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Category: General
Posted by: RBAFounderX
Getting in Front of Jesus: The Politics of Progressive Christianity (Part I)
By Brad R. Braxton

Parishioners in the church of my childhood often sang the hymn, "I have decided to follow Jesus...No turning back, no turning back." The hymn cautioned disciples about turning away from Jesus. This essay explores the prospect of being disciples by getting in front of Jesus.

To follow a person usually means walking behind that person. Could it be, however, that we follow Jesus most faithfully when we walk ahead of Jesus? I argue for a progressive Christianity that extends the meaning and mission of Jesus into the present and future, rather than promoting an obsession with the past. Defining "progressive Christian" and "prophetic evangelical" (interchangeable terms for me) will facilitate a discussion of the politics of progressive Christianity.

Progressive Christian

According to some accounts, the term "progressive Christian" surfaced in the 1990s and began replacing the more traditional term "liberal Christian." During this period, some Christian leaders wanted to increasingly identify an approach to Christianity that was socially inclusive, conversant with science and culture, and not dogmatically adherent to theological litmus tests such as a belief in the Bible's inerrancy. The emergence of contemporary Christian progressivism was a refusal to make the false choice of "redeeming souls or redeeming the social order."

In the 1990s, many mainline Christian denominations were (and some still are) experiencing a significant decline in membership and cultural influence. The malaise in mainline Christianity occurred as some fundamentalist and conservative Christian communities experienced growth in the United States and across the globe. There are nuances between fundamentalist and conservative Christian denominations. Yet fundamentalist and conservative Christian communities united in the public square to form the "Christian right" -- a network that also included affiliated political, educational, and cultural organizations.

Even the casual observer of culture and politics can identity the considerable influence of the Christian right on public life in the United States during the last 40 years. This influence has extended all the way to the White House. For example, the historian Randall Balmer explores the impact of the Christian right upon the perspectives and decisions of President George W. Bush (God in the White House: A History: How Faith Shaped the Presidency from John F. Kennedy to George W. Bush).

During the last four decades, it often seemed, at least from the media's standpoint, that all Christians were either fundamentalist or conservative. Yet there are countless persons like me whose understandings of and approaches to Christianity are vastly different from those in the Christian right. We, too, profess to be followers of Jesus. Consequently, we are striving to define and live a type of Christianity that is theologically flexible and hospitable to social diversity. With that broad history in place, let me give further shape to the definition of "progressive Christian."

Progressive Christians believe that sacred truth is not frozen in the ancient past. While respecting the wisdom of the past, progressive Christians are open to the ways truth is moving forward in the present and future for the betterment of the world. Progressive Christianity recognizes that our sacred texts and authoritative traditions must be critically engaged and continually reinterpreted in light of contemporary circumstances to prevent religion from becoming a relic.
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Category: History
Posted by: RBAFounderX
Frederick Douglass on Expanding Liberty: A Quick Post-Independence Day Reflection
By J. Kameron Carter

Toward an American Theology of Freedom

In 1962, when the civil rights fervor in our country was approaching a tipping point, the great theologian Karl Barth made his one and only trip to the United States. (Of course, I have to get Barth in here given the extensive study I’m doing of him in relation to my current book project.) On that trip he implored his American hosts of the need to demythologize the Statue of Liberty. What did Barth mean by this? He was pointing to the need for an ideologically-unhinged approach to liberty. In short, he was calling for a true and specifically American theology of freedom.

But little did Barth know, to say nothing of his many American interpreters even now, that his call to demythologize liberty put him in an interesting company of thinkers and activists. This was a tradition of black intellectuals spanning the trans-Atlantic. A central figure in this tradition was Frederick Douglass.

In 1852 (on the 4th of July of that year, to be exact), just over a century before Barth showed up in America, Douglass called for a similar demythologizing of and deeper reflection on freedom and liberty in American life. Indeed, he carried out the unmasking and in the process discerned that at the center of the mythos of American liberty and its political shortcomings on the key question of the day, which was slavery, was a deep and profound failure of Christian social imagination. It was in that magnificent piece of political oratory, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?,” that Douglass took up his analysis of liberty and freedom. (You can find the entire speech here.)

