1.21.2013

On Christian Liberalism


I am a liberal.

I believe in equal rights for LGBTQ Americans. Not just marriage rights, but housing, employment, and benefits protections as well.
I believe in the social safety net. I believe our nation is strongest when we take care of those who cannot, due to youth or age or circumstance, take care of themselves.
I believe in a woman's right to choose. Being raped, or making a mistake, should not result in a woman being punished with 9 months of pregnancy, much less a lifetime of motherhood she is ill-prepared for.
I consider myself a feminist. I abhor the objectification of women and the resultant "rape culture" that is ever-present in American society. I believe in equal rights for women, that is, equal pay, but also equal opportunity for advancement, even advancement into positions of power. I believe a woman's ideas should be considered as strongly as a man's, and that she should be given opportunity to teach others and to lead others if she proves herself capable.
I abhor racism. I cannot abide Islamophobia, nor racism against blacks, nor any form of discrimination.
I believe in strong gun control--stronger probably than most.
I am a pacifist. I believe the United States must promptly leave Afghanistan, must really leave Iraq, and must end the global war on terror, which it continues to fight through classified drone strikes that murder innocents and radicalize survivors.

Now give me three seconds and four words and I will, possibly irreparably, shake your faith in my convictions as I laid them out in the paragraph above.

I am a Christian.

In my life experience, I have found no four words that will more quickly alienate me. More quickly make conversations awkward. More quickly cause joints to be hidden, cause jokes be left without punchlines, cause conversation partners to clam up, cause listeners to spontaneously begin to sweat and protest and object.
I have found no four words that will cause listeners to immediately begin to assume terrible things about my character and my likely beliefs.

And let me interject here to say that I do not consider myself persecuted, I find nothing surprising about the behavior I'm describing, and I am well aware that as a straight, young, married, home-owning, white anglo-saxon protestant American I am privy to a world of blinding and unavoidable privilege.

The reality of life on the Left is that the true blue lefties are vegan, think the capital-D Democrats are too moderate, and are atheist. You may deviate in the first two, but not in that last one. The question of "why" is an indictment not of the left, but of the Church.

Would Jesus hold that any group, regardless of their beliefs or preferences or loves be treated as less than equal? He spent time with tax collectors [people so vile they literally profited from the act of raising money for the government that was oppressing their neighbors], prostitutes, and Samaritans [an “impure” neighboring people group who worshiped incorrectly and traced their ancestry to other oppressors of Israel].
Would Jesus have a problem with the social safety net? His apostles enacted one, as described in Acts 2.
Would Jesus own guns? When arrested he stopped a disciple who acted to defend him, and healed the wound of his captor. He spoke of turning the other cheek, and of offering your tunic to the robber who takes your cloak.
Would Jesus support war? Sorry, this question is absurd on its face.

Would Jesus object to the legalization of abortion? Honestly, he probably would. Vehemently. However, in Colossians Paul writes instructions of behavior that hinge pretty specifically in Chapter 3, Verse 1, on being expectations of believers. It has always been the standard of Christian living that we must adhere to our rules, and that it is foolhardy and alienating to expect non-believers to adhere to them.

I can debate the theology of the above with believers if they'd like, but that isn't why I'm writing today. I lay these beliefs out only to explain that I reject the notion that Christian faith and lefty politics are incompatible. Though if I'm being honest, I'm less likely to accept the idea that right wing politics and the Christian faith are compatible.

Yet the loudest voices in the church today do not accurately reflect the teachings of Christ. The loudest voices of our faith consistently speak intolerantly, speak oppressively, speak judgmentally, and speak without mercy. While I obviously cannot say that they do not speak for some Christians, and cannot likely say that they do not speak for MOST Christians, I write today to say that these voices do not speak for all Christians.

It is a truly shameful reality of modern American Christianity that we have allowed the Jerry Falwells, the Pat Robertsons, and the Mark Driscolls to represent us in the public square. These men, and others like them, have taken a faith that was intended to be a beacon of love and charity and kindness and insured that its public face has been one of scorn and intolerance. Christianity is the faith that rejects science. Christianity is the faith that blames gays for hurricanes. Christianity is the faith that suggests white bloodlines should remain pure. Christianity is the faith that says that quiet, sensitive men are not men at all. Not really. Christianity is the faith that somehow fails to find these contradictions, these hypocrisies, outrageous.

