On one hand, I understand WHY many people adopt some form of liberal Christianity. They are tired of Evangelical (which is Fundamentalist) Christianity and its attendant certitude and black and white thinking. They are tired of the culture war. They are tired of being viewed as mindless, knuckle dragging Bible thumpers.
So they “backslide” and join churches that are progressive/liberal in their view of the Bible. Terms like inerrancy, and sometimes even inspiration, are rarely mentioned when it comes to the Bible. Focus is on how a person lives rather than what they believe. The social strictures are few and many former Evangelicals love the freedom they have in Christ to pretty much do anything they want to do.
All in all, liberal Christians are good, honest, decent people. The ones who comment on this blog are great people. In most cases, liberal Christians also have liberal or progressive political views. They tend to support liberal causes like support for gay marriage and abortion. Years ago, they were at the forefront of the Civil Rights battle.
The United States would be better served if Evangelicalism died a quick death and liberal Christianity was embraced by the followers of Jesus. However, I have a growing problem with how liberal Christians view the Bible and how they tend to believe little or anything they are willing to die for.
It seems, for many liberal Christians, that going to church, believing in Jesus, are just culturally accepted things they do. They treat the Bible like they would any other literary work. Outside of, I believe in Jesus, there isn’t anything in the Bible worth believing.
Liberal Christians are known for reinterpreting the Bible to fit their own agenda. They write book after book to explain why the Evangelical interpretation of the Bible is wrong, misguided, or outdated. Never mind WHAT the text says. All that matters is making the square peg fit in the round hole.
Some Christians use phrases like “The Bible clearly teaches that homosexuality is sinful.” I want to respond: Is it really, really so clear as all that? Don’t you want to open up some room for discussion here? Are you aware that some Christians who read the Bible arrive at a different place?
Instead of certainty, I want to argue for uncertainty. Instead of definitive positions, I wonder what would happen to the climate of discussion if more people said things like “I don’t really know what I believe about this issue” or “I would like to hear more stories from my gay and lesbian friends before I develop my position.” Or even, as President Obama said prior to his interview, “my position on this issue is evolving.”
What I’m suggesting here is that there is a cultural tendency in evangelical Christianity that does not leave room for “evolving” positions, complexity, uncertainty, or doubt. Rather the assumption seems to be that every Christian should have a clearly defined position on every social issue and even that for some issues there’s only one acceptable position to take. I wonder if conservative Christians were more disturbed by Obama’s lack of certainty on the issue prior to the interview than they were by his stated opinion in the interview.
So here’s my modest proposal. When discussing these controversial issues as Christians, can we exercise enough humility to temper our statements? Can we resist the temptations of certitude, realizing that it draws lines in the sand and reinforces stereotypes that non-Christians already carry about those of our ilk? Can we learn the use of conditional phrases like “Based on my understanding of scripture” or even “I might be wrong about this” or, God forbid, “my views on this are evolving”? Can we remember Anne Lamott’s friend, Father Tom, who suggests that the opposite of faith is certainty?
Here’s the problem…..society is rapidly evolving and changing when it comes to homosexuality, gay marriage, and a host of other sexual matters. Liberals like Tandy, and the people at Sojourners, want to be evolve with the times. To their credit they want to be thought of as people who promote civil rights for all. They are often at the forefront of the antidiscrimination battles in the United States.
However, they want to hang on the Christianity and Jesus at the same time. They want to give the appearance of believing the Bible. Result? When confronted with unambiguous teachings in the Bible that go against their social agenda they balk and attempt to reinterpret or explain away the clear teachings of the Bible.
The Evangelical Christian, and virtually all Christians for 1900 years, believe the Bible teaches that homosexuality is sinful. Let me remind you of what the Bible says on the issue:
- You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.
- If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death. Their blood guiltness is upon them.
- Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God.
- For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper.
Seems pretty clear, doesn’t it? Yes, I know of all the cockamamie reinterpretations and explanations that liberal Christians use in an attempt to justify their good, decent, human, loving approval of basic human and civil rights for homosexuals. I COMMEND them for their support of gay rights.
But, I know this is going to sound odd coming from an atheist, I deplore their abuse and misuse of the Bible. Like any work of literature, the text has meaning, words have meaning. I know liberal Christians hate to hear this but, The BIBLE says _____________.
