Pacific Northwest: Liberal v. Conservative

A recent article in The Christian Century reviewed a new book called Evangelical vs. Liberal: The Clash of Christian Cultures in the Pacific Northwest (James K. Wellman Jr.). Being a lifelong Northwesterner, I was captivated.

Plenty has already been written about "post-Christendom," which seems to be the overarching framework in which Wellman's book is constructed. Stuart Murray wrote a wonderful book entitled Post-Christendom: Church and Mission in a Strange New World which you must read, if you haven't.

Evangelical vs. Liberal makes a case that the Pacific Northwest might be a window into the future of Protestantism in the country as a whole. Murray makes this same observation in his own book, although it's a much smaller part of his broader argument of post-Christendom throughout the Western world.

Here are a few insights I found particularly compelling in the article, and have witnessed firsthand:

Wellman expected to discover that the Northwest's progressive social ethos and politics would be fertile ground for liberal Protestant churches. Instead he found the contrary. While it has strong liberal congregations, Wellman discovered that in general the region is not hospitable to progressive Christianity...
...
Wellman's other conclusion is that members of liberal churches are experiencing an identity crisis. Too often, he observes, liberal Protestants in the Northwest struggle to develop an identity that is distinct from the broader culture. "To a large extent liberal churches mimic or mirror many of the elite liberal cultural attributes of the PNW culture, such as the belief in the power of the individual to take care of oneself and to make the world a better place." Ironically, he concludes, "liberal churches fail to attract the unchurched in part because they share so much in common." Evangelicals, on the other hand, seem more certain of their identity and thus more confident in the ways they engage and critique the prevailing middle-class ethos of the Northwest—or in some cases create an alternative Christian culture.
(click here to read more)

"Liberal Christians share so much in common with liberal non-Christians." It's an interesting idea, and one that seems to resonate within the idealism of my own left-leaning politics, apart from my personal faith identity in Jesus Christ. Garrison Keillor, in the first chapter of his book Homegrown Democrat, lists many of Jesus' beatitudes as foundations for being a Democrat. Barack Obama continually invoked Genesis with his, "I am my brother's keeper" remarks. Christian values are foundational to the Democratic platform, even if they remain less touted as such, than by Republicans.

Is there something wrong with finding little difference between Christian liberals and non-Christian liberals? An argument could certainly be made, in a much broader way, that Christians in general demonstrate little real difference from non-Christians, at least in America. Divorce rates, teen pregnancy rates, rampant consumer debt...

But I would argue there is something wrong with too little distinction between these two groups. I would argue that Christians should stand out in certain ways, and that the liberal Christian church in America has lost one of the core messages inherent in the Scriptures: we need a Savior. We are not enough...

I'll be blogging about this more, tomorrow.
Peter

No comments:

Popular Posts