Unacceptable: What it’s like to be a Liberal Christian in a Sea of Conservativism

Guest post by David Schell.

NO_LEFT_TURN_signPeople think I moved left because I wanted to compromise with the world, because I wanted to fit in better.

People think I moved left because I was deceived by the devil.

People think I moved left because I’ve been reading the Bible without the help of the Holy Spirit.

People think I moved left because I just stopped reading the Bible.

I accidentally go to conservative churches sometimes and find books by Ken Ham that say I’ve compromised – with the world, the devil, whatever.

My dad sees me as a disappointment and is glad I’m still alive. He doesn’t say it, but I’m pretty sure he thinks that if I died today I’d be in hell. He holds out hope that God will show me the light because I’m still alive.

My Grandma calls me and says she’s heard rumors that I don’t believe in the Bible anymore.

My aunt sends me a Facebook message that her kids, my very young cousins, are praying for me. They’re worried about my soul.

When my conservative Christian friends and family ask me questions, it’s not to find out why I believe what I believe. It’s to fix me or help me realize that I’ve gone off the rails and am wrong.

Other folks have very real concerns that because I don’t share their view of the atonement, I’m not a real Christian.

I’ve gotten tired of arguing about stuff, because it’s always the same argument. It may be new to you, but I’ve had it a hundred times and it always ends the same sad way. Seriously, let’s pass on it. It’s not worth it.

No, seriously. It’s not.

I hear the same tired arguments and Bible verses over and over again. I know them all, I promise. And I have responses to all of them, but you probably won’t like or agree with my responses, so can we please pass on the high-stakes debate? I’d be happy to have a conversation with you about why I believe what I believe if you’re curious, but I don’t want to fight about it.

I’ve fought enough already.

The churches I go to are small, because evangelicalism and rock bands and the feeling that there’s something “real” going on attract more people my age than silence and liturgy and ambiguity.

People think that because I don’t think that the Bible’s “inerrancy” is a fundamental doctrine, I’m not a Christian, or at least I’m on the road toward apostasy. We’re Christians, not Biblians.

When I visit big churches, I consider myself lucky to get a phone call that “might be important” to get me out of a worship service with stifling, repetitive, boring, and theologically dumb (at best) songs.

When I visit big churches, I’m always the compromiser the pastor’s talking about.

When I visit big churches, things that inspire other people’s faith scare me to death and make me wonder why I’m in this whole Christianity thing anyway.

My dad warns me that I’m deceiving people and reminds me that God’s going to have a stricter judgment for me.

Sometimes I try to keep my political posts down so as not to aggravate my conservative friends who share clips about why Obama is the anti-Christ every five minutes. I promise you guys, you only have to put up with him for two more years. Plus, I’m not a big fan anyway – but my reasons have nothing to do with Obamacare, except that I think it didn’t go far enough.

When I comment on pro-Israel posts to mention that Gaza has a higher death count, everybody thinks I wish Gaza would just bomb Israel off the map, or that I have absolutely no idea what’s going on, or that I don’t believe in the Bible, or that I’m just deceived by the devil. It’s kind of a theme.

I see posts from Christians that are against illegal immigration and I get so confused how Christians who are supposed to love our neighbors can stand at the border and tell little children from war-torn countries that Jesus wants them to go away.

I go to a church in a denomination that other churches are leaving because they can’t stand the idea of being in the same denomination as churches that are allowed to perform same-sex marriage. The PCUSA has space for both sides, and while the liberal churches are okay with worshipping alongside those who disagree, the conservative churches have no space for that sort of disagreement about fundamental issues like the resurrection. …Oh wait, that was about gay marriage. Never mind. Like I said, it makes me sad.

I mention that I’m in favor of marriage equality and people think I’m not a Christian.

I mention that I attend a Presbyterian church and everyone wonders how I can go to a church whose denomination allows (not supports) same-sex marriage.

Friends and family members who once respected me and had high hopes for my future are now praying for my eternal salvation.

I have space for my conservative brothers and sisters in Christ, but far too often for my happiness, they don’t have space for me.

