Monday, 11 February 2008

Lightly Affirming

Affirming Liberalism has enjoyed its opening conference on 9 February 2008 with 137 present. There was worship at midday.

People spoke about feeling marginalised in local churches that are too fearful to allow progressives and liberals to speak freely. There is much self-censoring happening in churches.

Mark Chapman gave a lecture of the nineteenth century historic roots of liberalism and its existence as an attitude of mind. It involves, as St. Paul put it, putting away childish things. He thought liberalism was limited, and had not the ability alone to be an animating faith. Some questioned this completely and thought that there should be freedom from attachment to the churches’ former historic expressions in liturgy, doctrine and ethics.

It seems to me that we have here the clash of different definitions of liberalism. "Liberal about" needs something else (to be liberal about), and this something usually has a fixedness and priority, whereas liberalism when primary is a kind of faith attitude and involves a stance of open trust, receptivity, and choice of spiritual resources that varies over time.

Keith Ward say gospel Christianity is liberal in character. Its liberal aspects are often ignored because they involve complexity and are often hidden. It involves humility, like admitting what we don't know (I recall that a definition of learning is discovering what you don't know). He said that the English Church does not appreciate those who do the hard work along the lines of liberal principles. As for tradition, he interprets the creeds metaphorically but they are not binding.

The question is I suppose whether and how much some inherited features of Christianity are retained as normative for a faith to develop with space and discernment. For myself, there are resources, essentially liturgical, that provide for a faith path, but they are held to lightly - a bearable lightness of being (to misquote the novelist Milan Kundera) - in that they provide for a wider purpose. Doctrines are like signposts, and become non-exclusive, and some point to places that might even be better fenced off, whereas it is the journeying for insight and self development around these places that matters the most.

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