A new home for questioning Christians

2010-09-09 00:00

WHAT happens to Christians who question things they once believed? Is the Bible really infallible? Did Jesus rise physically from the dead? Is he literally the incarnate Son of God? Are non-Christians heading for hell? Can you be a Christian and an evolutionist?

Such people either go into spiritual exile or stay in their churches with a growing sense of alienation, mostly keeping their doubts to themselves. For skeptical clergy, the situation is worse. Their livelihoods are at stake, so exile is far harder for them. That makes them troubled, divided insiders.

Such people often long for a deep sense of true belonging. Now, it seems, there is good news for them in the form of Progressive Christianity. It is not a new denomination but a support structure within some of the existing Protestant churches that focuses on Christ’s example of loving compassion rather than on belief, about which it welcomes a questioning mind. The Bible is prized but not as the literal, infallible word of God. Other faiths and philosophies are respected.

Having done my doctorate on the founding father of this kind of Christianity, Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834), I was naturally intrigued when word of this development recently reached me from one of its leading lights, the radical Christian thinker Lloyd Geering.

There appear to have been two founding initiatives. In 1994, the Reverend Jim Adams, then at St Mark’s Church in Washington DC, began the move towards an organised structure called Progressive Christianity for people who reject conservative and fundamentalist expressions of Christianity. This led two years later to the founding of the Centre for Progressive Christianity in the United States. Then, in 2002, a similar initiative started in Canberra, Australia, called the Centre for Progressive Religious Thought. Groups in some other countries have followed suit.

While the movement appears to rely heavily on electronic networking, it also has local groups and even, I gather, affiliated churches. Interested readers can find out more by searching “Progressive Christianity” on Google, although I suggest they skip the link to Delwin Brown because it is too narrowly American.

• Now an independent ethics consultant, Martin Prozesky was formerly a professor of religious studies at the Pietermaritzburg university campus.

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