Monday, September 24, 2007
This week at uuworld.org: Neglecting theology.
This week, I review Gary Dorrien's three-volume history of American liberal theology, opening with a lament:
Liberal theology is in crisis. Almost no one has heard of it, fewer people can explain it, and even the churches that have historically embraced some version of it are largely alienated from its increasing academic specialization. Meanwhile, divinity schools and theology departments are being marginalized by other scholarly disciplines. (Why ask a theologian when you can ask an economist?) Too academic for the church and too religious for the university, liberal theology also faces renewed challenges from conservative orthodoxy. Critics from Pope Benedict XVI to the American evangelical establishment blast liberal theologians for revising doctrines to accommodate the findings of modern science and history and for embracing changing views of human sexuality and gender.
Nonetheless, according to a masterful new history of liberal theology in America, liberal theology is alive and kicking. What's more, its central insights are as relevant now as they've ever been. But liberal theology cannot influence American society without religious communities that embody it and demonstrate its vitality — or without popular advocates who translate it into forms the general public will embrace. You'd think that's where we [Unitarian Universalists] come in.
One of the many ironies of Unitarian Universalism is that our tradition, liberal theology's first American home, has neglected theology. Uncomfortable promoting our religious ideas in public, we advertise our social justice commitments and our desire for diversity, sometimes failing to notice that many denominations share these commitments. We promote our political alliances, calling Unitarian Universalism part of the "religious left." Too rarely do we make the liberal case for thinking about religion or being part of a religious tradition. We are missing an opportunity.
If you'd like the shorter version of Gary Dorrien's argument or don't feel like reading three long books, there is a condensed but readable excerpt at CrossCurrents: "American Liberal Theology: Crisis, Irony, Decline, Renewal, Ambiguity" (55.4: Winter 2005-2006). For earlier blog commentary on liberal theology's crisis and prospects in the UUA, see the 75 comments on "A religion still seeking definition" (12.22.05).
In the news this week, Don Skinner writes about two small groups that are attempting to offer a more inclusive alternative to the Boy Scouts of America. (There is still a UU organization with a formal relationship with the Boy Scouts — UU Scouters — and some UU congregations continue to sponsor Scout troops. For more on the difficult history between the UUA and the BSA in the late 1990s, see here and here.) Also this week: Jane Greer talks to volunteers on a bunch of the appointed and elected committees that make up Unitarian Universalism's "army of volunteers." And Sonja Cohen tracks another week of Unitarian Universalists in the media.
Copyright © 2007 by Philocrites | Posted 24 September 2007 at 7:20 AM