I didn’t shift left because it made my life easier. I shifted left because I went to college and learned that the world doesn’t work in the simple logical way that conservative talk-show hosts and evangelical / fundamentalist pastors think it does. It’s complicated. Rush Limbaugh’s logic is missing large chunks of data that anyone who’d taken Sociology 101 would know.

Shifting left has made my life harder. My life would be easier if I suddenly realized that Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck were right about Jesus, and John Dominic Crossan wasn’t.

I can’t even imagine how many of my friends and relatives would breathe a sigh of relief if I threw away everything I’ve learned and suddenly “realized” that being gay is a sin, or that the Bible was absolutely true about literally everything it said and had no disagreements within it (a relatively modern view).

But that ain’t how I was raised.

I was raised to stand for truth and justice even if you stand alone, and even if you look like a fool while you’re doing it.

I was raised to speak up when the world around me is cheering for injustice and evil. I was raised to disagree. I was raised to misbehave and stand against the current.

Veggietales taught me to stand up for what I believe in.

Patch the Pirate taught me to do right until the stars fall down.

I even wrote a little song about how “you gotta to dare to be different” that was so bad that nobody but Andrew will ever hear it. Ever.

But I also do it because it helps. I do it because every now and then, I get a message from someone saying that they read my blog all the time and feel encouraged and not-alone. I do it because sometimes I get messages saying “Hey, I read your blog and it got me thinking.”

I do it because I know people who’ve been beaten over the head with the Bible and don’t like God very much right now, and I want to give them hope that maybe they can be whatever they are and God will still love them and maybe they can still be Christians.

I do it because sometimes I’m one of those people.

I do it because I want people who are on the margins of Christianity and think the whole thing might just be nuts to know that things they think is crazy, I think are crazy too, and if I can be a Christian, maybe they can too.

One thing more.

I don’t have it nearly as hard as my LGBT brothers and sisters, or as hard as my Palestinian brothers and sisters, or my immigrant brothers and sisters, or my brothers and sisters anywhere who also feel the ire of conservative Christianity. So I speak up for them.

Because I believe it’s the right thing to do.


David M. Schell is a doubter, a believer, and a skeptic. He writes about God and stuff. He is happily married to Kristen, and that’s why his posts don’t come out as often or as angry. David lives in Colorado Springs, CO. This column was originally published on his blog: David M Schell: Theology. Hilarity. Transparency. Pretentiousness.

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UPCOMING: The Doubter’s Devotional

Sample cover

Sample cover

 

Official announcement here of my upcoming book, The Doubter’s Devotional: Daily Readings for Seekers and Skeptics.

I am on the front end of this project, but wanted to let you know that it’s in the works. I’d love to get your initial reactions:

  • What does the title evoke for you?
  • What would you like to see in a book like this?
  • Would you be interested in a title like this? Why?
  • Why might a book like this be needed? (Your quotes may make my proposal and/or the book itself!)
  • Can you think of people you’d recommend a book like this to?

I plan to incorporate some existing quotes/readings and then provide some of my own original reflections on them. Any writers or works you’d recommend or like to see?

Suggestions for content are welcome. Ideas for cover art are suggested – the above is just a mockup.  I have interest from several publishers, but nothing firmed up yet.

Your responses will help as I put together my initial proposal. Right now, I can imagine a Spring or early Summer 2015 release.

Help me spread the word–share on your social media networks–and STAY TUNED!

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Another Holy Week

It is Holy Week. The week we recall Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. His final week with his disciples. His actions in the temple. His perplexing parables. His final meal. His agonizing last hours. The uncertainty of Saturday. The joy of Sunday morning.

It is a week of central significance to anyone claiming to be, or aspiring to be, a disciple of Jesus. One of my favorite weeks as a pastor. Also one of the busiest.

This year spring break for DC public schools coincided exactly with Holy Week. We decided to head to Florida, even though that meant we’d miss out on some of the Holy Week excitement. Our community in DC is joining a collective outdoor Easter worship service sponsored by a DC area ministry, Restore Together. An exciting collaboration between local churches, seeking to collaborate on issues of oppression and poverty in light of Jesus’ death and resurrection. I’m sad to miss it.