I do not know what to say to my fellow man to assuage his fears and doubts with regards to my beliefs. Others, who say they believe as I do, have betrayed him far too consistently. My brothers have denied his rights, shown hatred to his friends, and murdered his sister's doctor.

It feels insufficient to attempt to apologize on behalf of these idiots. It is insufficient. All I can do is declare my intention to fight to stop this behavior in both the world and in the church.

All I can say is that we Christians are not all like the Christians you usually hear about. Mark Driscoll is not my pope. The Pope is not my pope.

You are liberals, and you know that not all Muslims are terrorists. I implore you to use the same logic to believe that not all Christians are bigoted, oppressive assholes. There are some of us, I say with some hope that there are many of us, who want only to show love to you.

Jesus spoke of “The Kingdom of Heaven,” an alternate reality existing on this Earth now in which the poor were rich, the powerless had value, and the downtrodden have worth and love and a hand reaching out to them in the darkness.

That is my religion.

6 comments:

  1. Pasted below is a comment I received on Facebook which I plan to respond to in further comments below. For length I had to cut it into pieces:

    The issues we debate in politics are so many and so broad that it is impossible to say, that a Christian should be a dem or a repub. Though I have no problem with people like yourself arguing for why your political belief right and backing that up with scripture and your Christian faith. That being said I have a lot of issues with your blog, and one big concern. That being: I believe, according to what I read, the purpose of your blog was to say to those who are put off to Christ by others political beliefs that that is not the true Christ and therefore look once again to Him in this different way. My concern is one; it is very difficult for me to believe anyone could have read that blog and thought highly of Christ as a result. The second, you use strawman arguments to paint those who have different political beliefs then you as hateful, evil people who therefore give a tainted picture of Christ and his church. You do so all while proclaiming how we should love and not judge everyone. Third, you distort scripture to make an argument. Lastly, again the idea that one can claim that this is the correct picture of Christ by how one aligns their political beliefs is a ridiculous and unproveible argument.

    The first reason, I think that it is hard for me to envision someone reading your blog and thinking highly of Christ as a result is, I found your arguments to be poorly made and hypocritical. You write, “Would Jesus have a problem with the social safety net? His apostles enacted one, as described in Acts 2.” And literally two paragraphs later wrote, “It has always been the standard of Christian living that we must adhere to our rules, and that it is foolhardy and alienating to expect non-believers to adhere to them.” This is absurd! It is perfectly ok to argue that because Jesus told us to take care of the poor and hungry…, we should campaign, vote and then enact legislation that forces those who disagree to give their property to support the social safety nets you think are helpful, but not while at the same time saying Jesus is not a reasonable or proper reason to enact another policy that you disagree with! That is just hypocritical and lazy thought. This just happens to be two big critiques of the church and when Christians stand up on their soap boxes and make arguments like this, the world’s view that we are stupid weak people who just use god and scripture as a crutch is only reinforced. Now let me be very clear here, I am in no way saying one cannot come to a belief in social safety nets and being pro choice by scripture or God, just that you cannot say in one breath that Gov’t should force it’s people to act a certain way because of God and then the next breath say it is "foolhardy"to do so and when we do it does not make the doubters among us, go there is a thoughtful person who has come to believe in God, I should consider that for myself.

    You spend a good part of your article stating that the political beliefs of those who disagree with you, and therefore they themselves, are evil and hateful, but you never explain why. This is known as the strawman. The positions of most of those on the right are not formulated and certainly not argued for out of hate, so to make their positions as such without explain how is an illogical argument. Now that does not mean that some on the right do not act out of hate, no more then it does that some on the left do.

    A belief in the free market, the unimpeded pursuit of happiness (except when that infringes on another rights) leads to the most prosperity for all , that the traditional family is the biggest and best building block to a sustainable society, and that all innocent, those who have not infringed on the rights or another, have a right to life are not statements or beliefs of hate. Just because they are not statements of hate does not make them right either, this is what we should be arguing about by the way.

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  2. Pasted below is a continuation of the thoughts left for me by a reader.

    Now you may believe that they at their core are hateful but it is your obligation argue why. You do not get to just proclaim them so and to do so is once again Intellectually lazy. You also are very hateful to them, calling them shameful and assholes, while crying out for love. You have no problem judging them for what you once again proclaim as them judging other with our providing any proof of them doing so, other then They disagree with your politically. Once again hypocrisy and laziness. How does this reflect well on the church?

