Tag Archive: Progressive Christianity

Why I am Still in the Ministry — a Guest Post by John Calvin

guest post

In response to my request for guest posts from liberal/progressive Christians, a reader I’ll call John Calvin submitted a thoughtful post detailing why he still, to some degree, “believes.” John is currently a minister in a  mainline Calvinistic denomination. John feared his words would be seen as blatant hypocrisy, but I hope readers will listen carefully to what John is trying to say, and consider the deep emotional and psychological struggles he faces every day. I know more than a few liberal/progressive ministers read this blog, including some who are atheists/agnostics and still preaching on Sundays.  I appreciate John’s willingness to be honest about where he is in his life, and how he struggles with the existence of God. May his words be instructive and helpful.

I grew up in fundamentalism, the holiness variety, and was caught by all the claws of its well-designed trap. In my culturally deprived southern working-class environment, the church was essentially all I had. There was music — bad music, but it was music. There was poetry — bad poetry, but it was poetry. There was literature — bad literature, but it was literature. There was community, and it wasn’t bad. In a childhood of some moving around, the church became my hometown. It seemed full of warm, loving people. Now, though, after all these years, I greatly resent the fact that my spiritual life was entrusted to them. They should not have been in charge of it. Was the warmth and loving just one more tooth in the trap?

I’m sure I thought it was God’s will that I attend a denominational college; that I take a degree in Biblical Literature. I also married into the family of a pastor who used his fundamentalist conservatism as a weapon. Marriage among undergraduates in that school, especially for ministerial students, was almost expected. If you didn’t get married, you would probably end up having pre-marital sex, and there was nothing God hated more than that. After college, I went to the denominational seminary.

I never remember wanting or planning to be a pastor. You might say I didn’t take career planning nearly seriously enough. What I wanted was to understand the religion I found myself struggling to swim in. Being more of a seeker than was warmly welcomed at that seminary — where the truth, having once been delivered unto the saints, was already fully known, I transferred to an old, Eastern establishment seminary. The intellectual freedom I felt there was a wonderful breath of fresh air. By the time I graduated with my M.Div. I had departed my holiness denomination and become a pastor in a large, so-called “mainline” denomination. Frankly, I was worn out, had a family, was in debt, and didn’t know what else to do. (I was twenty-nine years old. I had started school at age four. I had taken a year off, twice, at different times, but essentially I had been going to school for twenty-five years. My diploma was written in Latin. I couldn’t read it. I still have no idea what the damn thing says. But it had better be good.)

A lot happened in subsequent decades. That large denomination I joined is a lot smaller now, partially, I’m sure, because of my feeble efforts. That cute little holiness preacher’s daughter I married, who could play the piano and sing like a bird (good one, not some crow or red-winged blackbird), told me she was embarrassed to tell people she was married to a minister, had a string of affairs, and finally left my sorry ass flopping in the dust.

I got out of the ministry for a while. Then I remarried, this time to a woman with no apparent pride and who didn’t mind being married to a minister, so I got back in. Now I am supposed to be retired, but I am still a part-time pastor, having the best time I ever had in the ministry. I wouldn’t have wanted to miss it. Most of the time I found being a pastor a painful and uncomfortable experience. (Hey, I never wanted to do it anyway, but the hooks were well set.)

Now, as to why I am still doing what I do. I guess I fit the definition of a progressive, liberal Christian, I prefer the term “cultural Christian,” which to me is analogous to someone being a cultural Jew rather than being a religious Jew. Some people might call me an atheist. I have called myself that on occasion, but only to myself. Whatever is left of my Christianity is bereft of any supernatural elements.

I understand the Bible to be the product of human beings, at its best a record of peoples’ interpretations of how God had worked among them. The Bible is clearly full of errors, contradictions, and outrageous mythological constructions. The idea of a perfect, inerrant Bible delivered by the hand of God is ludicrous.

While I believe it is possible that Jesus of Nazareth was not a historical person, I also believe it is possible that he was. If the things the New Testament says happened, it is amazing that none of Jesus’ contemporaries felt them important enough to mention, not even the matter of Jewish saints coming out of their tombs on the day of Jesus’ crucifixion. Seriously? No one thought to jot that down? “Hey! Guess what happened!” Still, it seems to me probable that there was a guy back there somewhere to build the legends around. Much of the New Testament is no doubt fiction, designed to present him as a divine prophesy-fulfilling miracle worker. Even so, I find the core of his teachings to be inspiring and, even if they are not totally original, potentially revolutionary. I think his teachings of love and compassion are especially needed in a world that is increasingly violent and hateful, most especially when so many of those who call themselves Christ-followers are enabling the hatred and violence. (“Christians have to keep telling people they’re Christians, otherwise no one would notice.”)

The Church that says it follows him is a humiliation and an embarrassment. It has done some good in the world, but it has done some horrendous things too. I am not convinced that Christianity is a net positive force in the world. If nothing else it is guilty of diverting peoples’ attention from important issues such as living with love and compassion, to minor ones. What the church most demonstrates is that humans are institution-building animals.

So, again, why do I keep doing what I do, and why would I have any hope of being anything other than a blatant hypocrite?

It does not take much to reach the realization that there is no big man in the sky, that the earth and its creatures were not zapped into existence 6,000 years ago. Still, almost every human culture has tried in some way to grasp something beyond itself. Some have called it “God.” That “something beyond” has had a powerful impact on humans and their histories. As it happens, more humans identify with Christianity than any other single religion, as they have been doing for 2,000 years. I think that’s significant. Even if it is an amazing shared delusion, is it not something that can be honored for what good it does contain, for what good it has done? Are we right when we say, “Well, all those people were idiots?” “Thank God, our intellect is so much better than theirs that we have it all figured out and can toss it all aside like ideas of a flat Earth or the belief that some chickens have lips.” Does not the tradition, if nothing else, deserve some honor?

