If you’re part of any liberal religious community, your congregation is no longer a part of established power structure of the United States. We religious liberals are so far out of the establishment that the majority of U.S. residents don’t even know who we are. This is why so many people in the U.S. believe that Barack Obama is a Muslim — he’s actually a religious liberal (of the mainline Protestant variety), but more U.S. residents know what Islam is than know what liberal religion is, so since Obama is not a born-again Christian they assume he’s a Muslim. As for you, they probably think you belong to a cult.
Your liberal congregation has already been disestablished in pragmatic terms, so now it’s time to disestablish your congregation in terms of self-perception, and in terms of the way you organize. Here’s a handy checklist to help you accomplish this goal:
(1) Re-focus your energy on the core mission of liberal religious congregations: holding common worship services where we focus on that which is larger than our individual selves; raising our children in religious community; holding appropriate rites of passage when people are born, when they marry, and when they die.
(2) Recognize that what we stand for as religious liberals is extremely countercultural in today’s society: we distrust consumerism because it weakens and shrivels our best selves; we distrust the current economic system (which is supported by both liberals and conservatives) both because it is founded on consumerism, and because at present it is increasing the number of poor people in the U.S.; we reject the idea that born-again Christianity is the norm against which all other religion is judged; etc. These countercultural stands mean that we will never be fully accepted in the halls of established power.
(3) Remember to avoid both protest politics, and the cause-of-the-month syndrome. Protest politics only works if the people in power cannot safely ignore you. Taking on a new cause each month only works if a substantial portion of the population is paying attention to you, and will follow up after you bring a new cause to their attention. But religious liberals can be safely ignored by people in power, and the wider populace doesn’t even know we exist.
(4) Realize that the most radical political act that we can engage in — a political act that has the greatest hope of actually changing the world — is making sure our local congregations are institutionally and organizationally robust. It is in local voluntary associations (like congregations) where people learn the skills to participate in democracy. When people learn the skills of democracy in a congregation, those skills are coupled with moral and ethical values. Local congregations should be places that produce highly ethical people equipped to participate in democracy. This means that we have to promote leadership development, and we all have to volunteer.
(5) Finally, on an individual level, remember that your congregation receives no money from the government, and that it is up to the members of the local congregation to fund it fully. More to the point these days, once your congregation starts selling something (e.g., selling rental space), you are suddenly more beholden to the free market, and less focused on your core religious values. Accepting full financial responsibility for your congregation means maintaining the independence to fully live out your values. So to remain free, you got to pony up — about 5% of your gross income for middle class households; more for those with substantial wealth. (Obviously, if you can’t afford dental care, are on full disability, live in Section 8 housing, and/or sometimes have to miss meals because you don’t have money, give only when you can really afford it.)
I would suggest that when you manage to finally disestablish your local congregation — or, more to the point, realize that you are already disestablished, and start acting that way — you will experience a sense of relief, renewed energy, and a stronger sense of your mission in the world.