There is another side.
To the disenfranchised and disillusioned: not all Christians are finger-wagging, science-denying, ultra-conservative holier-than-thou hypocrites.
To the Christians who read the sentence above and are ready to stop reading, at best..or already have their nasty rebuttal ready, at worst – I’m here to tell you Christians are not a homogeneous, one-size-fits all block. If you’ve assumed all these years that because you didn’t know anyone who was both passionate about Jesus and yet also a lifelong Democrat (gasp!), well, let me introduce myself….and, an entire community of progressive believers.
WHAT IF YOU DIED TONIGHT?
My journey to the other side began about as far right as you can get. I grew up attending a Pentecostal church with my family. I remember lots of loooooong services. I remember thinking that emotional displays were good, so I’d conjure up the saddest possible thought in my little girl head, so that I could appear as spiritual as the others. I remember asking my non-Christian friends, ‘if you died tonight, where do you think you’d go?’. (That’s a nice happy topic for 2nd and 3rd graders to discuss in the middle of a play date). I don’t remember any teaching or efforts to reach beyond our holy huddle, to help the poor or hurting. We’d sooner hand you a tract than helping hand. Not surprisingly, nobody was converted by my best efforts. The rules forbidding TV, dancing, drinking, secular music, pants for women, makeup for women, jewelry….those didn’t make for a very persuasive sales pitch.
My parents divorced during my teenage years. My mom was dropped like a hot potato. Thus began our search for a new church. We decided that it wouldn’t hurt to try the new mega-church in our backyard, Willow Creek.
THANK YOU WILLOW
I am not sure I would be a Christian today, if it weren’t for Willow Creek. Instead of condemning those whose marriages are falling apart, they offered support and community. Instead of preaching fire and brimstone, they talked about love and grace. Instead of building walls to keep the outside world out, they invited the best thinkers and leaders to come in and share their ideas. Honestly, I had no framework for faith that included these concepts, until I heard Bill Hybels give his very simple explanation for salvation. All these years, I thought I was better than other Christians. Now, I realized I didn’t even understand the fundamentals. But, watching a church that refurbished donated cars to then give to single-moms or kept food pantries stocked across the Chicagoland…I started to see the scriptures come alive. In the midst of turmoil and confusion, I met Jesus at Willow Creek.
THANK YOU KANT & RAWLS
About the same time that I was learning a new perspective on faith, I was also getting introduced to the world of history, government/politics and philosophy. If Willow Creek saved my heart, Debate Team, Model United Nations and Junior State of America saved my mind. Teens are like sponges and I soaked up as much as I could! To this day, I still remember two theories that were my ‘go to’ arguments in values (Lincoln Douglas) debate matches.
- Kant’s Categorical Imperative: act according to the maxim that you would wish all other rational people to follow, as if it were universal law. It’s ‘sorta’ like the Golden Rule, but with a concept of universality thrown in.
- Rawl’s Theory of Justice: In what he labeled, Justice as Fairness, Rawl’s advocated a principled reconciliation of liberty and equality, to be applied to the basic structure of a well-ordered society. These notions of justice equalling fairness and liberty requiring equality have stuck with me. Within the theory of justice, Rawl’s outlines the Original position in which everyone decides principles of justice from behind a veil of ignorance. This “veil” is one that essentially blinds people to all facts about themselves so they cannot tailor principles to their own advantage.
I’m not sure all teens readily dove into the study of deontological moral philosophy. But, I found them incredibly illuminating; the principles of universality…of justice….of looking at life and others with a posture that questions, ‘what if I could not determine my wealth, intelligence, health, race….?’ – ‘how then might I want others to respond to me?’, were compelling. These questions led me to a conclusion, that I would always error on the side of fairness and generosity. These were not just values for Lincoln Douglas debates. As I studied history, government, politics and international relations – they were principles for understanding the world. We used to say in the Junior Statesmen Foundation, ‘democracy is not a spectator sport’. That meant, my opinions could be more than just hot air – they could be the very oxygen upon which our democracy functioned. And, the more informed and involved, the better we’d all be.