Maybe none of that works. Honestly, I was at least a little uncomfortable writing it. But, as I said, I am a cultural Christian. This is where I was born. This is where my people are. We share history and ritual and community. I sit with them as they die. I pray with them then and there. Not because I am challenging God to alter the laws of the universe, but because I hope and think the prayer might help them. It is not about me. It is an act of service on my part, because the whole thing is so much bigger than me, and I am willing to accept the reality of mystery. I see no benefit in standing by a bed in a hospice and saying, “Well, I’m sorry you’re dying, but don’t expect God to hold your hand through this. You’re just gonna slip back into the darkness forever, so get over it.” I expect to slip back into the darkness forever, sooner rather than later, and I’m fine with that, but I don’t think I have a right to impose that on them, at least at that point. That work needed to be done a long time before that.

I do strive for authenticity in my preaching. I do not lie to people. I do not present the Bible as a magic book, but as a book written by real flesh and blood human beings. I do not pretend that Adam and Eve were real people. I straightforwardly acknowledge that evolution is true. At the same time, even though my cultural Christianity has lost its supernatural elements, I will never stand up on Easter morning and say, “Look folks, we know this never happened. Dead people don’t come back to life. If this was true we could at least expect the Gospels to get their stories straight.” I think of it as being respectful of people.

I do not encourage peoples’ belief in their mythological Father-God “up there” somewhere, and that the instant they die they’ll be reunited with their dead loved ones at Jesus’ feet by the crystal sea. Maybe I leave people to assume that I believe much of that just like they do, and maybe that all by itself makes me that blatant hypocrite. On the other hand, maybe that is what gives me the opportunity to move them along, little by little.

I genuinely care for the people in my parish. I embrace them with love. I try to educate them to have a better understanding of the Bible and what it means to be a Christian in these days, and I know that to some extent I succeed. I try, as gently as I can, to challenge their assumptions and presuppositions. I try to lead them to what I would like to believe is a more mature faith.

Sometimes, I think I must sound like a broken record, saying over and over, “Come on! Let’s live as Jesus said! With love and compassion.” I also feel like the voice of one crying in the wilderness when the vast majority of American Christians seem to be saying, “Screw that!”

I do not care about maintaining the institution of the church, which is too bad, because ultimately I believe that’s what parish ministry is all about.

I admit to being conflicted. Sometimes I think I would like to turn in my resignation and run out the door yelling, “Freedom!” I haven’t yet, and it is not because I’m getting paid. I do take the money, but if I stopped getting those big church bucks it wouldn’t change my life one bit. I guess I do it because for whatever reason it still matters to me. I’ve never been able to get those hooks out of me. I once asked a friend who seemed to have the same ambivalence about ministry that I had, after he had been fired as president of a seminary, “Would you do it again?” He said, “I would have to. It’s my curse.” I understood completely.

One thing for sure has happened. Here in my Calvinistic denomination, I have finally proved the truth of Arminianism. I have definitely lost my salvation. But, hey, heaven for the climate and hell for the company. Am I right?

“Those” Christians are Crazy: I’m Not That Kind of Christian

crazy christian

Cartoon by Adam Ford

This blog attracts all sorts of readers, from ardent Fundamentalists to atheists. I long ago stopped trying to figure out why this or that group reads my writing. I am just happy that ANYONE does. Most of my focus is on Evangelical Christianity. Liberal and progressive Christians, along with fringe Evangelicals, enjoy my critiques and takedowns of religious beliefs they consider insane. Such people will often leave comments that say, “Those Christians are crazy. I’m glad I am not that kind of Christian!” In their minds, Fundamentalists are crazy, and real Christians would never believe such things. Rejecting the God of wrath, liberal and progressive Christians assert that “God is love.” (1 John 4:8) Any belief that’s not consistent with “God is love” is wrong — regardless of what the Bible says. Thus, when Fundamentalists thunder and rage against sin, consigning billions of people to the flames of Hell, liberal and progressive Christians say, God is love! While I certainly appreciate the love and kindness injected into Christianity by such a view, I find it intellectually lacking. Only by dismissing or reinterpreting vast portions of the Bible can one come to the singular conclusion that God is love. God is “love,” but he is also a vindictive, mean, capricious son-of-a-bitch. Both Gods are in the Bible, but liberal and progressive Christians choose to ignore the latter. (And it could be argued that Christian Fundamentalists have lost all sense of God’s love.)

When Fundamentalists preach creationism or claim the earth is flat, liberal and progressive Christians rightly say, “those” Christians are crazy. Yet, when pressed on their own beliefs, most of them admit that they are to some degree or another theistic evolutionists. Seventy-five percent of the people of the United States believe that God, either by direct action or guided evolution, created the universe. (Please see Jerry Coyne’s post, Secularism on the rise: new Gallup poll shows that 40% of Americans are young-earth creationists, 33% are theistic evolutionists, and 22% are naturalistic evolutionists)  So, then, it seems that “crazy” is just a matter of degree. Sure, theistic evolution as a belief is better than nonsensically believing that the universe is 6,024 years old, but it is hardly a scientifically rigorous system of thought.

Fundamentalists are known for being literalists — people of the Book. They aren’t, but that’s how they perceive themselves. Fundamentalists, much like liberal and progressive believers, are cafeteria Christians. Down the Bible line they go, picking and choosing what they want to believe. This is why we have millions of Christianities and Jesuses. Each believer makes and molds Jesus in his or her own image. The only difference, really, between Fundamentalists and liberal/progressive Christians is the foods they put on their trays — each believing that their food choices best represent Jesus and historic Christianity. Good luck trying to figure out which group is right. While I prefer liberal and progressive Christianity due to its harmlessness, I find Christianity, in general, irrationally and intellectually stupefying. (Please see The Michael Mock Rule: It Just Doesn’t Make Sense.) I am convinced that more than a few liberal and progressive Christians are actually atheists/agnostics. Many liberal and progressive believers have jettisoned more of the Bible than did Thomas Jefferson, yet, for some reason, they hang on to Christianity. Fear? Family connections? The need for spirituality? I don’t know. I can’t speak to the reasons why people refuse to let go of the bones of faith. What I do wish they would do is at least be honest about their beliefs, hermeneutics, and how they rationalize the teachings of the Bible — rejecting literalism when it’s embarrassing, yet clinging to it when it comes to Jesus, saving faith, and life after death. And perhaps therein lies the crux of their faith: the need to believe that there is more to life than the here and now; that death is not the end.