Tandy wants a Christian environment where issues he finds uncomfortable are held in belief limbo. Tandy writes:
Is it really, really so clear as all that? Don’t you want to open up some room for discussion here? Are you aware that some Christians who read the Bible arrive at a different place?
Look at Tandy’s questions. He desperately wants to believe the Bible is unclear on the matter of homosexuality. But , it is not. He is an English teacher. He values words and their meanings. What does the text say? What would an every day, non-original language educated person, in other words, 99% of the people sitting in the pew, think these verses mean?
Tandy, in classic postmodern fashion wants to have a discussion. Perhaps some discussion is warranted. Like, does the Bible condemn homosexuality itself or the ACT of homosexual sex? What IS homosexual sex? What if a heterosexual couple performs anal sex or oral sex on their partner? Are they 1/2 homosexual? What about people who are bisexual or even asexual?
There are plenty of questions that could be raised BUT what the text says, and my implication, what GOD says, is not one of them.
Tandy, trots out the tired, old liberal Christian line, Are you aware that some Christians who read the Bible arrive at a different place?
Those of you who have been reading this blog for years know there used to be a frequent commenter named Grace who was the epitome of this line. She was like nailing Jell-O to the wall. Outside of, I believe in Jesus, she didn’t have one firm belief about anything. Every discussion with her was littered with obfuscation and “well I see things differently”, or “we will just have to agree to disagree.”
The last church I pastored was a Southern Baptist Church. The Adult Sunday School class was a case study in Gary Tandy, are you aware that some Christians who read the Bible arrive at a different place, thinking. Maybe we should call this kind of thinking Tandyism.
Every week, the class would read the Scriptures, read what the Sunday School Quarterly said about the passage, and then go around the table and say “what the passage of Scripture meant to them.”
Heresy was on display every week. Orthodoxy cringed in horror as people imported their own meaning and interpretation into the text. It didn’t matter what the text said. All that mattered was, “what does it mean to me?”
It seems the “are you aware that some Christians who read the Bible arrive at a different place” has no limits except one. Jesus is off limits. Question anything and everything in the Bible, reinterpret to fit the blowing cultural wind, but hands off of the eternally existent God, second member of the Trinity, creator of the world, virgin born, conceived by the third member of the Trinity, miracle working, dying on the cross for humanity’s sin, rising again from the dead, ascending backing heaven, returning to earth someday Son of God named Jesus, the Christ.
Why is Jesus off limits?
And herein lies the real issue.
I am of the opinion that a fair number of liberal Christians are actually agnostics or atheists who just so happen to like going to church on Sunday. They like the “idea” of being a Christian. They like the social benefits they gain from being part of a church. Simply put, they love Jesus but hate and dismiss the vast majority of the Bible.
People can do what they want, believe what they want. If liberal Christians derive some benefit, support, comfort or peace from being a part of a Christian church, I have no objection. It is their life, do with it what they will.
However, when they venture out into the world and attempt to put a good word in for Jesus by countering the certitude of Evangelicals, then it is proper and right to hold them accountable for how they trash, dismiss, and misuse the Bible.
I find myself in a strange place. On one hand, I know the liberal view of the Bible would make the world I live in a better place. However, I cannot live with what I consider intellectual delusion or dishonesty. If we are going to have a discussion about the Bible then let’s have a discussion about what it SAYS rather than what we WANT it to say.
People don’t like it when I suggest that the God of the Old Testament is a mean, vindictive, self-centered, capricious son-of-a-bitch. “Bruce, you got to understand…..” No, actually, I don’t. I can read quite fine, thank you. Ironic ,isn’t it, that an atheist has a higher view of Scripture than many Christians?
Personally, I would like to see liberal Christians come out of the closet and declare their true agnosticism or atheism. I would like to see them turn their churches into humanist centers for ethical inquiry. They could even still talk about Jesus, the great moral teacher. Lots of good things in the Bible. Lots of abhorrent things too.
Once freed from the strictures of the sect they are a part of they would then be free to say, “this part of the Bible is antithetical to human progress, decency and freedom.”
The Bible is the problem and the answer is NOT to reinterpret it or explain it away. The world would be a lot better off if the Bible was relegated to the Great Works of Fiction or Ancient Philosophy shelves in the Library. A progressive society, a true liberal society, doesn’t need an antiquated religious text as its guide. Humanism can, and does, provide for us a way for forward.