Embrace diversity, whether it’s liberals or other liberals….
Embrace diversity, whether it’s liberals or other liberals….
In my previous post, I discussed how fundamentalist and progressive Christians both take Christianity and center it around what they can get away with. The progressive actually shares this sense of liberty with others while the fundamentalist keeps it for themselves. Both sides were placed in contrast to the “essentialist” (true) Christian who takes on a more holistic approach to the faith. The true Christian does not see Christianity as “what they can get out of it” like the other groups. However, there is another group that actually does reflect a opposite perspective from the progressive, and makes enemies with the fundamentalist. This is the school-master Christian.
When coming up with this category I imagined the stereotypical Catholic nun who always seems angry and wishes to project that anger onto others. She hits the “unruly” children with a ruler when they aren’t sitting up straight or seeming to show interest in something unrelated to religious life. The only “fun” people are allowed to have is going to church and serving God. The more extreme approach may abstain from all physical pleasures. They do make sure needs are met, but they think you should not enjoy food or worldly television or music (outside of music in the church). The school master Christian, like the fundamentalist and the progressive, also tends to emphasize ecclesiastical matters with the church. These will vary with the denomination.
The best Biblical passage to reference the school master is Romans 14: 1-4
1 As for the one whose faith is weak, accept him [into your fellowship], but not for [the purpose of] quarreling over his opinions.
2 One man’s faith permits him to eat everything, while the weak believer eats only vegetables [to avoid eating ritually unclean meat or something previously considered unclean].
3 The one who eats [everything] is not to look down on the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat must not criticize or pass judgment on the one who eats [everything], for God has accepted him.
4 Who are you to judge the servant of another? Before his own master he stands [approved] or falls [out of favor]. And he [who serves the Master—the Lord] will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
Essentially, you have two Christians who have differing views on dietary matters. One Christian believes they have liberty to eat meat and the other feels safer eating only herbs. Paul instructs both believers not to look down on each other for the decision they made. The school-master is like the one eating only herbs and the progressives are the ones eating meat. The fundamentalist eats meat while giving herbs to everyone else. The true Christian does not judge on such menial matters. As such, you may see an essentialist Christian eating herbs or eating meat, however they will not judge your relationship with God based on your decision.
For the essentialist, there are more pressing matters to attend to. The essentials always start with one’s personal relationship with God and conduct as a believer. The school-master almost seems like they “get it” more than the others. But their self-centered attitude makes them want to share their suffering with others. The true Christian knows when to “kick the dust off their feet” and the importance of a personal relationship.
If you didn’t already know, Representative John Boehner has announced that he will step down as speaker of the house on October 30. As such, many of the quasi-moderates on the left see a more rightwing aligned republican party as one that is unwilling to negotiate with the democrats. My issue is that the modern left’s definition of compromise is capitulating to the demands of the left. Take an issue like abortion and planned parenthood funding for example. The “extremes” argue either no abortion at all or free, safe, on-demand abortion. The moderate position used to be abortion only in the case of rape, incest or the mother’s health and no partial birth abortion. However that has now become a rightwing position to many. However I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt. In what areas are people on the left willing to compromise? Not necessarily “giving it up” but rather granting a concession to the other side.
Affordable Care Act
-Extreme position: repeal the act
-Moderate concession: Force politicians (congress and executive agents) to fully participate in the act as well.
-Moderate concession: Don’t force people to pay for things they don’t want or need.
-Extreme position: Ban all abortion, defund PP
-Moderate concession: Abortion only in the case of rape, incest or mother’s health
-Moderate concession: Incentivize and expedite adoption, refocus planned parenthood’s efforts.
Religious Liberty (in light of same sex marriage)
-Extreme position: Reverse the supreme court’s decision
-Super Extreme position: Reestablish sodomy laws
-Moderate concession: Don’t force businesses to participate in a ceremony that would compromise their beliefs.
