In 2008, the Broadway musical “Rent “closed after 5,123 performances as the eighth-longest running show in Broadway history. It is a show beloved by many, though the critics have not always been kind to Jonathan Larson, the show’s creator. After the show closed, “New York Times” critic Charles Isherwood wrote about his experience seeing the show when it opened and how its meaning changed for him in post-9/11 New York:
One of the weaknesses of the show that bothered me a dozen years ago—the ending that finds the doomed Mimi springing back to life after appearing to expire—strikes me today as a flaw that Larson may have recognized but could not bring himself to correct. The integrity of art must have seemed a less urgent priority than the dissemination of hope. The awkward affixing of a happy ending to a fundamentally tragic story was a form of prayer, a plea that life might imitate art. I probably rolled my eyes at this absurd resurrection in 1996; this time I fought back tears.
We left high school, college or, perhaps, seminary with idealistic values and visions of a world waiting to be born. Along the way, though, we were exiled from those ideals and didn’t do what we said we would. Today, as wizened cynics, those dreams seem all too quaint. Still, we believe that the dissemination of hope is an urgent priority that gives meaning to liberals living in exile. That is why we are writing this blog, and we believe that is why you are reading it.
On a myriad of issues a significant number of Americans could be considered progressive, even liberal. In fact, in many surveys, the majority would identify themselves as moderate to progressive:
- Climate change is viewed as a threat by 71 percent of Americans (Bloomberg Poll, September 10-14, 2009), and want the federal government to address challenges such as global warming more aggressively (ABC News/Planet Green/Stanford University poll. July 23-28, 2008).
- An increasing number of people support marriage equality for same-gender couples.
- Even in former slave-holding states, the majority of people support government efforts to ensure racial equality.
- By a two-to-one margin, Americans favor reform to provide affordable health insurance to all.
- Most Americans, including Roman Catholics, believe in gender equality inside and outside of the Church.
- The electorate has become increasingly progressive on social issues. Conservatives politician are a small minority outside rural and southern areas, and, even in those areas, generational shifts are transforming the social landscape.
Given these facts, we are left to ask, “Why are churches and denominations that advocate these progressive values dying?” Led by the Disciples of Christ and the United Church of Christ, mainline denominations are declining across the board. Of course, libraries of books hypothesizing about the reasons for this decline have been written. This blog seeks to offer concrete and tangible words of hope that these trends may be slowed and even reversed.
Our optimism is rooted in the Christian understanding of resurrection, of course, but that is tempered with a wide range of experience in various church settings. We believe there is hope for the liberal church because we have experienced personally liberal churches that have been planted and renewed in some of the most conservative places. While we want to paint a realistic picture of the challenges that face progressive churches, we write this because of the signs of hope we see. This blog is a conspiracy to persuade you to join us as midwives of the hope that the progressive church can be renewed.