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Christian Values

Timothy Kincaid

April 16th, 2012

The “Value Voters” have announced their Summit again, and hate groups, exclusionists, and theocrats are well represented. And again good and decent people are too reluctant to challenge it in the way that it should be challenged.

* * *

In December, a friend asked what I was doing Christmas Day. I told him that there was a church near where I live, St. James in the City Episcopal Church, that has a food pantry and I was going to see if they had a Christmas Dinner I could volunteer for. He laughed at me. It seems that if you want to volunteer at St. James, you have to sign up months in advance.

St. James caught my attention again this week when a client listed them as their church. This individual is very generous with time and money and seems committed to helping the less fortunate, so this confirmed to me that this congregation had a emphasis on contributing to the world.

St. James in the City is located on Wilshire in a section dotted with beautiful early 20′s Century Churches. Glorious architecture with heritage built for an affluent community that migrated outward leaving their mansions to be torn down and replaced with apartment buildings. The handful of older ladies that venture back each Sunday to the First Congregational nearby surely don’t support the upkeep – that is from movie production rental. And the handsome Italian Romanesque beauty that is Wilshire Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) went up for sale a few months ago.

Church attendance is down in general. And with the mega-church phenomenon sucking away many who might otherwise attend their local church, the old standbys are hurting. And mainline denominations are hurting the most.

But not St. James. It is packed on Sundays.

And one congregate wrote a few years back about her experience for a British audience, explaining the appeal.

While churches in England have, for the most part, modernised their services in an attempt to attract bigger crowds — some of them becoming painfully evangelical and happy clappy — the Episcopal church in the US still uses the older, traditional liturgies, the ones that I remember nostalgically. It was these superficial trappings that appealed to us originally. My husband, who writes music for a living, is a sucker for a choir — but it is the values that we found there that has really kept us coming back.

At our church, it is not unusual to see children with two mums or two dads, sitting next to Koreans, African-Americans, Hispanics, as well as many white middle-class families. There are monied people from Beverly Hills, rubbing shoulders with artists from downtown. Gay people next to straight. It’s jolly, social and somehow has a relevance to everyone’s life. It reflects an acceptance of all, the kind of value I’d like my children to have. And it is a community. Spirituality, I believe, comes from acknowledging that we are part of something greater than just ourselves.

I believe that she has identified something. And I think that it is a notion that mainline Christianity should note.

For too long those who have obstinately held to theological positions that do not reflect either modern understanding about sexuality or the spirit of the message found in Christ’s recorded teachings have owned the word “values”. And mainline churches have been in the public’s perception limited to “no, we aren’t all like that”.

I think it is long passed the time when Mainline Christianity stand and say, “We have strong values including inclusion, relevance, flexibility, and especially love for our fellow man. Our values predate whatever those others are selling and were, in fact, the values of our founder”.

Mainline Christianity deserves a better position that “the Christians who don’t hate you”. What they have to offer is a much needed commodity. It’s not just what they don’t give – it’s what they do give: values, the kind you wants your kids to have.

Comments

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Blake
April 16th, 2012 | LINK

I agree. They sell themselves short. I think partly because the whole of the mainline congregations aren’t in agreement with the core values which you, I and the congregate find so endearing.

Of the major mainline denominations in the USA only the Episcopalians are imparting the values. And even then if one steps into the wrong congregation…

Methodists & Baptists may share these values at certain churches, but not denominationally. Similarly I’ve attended a Catholic Shrine in all ways similar to your example except for a pervasive sense of dread amongst the congregants that the hierarchy would catch wind of what was happening there.

Perhaps it is loyalty to the denomination and a desire to “not-rock-the-boat” which keeps other congregations from selling themselves more directly. I suppose not many Methodist denominations want to be lumped in with those “obnoxious troublemakers” in Raleigh.

Perhaps it is the GP’s knee-jerk negative reaction to issues of sexuality which obscure the wider message of tolerance & inclusion.

When I’m in doubt I tend to blame leadership & the way a number of mainline denominations are governed certainly contributes.

They also make the same mistake failing bars make: catering to their regulars. The bluehairs & conservatives want biblical literalism & if you don’t give it to them they’re willing to jump to non-doms that are. At the same time, the mainlines haven’t figured out that the above values sell or how to sell them without the distractions that come with sexuality issues. They’re apparently more worried about loosing the patrons they have than about attracting new ones. Call it tunnel-vision.

TampaZeke
April 16th, 2012 | LINK

The dying Congregational church mentioned in the story is UCC, which is WAY more modern than any Episcopal church and much more inclusive on a national scale yet that congregation was dying. UCC congregations across the country are folding so your claim doesn’t really hold water.

