Last weekend I was at a family camp for a progressive/liberal PCUSA church out of Boise. I had a wonderful time with the pastor, the youth and the people from their congregation. They did some wonderful self-reflection exercises that weekend, looking at their lives from a Jungian psychological perspective. Before the sessions where I left with the youth, we worshipped together, and I felt like I could have been at any other PCUSA or evangelical church family camp, even Wendell. We sang all the traditional camp songs with a few contemporary worship songs thrown in for good measure. Now, don’t get me wrong, I like these songs – these are the songs I am familiar with, the ones that remind me of camp. But the theology of the songs we sang probably doesn’t really square with the theology of those singing the songs. So this brings me to an interesting question about worship in liberal mainline churches [I am aware that for the most part, readers of this blog come from e(E)vangelical churches, but if there are any liberals/mainliners hiding out there, now would be the time to speak up!).
While I was at my family reunion this summer, my cousin told me that she had begun attending a local conservative Evangelical church because she really liked the music/worship. I asked her more about this, because I knew she was fairly liberal herself. She said [I’m paraphrasing] that she really didn’t like the theology, but worship was really important to her, and she was tired of the same ‘ole Mennonite hymns. Being someone who is musical myself, I have sometimes found myself choosing a church based on the quality of the music, or the style that I enjoyed, etc. I don’t think that’s the best way to choose a church, but I’m not passing any blame on my cousin for her decision, though it does intrigue me that she was choosing a church whose theology is fairly different than her own.
So what are the liberal mainliners to do…? Apparently there are quite a few people who are theologically progressive, but still like the musical ‘style’ of the modern worship movement (ala Redman, Tomlin, Crowder, Hughes, etc). Where are the liberal songwriters? Where are the inclusive-language modern worship songwriters? While mainliners/liberals may want to appeal to the musical desires of the younger generation, are they going to do it using modern worship songs, which includes lyrics that use male-dominated language for God, talk *almost* solely about each person’s ‘personal relationship with Christ’, making them seem very individualistic and generally espouse a theology that is not consistent with mainline/liberal theology?
But what do liberal worship songs look like…? How does one write them w/o coming off as just stereotypical…I don’t know. How would liberal worship songs be different than those you’d sing at Saddleback or Willow Creek? I seem to recall Brian McLaren had an article he wrote awhile ago to Emergent/pomo songwriters, or just for a new view of songwriting…(ahh, yes, here it is). Well, I’m not sure what these new songs would look like, but maybe here are a few possible suggestions:
- gender-inclusive language (esp. in our language for God)
- a shift from a I-YOU-me & God focus, and a refocusing on the community
- a passion for the biblical themes of social justice, peace and a desire to speak for the oppressed
- maybe just some more songs straight from scripture (or from saints and desert fathers), letting God’s work speak for itself, instead of pressing our own interpretation onto it, and onto the congregation that will sing the song
Any other ideas, suggestions?