May 31st, 2010
09:50 AM ET

An alternative model for Protestant politics

An American preacher rails against the popular caricature of believers as backwards and narrow-minded, decries the popular culture’s hostility toward religion and implores Christians to stop being so politically correct in the workplace and to start loudly expressing their faith-based opinions. Sounds like a typical evangelical Protestant minister, cribbing lines from Focus on the Family.

Another American preacher decries imminent government cuts to programs for the poor, urging Christian churches to mobilize politically to protect society’s most vulnerable. Sounds like a typical mainline Protestant minister, cribbing lines from Jim Wallis.

Christian conservatives feel besieged by the secular culture, liberal Christians want more social justice. Everyone knows that.

So it came as a surprise to hear both sentiments expressed Sunday morning in the same Protestant sermon – not by an American minister but by a Brit, preaching in one of England’s most illustrious Anglican churches.

The church was Cambridge University's King’s College Chapel, completed by Henry VIII in the early 1500s and, to this day, boasting the world’s largest fan-vaulted ceiling. I stopped into the church, pictured above circa 1880, because I’m in town on a fellowship.

The sermon came from the Very Rev. Vivienne Faull, the first woman chaplain at Cambridge University, who called for Christians to begin proclaiming their religious convictions amid an increasingly secular culture, beginning at the workplace:

In some places to be a Christian by day is to be regarded as a dinosaur – dangerous and clumsy, deeply stupid, a thing of the past. To avoid that label, and therefore professional stagnation, discipleship might well be limited to quiet though generous gestures in the dark rather than public witness to Christian faith.

In other work contexts there is a veneer of acceptance, but in modern professional culture Christianity is not particularly respectable and Christians are assumed to have a conservative moral outlook which flies in the face of diversity and polarity and self expression. Professions require putting our own preferences aside.

In the U.S., you’d expect such lines to be followed by a call to speak out against gay marriage or against the government’s attack on religion in the public square.

But the closing lines to Rev. Faull’s sermon asked Christians to make sure looming national budget cuts don’t make the poor even more vulnerable:

In the coming months, with the national imperative to reduce debt, and consequential austerity, Christians, both lay people and clergy, will face the question of our public witness acutely. Are we called to be Christians, not just by night, but also by day? Are we prepared to resist the temptation to mingle with the crowd but rather to stand up and be counted?

Faull told me afterward that her Church of England was prepared to protest certain national cuts because it has a “bias toward protecting the poor.”

Of course, the Church of England got lots of attention last week when its head, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams – who also leads the worldwide Anglican Communion – slapped the American church over its continuing consecration of gay bishops.

But Faull’s sermon is a reminder that Protestantism doesn’t have to fit neatly into a conservative or liberal political box – and that the political split between conservative evangelicals and progressive mainliners in the U.S. is perhaps more an American phenomenon than a Christian one.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Anglican • Christianity • Culture wars • Politics • Protestant

soundoff (71 Responses)
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    September 29, 2010 at 2:32 am |
  7. Joesph

    Gary I was not respecting Ali for his being against our troops, I do support them (that is my job I work for the army) but for other things he has done. Personaly I like George Forman better.
    But back on the subject, My defending Christanty is usualy done over a fine cigar and a glass of sherry. (not hitting some one over the head with the good book).
    I have fun with it, Cheers!

    June 7, 2010 at 4:56 pm |
    • Gary

      George Forman is a great guy. I see him from time to time here in Houston. As a boxing commentator he is no Larry Merchant though. He is too nice and seems to be offended when other commentators are doing their job critiziing the fighters. He would of punched Howard Cosell. Lol......

      June 7, 2010 at 7:59 pm |
  8. Joesph

    I respect people as people. I will argue with you and Mr Brooks, I will say and hold my ground when I think some one is wrong. However I will not go to the hatered end. I also will argue with Muslims and Hindus also. Though I respect Gandi (sic?) and Mr prize fighter Ali (a Muslim).

    June 7, 2010 at 4:18 pm |
    • Gary

      Ali is a coward and as a boxing fan I am glad he suffers from a debilitating disease. Not because he is a religous muslim but because he spit on America and our soldiers. Gandi was great I do lean towards budism and hinduism as a philosophy but not as a religion...Joseph you are correct and most certainly have the right to argue and defend your beliefs.

      June 7, 2010 at 4:44 pm |
  9. Joesph

    Hey Brooks
    Looks like you know it all, and everything, that why you seem to be so closed minded and you call yourself normal?
    Yes you and I are going to die, but what of people have near death encounters? They for the most part say, there is an after life! So are you going to take a chance? And what of tolerance? It seem like those who don't believe in God are so intolerant of those who do. Why is that? |

    "I do not feel any contempt for an atheist, who is often a man limited and constrained by his own logic to a very sad simplification." G K Chesterton

    June 7, 2010 at 3:25 pm |
    • Gary

      So you respect Muslims and hindus more than Atheists ...interesting...

      June 7, 2010 at 3:33 pm |
  10. Brooks

    Too funny, as usual, all you faith based people are arguing with each other over the various meanings of very similar religions. Too funny – how do y'all expect the rest of us normal people (those of us who do not pray to invisible non-existant gods) to accept y'all's beliefs when y'all can't even agree with each other.
    You and I and everyone else is going to die and become dirt, nothing but dirt. Deal with it and accept the fear. You and your family are meaningless in this world as are the rest of us. Why is that so hard to accept? Not trying to be mean here folks, but jeezz it is all just a bunch of made up crap.

    June 7, 2010 at 2:55 pm |
  11. Joesph

    Sun going around earth, not flat earth
    Me bad.

    June 7, 2010 at 2:36 pm |
  12. Joesph

    Christians came from the middle east.
    As far as science, it dosent know everything. "what is light? a partical or a wave?
    Heck it was science that told us that the earth was flat till a Catholic priest said other wise "Nicolaus Copernicus"
    It was also a Catholic priest that gave the big bang theory "Georges Lemaître"
    There have been many scientests have been Catholic or Prostestant.
    They see that God has had his hand in the world.
    But it seems that closed minded people refuse to see it and walk around with blinders on.

    June 7, 2010 at 12:30 pm |
    • Gary

      Very True Josph ....and I stand corrected Christianity certainly originated in middle east..I am not atheist just agnostic and I do believe science is ongoing and many things may never be figured out. ....I dont doubt a higher power created earth and universe billions of years ago either....

      June 7, 2010 at 2:55 pm |
    • Valerie

      Posted on Wohh precisely what we was acid for, uccolnde it for posting . Talent develops in tranquillity, impression in a full stream of tellurian life. by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

      March 2, 2012 at 8:41 am |
  13. Gary

    Religion is a Geographical cultural attribute. Most devout christians come from christian nations. Most devout Muslims come from middle east. Most devout buddist come from southeast Asia. Most Hindus come from India and so on. Agnostics like my self see through religion as guideline of faith from your upbringing and point of origin. The fact that earth is billions of years old and proof of evolution exist dosnt keep me from being spiritual. Science and common sense keeps me from being twisted or closed minded and locked into any religion.

    June 6, 2010 at 9:34 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.