All Saints Day: A Progressive Call to Remember

I’ve often wondered why progressive Christians don’t typically celebrate All Saints Day on November 1 with more enthusiasm.  It is, next to Christmas and Easter, my favorite church holy day–I eagerly await reading the texts of our Christian ancestors and the communal singing, “For All the Saints,” in my Episcopal church.

Earlier this year, I published a history of Christianity, A People’s History of Christianity, a book focused on “saints” of the liberal and progressive tradition–people like Origen, Perpetua, Abelard and Heloise, Katarina Zell, Lazarus Spengler, Anne Askew, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Harry Emerson Fosdick, Maria Stewart, and Samuel Green.  The stories told therein are about generosity and justice, about prophetic preaching and speaking truth to power.   As a result, I’ve spent the better part of 2009 in mainline churches and with progressive Christian groups talking about history and why history is important to both our spiritual lives and to enacting social justice.

And I’ve listened to many mainline Christians share their reticence about engaging history, thinking about tradition, and the stories of our saints.

Of all Christians, liberal and progressive ones have the most awkward relationship with history and tradition.  After all, liberal Christianity developed from “modernism,” a way of looking at the world that privileged new ideas, philosophies, and sciences as part of God’s revelation in human culture.  Modernists broke with tradition.  They looked to the human past and saw much wanting–superstition, violence, and repression–and willingly abandoned that past, especially the religious past, in favor of reason and enlightenment.  In the nineteenth century, many Christians accepted modernism and worked to adapt their faith to the new intellectual climate.  At its birth, progressive religion was the offspring of a certain sort of historical ambiguity.  In the last two centuries, western Christians willingly shattered memory because the past was too painful, too oppressive, and too morbid for modern sensibilities of tolerance and equality.  Better forget than remember.

Read on at Beliefnet.

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