This post might go over a few people’s heads, mostly because I tend to overestimate my ability to articulate my points. Before going into detail, let’s get some vocabulary out of the way:
In the categories set forward I am defining the terms according to their connotations rather than their denotations. For example, a fundamentalist literally could represent anyone who feels they are following the essential doctrines (ie: fundamentals) of the faith. However fundamentalism tends to implicate a radical, haughty and judgmental attitude.
For the sake of this post, fundamentalist Christians are going to be defined through the lens of critical theory: racist, sexist, homophobic, and “stuck in the past”. Their bigotry is reportedly justified through scripture. Their sins are largely justified self-righteously or swept under the rug. Just to be clear, I would also distinguish radical Christians from fundamentalists. Though there is arguably some ideological continuity between the radical and the fundamentalist, the latter should not be presumed to be as violent as the former.
Progressive Christians are going to be defined specifically through these issues (ie: things concerning the LGBT community, contraception, abortion, and sexual liberation). The role of scripture in their justification varies heavily. Their sins are always justified or redefined as not sinful.
Also I am defining a “true” Christian with descriptor “Essentialist”, mostly to contrast from the fundamentalist. This person actually follows the essential doctrines of the faith, EVEN AT THEIR OWN EXPENSE. They can identify their own actions as sinful when they come in conflict with the will of God.
As St. Augustine said, “On essentials unity, on nonessentials liberty, and on all things charity [Love]”.
I’ll set the stage with an anecdote:
On labor day, I came back to my home town for a church picnic. An itinerant minister was one of the invitees from outside of the “church family”. He was one of the street preachers you tend to see on college campuses etc. Complete with a backpack full of his gospel tracts criticizing those outside of protestant Christian orthodoxy. I’m not formally trained in the world of theology, but the knowledge I did have impressed him so he stayed around me and my immediate family. Another person in my church family came up to me after a while. Whenever he’s around we discuss politics, something I enjoy doing. Eventually the itinerant minister came into the conversation when Hilary Clinton was brought up. Long story short, the conversation escalated onto the topic of same sex marriage.
My church family member took on the progressive argument (full disclosure: I wouldn’t necessarily accuse him of being a progressive Christian, but that’s the argument he used). He first mentioned that he does understand that the Bible condemns homosexuality (really homoeroticism), period. However he questions how the Bible was compiled, and feels that by denying these rights to the LGBT community you are limiting the power and grace of God. The itinerant minister took on the fundamentalist argument; citing the passages in Corinthians and Leviticus (ignoring the fact that my church family member understood the Bible’s condemnation). He pretty much remained steadfast on his argument. He broke down the Corinthians passage identifying “abusers of themselves with mankind” as “the queers”. He assured that his words were spoken in love when he saw my expression.
When I finally had a chance to speak I brought up Matthew 16:24, where Jesus instructs all those who wish to follow him to deny themselves first. My point being, that the issue with same sex marriage was a lack of self-denial (best made evident in Romans 1: 20-27). The minister immediately gave a caveat to my point defending heterosexual acts in the realm of marriage. This led to a discussion of how the topic of marriage had changed from God’s design (from their perspectives). Interestingly, they both believe that polygamy is God’s design. The idea of monogamy is man’s perversion. For the progressive argument this meant that Christians have an ideological precedent to change, and for the fundamentalist argument it meant there’s an ideological point from which Christians must return.
I tried to argue that monogamy is God’s ideal, citing Matthew 4-6 and the fact that polygamy is always presented as problematic in scripture. Both the minister and the family member disagreed. The minister at least believed I had a good point, but still said I was wrong. Citing the fact that God “gave” King David his wives, yet it also states in Deuteronomy that men cannot have multiple wives in places of authority or if they are Deacons in the New Testament. Interesting that he would use David as an example and then address the Deuteronomy condemnation; they both became literalists at this point to justify polygamy for men.