I think a more likely reason that so many mainline churches are going under (and I speak from personal experience as a former UCC member and moderator) is because once you let go of the trappings of conservative fundamentalism and settle into an inclusive church like the UCC, you’re often well on your way to leaving Christianity, and organized religion altogether. Between the conservatives that are leaving mainline churches for the mega churches and the liberals who are deciding that they don’t want anything more to do with Christianity in ANY form, the progressive congregations are becoming scarce and will soon be extinct.

Timothy Kincaid
April 16th, 2012 | LINK

Zeke,

Thank you for that response. It is, I believe, true that for some a liberal church is just a stopping point on the way out the door.

But I truly don’t think that the UCC or most mainline churches get it. Rather than sell their values they just become “we aren’t them”. And that isn’t worth showing up for.

You should know that I’m not saying that “we have liberal values” is a selling point. Frankly, too often they sound like conservatives, just with different targets.

What I’m saying is “We have very very tough values; extremely hard to keep in place. But they are worth it.” is a very good selling point. If, of course, they live them.

Snowman
April 16th, 2012 | LINK

Personally, I think those mainline churches will be around for a good long time yet in one way or another, in my experience there are just as many, maybe people who leave Fundamentalist churches for Atheism, in my personal experience though, a lot of the mainline churches have lower attendance overall than Fundamentalist churches do, and there’s less money all around than in say, a Pentecostal church. (Former Northern Baptist here btw) the middle of the road nondenominational Evangelical church I used to attend faded away after its Pasor retired because they couldn’t find another one. So the President of the association preaches there (he’s Fundamentalist, the old Pastor wasn’t)It’s a shell of its former self and few of the people I knew still attend.

At this point I think everybody’s hurting except for those who tell people what they want to hear. Too few people seem to care about the truth.

But then, that’s why I’m not religious anymore either, the truth is I couldn’t stand so much hipocrisy anymore. My own search for truth led me in a different direction.

pax58
April 16th, 2012 | LINK

After 25 years as a United Methodist pastor, I came to terms with my sexuality, gave up my orders and moved to Tucson. I became a member of St Philips Episcopal Church, a church firmly set in tradtional worship with a high level of classical church music supported by the congregation. The first Sunday I was there as very effective priest on the staff preached, and she was a very good preacher. She was an out lesbian in a committed relationship. What I have come to love about my adopted family of faith is how well it holds to the tradtion from which it comes. As a person who takes theology and tradition seriously this is important to me. But something was important to me as well. St Philips is not locked into its tradtion in a way that prevents it from responding to the present world in which it lives. GLBT persons are intrigrated into the life of this community with no banners or heavy commentary, we are part of the bigger whole. One church growth person stated that a paper tiger is never as good as the real thing. Too many mainline churches have moved toward contemparary worship and praise bands as a way of appealing to a younger generation. Some have been effective, but most are trying to immate another tradition and it shows. As an apologist for mainline Christianity (Episcoal version) I find much within the values of a church that has been around for centuries to give those who have been a part of it since birth and new commers looking for a place to grow spiritually that is subtle put impressivie. Easter Sunday there were lots of services with a wide range of ages present. The church ladies stand out in their hats and nice dresses, sitting next to a young adult in jeans and a casual shirt.

cd
April 17th, 2012 | LINK

Religious conservatives do move over to megachurches. But the retention rate of their children is less than you’d think.

StraightGrandmother
April 17th, 2012 | LINK

I don’t expect others to dress up for church but I do. I grew up in an era where we wore white gloves and had a new fancy Easter dress with matching hat and purse. My son even as a toddler wore a suite and clip on tie to church. We had “church” shoes, good shoes we only would wear for church.

I do NOT mind at all if others wear jeans, it is not what we are wearing that is important. But you grow up a certain way with certain traditions so I guess it just sticks with you.

andrew
April 17th, 2012 | LINK

actually, I find communal worship deeply unsettling. why is this something we do in groups? it’s one of the most intimate relationships i have, why on earth would i do this through a 3rd party in front of other people? when i was a regularly practicing catholic, i used to go to the downstairs chapel during mass to commune for the 45-75 minutes or so mass took. the ritual was comforting, but it was upsetting – people driving bmw’s and wearing furs and putting a nickel into the collection plate (and then me feeling guilty for judging them), folks just going through the motions who clearly didn’t want to be there, priests ranting about things that were not biblical (i’m pretty sure jesus did not expect a lecture about whether or not one should leave before or after the priest, nor did he expect an 40 minute rant about the evils of masturbation).

these are all distractions. like inviting your friends over to watch the ballgame while you make love to your spouse. it just doesn’t make any sense to me.

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