    You argue for pacifism because when Peter cut the Romans soldiers ear Jesus healed the soldier. So it must be asked did Jesus rebuked Peter because he tried to defend Jesus or because at that time, as Christ had told him often that day and in the days leading up to it, to do so would have stopped God's plan for salvations through the cross. Jesus i believe answers this in Matthew 26:53,54 when he says, "Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”.

    This was one of the more disappointing things about your blog, because as a fan of Bonhoeffer, I find the debate on war and pacifism very interesting and hard to come to a conclusion one way or another through scripture. So while I admit you could be right and that there is scripture that could back you up on it, you don't get to take scriptures out of context to prove your point. Once again intellectually lazy.

    Earlier I left out the hypocrisy of pacifism toward war and then the allowance of abortion because I saw some one else mentioned it in a comment. having read that conversation and possible not fully because I have not checked back recently, I must ask a few questions. Why is ok to end the life of the unborn to take away potential hardships but not the life of the born for the same reasons? Why should the church remain silent in the political spear when it comes to the unborn but you should argue for gov't actions to take away someone's ability to defend themselves or remove hardships (gun control) And argue for a national policy of pacifism? This just seems to be more hypocrisy?. And to be clear once again I do not nessisarily mean in positions but in your arguments for or against.

    Lastly, because of my belief that it is impossible to paint Christ as a dem or a repub to try to bring one to Christ through what you interpret what you believe would be his political beliefs is a very dangerous game and one that I think would only lead to what you I think are actually crying out agains; People seeing Christ as just a political leader and not the Lord and Savior of the world. While I share this fear with you I must say, I think you are placing way to much of the world rejection of him on that excuse. People have rejected him for there in entire existence, wether they are in a political environment or not. One of the big things that this current culture hates about Christ is the idea that he can judge, condemn, and pour wrath on sinners. I think you need to be very clear that, politics aside, while we in the church need to better loving the world, God will judge and condemn those who reject Him and he is right and just to do so.

    If I have misunderstood or taken your comments out of context, I apologies and seek further clarification of your thoughts. If you think I am just wrong, I would equally love to hear your thoughts as to why!

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  3. MY RESPONSE PART ONE: (still working on the next part)
    Let me start off by saying that the purpose of this piece was essentially to give liberal atheists that I come in contact with reason to give the Christians they encounter the benefit of the doubt. It was meant to explain my own beliefs far more than to denegrate the beliefs of anyone else, and it was meant to explain my Christianity to liberals and NOT to explain my liberalism to Christians (as THAT post would have been written much differently, though honestly, I have no interest in writing it).

    I think a lot of our difference in political leaning between my post and yours is a difference of opinion on moral compulsion. I believe that it is immoral for us to live in a society that does not take care of "the least of these." I also find that the most common objection to the "social safety net" comes from those who believe they are entitled to what they have, and that the government is NOT entitled to those things. That sense of entitlement is something that I ALSO find to be at odds with Scripture. The Acts 2 Church, the year of Jubilee described in the Old Testament, and other examples lead me to believe that if what I have can be used to help the suffering of another, then allowing it to be used that way is the moral choice, and whether the person taking my things and using them is the church, or Uncle Sam, makes no difference to me. I'll say additionally that I ABSOLUTELY REJECT the idea that free market capitalism is the optimal solution to assuage suffering. There is essentially NO evidence to support that argument, and I think Jesus' teachings are radically anti-capitalist. (I recommend reading Shane Claiborne's "The Irresistable Revolution" for more on that).

    As to whether or not it is hypocritical to suggest that the government participate in social justice while staying out of abortion? I don't think that's entirely relevant to the point of my piece. I'm not justifying liberalism to Christians, I'm justifying Christianity to liberals.
    But let me say this: I am personally not pro-abortion, but I am pro-choice. This is because I see the banning of abortion (framed in liberal circles as removing womens' agency over their own bodies) as a far different and more invasive moral compulsion than simple taxation. There are also a range of practical issues of suffering that I feel are worsened, not lessened, by banning abortion. And all over a moral distinction (that a fetus is a life) that is not universally accepted in the way that safety net related moral distinctions (it's wrong to allow others to go hungry) are. To me the social safety net relies on moral givens that are universal, objection to Roe v. Wade relies on moral givens that aren't.