Progressive Christians often will tell stories about how they used to be “super conservative” before they became more progressive. They describe this transition as being very difficult, but a part of their growing up process in the faith. This only makes sense if we define their conservatism as fundamentalism. For both the fundamentalist and the progressive, Christianity comes in tandem with their own perception of reality. This perspective is really predicated through their personal sense of liberty. The fundamentalist believes they alone have the freedom to do what they want (and sins are defined by what bothers them personally). On the issue of homosexuality in the church, they prefer passages like Leviticus and Corinthians. This preference is because, unlike Romans 1, they don’t analyze the symptoms and causes of the issue, the scripture just presents a condemnation. For the fundamentalist, they believe they are closer to God by sharing in his disgust. As the world becomes less homophobic, the fundamentalist remains in denial of this social change.
Progressive Christians, by contrast, extends individual liberty to everyone; believing that they’re taking the reasonable pathway by reducing the definition of sin. Arguably it does seem as if the progressive is taking the more reasonable path. Instead of believing God’s grace and mercy only extends to the hypothetical fundamentalist, it would extend to all of God’s creation. The progressive’s argument only works if the “other” Christian is a fundamentalist. The progressive will speak of “fairness”, but not when it means sharing a responsibility to give up the things we want.
Another similarity between these groups is their emphasis on extraneous doctrine. Issues that tackle church history, the power and thought process of God, and church organization. The Episcopalian church brags about being super progressive in their doctrine and practice, however the church has a very strict schedule and organization. The candles must be lit in a certain order, the priest comes in at a certain point in the service wherein the congregation recites specific liturgical rites. During my undergrad the progressive Christian students generally were in agreement that a person must be Baptized in moving, rather than stagnant or artificially moving water. One isn’t truly baptized unless it’s in a natural body of water. Yet ordaining LGBT priests isn’t a problem for them. Fundamentalists will get into conflict about predestination, evolution, other religions and the age of the Earth. I’ve spoken to Armianists and Calvanists who, despite agreeing on most issues, parted ways and condemned each other for being “incorrect” about the nature of God. On these doctrines I look to James 2:19, which states that belief in God is “good” but the devils also believe and tremble. This was in context of faith and works (faith without works is dead), meaning Christians ought to put more priority on their individual actions within their faith.
I’ve also noticed a fire and brimstone type of rhetoric from the mouths of some progressives. Like the fundamentalist, these progressives take their ideology as gospel and condemn people to hell for disagreeing. This is despite the fact that their ideology is knowingly based on a deconstruction and uncertainty towards church doctrine. On this point I usually say that the progressives take the “easier” side than both the essentialist and the fundamentalist. By human nature, I would argue that people tend to lean towards fewer restrictions over more restrictions. The fundamentalist will be convinced once their hypocrisy in only granting liberty towards themselves is confronted. As the fundamentalists naturally convert to the progressive side, genuine believers are going to be accused of being false converts. This is why these distinctions must be made.
Progressives and Fundamentalists both define Christianity through the lens of their own self-righteousness. A fundamentalist will become a progressive when they are convinced to change the way they individually perceive Christianity. The progressive side is the easier side. Essential “True” Christianity is not about want the adherents want to be true, but what “is” true within the context of the faith.
I would personally argue that Christianity leans heavily in favor of racial equality. However, that is mostly due to an in depth reading that many people (believers or otherwise) aren’t willing to do. Not to mention I’m an African American raised in a predominately African American church. I’m also willing to accept that I might have missed something, so I’m putting this forward as an open question/post. Once again, the theme mostly surrounds Christianity, but anyone can participate as long as they stay on topic.
Why aren’t the scriptural condemnation against racial mixing accepted anymore? It’s not as if they are rejected, so much as they are ignored or reinterpreted. Skeptics and critics of Christianity are often knowledgeable of scriptures once used to justify racial division and racism. Here’s one of the more popular ones:
Genesis 9:24, 25
24 When Noah awoke from his wine and found out what his youngest son had done to him,
25 he said, “Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers.”
