Last week I found a church to my liking -- of all places, a megachurch in the South on television. Or maybe I should say, a "congregation," because it included people of many faiths, including atheism.
This congregation was diverse in other ways as well: all colors, ethnicities, ages, abilities, sexualities, genders. The people came from all over, from all walks of life, from a wide range of occupations, from varying educational levels, economic conditions and classes. Some were formally dressed, others casually and sometimes playfully. Babies were held and children played, walkers and wheelchairs dotted the sanctuary. Couples held hands, friends chatted, strangers met.
The preachers and leadership on the chancel reflected the diversity of the congregation. Preachers and those giving testimonials alike proclaimed mercy, justice, compassion, equality, and peace. Injustice and exclusion were roundly challenged. The congregation gave appropriate responses, repeating phrases they liked, applauding people and ideas they appreciated. Saints of the past were named, hope for the future abounded. Those at war were remembered, as were factory workers and farmers. Love was celebrated wherever it was found. Visions and values were proclaimed. The gospel was preached!
The only ones missing were Republicans!
Yes, I'm talking about the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, but this was the kind of church I always wanted to be a part of, and yes, one that included Republicans.
Other than giving the youth sermon once at my boyhood church, my first sermon was about this very vision, entitled "Conflict and Unity in the Church." It was delivered to the church of my college years, a blend of white and blue collar workers, conservatives and liberals, Democrats and Republicans. It had seen division over political issues, but hosted a weekly forum after worship to air social concerns. The largely white congregation was intentionally working on racism through a program called Project Understanding and had helped start a Hispanic community center in the adjacent barrio. And we were among the first churches to invite two speakers from the newly-formed gay congregation, Metropolitan Community Church of Los Angeles. This, of course, was in the '60's and '70s.
Someone at my church sent a copy of my sermon to a columnist, who wrote in a subsequent column that he doubted the church could ever be such an umbrella organization. And perhaps he was right. Just as the Republican Party has left many Republicans, my denomination left me.
There has been a concerted effort by the far right to take over many of our institutions, even from true conservatives, but liberals and progressives, almost by definition, don't work that way. And I would say the root of the cause is theological. Religious or not, the far right tend to follow a god of coercion and exclusion, American exceptionalism and individual success; liberals and progressives tend to follow a God of persuasion and inclusion, global equality and collective progress. (You can tell my preference by which "god" I capitalize.) In such a scenario, the bullies often win.
Please note the distinction I've made from the far right and true conservatives, which is why we have the terms "extreme right" and "neocons." The far right is as little representative of conservative values as are revolutionaries and communists of liberal and progressive values. I say this as a former conservative (in my early teens). If the Republican Party could shed or at least restrain the ideologues, it would again become the Grand Old Party of both Rockefellers and Reagans.
And, speaking of parties, a religious right leader attending a party of religious liberals confessed to a friend of mine, "I must admit, you people do have better parties." To which my friend replied, "Have you ever considered there might be a theological reason for that?"
Rev. Glaser will be leading a retreat for gay and bisexual Christian men at Kirkridge Conference and Study Center in Pennsylvania, Oct 4-7, 2012, open to the public. Visit his weekly blog, "Progressive Christian Reflections," at http://chrisglaser.blogspot.com.
Copyright © 2012 by Chris R. Glaser. All rights reserved. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author.