I have resisted this blog post for a while now. But I feel like if there is any time that this message needs to be proclaimed, it is now. I am tired of having to choose. I am tired of having to pick between liberal and conservative. I am tired of pointless banter from pulpits, printing press, and blogs. I am tired of hearing liberals talk about “those ignorant, bigoted, archaic conservatives” and I am tired of hearing conservatives talking about those “moralistic, ungodly, heretical liberals.” I am tired of hearing people talk about “the evils of the emergent church” and “the dangers of the new Calvinism”. I am tired. And I can only imagine that God is tired. And, I speculate, many of you are tired too.
Now, I am not speaking as one who is above reproach on this issue. I have offended both sides of the spectrum, and I have done it recently. But as I have had time to reflect, pray, and think- I am convinced that none of this banter is helpful. This isn’t dialogue. This isn’t even debate. This is pointless chatter- much of which is false.
This frustration has boiled over the past few weeks. About a month ago, I attended the Wild Goose Festival, a progressive-emergenty festival in North Carolina. I had an awesome time. I met a lot of amazing brothers and sisters and made a lot of new friends. But one frustration I and some of the other evangelicals that were present faced was the constant criticism launched against evangelicals. Now- this wasn’t from everyone. A lot of people refuse to engage in this mudslinging. But some people, so jaded by their experience in Evangelicalism, had nothing nice to say about the conservative side of the Christian spectrum. In one talk I was at, a young evangelical woman, tired of this constant slander, stood up and said, “You know, this isn’t a liberal festival. It is a Christian festival. I am an Evangelical and we are supposed to be welcome here too!” The speaker abruptly interjected that his point was not to box anyone out and that he in fact was an evangelical. Once again, hear me. This is not an open criticism to the festival or anyone in particular. This is just one of many events that has fueled this frustration. At the very same festival, there was one girl who, after finding out that my buddy and I were Evangelicals, felt the need to come to our tent every evening to tell us about the false gospel “these people” are preaching and how angry she was at the damnable teaching that folks at this festival were engaged in. I am not exaggerating. The things this girl said about some of these speakers, who I knew personally, were absolutely false. Just like a lot of the presuppositions spoken against evangelicals were also false.
And it doesn’t end there. The recent blog banter about weather liberal or conservative Christianity can be “Saved” is simply ridiculious. Now, thankfully, it has gotten more moderate as the conversation has progressed, but the first few posts were nothing but mudslinging. What really pushed me over the edge wasn’t the blog posts, but actually were the last three things I got in my mail. One was a letter from a conservative watchdog group outlining the heresy and dangers of Brian McLaren. Another was a book Why We’re Not Emergent. And another was a letter from a liberal Christian social group criticizing the work of people like David Platt and Francis Chan. What I noticed in all three of these things was that most of this stuff was completely false. The letter about Brian McLaren was simply laughable. It was so far-fetched and was being fed to a large number of my conservative brothers and sisters who accept it as reliable truth. The book, Why We’re Not Emergent, criticizes a number of people that I have gotten to know personally and attempts to judge their motives. It gives arguments that are far from theological and are mostly petty disagreements chalked up to seem like matters of orthodoxy. The letter from the liberal social group slandered these men of God and the motives of their ministry that were absolutely unfounded. It included a few quotes from their books majorly taken out of context.
The problem is that Christians on both sides are consuming these resources and thinking them to be trustworthy when they are simply not. The “other” is being demonized when it is clear that the person writing truly knows nothing about the people they are criticizing. And this is a huge problem. This is furthering disunity in the body of Christ and is continually hurting people on both sides. This ruins the witness of the Church to the world. Who would ever want to be a Christian? We are no more together than the ridiculous political parties that have begun their disturbing campaigns for the White House. Neither side- liberal nor conservative- offers anything the world needs. We have failed to offer the gospel. We have failed to offer Jesus. Because we are too busy demonizing each other. And it is a shame.
Once again, I am not claiming innocence. In fact, if anything, I am writing this as an act of repentance. I have sinned and slandered both sides. And it was wrong.
The solution to this isn’t theological weakness. Nor is it being flimsy with our convictions. People on both sides have pointed out how very important it is for us to maintain our distinct theological and traditional identities. I, for instance, am an emerging evangelical. I am conservative in my theology and progressive in my view of justice and traditions. I don’t have to compromise that to affirm that my liberal and emergent friends are my brothers and sisters and have a lot to offer. I didn’t have to compromise that to admit that my fundamentalist friends have a lot to offer as well. The Wild Goose Festival was liberating for me because I made friends and engaged in deep, meaningful, theological conversation with “The liberals” and left each one learning and reaffirming my evangelical values and yet confident that my liberal counterparts are doing some great stuff for the glory of Jesus.
If there is one thing that needs to change about the climate of Christianity in order for the mission of God to go forth through the church it is how we relate to each other. We are far better at relating to the unchristian world around us than to our own brothers and sisters. We are far better at sharing the Gospel and doing justice to the nations than we are about loving each other. And until we are one as our Lord prayed we would be, Christ will never be lifted up, and the Kingdom of love, righteousness, and peace will never be established on earth as it is in heaven. We are Christ’s body and we are broken. A house divided cannot stand. But a three cord string is not easily broken.
And I am not the only one saying this. Rachel Held Evans recently posted a blog about the same thing. And countless others as well.
I hope I am not sharing anything that was not meant to be publicly spoken of, but at Wild Goose, I had the honor of sitting down with one of the biggest critics of conservative Christianity in recent years- Frank Schaeffer, son of the famed conservative theologian Francis Schaeffer. Frank is known for his fiery speeches against the bigotry of Evangelicalism. But in our interview, as I talked with Mr. Schaeffer, I saw the love in his eyes. I saw the Christ in his person. At the end of the interview, he looked at me in the eyes and said, “I want to try harder not to be so critical of evangelicals. I want to be more loving to them.” We walked away from Mr. Frank Schaeffer and we all were so happy- this man was broken over the division and we can only think that our willingness to converse, not debate, as evangelicals with “our enemy”, led to the discovery that he was our brother and he discovered that we were his. And we were just as impacted by Mr. Franks point of view- he wasnt the enemy that our side of the Christian spectrum made him out to be. He was our brother.
In a period of time when our nation is witnessing one of the ugliest Presidential Campaigns in our history and are being forced to choose sides, what an opportunity for the people of Jesus to shine as a city on a hill. But in order to shine, we must be one.This unity is available to us through the power of Jesus. In him, he has rid us of our dividing distinctions- there is no Jew or Greek, Slave or Free, Male or Female, Liberal or Conservative, but all are one in Christ. (Galatians 3:8) He, through his death, has broken down the walls which divide us. (Ephesians 2) He has given us the Spirit which can unite us into one body, one glaring light of hope to the world.
And it all begins with face to face conversation with "the other"...
This is the kind of change that we need. This is the kind of change that we must pray for. This is the kind of change that I am devoting my life to see dawn in the Church of Jesus. This is the change that countless other young Christians of all traditions are working for. Will you join us?
Grace and Peace-