In context Noah’s youngest son Ham had “saw the nakedness” of Noah when he was drunk after the flood waters receded. He went and told his brothers what he did, who subsequently covered their father up and told him of Ham’s indiscretions. Noah cursed Canaan, Ham’s oldest son and symbol of Ham’s descendants, to a life of servitude under the authority of the descendants of his brothers Shem and Japeth. From here you get this quasi-anthropological presumption, largely defunct today, stating that Ham’s descendants became the various groups in Africa and part of the Middle East. Shem’s descendants became the Israelites, the Russians, and the Europeans. Japeth’s descendants became the East Asian, South East Asian, Pacific Islander, and Native American groups.
(Note: While this can be explored independently, I’m more concerned with the scripture’s role rather than modern anthropology for the time being.)
In addition to this view, we see throughout the Old Testament that the Israelites were barred from mixing with the other nations. It didn’t stop them (more on that later) but this rule was also utilized to justify anti-miscegenation policies in the United States. All of a sudden, this sentiment seemed to have dropped off. Sure, I suppose if you look hard enough you might find people using scripture to justify their beliefs but they are most certainly the minority. However, this does not stop modern progressive thinkers (both from within and outside of Christianity) from bringing it up. Stating, “the church changed its mind on racial issues, why can’t it change its mind on ________?”
On Theology I think St. Augustine summed up my point the best:
“In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity”
Essentials are defined as the tenants and concepts “fundamental” to Christianity. There is some debate as to what is essential or not, but it’s generally agreed that the Bible is included within that category. Though some would argue that while the Bible is essential in our use, only some passages reflect essentiality (the New Testament).
Non-essentials are generally understood as church and some denominational traditions. Some churches still have relationships with each other despite them following the tenants of different denominations. A Baptist minister can be a guest speaker at the Church of Christ or a Methodist church or a Lutheran church, etc. Related to what I said above, some scripture could be considered non-essential from a Christian viewpoint. This generally includes most of the Old Testament that reflects a world prior to Jesus’s death and resurrection. As well as some of the Israelite exclusive traditions (holidays, feasts, etc.) I would argue that the church is generally free to “change its mind” on these issues.
In all things charity means our actions as believers are done in love. Love for God, love for our neighbors (and enemies) and love for our siblings in the faith.
First you have slavery. If you combine the “curse of Canaan” position with the fact that the Bible presents rules on how slaves and masters should treat each other (Ephesians 6-9 for the New Testament), many people at the time could have considered the “right to slave ownership” to be essential. However, the Bible (new and old testaments) really takes a passive approach to slavery. It acknowledged slavery as a part of life and presented rules for following it. The passages on slavery can be removed from Christianity and Christianity would remain intact. So were minds changed on slavery? Yes, but they were free to be changed.
After slavery you have racial discrimination and anti-miscegenation laws. I already broke those down before, however there is another caveat to be considered. You see, in the scripture you have passages that tend to validate racial equality. These include John 3:16 and Galations 3:28 which states”
“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Other passages include the parable of the Good Samaritan as well as Jesus’ genealogy (which goes into the Old Testament). In the Old Testament you have women like Rahab and Ruth (as well as the wives of Joseph and Moses) who were not Israelites but accepted into the fold by accepting the Israelite’s God. Additionally, you have the entire book of Jonah where God warned the people of Nineveh to repent before he destroyed them. At the very least, it could be argued that both positions presented an impasse when scripture was involved in the policy regarding race. I would argue that, through a detailed reading, it’s tilted in the favor of acceptance.
However, that still does not explain why the church has largely forgotten its past on this issue. So much so that even the infamous Westboro Baptist Church resents the KKK for using Christianity to justify racial hate. (NOTE: KKK isn’t even immune as they publicly present themselves as no longer being anti-minority. It might be different behind closed doors, but if scripture were by their side they wouldn’t need to superficially change).
So when even the KKK will not read scripture in order to find justification for racism, why was there a change? What do you all think?