The Rev. Dr. James Keck traveled to the Bay Area in April to become the first recipient of a ‘Visionary Voices’ award, given him by The Rev. Dr. Penny Nixon at The Congregational Church of San Mateo.
Speaking at a Saturday lecture prior to the event, he hailed what he called the ‘beauty of progressive Christianity’ which he sees as being typified by four key cornerstone points. These are: love trumps doctrine (you’re considered a fanatic if you’d kill for doctrine); openness to science and the verdicts of modern knowledge; the equality of souls; and a surprising and vigorous embrace of the concept of freedom of the individual conscience.
Keck also spent time talking about worldwide religious trends. Even though it may not feel that way to the particular group which is experiencing shrinking attendance, Christianity is rising in the South and Asia, and now, Keck says, the most common Christian in the world is a nineteen year old Brasilian woman. While the secularization taking place in Western Europe is “stunning” says Keck, he reminded the listeners that 80% of Americans self-define as Christian, 16% do not self-define religiously, and 4% remain for every other religion in America. He also told the crowd that America offers a gentle “middle way,” reminding listeners of the experience of the Methodist movement: at one time more people heard Methodist sermons than received U.S. mail (!).
Keck, among other scholars, sees us in an “emergence” – the latest of a number of five-hundred year trends (first came the Jesus movement, then the fall of Rome, the schism, Protestantism, and the present emergence). He reassured that there are many comonalities, even while polarities are more prominent in the conflict narratives that the news media prefer. Churches learn the language of separation, he said, out of a need to ‘market themselves’ in niches, but what people really need to be worried about is economic downturns, when humans become xenophobic and lash out. A reassuring message especially in a moment when headlines about Christianity include “Pentecostal Head Retracts Name from Civility Covenant.” Let’s hope that’s just “language of separation” market positioning, and the people in the pews are more aligned with the beautiful set of core values named by Rev. Dr. Keck last weekeknd.
To learn more about The Visionary Voices Award, or to suggest potential future nominees, contact The Rev. Dr. Penny Nixon at The Congregational Church of San Mateo.
-report filed by your webmaster, April 23, 2010