Liberal Religion is Not Just Compromise

What inspired you to write A House for Hope? What sparked your interest?

As lifelong progressive people of faith, we are tired of religion getting a bad rap because religious fundamentalists and right-wingers lend the power of religion to support unholy causes. We disagree with their theology and their politics—but we don’t think the solution is to do away with religion. We wrote this book to assert that progressive religion has the alternative spiritual resources needed for the challenges of our time and it has long countered the follies of religious fundamentalism with creative, responsible, and life-affirming faith. We need less bad religion and more good religion—that’s what this book argues.

What is the most important take-home message for readers?

Looking to the future, we see the tide of progressive religion rising. It will fill the vacuum created by the failure of the religious right to adequately address the issues of our day: global warming, torture and terrorism, religious prejudice, and the growing gap between the rich and the poor. In order for this tide to rise, progressive people need a renewed awareness that progressive religion has powerful theological alternatives that have inspired social justice causes from women’s rights and the abolition of slavery to present-day struggles for marriage equality and ecological stewardship. Additionally, progressive people need a renewed commitment to building and sustaining communities of faith—houses of hope—that can nourish our values and empower us for the long-haul change needed to establish a just and sustainable society.

Is there anything you had to leave out?

We love the 19th-century progressive religious leaders, such as Elizabeth Peabody, William Ellery Channing, or Francis Ellen Watkins Harper, and 20th-century giants like Walter Rauschenbusch, Howard Thurman, Dorothy Day and more. We originally quoted great chunks of their writing. But secondhand words mostly ended on the cutting room floor. We hope our own words will inspire some readers to acquaint themselves with the luminaries from the progressive religious heritage. 

What are some of the biggest misconceptions about your topic?

That liberal religion is just a flimsy accommodation to “secularism” and “modernity” rather than a deep faith that is both intellectually responsible and emotionally alive. That the history of liberal Christianity ran its course by the 1920s and that it failed because of an overly optimistic view of human nature and an inadequate understanding of evil. That there is no Muslim expression of progressive faith. That progressive Jews are all secular, rather than practicing members of religious communities. That social progress can occur without alternative, progressive answers to basic theological questions.

Did you have a specific audience in mind when writing?

Yes, we were especially interested in speaking to progressive people who have lost track of the religious roots of their values and hopes. Most of all, we had in mind youth and young adults who are passionate about social justice work, but need a sustaining spiritual practice and community that will nourish their activism for the long haul, along with a theological framework of meaning that will give their lives depth.

Are you hoping to just inform readers? Give them pleasure? Piss them off?

We want to delight, surprise, and motivate readers. We include stories of ordinary people to inspire commitment to being part of a “house for hope” by participating in building and sustaining progressive religious communities. Also, we want to give readers theological tools and language that they can use to counter the religious right.

What alternative title would you give the book?

“A Primer in Progressive Theology.”

How do you feel about the cover?

It’s very inviting and says something important about the book. It shows an open door, full of clear glass, that suggests you are about to leave the house and step into the world. That’s where we want readers to go.

Is there a book out there you wish you had written? Which one? Why?

Daniel C. Maguire’s Whose Church?—a witty and insightful introduction to progressive Roman Catholicism and contemporary social issues. But we couldn’t have written it because we are Protestants. We are glad he did.

What’s your next book?

John is working on a people’s history of Universalists and Unitarians in America. Rebecca is contemplating writing a theology of redemptive beauty.