Faith Fight – Fountain Hills, Arizona

“Faith Fight”—that’s what the local news is calling it. Eight churches in Fountain Hills, Arizona, led by the Rev. Bill Good, pastor of Fountain Hills Presbyterian Church (PCUSA), have posted banners announcing a sermon series called “‘Progressive’ Christianity: Fact or Fiction.” Their basic intent is to attack progressive Christianity as not being Christian.

Sadly, the primary target of their attack is their neighbor, The Fountains United Methodist Church and its pastor, the Rev. David Felten (you can find some local stories about it here and here; and here is some national coverage: Christianity Today, and The Huffington Post).

In response, a number of members of the Presbytery of Grand Canyon, the same presbytery in which Rev. Good is a member, felt that, due to the now national coverage of this event, we needed to respond in some fashion. Below is our response and we invite others to sign on to this statement if you feel so led. You can contact me directly through this website to add your name.

A RESPONSE TO REV. BILL GOOD AND THE CHURCHES OF FOUNTAIN HILLS ATTACKING PROGRESSIVE CHRISTIANS

Recently eight churches in Fountain Hills, Arizona, posted banners announcing a collective sermon series entitled “’Progressive’ Christianity: Fact or Fiction.” The Rev. Bill Good of Fountain Hills Presbyterian Church, and president of the local clergy association, mischaracterized in his first sermon a distinction between “Progressive Christianity” and what he called “Biblical Christianity,” insinuating that Progressive Christianity is not Biblical nor a valid expression of Christian faith. We respectfully reject this false dichotomy and claim what is often labeled as Progressive Christianity to be a faithful expression of Christian faith in the spirit of Jesus Christ who crossed cultural boundaries and challenged traditional norms for the sake of God’s love, especially for the poor, oppressed, and socially marginalized. The entire spirit of this campaign is not in keeping with the teachings of Jesus Christ.

As clergy members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the same denomination as Rev. Good, we, the undersigned of this statement, celebrate the vast diversity of expressions of Christian faith present in the Body of Christ—the Church universal—and further state that Rev. Good’s views do not represent our views, the views of the Christian congregations we serve, nor the views of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is a Christian denomination and has been, and continues to be, a classically liberal denomination of Christian faith that attempts to honor diversity of opinion and faith, even protecting the voices of minority positions, while still keeping to the essentials of Christian faith. We are hesitant to define these essentials, understanding that we will make mistakes and are still growing in our understanding of God’s will. We tend to be cautious around any dogmatic statements or claims of absolute truth because God is infinite and cannot be contained by the limits of human understanding and language. Each statement that is made, however, combined with the many statements and understandings offered throughout our historical tradition, offer glimpses of truth that help us discern God’s will for our lives today and for the positive and faithful transformation of the world according to God’s creative love and grace, as revealed through Jesus Christ.

The Hebrew Scriptures teach us to “not bear false witness against our neighbor” (Exodus 20.16). We believe Rev. Good and his colleagues are preaching a distorted view of progressive Christianity to serve their own purposes rather than God’s. In our Gospels, Jesus teaches us to “do to others as you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7.12). A major thread that runs throughout the Bible, and summarized by Jesus, is that we are called to love God and love our neighbors as we love ourselves. An important aspect of this love is the respect of self and others, especially those with whom we might disagree (Matthew 5.44). We believe Rev. Good’s intentions violate God’s standards of love and seek to tear down rather than build up the Body of Christ.

We celebrate and appreciate a healthy tension between conservative, progressive, and other understandings of God, Jesus, and the Bible, even though we may disagree on many things. We believe we are all better together than apart, and seek to build bridges of understanding and mutual respect. Each perspective presents opportunities and challenges that hold us all accountable to the Spirit of God and the central Biblical call to healthy, mutual and faithful relationships. But we cannot support, condone, nor keep silent about anyone who claims Christian identity and then openly attacks the peace, unity, and purity of the Body of Christ by calling some within it “not really Christian.”

We consider Rev. Good a colleague and a brother in Christ, along with the other clergy participating in this action. We are deeply saddened by the tone and language being used in this campaign, and are especially concerned as the campaign seems to be directed at one particular neighboring congregation: The Fountains United Methodist Church and its pastor, the Rev. David Felten. We believe Rev. Good’s actions are not in keeping with Jesus’ teachings, nor the teachings of our Scriptures. We implore Rev. Good and his colleagues to stop this divisive behavior. We stand in solidarity with Rev. Felten and our sisters and brothers at The Fountains, and hold them all in prayer. We also hold in prayer Rev. Good, our sisters and brothers in the congregation he serves, and the other clergy and congregations participating, trusting that somehow God’s love will win in the end for all of our sakes.

We implore Rev. Good and his colleagues to stop these attacks, take down their banners, and, in the spirit of Jesus Christ, seek to be in conversation and dialogue to seek deeper understanding and respect, rather than resorting to overly simplistic attacks that further drive a wedge into the heart of the Body of Christ—seeking understanding over division; seeking to love rather than hate; seeking to build up rather than tear down.

Sincerely, your sisters and brothers in Christ,

Click Here to see entire list of Signers

Since this first posted, we have received the above signatories. Response has been overwhelming. What’s even more exciting and makes me proud to be a Presbyterian, the signatories are a mix of self-described progressive/liberal and conservative folks. This is not a liberal-conservative issue, but an issue of civility and grace; how we engage and seek to be in relationship with each other.

Our hope was to respond directly to the allegations made by the churches in Fountain Hills, stand in solidarity with Rev. Felten and his congregation, and, at the same time, express our deep hope for true dialogue and seeking understanding. These divisive tactics only tear us apart. God, in Christ, has sought to pull us together. I pray that may still be possible.

 

About the author: Eric Ledermann

My journey has led my family and me across the country where I have been introduced to a lot of people and a lot of different ways of doing things. One passion, though, runs through all these experiences: building beloved and sustainable community. “Sustainable” community is kind of a strange notion, as communities (people) change constantly, and things are always in motion. So, the latest chapter of my life has led me to the notion of “impermanence”–not an idea that comes naturally in a culture that likes to build monuments to our greatness for future generations to view and admire. But, I’m trying to practice my awareness of impermanence–the idea that nothing is permenant, nothing is forever, and things are always in flux. Visit Eric’s Website:  Faith & Coffee

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