Liberal and progressive Christians think Evangelicals are nuts. Who in their right minds believes as Fundamentalists do? liberals and progressives think. But, to those of us who are no longer Christians, we see craziness in Evangelicalism and liberal/progressive Christianity alike: a virgin teenager being impregnated by the Holy Ghost and giving birth to a God-man, that God-man working countless science-defying miracles, dying on a Roman cross, resurrecting from the dead, and ascending to Heaven. Every liberal and progressive Christian I know, along with every Evangelical, believes that Jesus was the Son of God, died for human sin, and resurrected from the dead. These three claims alone are, to unbelievers, absurd. So, when liberal and progressive believers say, “those” Christians are crazy, what atheists, agnostics, and unbelievers see is a matter of degree. We recognize the world is a better place the more liberal and progressive religions become, but we can’t ignore the “craziness” that is found in every system of faith.

To my liberal and progressive Christian readers, I say this: I would love to have you explain your worldview, how you understand the Bible, and what hermeneutics you use to interpret the Bible. I would love for you to explain to readers how you make Christianity work for you. I mean it. I am more than willing to grant you the floor and let you explain why you still believe. I am certain that the unbelievers who frequent this blog will give you a fair hearing and treat you with love and respect. We fight a common enemy — Fundamentalism. On that, we can agree. All I am asking for is for liberal and progressive Christians who are willing to do so, to explain “why” they continue to put their faith and trust in Jesus — and by extension Christianity. If you would like to write a guest post, please send your submission to me via the Contact form.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Does God Hate People?

tim-conway-god-hates-you

Does God hate people? Liberal and progressive Christians say, ABSOLUTELY NOT! GOD LOVES EVERYONE! Much like their Evangelical brethren, they appeal to the Bible (and personal feelings) to prove their beliefs. In their minds, the essence of God is his love for his creation. Personally, I like this flavor of Christianity. Loving self and others is a good thing. The problem with it and all other peculiar interpretations of the Bible that it is come to by ignoring what other verses say. The Bible is a hopelessly contradictory book, and it can be used to prove almost anything. Take Tim Conway, pastor of Grace Community Church in San Antonio, Texas. I was Tim’s pastor for a time in the 1990s. He is a diehard, fire-breathing Fundamentalist Calvinist. Tim reads the same the Bible as liberals and progressives do and concludes that God not only hates sin, he hates those who do it. I will let Tim share with you his view on the matter. The video is short, so I hope you will take the time to watch it.

Video Link

If you read the comments on this video, you will see that Christians are quite divided over Tim’s hate message. And that is the point of this post. The Bible is inexhaustible to the degree that it can be used as proof for countless competing beliefs. This alone is proof enough for the bankruptcy of Christianity. If Christians can’t even agree on the basics: salvation, baptism, communion, and can’t agree on whether God hates or loves sinners, why should unbelievers bother to give Christianity a moment’s notice? The Bible says that there is ONE Lord, ONE Faith, and ONE Baptism, yet thousands of Christian sects, each differing with the other, suggest otherwise.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Quote of the Day: Atheists and Progressive Christians Must Work Together for the Common Good by Sarahbeth Caplin

work togetherLately, it’s occurred to me that progressive-leaning Christians like myself have more in common with atheists right now than with white evangelicals, the ones who, overwhelmingly, will stop at nothing to see the United States turn into a theocracy, using Margaret Atwood‘s The Handmaid’s Tale as a handbook rather than as a cautionary tale.

Religious beliefs aside, atheists and progressive Christians need each other during these uncertain times. Our politics, if nothing else, are more alike than they are different. You don’t need to share spirituality to understand the consequences of enforcing so-called “bathroom safety” laws that target transgender people, rejecting climate change, allowing businesses to deny women’s health care, or allowing Creationism to be taught alongside evolution in public schools. As citizens, we all have common adversaries, among them faith-based ignorance and bigotry. As human beings, we also have common causes worth uniting for: freedom and education.

— Sarahbeth Caplin, The Friendly Atheist, Atheists and Progressive Christians Must Work Together to Fight Evangelicals, November 26, 2017

Annihilationism: Feel-Good Doctrine for Nice Christians 

john lennon imagine

Many Christians — especially those of a liberal/progressive bent — now believe that non-Christians will be annihilated after death. Queasy over the notion of their “Loving” God eternally torturing unbelievers in hell, these Christians say that God will instead obliterate non-Christians, wiping them from the pages of human existence. Some Protestant Christians think unbelievers will be tortured for a certain amount of time, and then, having satisfied God’s torture-lust, will be burned up and remembered no more.

While it is certainly possible to selectively read and interpret the Bible and conclude that God will annihilate non-Christians, the historic Christian position remains God torturing conscious people for eternity. In recent years, thanks to authors such as Greg Boyd, Clark Pinnock, and John Stott, Evangelicals have become more sympathetic towards annihilationism. The question I want to raise in this post is WHY they have become more sympathetic to this view.