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  4. My response part two (still more to come)
    Next, The point of my piece is absolutely not to say that ALL Christians who disagree with me are wrong or evil. I don't think that. Though I do reject the notion that those who disagree with me politically have "cornered the market" on faith, though they sometimes seem to think so.

    Separately, many of the loudest voices in modern Christianity happen to be who disagree with me politically, and also display unChristlike behavior. This entire post was prompted by Mark Driscoll tweeting claims about the soul of our President despite his complete lack of first-hand knowledge of the matter. "The Christian Right," the "Moral Majority," and those who oppose equal rights for LGBTQ Americans or women or who disparage certain behaviors as "unmanly" etc. ARE acting in ways that I do not believe that Christ would act. When atheist liberals think of Christians, they often do not think of Christ, they think of THESE PEOPLE. And the fact that these people are allowed to speak "for Christ" to non-believers is, in my eyes, a huge failure of the Church. We will simply never reach out to others if our spokespeople are perceived as bigoted.

    As for whether or not they ARE bigoted, and whether or not they ARE evil, it is absolutely not up to me to prove that they are. I am simply describing my experiences, and the honest reactions of friends. It's entirely possible that those men are Godly and righteous. In public they frequently do not act like it, which is pointed to by my non-believers, and which I was reflecting in the original piece. I do not think I was hateful towards them, and if I seemed judgmental, that was the point. Tolerance of intolerance is not tolerance. These people have megaphones and they should not.

    Simply: I am not being judgmental of Christians who disagree with me politically. I am ABSOLUTELY being judgmental of the leaders I name specifically, and of the others like them.

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  5. Part three of my response (part 4 should be the LAST part)

    Jesus was a pacifist. Did he deign to be arrested non-violently to fulfill the law, rather than because he was a pacifist? There's no way those two theories are mutually exclusive. I think it's pretty easy to conclude that Jesus is a pacifist when you look at the whole of his teachings, and I think there's an incredibly dramatic difference between intervening to end suffering (as Bonhoeffer attempted to do) and what America has perpetrated since Bonhoeffer's time.

    I'd add that there's no conceivable argument you can offer me that will persuade me to believe that Jesus might support the owning, using, or even the existence of firearms. Stances like "turn the other cheek" and "give him your cloak also" and "overcome evil with love" simply do not leave room for gun use in my mind. If you want to make an argument for hunting, I'll have no Biblical position I'm aware of to oppose you, but I personally don't support hunting either.

    As for the hypocrisy over pacifism vs. choice, I'd refer you to my argument regarding choice above. I'd also add that I did not suggest that the Church remain silent on abortion, I think offering alternatives is what the church should be doing. But it needs to offer alternatives to a choice, not simply make the choice on behalf of women.

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  6. This piece is not meant to decry conservatism, it's speaking to those who already decry it (and is written by one who does). This piece is meant to explain that there is room in liberalism for Christ. This piece is meant to decry unChristlike spokesmen who many liberals see as "the face of Christianity."

    I don't think that interpreting how I believe Jesus would lean on political issues is dangerous. I think a lot of it is pretty cut and dry (specifically pacifism and anti-capitalism). The fact that you don't see it that way, however, means that it's dangerous only insofar as it leads to absolutism or intolerance. I believe Republicans can be good Christians--my parents are both--and there are atheists in both parties. My main purpose in writing and countering so many of the right-leaning Christian arguments is simply to say there is room for Christianity in liberal politics.

    In conclusion,
    I don't mean to judge all those I disagree with. I mean only to judge those who act with intolerance in ways that harm the ability of Christians to reach out. Mark Driscoll, if I can keep beating that dead horse, is a blowhard with a warped sense of what constitutes masculinity. He has done tremendous harm to the "brand" of Christianity as a result. His actions are seen as offensive by those on the left. So it is to those on the left I was writing--that they might understand that Christianity is not, by definition, antagonistic to them.

    ====
    I think a note should be added that the United States of America was founded with a real and intentional separation of church and state. This is not a Christian nation. It isn't. It never was. So there is a point where all of this debate comes down to somebody somewhere saying "I don't care what you believe, that has no place in governance." That person saying that is usually right as far as the Constitution is concerned. Our religion can inform our politics, our religion can inform our governance, but it is anti-American for our religion to replace either. From a religious perspective that might be okay, but I think it's important for there to be an awareness that it is so.

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