From the very beginning of this weblog, your GetReligionistas have argued that some of America’s most important religion stories are taking place on the Religious Left, even on the evangelical and Pentecostal left. I still believe that.
Also, we have always argued that it was important for journalists to cover the religious and doctrinal content of flocks on the religious left in terms of their DOCTRINES, worship and practices, not just their political views. It’s just as bad to assume that, let’s say, liberal Baptists believe what they believe for what are assumed to be political reasons as it is to argue that Baptists on the Religious Right are, truth be told, just a bunch of cynical politicos.
So, yes, I enjoyed reading large chunks of that recent New York Times story that ran under the headline, “A Church That Embraces All Religions and Rejects ‘Us’ vs. ‘Them.’”
By the way, I am not sure that the story nails down the second half of that headline, but that’s another issue. It’s possible that the religious thinker at the heart of this story would have trouble truly tolerating believers that be believes are intolerant. Why do I say that? Hang on a minute or two.
The opening of the story is a feast of Pacific Northwest details, some predictable and some quite refreshing:
LYNNWOOD, Wash. – Clad in proper Pacific Northwest flannel, toting a flask of “rocket fuel” coffee typical of Starbucks’ home turf, Steven Greenebaum rolled his Prius into a middle school parking lot one Sunday morning last month. Then he set about transforming its cafeteria into a sanctuary and himself into a minister.
He donned vestments adorned with the symbols of nearly a dozen religions. He unfolded a portable bookshelf and set the Koran beside the Hebrew Bible, with both of them near two volumes of the “Humanist Manifesto” and the Sioux wisdom of “Black Elk Speaks.” Candles, stones, bells and flowers adorned the improvised altar.
Some of the congregants began arriving to help. There was Steve Crawford, who had spent his youth in Campus Crusade for Christ, and Gloria Parker, raised Lutheran and married to a Catholic, and Patrick McKenna, who had been brought up as a Jehovah’s Witness and now called himself a pagan.
They had come together with about 20 other members to celebrate the end of their third year as the congregation of the Living Interfaith Church, the holy mash-up that Mr. Greenebaum had created. Yearning for decades to find a religion that embraced all religions, and secular ethical teachings as well, he had finally followed the mantra of Seattle’s indie music scene: “D.I.Y.,” meaning “do it yourself.”
The style appears to be mainline Protestant/Reform Judaism, blended with a rather academic infusion of other faith traditions. The Times team notes that:
… The liturgy moved from a poem by the Sufi mystic Rumi to the “passing of the peace” greeting that traced back to early Christianity to a Buddhist responsive reading to an African-American spiritual to a rabbinical song. In other weeks, the service has drawn from Bahai, Shinto, Sikh, Hindu and Wiccan traditions, and from various humanist sources.
I found myself wondering why this congregation needed to go it alone. Why not hang with the Unitarian Universalists, liberal Episcopalians or the United Church of Christ?
However, the whole point of this story is that Greenebaum’s flock somehow represents the trend that researchers usually call our “postdenominational age.” This pair of fact paragraphs is crucial: