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Tuesday, March 8, 2005

Quietistic, idolatrous, or prophetic churches.

Tom Schade suggests that there are four types of churches in the United States today:

  1. The passive, quietistic church that tries to be independent of the political controversies of the day. This church is focused on “the spiritual,” either in the form of the other- or next-wordly, or in the form of a close focus on daily and domestic life and the observation of nature. It avoids controversy and restricts its preaching about the world outside the doors of the sanctuary to positions that all good people could agree with.

  2. The Red Politically Idolatrous Church: This church accepts the current political division in the culture as being the ultimate reality. For these churches, the Red/Blue division in the USA does, in fact, represent the conflict between God and Satan.

  3. The Blue Politically Idolatrous Church: These churches accept the current political division in the culture as being the ultimate reality. For these churches, the Red/Blue division in the USA does, in fact, represent the struggle of the Hebrews to free themselves from Pharoah.

  4. The Prophetic Church: “The prophetic liberal church is the church in which persons think and work together to interpret the signs of the times in the light of their faith, to make explicit through discussion the epochal thinking that the times demand. The prophetic liberal church is the church in which the members share in the common responsibility to attempt to foresee the consequences of human behavior (both individual and institutional) with the intention of making history in place of being merely pushed around by it. Only through the prophetism of all believers can we foresee doom and mend our common ways.” —James Luther Adams, The Prophethood of All Believers.

There's more at Prophet Motive.

Copyright © 2005 by Philocrites | Posted 8 March 2005 at 6:23 PM

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March 9, 2005 10:26 AM | Permalink for this comment

This is why we love Tom Schade so much, even though his blog doesn't accept comments.


March 9, 2005 05:48 PM | Permalink for this comment

As Peacebang noted, Tom Schade's blog is having problems with comments right now, so I'll comment on his four categories here.

I really like what he's started. The red and blue politically idolatrous churches are both deliciously one-dimensional and wonderfully true-to-life. I know Quaker meetings like that. (Blue and red.)

I'd tweak the first and the last. I'll start with the last. As it stands, quoting James Luther Adams as the sum total of what a prophetic church is gives the whole scheme a fatal liberal bias. I guess if a church isn't liberal (whatever that means), it's either "red politically idolatrous" or has its head in the sands of spirituality. And if one simply excises the word "liberal" from the quote, than I believe many people of faith who express a conservative political agenda would say that it describes them. I wonder if that fits what Tom Schade had in mind.

Now as for the first, I'd suggest that those churches be called "so-called apolitical" churches and that the head-in-the-sand-spirituality types Tom has described so well be joined by their evil twin "I feel bad we've got to do something, anything, but we're not political and we don't want to think anything through" types.

Tom Schade:

March 10, 2005 10:10 AM | Permalink for this comment

Since, as noted, the comments section of my blog doesn't work -- why? I don't know. Don't care either, I will respond here to Kenneth.

Sure, JLA was a "liberal" politically. And I think that Kenneth is right that "interpreting the signs of the times in the light of faith" can lead to conservative political positions. Emphasis on "can". And if it does, so what?

The point is that taking a genuinely prophetic stance will not lead to a predictable political result. There are evangelicals out there who are getting concerned about global warming, and there are fundamentalists who are beginning to focus on poverty, and there are liberals, like Philip O'Crites and myself who supported the Iraq War. Figuring out what is required of us is not clear-cut or easy -- the Spirit bloweth where it will, etc. -- which is why the whole project depends on people working and thinking together.


March 10, 2005 10:06 PM | Permalink for this comment

Amy Sullivan, the Christian Democrat who is now an editor at the Washington Monthly, reviews Jim Wallis's barely disguised bible for the religious left, God's Politics, and concludes that the religious left is being naively reticent about taking aim at the bad guys:

In order to truly be heard, however, Wallis and his compatriots need to face what they're up against—a conservative machine that uses two-way communication between religious communities and political institutions to coordinate policy and rhetoric. With the stakes high for issues they care about, religious progressives may have to set aside the pristine white choir robes for a time and get their hands dirty in practical politics. Wallis has written a splendid blueprint for a utopian faith movement, but it may mean very little if he and other progressive religious leaders maintain a chaste distance from the party inclined to act on their concerns. What they've chosen so far is the principled stand that protects religion. But if they want to protect the values they hold dear, and the country they love, they're going to have to start fighting the good fight.

Is her proposal the nitty-gritty version of prophetic engagement (JLA-style) or is it an explicit call for left-wing idolatry? ("The Good Fight," Amy Sullivan, Washington Monthly 3.05; via Political Animal)


March 10, 2005 10:11 PM | Permalink for this comment

Sullivan describes how the religious left dropped the ball over the past thirty years in an essay for Salon:

The parting gift the religious left gave Christian conservatives was an uncontested public square. Years before the religious right had the membership numbers to match its boasts of political influence, it was winning debates simply by controlling the agenda and cornering the market on religious authority. Richard Parker, who teaches religion and politics at the Kennedy School of Government, believes that the religious left simply forgot about a crucial part of its mission. "The Catholic Church believed it needed to learn how to articulate for its members faith-based reasons for action, and to frame arguments for the public square in ways that did not directly derive from church teaching," he says. "Mainline Protestants [who form the bulk of the religious left] lost the first habit, and only carried out the second." Those members of the religious left that did remain politically active often seemed like caricatures of left-wing activists, agitating to save baby seals, Arctic wildlife, third-world orphans with only the faintest of biblical appeals marshaled on their behalf. While religious groups were some of the most vocal opponents of the recent war in Iraq, their unique voices got lost within a sea of peace slogans. More damningly, to the extent that the religious left continued to exist, it became tied in the public's mind with secularists. "The positions of the religious left and secularists on crucial questions seem indistinguishable," says Joseph Loconte of the Heritage Foundation. "And that hurts them politically."

She also observes:

No one has argued that Democratic politicians should suffuse their rhetoric with hymn lyrics and claim God's endorsement. But by backing away from each other like opposing magnets, the religious left and the Democratic Party have ceded the language of faith and values and morality to conservatives.

("What Would Falwell Do?" Amy Sullivan, Salon 3.10.05; free one-day pass req'd)


March 11, 2005 06:58 AM | Permalink for this comment

Fausto responds to Tom's response to Amy Sullivan.

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