A House for Hope: The Promise of Progressive Religion for the Twenty-First Centuryby John Buehrens, Rebecca Ann Parker
Hope is rising. The political tide in the United States has turned, and people across the country who have been working for years for social change and justice finally feel as though they aren't struggling alone. Yet for those who ground their social activism in progressive religious belief, it is all too easy to feel spiritually divided and isolated, daunted by the apparent dominance of religious fundamentalists in the media and politics. The impact of liberal religion is richer and more far—reaching than many know—a force for good that has inspired and supported two centuries of American social progress, from the abolition of slavery and the securing of women's rights to the present-day struggles for marriage equality, ecological responsibility, and global peace. In order to sustain our spirits and advance positive social change, progressive people need to claim the transforming power of our theological heritage.
Authored by two leading progressive theologians, A House for Hope affirms that the shared hopes of religious progressives from many traditions can create a movement far stronger than fundamentalism: a liberal religious renaissance. Yet for it to flourish, progressive people must rediscover the spiritual sustenance available in the theological house our liberal forebears built, and embrace what our tradition truly holds sacred, as well as understanding what it rejects.
In lively and engaging language, A House for Hope suggests that liberal religious commitment is based on expansive love for life rather than adherence to narrow dogma. With chapters that reveal the political and personal relevance of the enduring questions at the heart of this theology, A House for Hope shows how religious liberals have countered fundamentalists for generations, and provides progressives with not only a theological but also a spiritual foundation for the challenges of the twenty-first century.
From the Hardcover edition.
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Read an Excerpt
Hope is rising. The political tide in the United States has
turned, and many are hoping for progress on issues such as
global warming, health care, marriage equality, and international
conflict. But religious fundamentalists of many varieties
continue to promote frameworks of meaning that put earth’s
global community, its diverse peoples, and its ecological systems
at profound risk. More than political change is called
for; America’s liberals and progressives need greater awareness
that at the core of social and political issues lie competing
responses to the classic questions posed by theology. Effective
work for social change requires people of faith who are theologically
literate and engaged. To that end, this book provides a
primer in progressive theology. It recovers and reconsiders the
hope-filled religious frameworks that inspired generations of
activists to work for women’s rights, racial equality, economic
justice, and peace. These frameworks embody reverence for the
sacred, nourish community life, carry forward the aspirations
of our forebears, and respond to legacies of violence and injus|tice that harm our bodies and souls. They hold promise for our
time. As Sara Robinson, blogging in 2008 for the Campaign for
America’s Future, argued:
"Secular progressives don’t seem to understand that while
politics is all about how we’re going to make the world better,
progressive religion tells us why it’s necessary to work
for change.... Liberal faith traditions offer the essential metaphors
and worldview that everything else derives from—
the frames that give our dreams shape and meaning. It has
an invaluable role to play in helping our movement set its
values and priorities, understand where we are in the larger
scheme, and gauge whether we’re succeeding or not.
The conservative movement knew from the get-go that
it would not succeed unless it could offer people this kind
of deeper narrative. Providing that was one of the most
important things the religious right brought to their party.
Progressivism will not defeat it until we can offer another
narrative about what America can and should be—and our
liberal churches have longer, harder, better experience than
anyone at developing and communicating those stories, and
building thriving communities around them."
This book uses the metaphor of a theological house to
articulate the “frames that give our dreams shape and meaning.”
Through this metaphor we explore the classic topics of
theology from a progressive vantage point—reminding the
reader that liberal religion has a long history, and inviting reconsideration
and reimagining of its key concepts. We write
as coauthors because we recognize that no one authoritative
voice can claim to speak to all of liberal and progressive religion.
Dialogue that opens up further conversation is integral
to progressive theological method. We have been in dialogue
with each other for a number of years about many issues in
progressive religion today. We have much in common as a
result, but we do not always agree about every issue or formulation.
To invite the reader into dialogue as well, in each
section of this book there are two or more chapters: one by
Rebecca introduces the theological theme and identifies distinctive
liberal perspectives on the topic; one by John offers
further historical perspective, counterpoints, and reflections on
Each dimension of the house—including its setting within
the natural world—corresponds to one of the classic issues
of systematic theological reflection. Theology, we suggest, is
architectural—it provides a framework for human life. It is also
ecological—it creates an interactive system in response to a
specific environment. And it is archeological—it unearths artifacts
from the past that can inspire our imagination and understanding
now. Here are the basic dimensions and coordinates
of this theological house for hope, and the questions that each
Meet the Author
John A. Buehrens was president of the Unitarian Universalist Association from 1993 to 2001 and is now minister of the First Parish Church in Needham, Massachusetts. He is coauthor, with Forrest Church, of A Chosen Faith and author of Understanding the Bible.
Rebecca Ann Parker is president of and professor of theology at Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley, California, and coauthor, with Rita Nakashima Brock, of Saving Paradise and Proverbs of Ashes. An ordained United Methodist minister, Parker has dual fellowship with the United Methodist Church and the Unitarian Universalist Association.
From the Hardcover edition.
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