What causes staunch, Bible-believing Evangelicals to abandon the doctrine of endless punishment? Have they changed their view as a result of diligently studying the Bible? While I am sure that some Evangelicals have abandoned this doctrine for intellectual reasons, the real reason is more emotional in nature. By carefully examining increasing Evangelical support for same-sex marriage, I think we can understand why many Evangelicals no longer think non-believers will be eternally tortured in hell (actually the Lake of Fire). Younger Evangelicals — having watched their parents and grandparents turn Evangelicalism into one of the most hated American religions — want to put a kinder, gentler face on Christianity. Many of them — deeply affected by postmodern thinking — have moved leftward, away from the culture war and the endless battles over doctrine. No longer wanting to be viewed in a negative light, younger Evangelicals strive to be accepted by the world. More accepting of evolution and science, tolerant, temperate Evangelicals genuinely want to be liked by others — bristling when lumped in with culture warriors and Fundamentalists.

john piper annihilationism

These worldly Evangelicals know and associate with people older Evangelicals have, in times past, consigned to the flames of hell. It is hard for them to look at Lesbian Angela, Gay Harper, and Atheist Laura and think these friends of theirs will be endlessly tortured by God. As in the case of gays and same-sex marriage, once people actually meet and know people who are happy unbelievers, their viewpoint often changes as well. Their parents and grandparents — fearing contamination by the “world” — walled themselves off from the influences of non-Christians. Younger Evangelicals — often educated at secular colleges — are more comfortable among non-Christians. Once exposed to the “world,” it is unlikely they will return to the Fundamentalism of their Evangelical forefathers.

As atheists, should we be appreciative that some Evangelicals think God will annihilate us some day, and not endlessly torture us? Ponder for a moment the fact that many annhilationists think God will — for a time — torture unbelievers before turning them into ash heaps. How is this really any better than eternal hellfire and damnation? The fact remains that the Christian God will reward or punish people based on beliefs. Believe the right things and a home in heaven awaits. Believe the wrong things and God will erase your name from the book of the living. I get it…many Evangelicals are tired of being viewed as mean and hateful, and Liberal and Progressive Christians are weary of being lumped together with Fundamentalists. However, the fact remains that annihilation is a form of punishment reserved for those who are members of the wrong religious club. This means that good people will be burnt to a crisp for no other reason than that their God was some other deity but Jesus. Forgive me if I don’t find such beliefs “comforting.”

Here’s the good news. Many Christians, having tried on annihilationism for a time, eventually realize that it is just endless punishment-lite. Once annihilationism is abandoned, universalism awaits. All paths now lead to eternal bliss, so there is no need to evangelize or argue doctrine. Imagine a world without theocratic demands of fealty, arguments over theology, or threats of God’s judgment. Why, such a world would be heaven on earth — a heaven where even atheists are welcome.

Why Evangelical Influence is Diminishing

fear mongers

Evangelicals are having an identity crisis. Sensing that they are losing their grip on the American political and cultural scene, notable Evangelicals increasingly resort to fear-mongering and shrill rhetoric in an attempt to remind the public that they are still alive and kicking. I read a number of Evangelical blogs and news sites. I have noticed in recent months, especially since the legalization of same-sex marriage, Evangelicals have become increasingly agitated over American politics. If I didn’t know any better, I would conclude that, based on their articles and emails, Evangelicals believe that the United States is on the verge of total collapse. Some Evangelicals think secularists and socialists will soon take over America, resulting in civil war.

The recent demise of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has stirred up a new round of hysteria. Fearing that President Obama will nominate a left-leaning judge, Evangelicals are asking their congressional leaders to abdicate their constitutional responsibilities and stop the nomination process. Some of the talking heads on the extreme right of Evangelicalism are suggesting that Scalia was murdered by Obama operatives, paving the way for the socialist takeover of the Supreme Court.

Part of me wonders if uproar over Scalia, same-sex marriage, Planned Parenthood, and the 2016 Presidential election is really all about keeping Evangelicals in the fold. People such as Franklin Graham, Tim Wildmon, Tony Perkins, and James Dobson know that Evangelicalism is losing young adults at an alarming rate. Even when young adults remain in the church, they are more likely to support same-sex marriage and abortion rights and are more likely to vote Democrat. These liberal-minded Evangelicals helped put Barack Obama in office in 2008 and 2012. Knowing they cannot retreat from the culture war, Evangelical parachurch groups increasingly resort to using methods meant to keep their supporters in a constant state of spiritual and political agitation. Anything that is perceived as an “attack” on Evangelical Christianity is quickly reported and added to daily email missives sent to supporters. From the war on Christmas to cries of religious persecution, Evangelical leaders paint a dire picture of the future for American Christians. Some even go so far as to suggest that Evangelicals will soon be rounded up and jailed for their beliefs.

One thing is certain, stirring up the faithful is the key to raising money. Evangelical pastors and leaders of parachurch groups frequently remind supporter of the secular/humanist/atheist/socialist/communist/liberal threat. If Evangelicals fail to support these beacons of hysteria, America is doomed. Evangelicals such as Franklin Graham and Tony Perkins are warning supporters that if Bernie Sanders wins the election, the United States will cease to be a democracy and constitutional protections will be lost. Appealing to the Fox News demographic, these preachers of gloom and doom warn that secularists will not rest until they have upended the first and second amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

Evangelicals see groups such as the Freedom from Religion FoundationAmerican Atheists, and the American Humanist Association challenging government’s preferential treatment of Christianity and Evangelicals wrongly think that their rights and freedoms are under attack. They are not, as any constitutional scholar can tell them. What is happening is that secularists, atheists, humanists, Satanists, and other non-Christian groups are no longer willing to let Christianity unduly influence local, state, and federal government. These groups are no longer willing to idly stand by while Evangelicals trample the First Amendment, Establishment Clause, and the separation of church and state. No longer willing to lurk in the shadows of American life, non-Christians are asserting their right to be heard. Thanks to the internet, these formerly marginalized groups have found their voices. Non-Christians, once a scattered demographic, can now join together in the fight against those clamoring for a Christian theocracy.

It should not surprise us then that aging Evangelical leaders are scared by what they see taking place on the American political and religious scene. I am sure that privately some of these leaders are wondering whether Evangelicalism is dying. Can it be resurrected? they wonder. Or is the sun setting on the movement birthed in the fundamentalist-modernist war of the 1920s? I wonder if they will dare to ponder where things went wrong?  Will they conclude that selling their souls to the Republican party and attempting to win the culture war at any price has cost them their future? Or will they continue to demand that people pay attention to them? Dammit! We are relevant! We still matter!  Mess with us and  we will_________. Will what? Send out voters guides that are little more than endorsements of Republican candidates for office? Write blog posts? Write editorials? Hold rallies? Aren’t these the things that Evangelicals have been doing since the days Jerry Falwell birthed the Moral Majority? Yet, their support base continues to erode and grow more gray hair.

