“Not…what opinions are held, but…how they are held: instead of being held dogmatically, [liberal] opinions are held tentatively, and with consciousness that new evidence may at any moment lead to their abandonment.”
Bertrand Russell, Unpopular Essays, 1950
When I began my ministry I would have sworn I was a dogmatic liberal. There were racist, Apartheid and Vietnam protest marches that drew me to downtown Los Angeles and Pretoria South Africa. I was mildly afraid during those demonstrations and I’ll have to admit, I walked in the middle of those crowds to avoid getting hurt on the outer edges. Hey, I wasn’t stupid back then; that came later.
I stayed in that risky mode for about eight years while serving street and campus ministries during the unrest years but then I began pastoring local churches. My heart was in the congregations but it was not beating that hard while among them. I experienced what might be considered a cerebral liberal time for eight years while engaged with moderate to liberal denominational leaders and delegates. We were mostly sitting down, however.
While assigned to a church I had to have my superintendent, an African American, sign off on an exchange with a pastor in England that included my resume. When he read about my protest activities he looked up from my bio with tears in his eyes and said “Weren’t those the best of times compared to today?” I had to admit it was. Church life had become rather tepid for us.
My conservative clergy friends claimed the liberal protests caused our denomination to begin to decline in numbers in 1968, soon after a decade of radical demonstrations. Nah, I believe the drop was due to us preachers not being up to par in our pulpits. They denied it.
I alluded to controversial issues from the pulpit but the perspectives were pretty mild. Do clergy retirees just kind of ease out of their passionate commitments that lead to abandonment, and overdose on watching sports events? I’ll confess, I often sit glued to viewing games and on occasion wonder where I am with politics and crucial matters. The occasions are very brief. I watch the news and read the papers but I’m obviously sitting down except for getting up for snacks.
Obviously Bertrand Russell had it right; “…instead of being held dogmatically, [liberal] opinions are held tentatively.”