At this month's annual meeting of the Modern Church Council, our Acting General Secretary Revd Dr Lorraine Cavanagh gave the keynote address about the profound implications of liberality in countering extremism and fundamentalism in both religion and politics.
In the paper she presented, Reclaiming the Soul of Modern Church, Lorraine argued that as a liberal society, Modern Church embodies intellectual freedom and hospitality, which calls us to
do theology together in such a way as to connect with those who find themselves either outside the bounds of the institutional Church, or marginalized within them.
She makes an important distinction between liberality, which speaks of trust, hospitality and freedom, and liberalism which, like other 'isms’, Fundamentalism, Biblicism, Christianism, is a lifeless term which contradicts the notion of movement and freedom.
She also stressed the need to 'do theology as a worshipping community', so that the thinking which as Modern Church meets to 'do theology' comes from the place where we encounter God:
It is a ‘heart thinking’ process. Heart thinking allows us to orientate ourselves within different thought contexts. In doing this, we arrive at something more than agreement, even if agreement itself is sometimes hard won. We value our liberality, as an intellectual freedom built on trust.
The liberality she advocated for speaks of
a generosity which holds to intellectual rigour and honesty as it is also shaped within a shared spiritual quest.
This means Modern Church is more than 'a safe space for doing purely rational liberal theology':
Part of its theological task consists in promoting liberality of spirit, or freedom in God, because a spirituality which is honed in an open and honest intellectual environment is the most effective counterpoint to extremism and fundamentalism in both religion and politics.
She claims the wider Church badly needs to allow the intellect and the life of the spirit to be mutually informative, if the drifts toward either fundamentalism or 'arid managerialism' are to be stalled.
Christian fundamentalism, and the neo conservatism which prevails right across the denominational-churchmanship spectrum, is creating a spiritual vacuum. It lacks depth and the kind of life giving energy which comes with silence, so that we sense the institutional Church’s real life ebbing away.
She set out a vision for Modern Church which challenges us to reach out to those who are returning to Church in later life, especially Evangelicals looking for greater depth and theological substance. She concluded with a call for Modern Church to recommit to a new understanding of its mission:
The liberal voice, and the voice of Modern Church as a bearer of hope, is mission at its best.