Since day one, a major theme here at GetReligion has been the need to portray the specific beliefs of specific believers whenever possible, instead of taking the easy road and settling for simplistic labels.
Why? Truth is, there are all kinds of people on the religious left who disagree with one another. There are all kinds of people on the religious right who have major disagreements with one another. Folks in the middle? Why do you think they're in the middle?
Godbeat veteran Bob Smietana at The Tennessean recently served up a perfect example of this reality in a news feature about a church in Nashville that is on the religious left, except that its style and some of the content of its message clearly stand in contrast with many others over on the more liberal, oldline side of church life. And the key is that this church is new and, in the context of the mainline world, it's growing.
You need to read the whole top of this story until you hit the loaded word that ticked off a few GetReligion readers and caused them to send us this URL. Wait for it.
It’s standing room only at Holy Trinity Community Church as the Rev. Cynthia Andrews-Looper wraps up her sermon for the 10:15 a.m. service, one of three she’ll do this morning.
She strays from the pulpit, pacing in front of an architectural rendering of a planned multimillion-dollar expansion to the church.
“Let’s make God-sized goals,” says Andrews-Looper, a former standup comedian.
Like many of her parishioners, Andrews-Looper grew up in an evangelical church -- in her case, Independent Fundamental Baptist -- and found she was no longer welcome when she revealed she was a lesbian. She started a Bible study with a handful of other gay Christians in July 1996, which eventually led to starting Holy Trinity, affiliated with the United Church of Christ denomination.
Andrews-Looper used conservative theology combined with a progressive view of sexual orientation to grow the congregation to 600, making it one of the largest gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender congregations in the Southeast.
Wait just one minute, huffed these readers, how can this church be described as having "conservative theology" when it has clearly abandoned centuries of Christian doctrine on sexual ethics?
Well, in this case the word "conservative" is all about context and Smietana goes out of his way to note that this is a church that includes members from a wide range of denominational backgrounds. However, it now finds itself in the midst of a denomination built on a polity that stresses both the loud voice of the national church and the freedom of local congregations to stake out their own positions on some issues.
In other words, the debate here is not so much whether Holy Trinity is "conservative" in the context of Nashville, as much as whether it is conservative in the context of the United Church of Christ.
The "big" church language also needs to be seen in context. The need for a new 600-seat sanctuary is small potatoes in the context of Nashville megachurches. But in the mainline world? In the context of a gay-friendly flock? That's huge.
And back to the issue of the "conservative" doctrine. Later on, readers learn:
Candy Akins is a member of the vestry, a group of lay leaders, at Holy Trinity. She and her partner, Anna Landry, have been at the church for about seven years. Both grew up Southern Baptist and say that the church feels like home -- the preaching comes straight from the Bible, the message is that only Jesus saves and the music is contemporary Christian. ...
Holy Trinity teaches members to believe in the Trinity, the virgin birth and the Resurrection. Church members say they have a high view of the authority of the Bible but don’t believe that it teaches that homosexuality is a sin.
The Rev. Cameron Trimble, executive director of the Center for Progressive Renewal, an ecumenical group that starts new churches and helps revitalize older ones, says that Holy Trinity’s theology fits well in the South. ...
“You can go to many mainline churches and experience a really interesting essay about God,” Trimble said. “At Holy Trinity, you experience God.”
Belief in the virgin birth? The Resurrection was a real event in history? Salvation through Christ, alone? I think that this is why, in the oldline context, this flock can accurately be described as "conservative."
When I finished reading this story, the following questions popped into my head: How is the growth of this congregation affecting the local branch of the gay-friendly Metropolitan Community Church (assuming that there is one)? Does the rise of Holy Trinity offer any insights into the doctrinal evolution of the MCC, which began as a phenomenon among gay evangelicals and Pentecostals and now appears to have moved to the mainline left?
A Google search found an MCC congregation, but one with a very low profile (which is rare) on the World Wide Web. Very interesting.
Just saying. This might require a follow-up report.