But I needed a Holy Week of another sort. One which involves playing in the pool with my children. Teaching my ten-year-old to play tennis. Finding seashells with my five-year-old daughter. Reading and silence in the quiet cool of a Florida morning. A game of Settlers, after which we have time for… another game of Settlers.

florida_pool

Late afternoon Florida sunshine

So after celebrating Palm Sunday with our Roots DC friends, we hopped in the car and headed south, for a non-traditional Holy Week.

We won’t be joining a Maundy Thursday service, or partaking in a seder. We may have a meal of burgers on the grill and soda instead of unleavened bread and wine.

Our Friday will be good if we can catch a boat ride to do some Florida wildlife viewing.

Our Saturday may be dark, if the weather is cloudy, but it may also be sunny and bright and filled with laughter and giggles.

Our Easter morning may not involve a sunrise service, but it may find us celebrating the resurrection by dipping our toes in the ocean, or tossing a frisbee on the sand.

Perhaps this is a sacrilegious way to spend this particular week.

But now, midway through—as I get to catch my breath for the first time in months, as playing with my kids happens without the interruptions of phone calls or emails, as we enjoy a leisurely breakfast as a family, as my spirit is beginning to feel rested and renewed—I’m thinking this too, is a Holy Week.

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A Palm Sunday Prayer for Peace

Palm-Sunday-2013

Holy Week begins this Sunday. It is a familiar week, beginning with Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. But maybe so familiar that we still aren’t quite hearing the full story.

Marcus Borg reminds us that there was not one, but two processions entering Jerusalem that year. Two very different processions. “They proclaimed two very different and contrasting visions of how this world can and should be: the kingdom of God versus the kingdoms, the powers, of this world. The former is about justice and the end of violence. The latter are about domination and exploitation. On Friday, the rulers of this world kill Jesus. On Easter, God says “yes” to Jesus and “no” to the powers that executed him.

Thus Palm Sunday announces the central conflict of Holy Week. The conflict persists. That conflict continues wherever injustice and violence abound. Holy Week is not about less than that.”

In the spirit of the One who came in peace, and in the wake of this week’s continued violence in our world, a prayer for peace. May it bless you this week.


G
reat God, who has told us
“Vengeance is mine,”
save us from ourselves,
save us from the vengeance in our hearts
and the acid in our souls.

Save us from our desire to hurt as we have been hurt,
to punish as we have been punished,
to terrorize as we have been terrorized.

Give us the strength it takes
to listen rather than to judge,
to trust rather than to fear,
to try again and again
to make peace even when peace eludes us.

We ask, O God, for the grace
to be our best selves.
We ask for the vision
to be builders of the human community
rather than its destroyers.
We ask for the humility as a people
to understand the fears and hopes of other peoples.

We ask for the love it takes
to bequeath to the children of the world to come
more than the failures of our own making.
We ask for the heart it takes
to care for all the peoples
of Afghanistan and Iraq, of Palestine and Israel
as well as for ourselves.

Give us the depth of soul, O God,
to constrain our might,
to resist the temptations of power
to refuse to attack the attackable,
to understand
that vengeance begets violence,
and to bring peace–not war–wherever we go.

For You, O God, have been merciful to us.
For You, O God, have been patient with us.
For You, O God, have been gracious to us.

And so may we be merciful
and patient
and gracious
and trusting
with these others whom you also love.

This we ask through Jesus,
the one without vengeance in his heart.
This we ask forever and ever. Amen

A Prayer for World Peace,
by Sister Joan Chittister, of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie
(source)

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To See Beyond All Things

Sunrise in March. Photo by Jon Lubbers

Sunrise in March. Photo by Jon Lubbers

Excerpts on Enlightenment from Joan Chittister. Selections from “Illuminated Life: Monastic Wisdom for Seekers of Light.”

Amma Syncletica said: “In the beginning, there is struggle and a lot of work for those who come near to God. But after that, there is indescribable joy. It is just like building a fire: at first it’s smoky and your eyes water, but later you get the desired result. Thus we ought to light the divine fire in ourselves with tears and effort.”

