NEWS: Riverside Church: Progressive or Fundamentalist?

The_Riverside_ChurchAmericans have had a lengthy love-hate relationship with the tensions indicative of religion and liberal democracy. While we are often titillated by controversy surrounding clergy living within the public eye, some of the fiercest battles have been fought over matters involving civil liberties, social issues, and theological and scientific “truth.” Members of Manhattan’s Riverside Church called for the resignation of the “self professed ‘progressive evangelical’” Rev. Dr. Brad R. Braxton. The fear was that Dr. Braxton was leading the congregation toward a more fundamentalist version of Christianity. Rev. Peter Laarman, executive director of Progressive Christians Uniting and Dr. Jonathan Walton, assistant professor of Religious Studies at the University of California, discussed this development. They considered the context of the American liberal Protestant tradition and the weakness of labels. That is, terms such as “fundamentalist” and “evangelical” mean different things to different people. We often confuse each term with particular expressions of the radical Right. According to Jonathan Walton “some have suggested that Dr. Braxton’s commitment to the scriptural text rendered him a biblical fundamentalist and a poor fit for Riverside.” The article reminds us of the haziness of theological distinctions. Walton points out that “the religious right and conservative Christians have co-opted the terms ‘bible-believing’ and ‘evangelical’ in such a way that they have become politically-based monikers from which many liberal Protestants quickly flee.” Walton and Laarman conclude the conversation by suggesting that the decision of Riverside Church congregants may be rooted more in the historic struggles of race and class, rather than theological particulars. The question remains: what must progressive Christians do to overcome “this sort of class and culture contestation?” Read the full story here.

Related articles:

$1.99 - small What Every Beginning Student Needs to Know about Nineteenth-Century Protestant Theology By Paul E. Capetz, United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities (October 2008) Religion Compass

$1.99 - smallThe Rise of the Historical Consciousness’ By Johannes C. Wolfart, Carleton University (January 2009) Religion Compass

$1.99 - small The Changing Significance of Race: African-Americans and the Hebrew Bible By Stephen Reid, Bethany Seminary (June 2008) Religion Compass

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