Rissier: For 43 years, diversity of thought celebrated at Lord of the Mountains Church (column)
May 6, 2017
Lord of the Mountains Lutheran Church has been known by many in the county as being "out there" for their Progressive Christian moniker. Not to be confused with Political Progressivism, the naming of this movement occurred in 1994 by Rev. Jim Adams, who at the time was rector of St. Mark's Church in Washington, D.C. His vision was to create a nonprofit organization that encouraged churches to focus their attention on those who view organized religion as "ineffectual, irrelevant, or repressive." Today, the Center for Progressive Christianity reports that a growing number of churches representing 17 different denominations participate as affiliates, along with independent and ecumenical groups.
The Lord of the Mountains Lutheran Church in Dillon has been honing its own form of Progressive Christianity. According to Redevelopment Pastor Liliana Stahlberg, "a progressive Christian believes there is more grace to be found in the search for understanding than in dogmatic certainty, and more value in questioning than in absolutes.
"This is a place for those who are seeking a path on their spiritual journey, but don't find comfort from those who profess to have narrow and pat answers," she adds.
The progressive movement has not been free of controversy, as more fundamental Christians struggle with several of its basic principles. One of these sticking points is the philosophy of religious validity — a respect for all religions and an acknowledgement that "there are many roads to the same place." Conservative Christians are quick to quote from John's Gospel where Jesus said "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me." This is considered a classic "proof text" for Christian exclusivism. In recent years, a number of Bible scholars including the late Marcus Borg, former professor of religion and culture at Oregon State stated that this passage needs to be read in its historic context. According to Borg, "Although this text … has historical relevance, it also has universal meanings. A 'way' is a path or a road or a journey, not a set of beliefs." Pastor Stahlberg addresses this issue in simpler terms: "It is hard to conceive that God is only as big, or small, as a specific set of beliefs or doctrines." Chuckling, she adds "can you imagine God rejecting Ghandi at the pearly gates because he practiced the wrong religion? I can't!"
Another provocative issue among many conservative Christians is the progressive principle of inclusiveness; a uniform acceptance of all people, regardless of ethnicity, gender, socio-economic status or sexual orientation. For those who search out literal Bible passages to back up their beliefs, many can be found to diminish the status of women and to condemn gays and lesbians. Again, Pastor Stahlberg expresses a simpler position: "The entire spirit of Jesus' life was a risky inclusivity. Jesus repeatedly stepped over well drawn and forbidden religious and social boundaries to invite people to follow him. Who are we to exclude anyone?"
While some longterm members of Lord of the Mountains struggle with a questioning progressive theology, the church's unique position within the county has led to a diverse congregation — a third former Catholics, a third other Christian denominations, and a third traditional Lutherans. "This creates a lively forum for discussion at our Theo-Talk sessions," says Pastor Stahlberg.
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