Justice and fairness were not just for the secular world. They were theories that actually dove-tailed with my new understanding of faith. Centuries before Kant, Rawls and many other philosophers, the pillars of these same tenants had been crafted in the words of the Bible:
- Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. (Isaiah)
- Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart. (Zechariah)
- Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy. (Proverbs)
- Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place. (Jeremiah)
- Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. (Romans)
- He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah)
- But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. (1 John)
- “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew)
Matthew’s words sound a little like the Categorical Imperative and View of Ignorance. The plea for justice and mercy that flow from the Old Testament into the New are very much in line with a theory of justice and fairness. You get the picture.
I do not mean to suggest that all secular ideas support Biblical principles or vice versa. But, I do think that a posture that sees the outside world as wrong, dangerous and irrelevant is wrong. To put it more bluntly, the holy huddle mentality is not just a false dichotomy – it is complete bull shit. The great commission is about going OUT – not turning IN. And, by the way, that commission was not about creating converts but about cultivating disciples.
When I was college, I got the chance to go to Clinton’s inauguration. I remember walking around the mall and seeing information on Hillary Clinton’s book, It Takes A Village, where she advocates for the well-being of children by encouraging groups to support families and kids. I watched and listened as Republicans pounced. During his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, Republican Party nominee Bob Dole had said: “… with all due respect, I am here to tell you, it does not take a village to raise a child. It takes a family to raise a child.” Well, yes, OF COURSE! But, not everyone has the privilege of growing up in a upper-middle class home with two parents that are healthy, hold good jobs, etc. Some of us were growing up in broken homes. Some of us were growing up the ‘wrong’ skin color and/or with parents in prison. Some of us were growing up food insecure. Not everyone got the Norman Rockwell life. Go back and read those verses. Go read where Jesus says,”Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Or, in the chapter prior, “So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish.” I watched Republicans take low-blow political shots at ideas that were not only good, they were Biblical. We are called to love and help one another. It made no sense to me. How was this the party of Evangelicals?
At this point, I’m sure there are many screaming at their computer (or iPhone), BUT WHAT ABOUT ABORTION!!!!! This post would turn into a book if I tried to answer fully here. But, here’s the short answer. First, pro-life should mean that….a policy of valuing life from the womb to the grave, not JUST the womb. Yet, too many want to scream about abortion, and then fall silent when it comes to assisting the children or single mothers who need help. Too many scream about an unwanted pregnancy but do nothing about sex-trafficking or sexual abuse. Too many scream about teenage mothers but want to cut funding to education programs that help keep kids in school. Too many will condemn abortion one second and yet defend guns and wars the next second – even though those kill many more. And, I’m not saying all abortions are good or all wars are bad or that I want to take your guns away. I’m just saying that there should be some intellectual consistency. Rob Shenck, a leading Evangelical leader writes in a Washington Post article, I’m an evangelical preacher. You can’t be pro-life and pro-gun:
I won’t be silent on this issue. The Christian gospel should quell our fears and remind us of our Christ-like obligation to love all people, even those who intend us harm. This generous view of the world calls us to demonstrate God’s love toward others, regardless of who they are, where they come from or what religion they practice. Assuming a permanently defensive posture against others, especially when it includes a willingness to kill, is inimical to a life of faith.And, more broadly, Republicans want to get rid of regulations and policies that protect life with safe working environments or fair labor laws, etc, but in the most personal of decisions – they want to stake a claim?
We can argue till the cows come home and Jesus returns on what the ‘right’ policy is. My goal here is not to say what I think the political views of others should be; rather, my goal is to share my journey of faith through the landscape of our American experience. I don’t agree with Democrats on everything. I don’t agree with Republicans on everything. But, in picking 1-2 issues upon which our vote hinges, we’ve given politicians free license to legislate on an endless number of issues, and sometimes recklessly opening the doors to war, injustice and greed. (For those interested in more indepth political analysis, read Where the Right Went Wrong.) We cannot throw-up our hands, absconding all responsibility. For me, I vote for justice, equality and compassion. I vote for helping those in need. I vote for education. I vote for taking care of the world God gave us. I vote for a love that casts the widest net.
