Friday, January 8, 2010

What is "Traditional Christianity?"

Don't miss Mark Jordan's fantastic article at ReligionDispatches today on the political assumptions made about the "traditional" and "liberal" divide.

I'm as guilty as the next "liberal" of railing against the imposition of "traditional values" in medicine and social services. Jordan gives us the necessary reminder that "traditional values" as proclaimed by the Religious Right (Catholic and Fundamental/Evangelical) are not representative of the whole or even traditional religious teaching. This frame has greatly helped opponents of equality and individual rights. And the media, reticent or unable to report the nuances of religion, have used the frame to perpetuate inaccurate assumptions about religious teaching and adherents.

Of course the Religious Right plays a heavy hand in enforcing the dominance and theological rightness of it's positions. Saying that church theology supports, for instance, gay equality, falls outside the understood, reported, polarized frame. Jordan writes:

You wouldn’t know this reading Steinfels’ description of our recent debates. To be fair, he is hardly alone. Most reporting of religious debates over sexuality, whether in the Times or on the wire services, assumes the same division—or performs the same sleights-of-hand. When self-proclaimed “traditional” voices are quoted against same-sex marriage, they are allowed to claim scriptural evidence, church history, and even the name “Christian.” When other Christian clergy or believers are quoted in support of same-sex marriage, they become “activists” who are allowed only to speak about civil rights or fairness or—sometimes—wispy Christian principles, but not about scripture or church history or faith itself.

I used to think that this was the fault of progressives—that we reverted too often to the bland language of fairness, toleration, or rights. So I tried always to give reporters scriptural and historical arguments. They rarely found their way into print. I wondered whether the forced simplification of religious journalism had a built-in bias for obvious, “literal” readings of scripture. Or whether the need to tell a story—to sell a story—drove reporters back to the familiar plot: venerable belief versus modern liberalism. So I began to experiment with saying very traditional religious things in interviews.

“I support ordaining openly lesbian and gay candidates because that’s where I’m led when I study scripture and pray.”

“My belief in incarnation pushes me toward the blessing of same-sex unions.”

The reaction was mostly an awkward silence. I could hear the typing stop at the other end of the line.

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