Generally, Evangelical pastors and parachurch groups have supported climate change denial, creationism, and racist Republican policies concerning immigration. Their support of these things puts them at odds with younger Evangelicals who think science and social justice issues are important. Younger Evangelicals are increasingly embarrassed by the  political, social, and scientific ignorance of their pastors and leaders. These policies also put them at odds with those who are not Christians — the very people Evangelicals feel duty-bound to evangelize.

So what should Evangelical pastors, parachurch groups, and universities do to stem the decline of Evangelicalism?

It is time for Evangelicals to drive a wooden stake through the heart of the culture war. Evangelical leaders stubbornly refuse to admit  that the 35-year culture war has weakened churches, alienated people, and turned Evangelicalism into a group that is roundly despised by non-Evangelicals. I recently wrote a post titled, The Christian God has an Optics Problem. This optics problem extends to Evangelical churches.

Evangelicals wrongly think that people hate them because of their beliefs. While this perception is to some degree true, what most people despise is how Evangelicals incessantly prattle about homosexuality, same-sex marriage, abortion, fornication, and adultery. In other words, people are sick of Evangelicals sticking their noses in what goes on in the privacy of non-believers’ bedrooms. They are tired of Evangelicals beating them over the head with the Bible, all the while failing to practice what they preach. Non-Christians see daily reports of Evangelical pastors and church leaders who have a problem keeping their pants zipped up. They read reports about Evangelical sex scandals and child abuse problems. They wonder, who are these people who think they have a right to say to Americans, “do as I say, not as I do?”

While some on the Evangelical-left have reinterpreted the Bible, making it more homosexual friendly, most Evangelicals are unwilling to condone same-sex carnal knowledge and marriage. Driven by a pathological fear and hatred of homosexuals, most Evangelicals are incapable of seeing same-sex relationships as loving and life-affirming. Now that most Americans support same-sex marriage and know people who are homosexuals, Evangelicals are forced to either double down and continue to fight against progress or surrender what they consider the moral high ground. Sadly, Evangelicals, for the most part, are unwilling to cede Mount Morality to what they perceive are the whims of American postmodernism. In failing to understand how much American thinking has changed, Evangelicals have relegated themselves to fringes of American society.

Those on the Evangelical left also reject the anti-science views of mainstream Evangelicals. They are increasingly embarrassed by Evangelical monuments to ignorance such as the Creation Museum and The Ark Encounter. These left-leaning Evangelicals, many of whom are under the age of 35, want churches and leaders who embrace science. They want leaders who are willing to banish creationism and its ancient sheepherder ignorance to the dustbin of human history. These modern Evangelicals have embraced evolution and love modern preachers of science such as Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye. Most of all, these Evangelicals are allies of progress.

I am of the opinion that mainstream Evangelicals will never embrace those on the left of the Evangelical tradition. They can’t. They have too much political, social, and theological capital invested in maintaining the status quo. To move beyond the certainty of their beliefs means admitting that they are wrong. It means admitting that the culture war was as every bit as disastrous as America’s wars in the Middle East. Since it is doubtful that mainstream Evangelicals will admit these things, perhaps it is time for left-leaning Evangelicals to exit stage left and move on to the friendlier confines of liberal and progressive Christianity. While I have numerous problems with how liberal Christians interpret the Bible, I have no doubt that this infusion of young blood into the church will benefit everyone but Evangelical churches, whose favorite hymn is I Shall Not be Moved:

I shall not be, I shall not be moved;
I shall not be, I shall not be moved;
Just like a tree that’s planted by the waters,
Lord, I shall not be moved.

I have no doubt that the next year is crucial for Evangelical culture warriors. Sensing that their grip on American culture is slipping, many Evangelical pastors, parachurch leaders, and government officeholders are calling on Evangelicals to rebel against the federal government, going so far as to encourage people to deliberately break the law. Pastors are being encouraged to endorse specific candidates, putting them in direct conflict with federal laws prohibiting such endorsements. Since the IRS has been obscenely lax in prosecuting pastors and churches who violate the law, these so-called patriot pastors rightly assume that they can violate the laws governing religious nonprofits. While it is likely the IRS will ignore these lawbreakers, their lawlessness could prove to be deadly to Evangelicalism. Surrendering the high moral ground for the sake of political power will only further alienate Evangelical young adults and non-Christians. If mainstream Evangelicals fail to win the presidency and turn America back to the right, their cultural death is assured.

The David of progress and tolerance will slay the Evangelical Goliath of bigotry and extremism. Secularists and non-Christians will rejoice over the giant’s death, ever aware that there will be other fundamentalist warriors to stand in Goliath’s stead. Every generation will have to fight its own Goliath. Those of us who value secular progress and tolerance must always be vigilant. While throwing the last shovel of dirt on Evangelicalism’s rotting corpse, we must be cognizant of other ism’s that threaten our future. We dare not rest, thinking the battle is over.

Ice Cream: What Evangelical, Progressive, and Liberal Christianity Have in Common

ice cream flavorsOne of the common complaints Christian critics throw my way is that I paint with too broad a brush. When I disparage or critique Christianity, my critics get upset because I’m lumping all Christians together. I should be more specific when I write about Christianity, they say. I’m not sure what they expect me to do. Should I every time I use the word Christian, modify the word so everyone knows what domain, kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species of Christian I’m talking about? Sorry, but there’s not enough time in the day to do so. Besides, Christianity is not as divided as the warring parties would have you believe. It’s easy to assume, as we watch the internecine warfare between Baptists and Catholics and Calvinists and Arminians and Evangelicals and Progressives, that they have nothing in common. However, the differences are not as big as they appear to be.