With the war in Iraq still fresh in our political memory banks and with the recent doubling-down on the war in Afghanistan—wars waged in the wake of the September 11th attacks to defend “freedom,” because as the saying goes, “freedom isn’t free”—it is well worth returning to Barth’s admonition as the dust now settles the July 4th weekend festivities. But I want to do so by way of Frederick Douglass, the one-time American slave.

In this post, I’m going to give or at least try to give something of the flavor of Douglass’s profound address, how in it he is really intervening into America’s religious and political discourse. I’ll finish up by suggesting a connection (and it can only be a suggestion for now: I will develop it in another posting) between what Douglass is talking about and current debates about immigration in our national life.
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Category: Culture
Posted by: RBAFounderX
Facebook, Twitter, and the Death of Body Language
By Anthony B. Pinn
I am more than willing to admit that from the moment I was taught to text message I have been hooked, and I now send with lightening speed hundreds of text messages each month. I use text messaging to handle quick questions, to give quick updates, and basically to have ‘conversations’ in time frames I control without the demands of face-to-face exchanges.

On the level of quick connection this new technology is wonderful, but I can’t help but believe something is missing. We may be exchanging information, but are we really communicating?

This question is not to suggest a longing for a return to ‘old’ ways of “getting things across.” I am not lamenting technological advances. I’m not trading in my TREO, and I’m not canceling the media package on my phone or reducing the number of messages I sent through that magical device. I am not calling for a technology purge.

I’m simply noting that technology comes with a price, and this price has something of a postmodern twist. By this I mean that tweeting and other high-tech modalities of exchange send information about happenings, attitudes, feelings, and events—but in a way that disconnects life moments from bodies.

We, through our dependency on quick pieces of information, are dispersed and outside our bodies. Life developments become confined to the written word (often in shorthand), and the non-written modes of expression are lost or at least rendered obsolete. No more body language, no more knowing through voice inflection, and no more reading facial expressions.

Bodies become an unnecessary element of our information exchange. We become flexible identities, molded around bits of life events with limited ways to interpret them. The experiences we share and chronicle on these handheld devices speak about the ways in which our bodies occupy time and space, but this is done in ways that allow us to live and share ourselves with countless others without any real awareness of the bodies we carry through the world.

Bodies Tell Stories

Exchanging moments of our day with (faceless) others is meant to fix us in time and space in certain ways: information is more plentiful and quickly digested, but those sharing and those consuming this information are ghosts—phantoms.

Numerous scholars have argued, and I think rightfully so, that the body is a ‘text’. It is both material and metaphor; both a physical marker of our place in human experience and also a ‘sign’ or ‘symbol’ read in ways that define our place in social organization. In short, bodies tell stories; but these stories require something of a physical presence. Our bodies carry something of our historical and cultural memory, and only so much of that memory can be communicated through body-less exchange. Text-messaging, tweeting, and so on provide opportunities for the sharing of large amounts of data, but perhaps without the type of quality control one would anticipate when face-to-face, or when shared in any way that brings the physical body into play. There’s an ability to hide oneself through technology that reduces vulnerability and reserve.

What to do about this? I’m not giving up my messaging, and I’m not suggesting anyone should. Tweet if you must. Update your Facebook profile. There’s no turning back from this technology, the increased speed and ease with which we share information.

However, this ability calls for greater personal control; a new sense of decorum. (Accountability takes on a new meaning, and authenticity in this case demands new modes of measurement.) While using this technology it seems wise to maintain a certain level of discomfort, recognizing that there is something about ourselves that is missing from those exchanges.

It is important to be mindful that we are hiding pieces of our selves, and what we write and what it says about ourselves is really limited and somewhat deceptive. Sharing moment-by-moment bits of information is not the same as nurturing relationships.