As a regular attendee of Blackhawk Church for the past seven years, I would like to think that much of the extraordinary growth seen at Blackhawk can be attributed to ministries other than the affinity/social groups that reporter Robert Chappell mentioned ('The New Evangelicals,' 12/22/06).
I am involved in a number of 'faith-based' initiatives, including Interfaith Hospitality Network (where Blackhawk partners with a number of other Madison-area churches to provide shelter and food for homeless families), Stephen Ministry (one-on-one trained Christian care-giving to people in crisis situations) and the Homeless Shelter at Grace Episcopal Church in downtown Madison.
Other Blackhawk ministries that get to the heart of the church's mission ' building a community that follows Christ to reach a community lost without Him ' are the Mother and Child Resource Ministry that provides baby clothes, formula, diapers and furniture to new mothers in need, a strong International Club program headed up by Terrell Smith, and a parish nurse who helps those struggling with health-related issues.
Bigger is not necessarily better when it comes to churches, but in the case of Blackhawk, bigger allows so many more ministry efforts to take place.
Mark W. Haebig, Mount Horeb
I was happy to see your fair and balanced coverage of Blackhawk Church. It illustrates that many liberals are religious and that many secularists deeply respect the faithful, contrary to conservative propaganda.
However, your article also illustrates something that is at the root of the failure of liberal and progressive agendas in this country. None of the Blackhawk Church members who were interviewed wholeheartedly agreed with some key points of the National Association of Evangelicals (on stem-cell research and gay marriage, for example). Yet their church is still a member of the organization, thereby allowing it to speak in their name.
Either you got their perspectives wrong, or there is a genuine disconnect between the national evangelical voice and the Madison one. Yet there didn't seem to be any motivation on the part of Blackhawk Church members to redirect the message of the national group or to speak out as an organization and possibly start their own national organization for liberal evangelicals.
Liberal reticence in taking a public and political moral position on what liberals believe in was also evident in the quotes by the Unitarian minister, who did not let U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin talk about ethics within politics, but 'admonished' her to separate them.
As a liberal-progressive, I wholeheartedly agree with our ethic of 'live and let live.' But this is also an ethic worth fighting for. If we as liberals and progressives are going to keep ourselves silent on ethical politics, the stage is always going to be dominated by those who desire to impose their beliefs on others.
Those of you who do not want a church involved in matters of politics and the culture: Would you have excoriated clergy members of all faiths, like Bishop von Galen of Munster, who argued vociferously against the murder of 12 million people in the Nazi Holocaust?
Many of those, like Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, were executed for standing up against that Holocaust. Would you have also told the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that he was wrong in preaching against the Jim Crow laws of the South? Would you have thought it wrong that he took his message out onto the streets in order to effect a much needed legal and social change in our country?
Your article mentioned various Church discussion groups. One might suggest a discussion of Bertrand Russell's well-known 'Celestial Teapot' paragraph:
'If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time.'
I want to thank you for adding Bethany to your list of mega-churches ' all we have to do to qualify for the official definition is to count everyone who has attended, should attend and might attend, and then add a zero to the end!
Seriously, if you really want to understand what an 'evangelical' church is, you will soon learn that there are more than just two varieties, 'hard' and 'soft.'
Avoidance of politics has come and gone historically. Some early Progressives, such as William Jennings Bryan, were clearly evangelical. Many went underground from about the date of the Scopes trial down to the '70s with Jimmy Carter and then Jerry Falwell. Now the term is being stretched in new ways. It means 'good news' and suggests we look to Jesus as the good news.
But you know, I have learned that terms like 'liberal,' 'progressive' and 'secular' all have interesting histories as well. How about we turn off CNN and Fox and talk to each other for a change.
David Carlson, Bethany Free Church
Although I generally found Robert Chappell's discussion of Blackhawk Evangelical Free Church's relocation to Madison's far west side to be thorough and reasonably evenhanded, I was disappointed with his summary of our 30-minute phone interview.
Had he taken a moment to check his impressions with me before publication, I could have corrected several misconceptions. For instance, Mr. Chappell correctly notes that American fundamentalism is only about a century old, but then buries its roots in the abolitionist movement. That is not technically correct. A segment of the early-19th-century evangelical community was staunchly anti-slavery, but I wouldn't conflate them with the fundamentalists.
In another place, Mr. Chappell attributes to me a statement that one of the hallmarks of modern fundamentalism ' biblical legalism ' began to lose appeal a hundred years ago. That time-frame makes little sense, since, strictly speaking, fundamentalism is itself only about a century old.
Furthermore, even today Christian legalists (the so-called Dominionists) are a force to be reckoned with and are an active presence within the Bush administration. The point I tried to make is that in recent decades mainstream 'soft' evangelicals have tended to eschew such rhetoric in favor of less strident 'family values' talk.
A final point: I am not a 'nationally recognized expert' on large churches and did not present myself that way to Mr. Chappell (I'm not sure where he got that impression). I serve a highly successful and growing free-thought congregation that has achieved significant stature within the Unitarian Universalist movement. Any 'recognition' I've earned has been largely confined to that environment.
The Rev. Dr. Michael A. Schuler, First Unitarian Society of Madison