For example, progressive Christians tend to think of Evangelicals as fundamentalist crazies and Evangelicals tend to view progressives as weak-kneed, jello-on-a-stick compromisers of the teachings of the Bible. Listen to both parties talk and it is easy to conclude that they are polar opposites of one another. However, once the peripheral issues causing their disagreement are set aside, it’s easy to then see that the Evangelical and progressive Christian have a lot in common. Let me prove my contention.

The Evangelical follows a path that looks something like this:

  • The Bible is the inspired Word of God. It is truth.
  • The Christian God is the one, true God.
  • Jesus is divine.
  • Jesus is the son of God.
  • Jesus came to earth and was born of a virgin.
  • Jesus worked miracles while on earth.
  • Humans are sinners in need of salvation and forgiveness,
  • Jesus died on the cross to atone for humanity’s sin.
  • Jesus resurrected from the dead three days later.
  • Jesus ascended back to heaven and will some day return to earth.
  • Jesus offers salvation and the forgiveness of sin to all who will put their faith in him.
  • Those who accept this offer go to heaven when they die.
  • Those who don’t accept this offer go to hell when they die

The progressive Christian follows a path that looks something like this:

  • The Bible is, to some degree, inspired and contains truth.
  • The Christian God is the one, true God
  • Jesus is divine.
  • Jesus is the son of God.
  • Jesus came to earth and may or may not have been born of a virgin.
  • Jesus worked miracles while on earth.
  • Humans are sinners in need of salvation and forgiveness,
  • Jesus died on the cross to atone for humanity’s sin.
  • Jesus resurrected from the dead three days later.
  • Jesus ascended back to heaven and will some day return to earth.
  • Jesus offers salvation and the forgiveness of sin to all who will put their faith in him.
  • Those who accept this offer go to heaven when they die.
  • Those who don’t accept this offer might go to hell when they die or they might be annihilated.

As you can see, the Evangelical and the progressive Christian have a lot in common. These two parties tend to fuss and fight over the nature of the Bible, whether the virgin birth was necessary, whether Christianity is exclusive, and whether non-Christians go to hell when they die. Apart from these things, they are kissing cousins.

What adds to the confusion is that many Christians think fundamentalism and Evangelicalism are not the same. As I made clear in the post, Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?, all Evangelicals are theological fundamentalists and most of them are also social fundamentalists. Press an Evangelical who objects to being called a fundamentalist about his beliefs and he will eventually show his true colors. Fine, an Evangelical may often say. At least I’m not a legalist like other Evangelicals, so that means I’m not really a fundamentalist. I smile at this point and say, are you sure about that? Are you sure you aren’t, to some degree, a social fundamentalist?  Here’s what I had to say about this issue in Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?:

Social fundamentalism focuses on the conduct, lifestyle, and social engagement of the Christian. An Evangelical looks at the rules, standards, and negativity of an IFB church that proudly claims the fundamentalist moniker and says, SEE I am NOT a Fundamentalist. I don’t believe in legalism (demanding a Christian live a certain way). I believe in grace and I leave it to God to change how a person lives.

This sounds good, doesn’t it? However, when you start to poke around a bit, you will find that almost every Evangelical is a social fundamentalist. The only difference between Evangelicals is to what degree they are. This can be quickly proved by asking people who think they are a non-fundamentalist Evangelicals a few questions. Questions like:

  • Can a practicing homosexual be a Christian?
  • Can a homosexual man be a deacon or pastor in your church?
  • Can a same-sex couple work in the nursery together?
  • Do think it is OK for unmarried heterosexuals to engage in sexual activity?
  • Can a cohabiting heterosexual couple be a member of your church?
  • Do you think it is morally right for a woman to wear a skimpy outfit to church?
  • Is it ever right to have an abortion?
  • Do you think smoking marijuana is OK?
  • Do you think it OK for your pastor to smoke cigars and drink alcohol at the local bar?
  • Is it OK for someone, in the privacy of their home, to become inebriated?

By asking these questions, and a number of other ones, you will quickly find out that non-fundamentalist Evangelicals are social fundamentalists after all. They may jeer and laugh at the crazy, extreme rules and standards of the IFB church, but they too have their own set of non-negotiable social standards. They, like their IFB brethren, are social fundamentalists.

I am sure some Evangelicals will be sure to argue that their social fundamentalism, like their theological fundamentalism, come straight from the Bible. Of course, ALL Evangelicals think their beliefs come straight from the Bible. The IFB pastor has a proof-text for everything he preaches against, as does the I-am-NOT-a fundamentalist-Evangelical-pastor. Both believe the Bible is truth, an inspired, inerrant, supernatural text. The only difference between them is their interpretation of the Bible.

No Evangelicals yet have successfully challenged my contention that they are fundamentalist. What often confuses the matter is progressive and liberal Christians who, out of fear or complacency, still affiliate with the Evangelical church. While I recognize such people exist, they are Evangelical in name only.

What complicates matters further is those who are to the left of progressive Christianity, those who are commonly called liberals. Liberals are quite hard to pin down belief-wise. They often despise Evangelicalism and even take issue with certain aspects of progressive Christianity, yet when pressed about their own beliefs, their interlocutors find out that nailing down liberal beliefs are like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall.  There seems to be no theological hill they’re willing to die on, no belief, save that Jesus is their Lord and Savior, they aren’t willing to jettison if called on to do so. Those who have been riding Bruce’s crazy train for a long time might remember a frequent commenter by the name of Grace. She was a liberal Episcopalian. While she said she accepted the ecumenical creeds as statements of her faith, there was little, belief-wise, that she held dear. It was frustrating to interact with Grace because it was almost impossible to find common ground with her. God is love, Grace would say, and I’d reply, explain this so-called God of love to me in light of this same God destroying the entire human race, save eight, with a flood.  From my perspective, the notion of a God of love that wipes everyone off the face of the earth makes no sense. In Grace’s mind, making sense wasn’t important. All that mattered is that God is love.

