Don’t call me “progressive” (or “conservative,” either)

I am a moderator on my friend Neil’s blog, Godless in Dixie. What that means is that it’s my “job” to make sure everyone is behaving themselves in the comment threads – no name-calling, no mud-slinging, no trolling – and delete people who can’t be respectful. I am the only theist moderator, which could be either a badge of honor or a mark of shame, depending on who you ask. The community I’ve gotten to know there seems to like me enough because I’m a Christian without an agenda, and I admit when I have no answers to things (which is a lot). Other Christians might say I’m doing it all wrong because I don’t preach, despite the majority of readers being former Christians who have already heard apologetic rhetoric before, and found it lacking.

But one comment directed at me made me think twice about how I’m presenting myself: “Beth, I know since you’re a moderate Christian, you probably don’t believe in this theology…”

My hang-up is on the word “moderate.” Others use “progressive” or “liberal.” I don’t identify with any of these, and tend to eschew labels in general. But I also know the moment I express doubt about any standard Christian doctrine – hell, for example – I essentially put myself in the moderate, progressive, liberal camps (whatever you want to call them). By contrast, the ones who know it all, who see everything in black and white, get placed in the conservative, Right Wing camps.

These ways of classifying people are grossly unhelpful. I understand why we do it, and I’m guilty of it myself. I admit to tensing up when someone proudly identifies as a fundamentalist or evangelical, due to previous bad experiences within those groups. But I’m trying to stop.

I don’t consider myself “progressive” or any other synonym, so much as a seeker with a ton of questions. When it comes to troubling doctrines like hell, I may not like it, but I’m not tossing it out, either. It may likely remain in the “I’ll never fully understand this” theology folder, along with why homosexuality is considered sin, whether babies and people who never heard the gospel go to heaven, and why God lets 200 children die every day for lack of clean water, but goes out of his way to reserve parking spaces for privileged Americans.

That’s heavy stuff that deserves serious study. But none of that comes close to the point of Christianity as I see it. There’s a reason I’ve stuck around despite growing discomfort with right-wing rhetoric and “God says it, I believe it, that settles it” type thinking.

As much as I loved being Jewish, the message of the cross haunted me for years. I could not get this idea of a human god willing to suffer betrayal and pain and undeserved death out of my mind, nor the shedding of divine privileges to serve poor people and dignify prostitutes and point out glaring hypocrisy among those who only prayed in public to be admired for their faithfulness.

It takes a lot of effort sometimes to look beyond the ugliness of what has become a very American, very privileged picture of Christianity: a Christianity that blesses the rich and blames the poor for being poor; a Christianity with a persecution complex that looks for conspiracies everywhere. I abhor that kind of Christianity.

The kind that draws me in, that still occasionally fills my heart with wonder is the kind that is realistic enough to admit all people, in some form or another, will suffer – no one is immune from it, regardless of how faithful they appear to be. It doesn’t promise safety or protection, but does promise to redeem suffering somehow, which has helped me persevere in ways that words can’t do justice explaining.

It’s the kind that warns would-be disciples that the road of servanthood is anything but pretty, anything but comfortable. A Christianity that “saves” people from drunk drivers, suicide bombers, and incurable cancer is not compatible with Pick up your cross and follow me. It is my staunch, un-humble opinion that those who choose Christianity to be protected from those things are pursuing the wrong Jesus.

It took many years for me to understand this, after having lost a friend to suicide, suffered abuse, and watched my father die. It was not lack of faith that “caused” those things, but rather a consequence of living in a fallen world. Life is not fair, and life is not just. I can’t explain the ultimate purpose of suffering, of course. But it’s a lot easier to accept that it happens and try to make something of it, rather than pray to avoid it, only to get angry with God when the miscarriage happens anyway, when the car slides on black ice and hits a telephone pole – or something of the sort.

I don’t know whether all that falls under “progressive” or “conservative” or what – that’s for other people to decide. But that’s my 7-year-long journey in a nutshell, and by this time next year, I might have radically different conclusions.

*Edit: I just took this quiz that someone posted on Facebook, and apparently I’m supposed to be Anglican or Episcopalian. Make of that what you will:

“You should really be an Episcopalian! You’re a laid back Christian with a love for tradition and an especially open mind. You value the hierarchy of the Church and respect its authority but you want it to reflect the modern world. You appreciate ritual and respect a traditional atmosphere, as long as there’s room for everyone!

The Episcopal or Anglican Church started in the 16th Century with King Henry VIII’s reformation of the Catholic Church in England. Once he broke with the Pope in Rome, the Church became independent. While keeping many pre-Reformation traditions, the Anglican Church was deeply affected by the Protestant reformation. Most Anglican/Episcopal churches tend to look and feel traditional, but they’re known for being open communities.”

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13 thoughts on “Don’t call me “progressive” (or “conservative,” either)

  1. Pingback: Sarahbeth Caplin
  2. Andrew Sheldon says:

    I am not a religious man at all, but I have deep respect and admiration for people of faith like you. Clearly, you draw strength and comfort from your faith. You do not use it to judge or feel superior. You are exactly the kind of Christian I like to be around and to hear from about your faith. Thank you for this post.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. davewarnock says:

    Hi Beth.
    I’m honored to have inspired a blog post 🙂

    I lived over 30 years as a conservative, evangelical Christian (and for years a pastor of such) prior to abandoning all forms of faith a few years ago. When I referred to you as a “moderate” Christian, it’s simply my way of differentiating you from the camp I lived in for years- and I meant it as a compliment- in case you were wondering. The Christian world I lived in took the Bible literally, held a very narrow view theologically, and majored in things like certainty. I now find those things abhorrent. Having conversed with you several times via comment threads, I knew you didn’t fit into that category- you were always much more open-minded.

    I agree that labels can be restrictive and limiting, but they can also help us set ourselves apart from others- and that can sometimes be a good thing. As I have told you before, I have a great deal of respect for you, and I hope my use of a label wasn’t offensive to you.

    All the best,

    Dave

    Liked by 1 person

    • Beth Caplin says:

      I wasn’t offended, don’t worry. Just made me think, is all. I’m either extremely liberal or absurdly conservative depending on who I’m talking to, it seems, which I think is kind of funny.

      Like

  4. danielwalldammit says:

    People will use labels. There is no stopping them. And in fact eschewing labels can be a rather adolescent exercise. I figure the goal is to ensure the labels don’t get used in inappropriate ways. Folks can all each other whatever they want so long as they don’t get used to thinking the names mean too much.

    Like

    • Beth Caplin says:

      I guess what I meant by that is I’ll try not to get too hung up on them, which is difficult for a person with OCD. I like everything neatly boxed and orderly. And faith generally isn’t.

      Like

  5. letahawk says:

    Another great post, Beth. I agree with you that the labels are problematic, and I have yet to find a label that I’d be okay with pinning to my forehead. We talk so much about not putting God in a box, but I have to say, “Don’t put me in a box either.” I think most of us are complex beings; some of our beliefs may fit neatly with label A, while others fit with label B, but other beliefs may not fit under any label.
    The church I grew up in was a small church in a small town. We didn’t have a lot of programs, and our members really didn’t get involved in a lot of political or social debates, and we didn’t proselytize. We didn’t feel we needed to label ourselves or other Christians; we just went about our worship and did our own serving in the community. The church I’m attending now would say we weren’t being fully Christian, or something, but it worked for us, and I always felt close to God there. Now, it seems I’m more focused on presenting myself in the way our [evangelical], [Pentecostal] church thinks is appropriate.

    Liked by 1 person

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