Enlightenment is the ability to see beyond all things we make God to find God. We make religion God and so fail to see godliness where religion is not, though goodness is clear and constant in the simplest of people, in the remotest of places. We make national honor God and fail to see the presence of God in other nations. We make personal security God and fail to see God in the bleak and barren dimensions of life. We make our own human color the color of God and fail to see God in the one who comes in different guise. We give God gender and miss the spirit of God in everyone. We separate spirit and matter as if they were two different things, though we know now from quantum physics that matter is simply fields of force made dense by the spirit of Energy. We are one with the Universe, in other words. We are not separate or different from it. We are not above it. We are in it, all of us and everything, swimming in an energy that is God. To be enlightened is to see behind the forms to the God who holds them in being.

Enlightenment sees, too, beyond the shapes and icons that intend to personalize God to the God that is too personal, too encompassing, to be any one shape or form or name. Enlightenment takes us beyond our parochialisms to the presence of God everywhere, in everyone, in the universe.

To be enlightened is to be in touch with the God within and around us more than it is to be engulfed in any single way, any one manifestation, any specific denominational or nationalistic construct, however good and well-intentioned it may be.

The important thing to remember in the spiritual life is that religion is a means, not an end. When we stop at the level of the rules and the laws, the doctrines and the dogmas—good guides as these may be—and call those things the spiritual life, we have stopped far short of the meaning of life, the call of the divine, the fullness of the self.

To be contemplative I must put down my notions of separateness from God and let God speak to me through everything that seeps through the universe into the pores of my minuscule little life. Then I will find myself, as Abbess Syncletica promises, at the flash point of the divine fire.


Sister Joan Chittister, OSB, is founder and Executive Director of BENEVISION: A Resource Center for Contemporary Spirituality. Her many bestselling books include The Gift of Years, The Ten Commandments, A Passion for Life, and There Is a Season.

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The Whole Truth and Nothing But the Truth*

truth_next_exit2

What is the more important: a) seeking and speaking the truth; or b) toeing the party line?

A revealing, but unsurprising post yesterday from Fred Clark at Slacktivist about the challenge of working in an evangelical institutional setting. He shares an excerpt from Jonathan Dudley’s  book Broken Words, where he’s describing his time at Calvin College:

In my freshman biology class, I sat riveted as the professor explained why scientists believe in evolution (I had never learned about the subject in high school). The summer after my first year, I pored over a summer-school psychology book by an evangelical professor, who argued (shockingly, to me) that gay people don’t choose their orientation and cannot readily change. Over the course of my second year in college, I learned why scientists think there is an environmental crisis. And during my last year of college, a bioethics professor argued against popular evangelical thought on abortion. I was surprised to find out during an office visit that many other evangelical scholars shared his view, though not surprised when he said they would rather not speak up about it due to the avalanche of protests it would generate from college donors. …

My bioethics professor reinforced a conclusion I had drawn from my undergraduate and seminary years: There is a significant gap between the opinions that dominate the popular evangelical culture (which is the only part of evangelicalism with political muscle) and the opinions that prevail among leading evangelical scholars.

Clark goes on to note: “Most evangelical college graduates have a story like the one Dudley tells.” I wonder if any of you can relate?

Clark notes the shock one receives as an underclassman hearing these new ideas, and then later, in a private setting, hearing a professor explain “what is and is not allowed to be said and how it differs from what is and is not true.” I’ve written before on how Calvin College has found itself in a quandary of this sort.

>>Related post: If science conflicts with theology, what should give way?

Unreal. And the truth. I know this from experience at Calvin Seminary as well. There’s the official party line. Then there are other truths that must be hidden, because it flies in the face of the institution’s self-imposed limit on truth. It always strikes me as ironic that Christians are all about “seeking truth,” but then when the truth turns out to be slightly different than what our historic theological heroes put down to paper 500 years ago, suddenly we have to be mum about it. It makes no sense, really, and it is a disservice to students, and in a seminary setting, a disservice to future pastors – and by extension – to their congregations.

I remember hearing a pastor at a Pub Theology gathering in Michigan note: “Why are we so afraid of sharing biblical and theological scholarship with our congregations that has been accepted for over fifty years already?” She lamented that too often clergy serves as filters for what congregants can or cannot “handle,” and that when she did share such research and knowledge, parishioners were hungry for it! I think sometimes the mentality is to treat our congregants as children who aren’t “ready to hear” that some of their cherished beliefs or understandings actually might not line up with how things really are. Kind of like we don’t tell our kids the reality about Santa until they’re old enough to handle it. Apparently some congregants are never meant to grow up.