From an intellectual perspective, I can understand Evangelicalism. Beliefs are clearly defined. But, with the liberal Christian, it seems that all they have as the cornerstone of their belief is the notion that God is love and Jesus is the personification of that love. Certainly I’m being simplistic, but I’d love for some liberal Christians to explain to me exactly what beliefs matter to them. What  beliefs are nonnegotiable? Every liberal I know thinks the Bible is a book of great stories and metaphors, yet they hold on tight to the notion that Jesus is who Christianity says he is and he is their savior. The liberal throws away the Old Testament and paints Paul as a misogynistic control freak. Book after book is relegated to the dung pile of human ignorance. All that is left is a selection of writings from the gospels and maybe the book of Acts. While liberals love to appeal to antiquity for support of their supposedly enlightened view, I’ve yet to stumble across this view in the writings of the early church fathers. Liberals, with one foot firmly planted in the modern world and its repudiation of much of what Evangelicals hold dear, want to hang on to Jesus, so they grab for beliefs they can hold on to and still be considered Christian.

To the liberal Christian I ask:

  • Is belief in the Christian God important?
  • Is everyone a sinner?
  • Does everyone need the forgiveness of sins and salvation?
  • Is Jesus in any way divine?
  • Was Jesus’s death necessary?
  • Did Jesus resurrect from the dead?
  • Where is Jesus now?
  • Is there a heaven? a hell? What determines who goes where after death?
  • Do all roads lead to heaven?

These are questions that many liberals prefer not to answer or think they are unimportant. In their minds, it’s all about Jesus. They are, in many ways, no different from some Evangelicals who say, Christianity is a relationship, not a religion. To the liberal, Jesus, along with the communal aspects of the church, is very important. Everything else is just noise.

Here’s what I think about the matter. Many liberal Christians are actually universalists, agnostics, or atheists. They like the idea of church, of belonging to a congregation. Everyone would agree that religion in general gives people a sense of purpose, meaning, and connection. It is this that really matters to the liberal.

When I take a step back and look at the broad expanse called Christianity, I see diversity. But, when I peel away all the issues that make Christianity diverse, I’m left with one thing: Jesus. Evangelicals, progressive, liberals, and everything in between, all love and worship Jesus. And where does this belief in Jesus originate? In the pages of the Bible. Without the Bible, there would be no Jesus or Christianity. While Evangelicals, progressives, and liberals bitterly snipe at each other over the nature and authority of the Bible, all agree that the Jesus they love and worship is found within its pages. And once this fact is admitted, then all of them are in the position to understand why I, and others like me, are not Christian. Whatever my backstory might be, the foundation of my unbelief is the Bible. Every Christian-turned-atheist I know says the same. We all have stories we can tell about our experiences as Christians, but at the end of the day, our deconversion rests on our belief that the Bible narrative is not true, that Jesus is not who Christians claim he is, and that the Christian God is just one of many Gods humans have created.

It’s taken me 2,000 words to say this. Please forgive me for not distinguishing between all the flavors of Christian ice cream. When I look at the ice cream case, I see all sorts of flavors, but they all have one thing in common; they are ALL ice cream. So it is with Christianity. While I find the various theological squabbles entertaining and fodder for blog posts, when I peel away all the beliefs that make the various sects and believers unique, I’m left with one truth: all Christians put their faith and trust in Jesus and worships him. I’m not inclined to spend much time making sure every post I write about Christianity says exactly which flavor I’m talking about. If it’s evident that I’m not talking about your flavor of Christianity, by all means ignore what I’ve said. In time, I will get around to your flavor, and then I’m sure you’ll complain that I don’t understand or that I am misrepresenting your version of the faith once delivered to the saints.

Notes

Roman Catholicism also have fundamentalist, progressive, and liberal wings.

Yes, I am aware that there are as many shades of Christianity as there wall color chips in the paint department at the local Lowe’s. That said, every Christian falls somewhere along the line between Evangelical and liberal.

[signoff]

Evangelical Culture Warriors Find New Enemy

slide into modernism

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex-marriage, handing Evangelical culture warriors a bitter defeat. Unless they can figure out how to remove several Supreme Court justices or amend the U.S. Constitution, Evangelicals must live with the fact that same-sex marriage is legal.

The culture war pits Evangelicalism, along with Mormonism and conservative Catholicism,  against any societal ill considered by Evangelicals to be a sin against God or a move away from Christian nationalism. Now that they have lost the homosexual/same-sex marriage battle, Evangelicals must find another enemy to fight against. According to Think Progress writer Jack Jenkins,  the new enemy is liberal/progressive Christianity: (link no longer active)

For decades, conservative Christians who oppose LGBT equality have singled out the federal government or secular atheists as their preferred enemy in public settings, blasting both groups for supposedly attacking “traditional marriage” or infringing on their religious liberty. Yet in the months surrounding the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision to legalize same-sex marriage across the country, right-wing Christians have become increasingly willing to cast blame — seemingly hypocritically — on a group they have often dismissed or outright ignored: Progressive Christians, especially those who support marriage equality.

The first hints of a growing front against liberal Christians came in May, when a coalition of conservative churches in Fountain Hills, Arizona publicly ganged up on a local progressive Methodist community. Unhappy with the church’s teachings, eight congregations launched a campaign entitled “Progressive Christianity: Fact or Fiction?,” a coordinated teaching and preaching series that included op-eds, a half-page advertisement in a local newspaper, and a massive banner with “progressive” written in jagged red letters and hemmed in quotation marks.

“The progressives are at it again, and for a small fee you can join the primary proponent of this apostate religious movement to get answers,” Tony Pierce, a pastor of First Baptist Church of Fountain Hills and one of the participants in the effort, wrote in a letter to the editor. “The good thing about the progressive movement is it gives people a clear choice. The ironic thing about progressive Christianity is that it is neither!”

The source of their outrage? Rev. David Felten, the left-leaning pastor of Fountains United Methodist Church. He reportedly stoked ire by preaching a variety of progressive concepts to his parishioners, such as theological support for interfaith dialogue, scientific discovery, and, of course, LGBT equality.

