 18, 2006 @ 9:15 pm

  3. Schism and the Religious Left

    Does the schism in the mainline churches ultimately hurt the religious left? Over at I am a Christian Too, this is the question being asked. If you spend so much time and resources fighting insugencies and dissidents, how much time

    Trackback by Religious Left Online — July 20, 2006 @ 12:56 pm

  4. Vynette, it appears to me that you are seeking freedom from the
    truth, not freedom through the truth.

    Comment by Bob — August 17, 2006 @ 7:07 am

  5. “perhaps smaller”?….it will be smaller than you seem to realize….

    Comment by Todd — August 26, 2006 @ 8:46 pm

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