Theology

Why progressive and conservative Christians don’t like me

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I don’t fit neatly in any one spiritual box. It’s frustrating some days, but on average, I consider it a unique part of my identity that I wouldn’t want to change. It allows me to relate to and befriend all different types of people.

Still, every now and then I have bad days. I hate being misunderstood and judged unfairly. Life would be easier if I could pick a paradigm – right or left, both in politics and in faith – and stick with it. It would certainly be a lot easier to know who my audience is for my books, blog, and social media.

Christians tend to forget that some of today’s most admired saints and theologians were considered heretics by their peers. One Christian’s truth seems to be another Christian’s heresy, and more Christians have been persecuted by their own brethren than by people outside the Church.

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I believe that all the essential principles of the Christian faith are summed up in the Apostles’ Creed (including a literal resurrection, which is the foundation of our greatest hope).

That said, I also believe “Lord, I believe — help my unbelief” is a valid approach to faith. Honestly, Christianity — the belief that an all-powerful God chose to be conceived in the womb of a virgin, performed miracles, died for our sins, and came back from the dead — is a tall order. That’s why I love the statement “I believe, with God’s help” in the Book of Common Prayer.

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I believe that God cares more about the heart than whether or not you have “correct” theology — which isn’t to say that theology doesn’t matter (it does!). Rather, it’s an acknowledgment that all of us will get things wrong from time to time. I try to live with a teachable heart, always humble and open to constructive rebuke (though this is not always easy).

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I believe that anyone who is in heaven got there through Jesus. But I don’t necessarily believe that someone has to have literally heard the gospel and named Jesus while living on Earth to get to heaven, as this leaves out anyone who has never heard the gospel, or lacks the cognitive ability to understand it. I think God, in his grace and mercy, has other ways to reach people and gives everyone a fair chance. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t share our faith, though. Christians should talk about Jesus because of the hope and abundant life he promises, not simply to make converts.

Eternal separation is real – but whatever “hell” is, I reject the notion that it is eternal conscious torment. Ancient Judaism did not believe in such a thing, and believers in a loving, merciful God shouldn’t either. I affirm the doctrine of annihilation.

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I don’t believe that the Bible should inform matters of science or medicine. I believe it is a sacred, divinely inspired collection of writings – the only source we have to learn about God’s history with his people, and his plan for salvation and redemption.

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I believe in evolution. Genesis 1 does not have to be literally true in order for sin to be true (one can have belief in Original Sin confirmed just by picking up a newspaper). In fact, some rabbis teach that the first few chapters of Genesis are not a step-by-step explanation of how the world was made at all, but rather, a statement of monotheism — God is the sole creator — in a society that worshiped multiple gods. I find that pretty compelling.

Not all stories need to be literally true in order to contain truth. Of course, having said that, some people will retort, “Then how can we know Jesus is true?” That’s simple: even secular historians believe he was a real person (if not divine). Jesus appears in other ancient texts besides Scripture, such as the writings of Josephus.

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For some reason, abortion and homosexuality have become the two issues of our time that determine salvation (or so it seems that way). So I’ll outline briefly where I stand on those.

First, Psalm 139 (“For you knit me together in my mother’s womb”) is a poem about God’s omnipotence, not a scientific consensus about when life/personhood begins (and no rabbi I’ve met interprets it that way). I consider myself personally pro-life, but politically pro-choice. I believe the policies of pro-choice politicians do more to lower abortion rates than their opponents’, so I’m more inclined to vote for them than pro-life candidates. I believe abortion is a complex, nuanced topic that is more gray than black and white.

I’m far more interested in working to create a society in which all children are welcomed and properly cared for than debating the ethics of abortion itself. It makes my blood boil a little to hear abortion compared to genocide or the Holocaust, as the reasons women tend to seek abortions are nothing like the motives of Nazis who tried to rid the world of Jews.

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I’m not convinced that being LGBT is a sin. I came to this conclusion not because of sympathy toward my LGBT friends, but after a period of studying the historical and cultural contexts of all the anti-gay “clobber verses” (see the work of Justin Lee, Austen Hartke, and David Gushee to start). From what I understand of these verses (and I fully admit that I could be wrong about this), they are written in the context of lust and/or pagan worship. It’s also worth noting that the word “homosexuality” did not exist in English until the 19th century, so I’m skeptical when I see it used in Bible translations — particularly in 1 Corinthians 6:9.

Additionally, Jesus said we can judge the health of a tree by its fruit, and the fruit of anti-gay, anti-transgender rhetoric has been proven to result in literal death. I find it interesting that many of the arguments that are used to condemn homosexuality are nearly identical to those that were used to condemn interracial marriage back in the day (another issue that Christians said Scripture was “perfectly clear” about).

No matter where Christians fall on this issue, as something that is outside the purview of salvation and the gospel message as a whole, I believe that this is an area where there is room for disagreement. I understand the traditional arguments very well, as I used to believe them myself. I no longer think they are as “clear” as many Christians seem to think they are.

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I believe marriage is the ideal context for sex, as it is an act that represents a covenant. Some people find it contradictory that I can be LGBT-affirming and pro sex-only-in-marriage, but they are two different subjects — and I think Scripture has more to say in favor of the latter than in opposition to the former.

I believe the notion of “biblical womanhood” is garbage. As are gender roles. More on that here and here.

I am a feminist (though I have some concerns about projecting modern ideas of feminism onto Jesus). I believe women can and should be able to preach.

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I belong to the Episcopal church, but not all Episcopalians think alike. Thankfully, God is bigger than all of that. As long as I use good exegesis and the Holy Spirit as my guides, I don’t think I can stray too far beyond grace.

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3 thoughts on “Why progressive and conservative Christians don’t like me”

  1. I’ve never found a dogma, religious or political, that I could fit myself into for longer than it took to uncover its unspoken assumptions, or the inconsistencies of its preachers. I guess that’s one of the reasons I like reading your work.

    Liked by 1 person

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