Modern evangelical conservatism is creating a surge in liberalism. Unlike many headlines, my provocative statement is not an overstatement device simply intended to garner your attention. Though I hope I have your attention, because this is a very important observation for which I have great hope in seeing this trend reversed. In fact, my thoughts are often arrested trying to solve the puzzle of this all-too-common occurrence.
While a great deal more thought is required, I will share the insight I have thus far. Some I have shared before because it is ever present on my mind. My writing returns to it again and again as of late.
Avoid the Extremes
The more extreme our perspectives become the more nuance is discarded. When our worldview reduces to the party line it becomes combative of the other party to an extent that any common ground is lost. We stand on opposite sides with a large gulf separating us leaving no room for interchange. We create the false idea that we cannot come to any agreement together. Polarized thinking requires that we label any idea that takes any step towards the other party as joining the other party. I am not advocating a middle of the road merging of two extremes – but a return to thoughtful argumentation which requires exploration and understanding of the worldviews we do not hold as our own.
We conservatives are quick to denounce someone as “woke”, “progressive” or “liberal” when all he or she is doing is loving their neighbors and making space for them. It is possible to be Christian and not alienate the people we have deep disagreements with. There may be something valuable in the “offending perspective” that we may not be able to see on our side of life. But the effort extended to explore brings with it a swift rebuke from the crowd that says no you cannot help by giving “them” a voice and still be one of “us.”
Learning from Atheists
I once spent several years conversing on-line with atheists. I came to realize that Christians were not going to reach this group very well because we did not understand them. I had read plenty of apologetics books on atheism but getting to know atheists gave me new understanding. Knowing became personal and not merely book knowledge. Much to my surprise I found that the best way to serve their needs was to defend them to Christians. This may sound absurd, but it’s precisely what I did. To this day, when I hear Christians speaking about atheism without real knowledge of what atheists are like I jump in to paint a picture, so they do not do more harm than good. Suddenly, I was a friend of sinners. Saints were not too happy about that. I had to block Christians from my blog site who were not being respectful in their dialog with my atheist friends. I would not stand for Christians to say things that smacked of religious superiority or rudeness. I took the ire of the Christians upon myself protecting the atheists from their immaturity.
What if we are distancing ourselves from and denouncing Christians who are only doing what I was doing? Beth Moore is a conservative godly Christian woman who began to give a voice to those who are trampled on because they do not fit the now narrow polarized mold of conservative talking points. But that is not acceptable to many Christian voices. To be a friend of the “outcasts” she, like Jesus, faces the ire of the “in-crowd.”
When we insist upon strict adherence to group think we run the risk of people leaving the group to be free to follow the Lord. I am seeing more and more conservative evangelicals dabbling in progressivism desperately looking for something more loving than what they are ready to leave behind. I am also seeing those who are not at all becoming less conservative, but less like the extreme mold fomenting in our modern era. I am in this camp. I am a conservative evangelical thinker, but I am not fitting into the modern mold. The mold is getting too narrow and vitriolic.
But the truth has not changed. I do not need to abandon truth or love. I do not need to squeeze into a category – but expand into a Kingdom where with truth and love I serve people where they are at and bring them up into something higher.
Failing to Love
Having a good Christian worldview will not matter much if we fail to love. Our polarized politics are creating a hard break between the truth crowd and the love crowd. Christians think they must pick one crowd to belong to and invariably more and more young or disenfranchised believers will pick love over and against truth. The stalwart long-time believers who are certain all that is unfolding in the world today confirms their eschatology often pick truth over love. The latter group sees truth as love the former sees love as truth both emphasizing that which is lacking in the other group. When I say the love crowd, sees love as truth – it is often a love in place of truth which is they regard as the real truth. This creates so many problems with the theology that follows. Albeit, the truth crowd, who sees truth as love – majors on their telling you what’s what is love – often losing the language and heart of love in the process.
Decay of Truth
Believers on one side emulate the harsh rhetoric of the shouting talking heads of evangelical conservativism. They have good intentions wanting to shore up our decaying foundations. They remember a better world and want to preserve it. Love, in their minds, is communicated through their no-nonsense fight against the rising tide of progressivism. But many onlookers do not perceive their efforts in those terms. Watching their reaction to the times, drive other believers looking for different answers and they journey into liberal thinking to find seemingly more love-based books and talks. But, alas, we conservatives want to keep people from going to the “dark side.” We are rightly concerned about the worldview of the world that is encroaching on the Gospel Truth in our more progressive Christian friends. But they are also rightly concerned about the fascism encroaching on the Gospel Truth in our more conservative circles.
Symptoms of Polarization
This is what polarization does. It creates extremes. We have seen these extremes play out in the streets and at the Capitol. We can say we were not involved in the extremes. But we are involved in the ideology that got some of us on either side to the place where violence breaks out.
There are answers which do not cause us to choose between truth and love. Good theology and character do ought does not exclude love or truth. We are not looking for a blending of two polarized positions – we are looking for the development of discipled believers who walk in the integrity of the truth of Scripture and the love of Jesus Christ in everything they do in ALL areas of society. We can do better than the options we have before us in this modern world.
What we are doing is not working.
Befriend Those Who are Different
I suggest we start crossing the divide and reducing our extremism before things get worse. When we see someone like Beth Moore or Phil Vischer helping to give a voice to thinking that may at times be outside of what we listen to it should not make us so nervous. We do not have to be afraid of divergent thought. Christians should be the biggest supporters of a civil public square where all voices can be heard with the understanding that not all thinking from those voices is going to line up with truth. Nor will all our thoughts line up with what is true. It can take generations to work through ideas and come to healthier applied theology. We cannot do that well if we only listen to our own thoughts in our own age and from our own demographic. We must listen to each other and make space for difference.
Making space for difference does not mean embracing error. Making space for difference means we work through these differences together. We stop alienating, ostracizing, and distancing. We start making friends with sinners. We can even make friends with saints who vote differently than us. Maybe we will find we are not enemies. Maybe we will find we are not so different in what we really want. When people are not reduced to letters, slogans, and derogatory abbreviations (like Dems), we can find common ground of humans made in the image of God. Then we can work together to bring out the best of humanity instead of harbingers of the worst of humanity.
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