I have heard several pastors note that they are encouraging their congregations not to read their denominational monthly magazine because the articles are stretching the “accepted notions” on homosexuality, the historicity of Genesis and other topics. I think the more we earnestly wrestle with these things the better, even if there are no simple solutions. Some colleagues have even argued that because they’ve signed a statement of belief they don’t have to engage with certain ideas that interpret the Bible through other lenses. They literally use a “statement of truth” to protect themselves from the truth. It’s incredulous, really. The worst thing is to stick our heads in the sand, especially as professors, pastors and other leaders, and to keep trumpeting perspectives that are either out of date, not informed, or perpetuate common misperceptions. I’m grateful there are some willing to do otherwise, despite the obstacles thrown their way.

In the same column, Fred Clark cites Peter Enns, who describes the desperation he’s heard from many, many academic colleagues in evangelical institutions:

I had the latest in my list of long conversations with a well-known, published, respected biblical scholar, who is under inhuman stress trying to negotiate the line between institutional expectations and academic integrity. His gifts are being squandered. He is questioning his vocation. His family is suffering. He does not know where to turn.

I wish this were an isolated incident, but it’s not.

I wish these stories could be told, but without the names attached, they are worthless. I wish I had kept a list, but even if I had, it wouldn’t have done anyone much good. I couldn’t have used it. Good people would lose their jobs.

Ugh. And Clark notes that it’s not limited to academia: “I’ve heard similar stories from clergy, journalists, musicians, missionaries and aid workers — all wrestling with the conflict between what they know to be right and “institutional expectations” shaped by the threat of an “avalanche of protests” from donors with political muscle. Not healthy. Not good.”

I concur. You?

>>Related Post: Toes, Lines and Bad Religion

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If You’re Going to Bring Them to Jesus, Then Bring Them to Jesus!

If you're going to share Jesus, then actually do it.


This an excerpt, read the full column on The Huffington Post.

Lately I’ve been getting a little flack for downplaying the importance of evangelism. I wrote a post recently entitled, “We Need Each Other,” celebrating diversity of various kinds: ethnic diversity, linguistic diversity, cultural diversity, and yes — religious diversity. But how could I celebrate this as a Christian, some have asked.

“Isn’t your central goal as a Christian to convert others to Christianity?”

“Don’t you decide to follow Jesus, then you help others to do the same?”

I disagree with the first question. We’ll get to the second in a moment. I am not interested in making religious converts. Converts to a set of doctrines about somebody. Converts to a confined, cultural way of thinking. Converts to outdated conventions or to a dualistic religion of escapism: “Believe this and go to heaven. Get on board or go to hell. Our religion is the only true religion. Convert or die.” Or just as bad: “Convert and experience God’s wonderful plan for your life.” No, thank you.

Such an approach explains my hesitation when people ask if I’m excited about evangelism. In fact, if that’s your impetus, I’d say, just stop sharing. We don’t need more religiosity, more escapism, more fundamentalism, more prosperity-gospel-inspired materialism. Hence my hesitation about “evangelism.”

The second question — “Don’t you decide to follow Jesus, then you help others to do the same?” — I am more prone to agree with. Following someone indicates a way of life. Following someone is something you do today. Following a set of teachings, a manner, an approach, an ideal — this I can get on board with, and is what I think Jesus was actually about. In the Great Commission, he called for the making of disciples — people who followed a teacher in order to bring about his or her vision of the world.

So I say, if you’re going to bring them to Jesus, then actually bring them to Jesus!

Bring them to the Jesus who was born an illegitimate child to peasant parents in an out-of-the-way place, in the shadow of power and empire. Bring them to the Jesus who told stories denouncing abuse of money, power and privilege. The Jesus who, in parables, helped people see the darker side of themselves while also inspiring with the reminder that the divine presence was hidden in plain view. The Jesus whose parables exposed systems of abusive power. The Jesus who…

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>>Click here to read the rest of the post.

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