Felten, like many progressive Christians, was used to criticism for his views — he has even published a book about progressive Christianity. But the intensity of the local attack — which included churches from denominations that are generally more liberal than his own United Methodist Church — caught him off guard.

This same sentiment reemerged in June in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of marriage equality in Obergefell v. Hodges, which was gleefully celebrated by a host of progressive faith groups. Just a few days after the decision, Kevin DeYoung, a pastor in East Lansing, Michigan, published a blog post at the Gospel Coalition entitled “40 Questions For Christians Now Waving Rainbow Flags” that quickFor decades, conservative Christians who oppose LGBT equality have singled out the federal government or secular atheists as their preferred enemy in public settings, blasting both groups for supposedly attacking “traditional marriage” or infringing on their religious liberty. Yet in the months surrounding the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision to legalize same-sex marriage across the country, right-wing Christians have become increasingly willing to cast blame — seemingly hypocritically — on a group they have often dismissed or outright ignored: Progressive Christians, especially those who support marriage equality.

The first hints of a growing front against liberal Christians came in May, when a coalition of conservative churches in Fountain Hills, Arizona publicly ganged up on a local progressive Methodist community. Unhappy with the church’s teachings, eight congregations launched a campaign entitled “Progressive Christianity: Fact or Fiction?,” a coordinated teaching and preaching series that included op-eds, a half-page advertisement in a local newspaper, and a massive banner with “progressive” written in jagged red letters and hemmed in quotation marks.

“The progressives are at it again, and for a small fee you can join the primary proponent of this apostate religious movement to get answers,” Tony Pierce, a pastor of First Baptist Church of Fountain Hills and one of the participants in the effort, wrote in a letter to the editor. “The good thing about the progressive movement is it gives people a clear choice. The ironic thing about progressive Christianity is that it is neither!”
The source of their outrage? Rev. David Felten, the left-leaning pastor of Fountains United Methodist Church. He reportedly stoked ire by preaching a variety of progressive concepts to his parishioners, such as theological support for interfaith dialogue, scientific discovery, and, of course, LGBT equality.

Felten, like many progressive Christians, was used to criticism for his views — he has even published a book about progressive Christianity. But the intensity of the local attack — which included churches from denominations that are generally more liberal than his own United Methodist Church — caught him off guard.

This same sentiment reemerged in June in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of marriage equality in Obergefell v. Hodges, which was gleefully celebrated by a host of progressive faith groups. Just a few days after the decision, Kevin DeYoung, a pastor in East Lansing, Michigan, published a blog post at the Gospel Coalition entitled “40 Questions For Christians Now Waving Rainbow Flags” that quicly spread through conservative and progressive Christian circles. Many of the inquiries were phrased in an accusatory manner, harping on old tropes that LGBT parents harm children and that supporters of marriage equality also support polygamy: “Do you think children do best with a mother and a father?” question 14 asked, followed by, “Do you think close family members should be allowed to get married?” and “On what basis, if any, would you prevent consenting adults of any relation and of any number from getting married?”

The post launched a heated war of words between progressive and conservative Christians, including LGBT evangelical Protestants such as Matthew Vines, who published his own list of 40 counter-questions in response. It, predictably, triggered spirited retorts from traditionalist conservatives.

But while DeYoung’s post was at least framed as an attempt at theological dialogue, other subsequent critiques of progressive faith have abandoned conversation for castigation. In mid-July, Peter Leithart, a Reformed theologian and head of the right-leaning Theopolis Institute, penned a piece in First Things that bemoaned the Court’s decision and explicitly asked conservatives to condemn LGBT-affirming Christians.

“Most important is what happens in the churches,” Leithart writes. “Even before Obergefell, some churches were making peace with same-sex marriage. Now that same-sex marriage is law, the tribe of ‘Good Churches’ will increase, and the division in the churches over sexual morality will sharpen. Many leaders, churches, and denominations have condemned the Court’s decision, and more will; but others support it, and we have no trans-denominational mechanism to adjudicate between them.”

Saying what’s right is necessary, but it’s not enough. Pastors need to be willing to say that other churches [that support marriage equality] are wrong, and dangerously so.”

Granted, conservative Christian denunciation of people who hold different beliefs than they do isn’t exactly a new phenomenon. Organizations such as the Institute on Religion and Democracy, which has spent years lobbying against LGBT equality from within several Christian denominations, have long sought the eradication of liberal theology. Right-leaning Catholics and evangelical Christian leaders such as Franklin Graham have repeatedly made sweeping claims as to what “Christians” believe, implying that people of faith who don’t share their views are not, in fact, Christians. What’s more, faith communities — conservative or otherwise — have lashed out at each other almost since their inception, so it’s not necessarily surprising that conservative Christians, having lost legal battles over LGBT issues, are now sliding into a theological debate with fellow believers.

Yet the newest push against liberal Christianity appears hypocritical, as it coincides with a massive campaign waged by various right-wing Christians to insist that the political left respect their “religious liberty” — namely, the right to deny jobs and services to LGBT people in the public sphere, private business, and in Christian schools by invoking faith. Within hours of the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage, Andrew Walker, Director of Policy Studies at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, began insisting that the decision will only lead to the erosion of religious liberty — for evangelical Christians.

“Slowly and surely, Americans are now witnessing a slow erosion of religious liberty happening in the public square,” he wrote. “From backlash at expressing a belief about marriage that results in dismissal, to the real fear that institutions that desire to maintain accreditation may not be able to do so, the concerns registered in the past are being catapulted into the present.”…

You can read the entire article here. (link no longer active)

Songs of Sacrilege: Progressive Christmas Carols by Jon Cozart

This is the fifth installment in the Songs of Sacrilege series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a song that is irreverent towards religion, makes fun of religion, pokes fun at sincerely held religious beliefs, or challenges the firmly held religious beliefs of others, please leave the name the song in the comment section or send me an email.

Today’s Song of Sacrilege is Progressive Christmas Carols by Jon Cozart. You can follow Jon, AKA Paint, on Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook.

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