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.

29 Comments

Filed under Church, Politics, Relationships, The Text, Theology

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

  1. Eric

    Thanks for the cross-post of David’s article, Bryan. If I was a better writer, I may have said it exactly that way. David, thanks for the inspiration. You do not stand alone.

  2. Thanks, Bryan, for sharing this. Thank David for the thoughtful way he wrote it. It should cause many people to think about many issues that David raises.

  3. Warren Stewart

    I really did enjoy reading this.I am in the same position.

  4. Wow. Thank you so much for this.

  5. What I’m getting is that the fundamentalism is still there. Just with new fundamentals. It’s a good start, I suppose. But it’s just a start.

  6. deryll

    Sometimes I start reading articles and then realize partway through who the author is. So, thanks David for for this post; and Brian, post more often. I do look forward to and appreciate them (yours and your guests!).

  7. ncyjoygries

    Thank you Bryan, for posting this sad commentary. David is suffering because of this, and that makes me sad as well. I know first hand how hurtful well meaning friends and family can be, and David is not alone in this type of suffering. It is good to share these feelings from time to time because it reminds all of us to stop short of actually judging when we think we are helping.

  8. Thank you for so clearly stating the thoughts, feelings, and questions that occur when one turns left. I also grew up in a Pentecostal/evangelical fundamentalist church that did not allow or invite questions. I first began to question when attending a training in college ministry leadership. The two words that struck me then, over 30 years ago, were exegesis and hermeneutics. Understanding the scripture in the context that it was written and then learning how to apply that to our current culture.

    I was blessed 28 years ago in meeting the marvelous person who was to become my spouse. She grew up in the Episcopal Church and we have generally attended this church for the past quarter century. There was a time when we attended a Congregational church when the Episcopal church had an ultra conservative priest for a time.

    As you stated, you become alienated from the conservative members of the family. I have learned that it is more important to focus on the people in my life who uplift me, be respectful, but not necessarily focused on those who want to use their Bible to try and hurt me, my spouse, or children.

  9. Thank you so much for writing this. This guy just was confirmed as an Episcopalian last month, and finally I found a place where I can believe in God again, because I see God reflected in other Episcopalians. Peace. I really wish more liberal Christians would speak up.

  10. Robin H.

    Wow. Me too. And thanks.

  11. Suzanne

    Thank you. This is fabulous! A great deal of it seems like it comes right out of my own life.

  12. I belong to the PCUSA also and even though I’m old enough to be your grandmother, I feel exactly the same way you do! Well said!

  13. Just know that you’re not alone. We’ve always been here, the Progressive Christians, and Liberal Clergy like myself… we’ve just been drowned out by those shouting voices of hate and intolerance claiming to speak for all of us for so long. We’re only now realizing that the we need once and awhile to shout too, and maybe folks will hear us, and realize, like I hope you do, that you’re not alone.
    I did a sermon on the weekend on July 4th in a small Unity Church where I took a pretty loud stance. May it help you realize you’re not alone.

    https://archive.org/details/OneGodManyNames2014Flint

  14. John Wells

    Wow! I know how you feel. I took a left turn too and shocked my friends and family. Now I have more in common with agnostics, atheists, liberals, sinners, and Barack Obama. Thanks for sharing and standing with least of these…

  15. leftofthemark

    I enjoy finding more right about the left than the right. I have found, also, that the people who sit on the conservative side don’t want to alienate me, they want to bring me over. The discussions do get exhaustive. It seems the more they believe in their own views, the less likely they are to argue. They think if they say it often enough it will become fact. The people I find who are willing to have a lively discussion may also have the ability to think rather than spew forth what they have been told.

    While I had been raised a Catholic, I spent most of my adult life looking for a church family where I would fit in. Turns out that when I found them they didn’t think like I did; they thought for themselves. We all have differing views on a variety of issues, even on theology. We have one thing in common, though, we can carry on a conversation. It sometimes gets heated, it’s sometimes good-natured, but we all understand we won’t always see eye-to-eye.

    I completely enjoyed reading David’s post. It seems to resonate with something inside me. Thank you for sharing.

  16. God help us if our only options for Jesus are Rush Limbaugh and John Crossan.

  17. Clair

    Wow! You expressed exactly how I’ve felt so often. Living in Oklahoma, I’m definitely a “Liberal Christian in a Sea of Conservatism”.

  18. I’ve been so disillusioned with the Christian faith that I can barely use the word, I never post or click “like” on anything with the word Jesus in it because the whole Jesus crowd scares the heck out of me with the vitriolic hate-speech and condemnation. But I do say Jesus’ name and pray to him when I’m alone, and I wonder how it is that Christianity has been stripped of its humanity, hijacked by the right; or maybe, all this time, it was always that way, and I just didn’t see it? Is there a new way to be a Christian, kind of like being a libertarian if religion was politics? Because I’d want to know that crowd. I would belong to that crowd. Please make up a name I can identify with, so I can feel a sense of community with Christianity again. I’ll join.

  19. Jim Bennett

    So similar to my journey. I was a member of the UCC, but then my wife divorced me and the pastor literally asked me to leave. I now attend a large UMC church, which is very involved in the community and has been very accepting. However, they are also more conservative and evangelical than me. I miss the UCC openness and their Open and Affirming proclamation. But for now I am a Methodist. Thank you for the article. It expresses much of my struggle.

  20. Just wanted to give you a little high five for your writing.. as a pcusa youth director going to a baptist seminary.. I think we face similar struggles. Honestly if the people in my church were as deeply searching as you.. I wouldn’t be as worried about the future of our denomination as I am.

  21. Joe

    Any pastor who preaches that one of the problems with America is it became too liberal is a hypocrite because Jesus, as well as the Founding Fathers, were Radicals (e.g. far “left”) who instead of working within the existing frameworks broke with traditional ways and created new ideals and systems.

  22. Lisa

    I agree David!
    You said what I feel, everday, & have felt for years!! Thank you!
    I am tired of being looked at as wrong, or broken.
    I’m not broken. I have MY OWN MIND, & ideas! I was taught, to not follow blindly, like sheep!
    I was raised to rail against injustice, & help anyone who needs it, regardless!
    My all time personal favorite phrase,”one day you will learn to believe as i do!”
    To which, in my mind, I say,”unbloody likely, you lobotomized sycophant!”

    I am different, not wrong! Big difference!
    We need to be more inclusive, not exclusive!

    Just some random thoughts, in my head.
    Thanks again!

  23. Heather

    Raised in the Orthodox Christian church, this resonated with me. I’m socially liberal and think women should have a choice but still believe abortion is wrong. It’s far too complicated to take issues as they come and apply my beliefs but I think it’s the right thing to do. Blanket acceptance of all I was taught as a child is unacceptable. Some days, I need the disclaimer of #notallChristians.

  24. I think y’all would like Morgan Guyton- have you read his blog? http://www.patheos.com/blogs/mercynotsacrifice/

  25. David – Up front: I’m a conservative Christian. Your post makes it clear that you have many conservative Christians that are concerned with your salvation. My question for you is are you concerned about their salvation given that you know the truth (your words) and they don’t? As a Christian, I believe we should all care about other’s salvation and share our beliefs on how to obtain salvation. I agree that some share their beliefs in the wrong fashion – but caring about someone enough to “help them towards salvation” is an act of love, even when it’s believed to be misguided.

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