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The Common Ground of Sunday in America

November 1, 2016

I’m using “Sunday” both as referring to the actual day and more broadly to Christian faith in America.  The main issue I’ll discuss briefly here, within that vast topic, is the common ground shared on a given Sunday morning.

First, a couple points of context:

  1. Many non-religious people in America see mainly negative things in the beliefs and practices of religion (focused mainly in Christianity here).
  2. Many Christians (myself not included) see Christian faith as under attack and religious liberties as threatened.  Additionally, they see heresy and threat in every form of religious liberalism or progressivism.  (The share of church attendees in the U.S. is strongly weighted to the more conservative denominations, such as the Southern Baptists and the many small denominations and independent churches.)

I’d like to reassure non-religious people, since most of their objections relate to “conservative” forms of faith, that things may not be as bad as they think.  There are some real positives nestled within the things I also object to.  I’d like to also reassure Christians sharing the concerns of #2 above that things may not be as bad as they think.  By that I mean that “progressive Christians” share many things with both groups and represent a sort of meeting ground in the middle… or “golden mean”.  

This past Sunday, during the church service (of my United Church of Christ congregation) and a class after it, I was particularly struck with the realization of how much common ground there was with our more historically orthodox brethren.  I mused, some of it out loud in class, that many of them could have participated in both hours that Sunday and felt quite at home and in almost complete if not complete agreement.  Now the UCC denomination, our church included, does have a statement of beliefs that differs on some key points from that of denominations like the Southern Baptists and many others.  Our outreach priorities are also generally different.  But in many services you wouldn’t even hear that expressed or note a big difference.

On the other hand, you also would not, in any main service, hear certain distinctives of American evangelicalism: a wrathful god, threat of eternal punishment, call for a personal “decision” of faith in Christ, or issues of “social conservatism” or the “Religious Right’s” political agenda.  My contention is that these issues are biblically and historically not a necessary or helpful part of vibrant, healthy Christian faith anyway (or Jesus-following, if one prefers the term as I sometimes do).  This is based on literally many thousands of hours of study of the Bible, Christianity and its history, plus philosophy and world religions, etc.  Oh… and being smack in the middle of Evangelical America for over half of my nearly five-decade adult life.

My major point is this: being Christian or “Christ-centered”can be fashioned and directed many ways. Though some are healthier and “truthier” than others, none are to be condemned or ridiculed.  These days there seems to be a growing body of people who seek to purposely and seriously follow Jesus, though in a “secular” way.  While I feel interconnected with everyone, I particularly appreciate the brotherhood/sisterhood of these people who are outside any church.  A wonderful, in-depth review of the book, “Confessions of a Secular Jesus Follower” by Tom Krattenmaker posted recently on the “Godless in Dixie” blog on Patheos.  I recommend it highly, found here.

Even from the far right to far left of Christian beliefs and expressions there tend to be some key basics in common.  Things like seeing Jesus’ life as transformative in history and often in individual lives; laying aside the ego (or “dying to the flesh”) in the process of identifying with Christ as biblically and spiritually known.  And core to any healthy congregation, no matter its specific doctrine, is a growing practice of coming to know and care for one another, being as transparent, where called for, and as trusting as we can bear.  Then taking that inner strength out to the world around so that others in need may share in our “abundant life”, our life together.  

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