At the end of April, 2012, Rev. Chuck Currie, a United Church of Christ minister who also writes a blog about politics and religion, delivered a provocative sermon in which he tells his congregation: “Right now an amplified and united voice preaching a new Social Gospel, or progressive Christianity, is particularly needed as the Roman Catholic Church works to undermine the social fabric of our pluralistic democratic society. …in rejecting the president's proper compromise and in making the outrageous claim that his administration is engaged in a war against religion – one bishop, without punishment, compared the president this month to Hitler – their actions have shown that their agenda is a roll back of women's rights. This is evidenced by the Vatican's witch hunt against nuns.”[i]
In response to this Catholic threat and recognizing “[t]he divisions that we face within our denominations, the decline of the mainline church over the last generation, and the changing realities we face in a society more pluralistic than ever,” Rev. Currie wonders if “we” are “doing church in the right way.” So he proposes a reunification of those churches that are “moving in a progressive theological direction” – embracing, specifically, “movements of liberation for Africans, Latin Americans, women, and gays and lesbians,” preaching and living out “a Social Gospel,” and “protecting women from those who would seek to return them to second class citizen status.”
Rev. Currie cites the situation of a homeless shelter California denied Catholic grant money after the shelter hired a new executive director who supports same-sex marriage. How dare the Roman Catholics use their own money in ways that are consistent with their moral teachings! (Not that Rev. Currie is suggesting that United Methodist money go to the orphanage run by an arms manufacturer.)
Then he notes that Roman Catholic Church cut off funding (presumably not awarding another Catholic Campaign for Human Development – CCHD – grant) to Children First for Oregon because they are part of a pro-choice coalition. And “Portland's Street Roots newspaper lost their Catholic funding (another CCHD non-grant) simply because they listed Planned Parenthood in their guidebook of available medical services for people who are homeless.” Rev. Currie finds these moves “heart breaking.”
Now Rev. Currie does understand, for he mentions it in passing, that the cultural divide between moral traditionalists and progressives can be found in every contemporary religious body but it was important for him to couch this as an “us versus the Catholics” situation so that he could ask that “ members of the United Church of Christ, the United Methodist Church, the Episcopal Church (USA), and Presbyterian Church (USA), Christian Church (Disciples of Christian), along with the historic African American denominations and others, to dream again about working together as one church, not separately.” He wants, in other words, a “merger of denominations.” This isn’t a merger-proposal based on theological unity but political unity: “the issues are too pressing,” he preaches and they tie together those who are determined to build an earthly “Kingdom of God.”
Of course, this People's Progressive Church (not the name Rev. Currie would probably choose) is something he’s been talking about for a while[ii] and it isn’t likely to be formed any time soon but the tenor of the sermon is one that should give Roman Catholics and more orthodox Protestants pause. What it admits, as clearly and openly as anything being written, is that religious progressives are enemies of the Church.
Spero columnist Stephanie Block also edits the New Mexico-based Los Pequenos newspaper.
[i] Rev. Chuck Currie, “Creating a New Progressive Ecumenical Church Relationship,” a sermon delivered at Portland, Ore.'s First United Methodist Church on April 29, 2012. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes come from this sermon, which was posted in its entirety at the Huff Post Religion blog: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-chuck-currie/creating-a-new-progressive-ecumenical-church-relationship_b_1464491.html; video of sermon: http://vimeo.com/41268878#
[ii] Rev. Chuck Currie, “Should Our Churches Merge?” Views from a United Church of Christ Minister website and blog, 6-19-06: chuckcurrie.blogs.com/chuck_currie/2006/06/should_our_chur.html