THE BATTLE IS THE LORD’S
There is a God, and I am not it. In my journey to live out Micah 6:8 (act justly, love mercy and walk humbly), I am reminded that my job is very different from God’s. There are battles to be fought. There are judgments to be made. The Bible has many great exchanges between heaven and earth, but one of my favorites is found in the book of Job. It is in the midst of this discussion in Job, when God reminds him who laid the earth’s foundations and the seas. This passage is not only about God reminding Job of His awesome power and sovereignty, it was God reminding Job of His amazing, even un-strategic, irrational love.
As John Ortberg put it in a sermon called, It’s Okay to Not Be Okay, he sites this exchange in Job, explaining God is a god of gratuitous goodness. Why would God water a wasteland where no one lives? Why would he make an ostrich with wings that don’t fly or delight in the behemoth? Answer: He is good for no reason at all, because He loves to give.
With that in mind, why should we shower love on the undeserving? Because, as the Psalmist says, teach me YOUR WAY…the way of gratuitous goodness. Or, as Jesus commands in Matthew, the greatest commandment is to love God and love others. God’s way, is that of love that is beyond comprehension. The Bible is full of many teachings and principles, but it is imperative to not invert the order and priority of God’s commands to us. There’s this great song by The Afters, called Battles. A line in it says, Your love is my armor, I fear no evil.
I love that…your LOVE is my ARMOR.
THANK YOU POPE FRANCIS AND JEN HATMAKER
Thankfully, I’m not alone. In my journey, I’ve discovered a community of believers who believe in a gospel that leads with grace and mercy includes everyone from Pope Francis and Jen Hatmaker to Sarah Bessey, Rachel Held Evans and Jim Wallis. And, then some. Much to my delight, I read that in the Pope’s 2015 Encyclical, he applied the first formulation of the universalizability principle to the issue of consumption:
- Instead of resolving the problems of the poor and thinking of how the world can be different, some can only propose a reduction in the birth rate. … To blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues. It is an attempt to legitimize the present model of distribution, where a minority believes that it has the right to consume in a way which can never be universalized, since the planet could not even contain the waste products of such consumption.
Turns out, the Pope reads Kant too. Beyond observations on consumption, Saray Bessey writes in Jesus Feminist: “I want to be outside with the misfits, with the rebels, the dreamers, second-chance givers, the radical grace lavishers, the ones with arms wide open, the courageously vulnerable, and among even—or maybe especially—the ones rejected by the Table as not worthy enough or right enough.” I love the phrase Brandon Hatmaker uses in his new book, A Mile Wide; he beckons us to what he calls a bigger gospel. There are plenty of seats at God’s table, and I suspect that it is not been Jesus’s gospel that’s too small to date – it’s been my own interpretation, born of fear and shame that kept it small and safe.
I AM NOT A HOT POTATO
Thank God I found a church that didn’t drop the hurting and broken like a hot potato. In Matthew, Jesus says that if he sees the flowers in the field and notices even the sparrow, how much more does he care for us? He promises a love that never fails, that won’t let go, no matter what. Everything changes when we open our eyes to the outrageous love of Jesus. It is a love that is bigger than kings and kingdoms, of politicians and political parties. It is a love that sees us in our struggles and bridges the gap with grace. I know a God who makes beauty from ashes, and who delights in my broken hallelujah.
To those who have bristled at most of my words, I’d urge you to re-read the Bible with the lenses of compassion, mercy and justice, to consider whether our present path is actually making a positive impact in the world – in either practical or faith terms. I’d ask you to truly ponder what love looks like. To those who have felt alone in a progressive faith, I declare you are not alone. And, to those who have been skeptical of the church and possibly deeply wounded by it, I would say this:
Some of us believe taking care of our planet means just that. Some of us believe taking care of the widow and orphan means just that. Some of us believe that opening our doors to the migrant means that. Some of us believe in science. Some of us believe it is okay to not be okay. Some of us believe that helping the poor or doing justice means just that. Some of us love mercy. Some of us believe that loving your enemy or extending goodness for no strategic reason means JUST THAT.
So, what if I died tonight? I’d say, that I’d choose to bank my eternity on loving Jesus and loving others. I’ll let God take care of the rest.