Theological Liberalism: Relevant or Pathetic?

Just recently I blogged on the billboard erected by St Matthew-in-the-city. I said at the time that it was an act of desperation from a brand of religion that wants to effectively give up its religious nature but still retain its spot in the church, jettisoning anything that might connect it to (eeeew) Christianity, and trying to be hip and risque by poking crass fun at Christianity itself.

Although whoever comes up with ideas like this is apparently in the bizarre headspace where he/she thinks that the non-Christian world will admire this, the reality is somewhat different. For quite some time now I have consistently noticed that such tactics never achieve the stated (although probably false) goal of “getting people to think” or “encouraging serious dialogue” about faith in the modern world. Claiming Christianity while rejecting God and virtually everything that the Christian faith teaches does not make people look credible. It makes them look ridiculous. Genuine sceptics toward Christianity simply see straight through these attempts to be relevant as a way of selling out and living a ruse.

While I don’t share her take on the meaning of Christmas (largely because it sounds like she attributes no theological importance to it at all – and because of her heretical comment about guitars in church), I did appreciate the comments of the ever lovely Kerre Woodham in the New Zealand Herald:

I do wish churches would get back to core business and start laying down the moral law, delivering thundering nightmare-inducing sermons and ministering to the poor.

My dad always said no good would come of allowing guitars and folk songs into services, and he was right. All this faffing around trying to be edgy and relevant is embarrassing. It’s like watching your parents dance.

St Matthew-in-the-City is the latest culprit, with its Saatchi & Saatchi-generated billboard depicting a dejected looking Joseph and a disappointed Mary in bed. The caption read: “Poor Joseph. God is a hard act to follow.” Implying, of course, that God is the Man – capital “M” – in the sack and Joseph is a poor second.

The billboard has generated much debate, with some saying it’s offensive and others saying religious maniacs need to lighten up. Predictably, Family First is in the offended camp.

But really, Bob McCroskrie’s great-great-grandfather was probably the first man to cover the legs of pianos in Victorian England, so as not to offend the sensibilities of the ladies. The Catholic Church had a milder response, saying the billboard was inappropriate and disrespectful.

On the other hand, archdeacon Glynn Cardy is beside himself with excitement, saying the agency has fulfilled the brief. He says the church wanted to get people to think more about the meaning of Christmas. Is it about a spiritual male God sending down sperm so a child would be born, or is it about the power of love in our midst, as seen in Jesus?

Although I don’t think the billboard was especially offensive, I think it was probably just a bit too arch. I don’t know about you, but Christmas has never been about God and sperm. It’s a time to be with people you love, sharing what you have with those who might need a bit of help and for me, it’s about doing a moral stock take. How much have I done for others this year, and what more could I do? Not wondering whether bodily fluids were ever mingled between God and Mary – or for that matter, Joseph and Mary. St Matthew-in-the-City prides itself on being “at the progressive end of the Christian continuum”, but the way it’s promoting itself, its future seems more assured as a venue for fashion shows rather than a place of worship.

[Emphasis added]

As one person said on St Matthew’s website: “Glynn Cardy, As one atheist to another, take my advice: get yourself out of the Church and try working for a living.” People can see straight through the absurdity of rejecting everything that makes Christianity distinctively Christian while trying to retain a position among its ranks (and even drawing a paycheck from it!). In spite of the claims about encouraging thought and discussion, the stunt has not worked. It has caused a lot of people to notice how antithetical to Christianity the action was, it has caused umbrage among plenty of Christians, and it has sent the liberal defenders of such messages to become extremely defensive, disappointed that the outcome – amazingly – was not in their favour. In a word, “duh.” This self-serving publicity gimmick failed to get anyone talking seriously about the meaning of christmas. It failied to stir up any genuine theological discussion of any kind, as far as I can tell. All it did (as was probably the plan all along) was to get people talking about Glynn Cardy and his church. Well, he got it, in spite of the fact that he might not have liked the way it turned out. That anyone at St Matthews might have hoped for anything other than what they got just demonstrates how painfully out of touch with reality they really are.

Glenn Peoples

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