[Today’s blog post is written by my husband]
In several articles I have read recently, I have seen “true Christianity” equated with a liberal/progressive ideology (see below for links). In the course of article, they make certain assumptions about the understandings and motivations of “conservative” Christians, make broad generalizations, and seem (to me) to take a morally smug/superior view – very like what at least one author accuses the “Christian right” of doing. Only one author – Paul Prather – even admits to the possibility that the real truth lies in between in a balance between the two, and that is done in a throw-away line that is essentially ignored the remainder of the article.
It is not my goal to impugn the authors, or point up the shortcomings of the progressive Christian theology and ideology. Rather, I want to try to help these folks understand the where many (and dare I say “most?”) conservative Christians actually come from when they make their statements and support their causes. I will be using the article by Paul Prather the most, since his is the only one that does not dismiss the conservative understanding outright, and actually gives a comparison.
That said, let me begin by noting that in study after study, and poll after poll, those who identify as conservative evangelicals (and are regular attendees – going to church at least 3 times a month or more) by Barna’s standards consistently show more stable families, happier marriages, and greater self-esteem/happiness (I am conflating the two, I admit). They also top the charts in charitable giving by either actual amount or percentage of income (which is more important in my book). I don’t remember anything about volunteerism; but I bet they top that too, given the trends.
Since it is consistent over time, I am going to make the assumption (that some would deny) that these results actually point to a true situation; that conservatives are not “just lying to look good”, or are being misinterpreted. If these are true, then how does it square with the common characterization today of conservative Christians as angry, mean-spirited (and frequently bigoted), uncompassionate, authoritarian, rigid, legalistic, hypocrites? Could it be that people characterizing us as such simply don’t understand what drives us and shapes us? That in their attempts to generalize us, and dismiss us, they completely miss the actual situation that MIGHT have shown up if they took the time to truly dialogue and find out our goals and reasoning?
Let me be the first to say there are some who might fit the mold the authors painted above. I myself (conservative though I might be) have had my salvation questioned simply because I belong to and pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA). The idea of being part of a “remnant” or an “Elijah”, or simply just faithful in an environment where that is unpopular just bounces off them like a ball thrown against a brick wall. There are always those who are biased or bigoted against people for reason of race, or denomination, or even unbelief. They exist among every people, every civilization, and every ideology. But for most, that isn’t the case. We Christian conservatives have our reasons for doing things, and contrary to popular belief, we are people of compassion, grace, joy, and love.
We are not “authoritarian” (thought we do believe in authority and order); that is saved for communists, fascists, and any dictator out there – who insist on imposing their personal ideology and desires without the guidance of God and His Word. We DO stress the authority of the Bible as God’s Word because we recognize the tendency for all humans – Christian or not! – to want to put themselves in charge of their world and life. It is all about control, and what WE want. Even as sinners saved by grace, and washed clean in the blood of Jesus, we struggle with our sanctification — a fancy word that means living a life that is holy, and honoring God. A life that is different, and a life that has God in control. Paul speaks of this struggle often; and points up that this is why we need accountability to each other and the church.
Given that, could it be that we have become more outspoken about what Paul Prather called “the Law” (a concept I disagree with, since “the Law” was rooted solely the Old Testament, and Christians should be rooted in Christ’s commandments, teachings, and revelations as described in the New Testament and informed by the Old Testament) because we see a civilization moving further and further away from God and His standards, His ways, and His teachings, and deeper and deeper into the darkness, and wish – out of love and compassion – to halt that fall?
Could it be that we stress authority and accountability because we love our fellow humans, particularly within the church, and want to draw them back to what Christ himself commanded of His disciples? To follow His commandments, teach His teachings and His way, and to live an abundant life in Him and through Him? Could it be that – contrary to more progressive views often expressed in articles – we conservatives actually DO experience God’s mercy and grace, and do so greatly every day? That our striving to follow God’s call to being worthy comes out of a sense of gratitude for that mercy and grace, and that we knowingly, prayerfully, and intimately experience it every day as we screw up, and recognize our need for God’s forgiveness and grace on a continuing basis, and dedicate ourselves to trying to depend even more on the Holy Spirit, and truly experience the kingdom of God (God’s rule rather than ours!) in our lives? That we are fully aware of our own shortcomings and sin nature, and welcome you to hold us as accountable to God’s Word in love as we would do for you?
Could it be that much of our “anger” today is righteous indignation – not holier than thou condescension, nor a desire for power (or to retain it), but the same kind of anger that Jesus expressed when he overturned the tables of the money-lenders in the Temple, freed a bunch of the “sacrificial” animals, and drove people out of the temple because they had “turned the Father’s house of prayer into a den of thieves”? That we see our homeland falling deeper and deeper into the mire of license in the name of “freedom”, and our church following right along until we become as the Corinthians were? That we get frustrated with people seeing grace as some kind of “Get out jail free card” that allows all sin? To see the promotion of (as Bonhoeffer put it) “cheap grace”? To be deeply sorrowful, and indignant as we see various leaders in the mainline churches (including my own denomination) either willfully or ignorantly promoting the idea that grace means total freedom (apparently to do anything, rather than the freedom to choose NOT to do certain things), and that we don’t need to be disciples, nor be held accountable for the life we live, the choices we make, and the gospel we teach? That it doesn’t matter what we believe, as long as we believe in something? That all the world’s Gods are the same God, and every path is a path to God – despite the fact that Jesus said “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and no one comes to the Father except by me”?
Could it be that we conservatives actually have a very deep and intimate knowledge of God’s love and grace, celebrate it (with joy!) every day in our own lives as we try to be who God has called us to be, want to see it experienced in others’ lives, and try to bring folks to an understanding of who God is and how great He is? To help them know what is possible if they will only believe and experience God’s rule in their lives today?
Could it be that much of our response to current situations like the Syrian refugee crisis (and I know I tread on thin ice here for many) is not completely rooted in and dominated by fear; but that we are taking a realistic rather than idealistic view of our nation, its safety, and our world civilizations? I like to say that “True Christians aren’t optimists; simply hopeful.” I say that because we – of all people! – should recognize the depravity (“bentness”) of human nature and civilization. We should be looking at the world with clear eyes. But we always have hope because Christ can overcome all. We, of all people, cannot afford to be idealists. So, could it be that we recognize the dangers posed by ISIS and their stated goal to infiltrate through the refugees and commit terrorist acts in order to bring us under their rule eventually; and then also in compassion seek to help those not affiliated with it by making THEIR homeland safe for them? So they can seek to honor God where they are, and perhaps come to an understanding that freedom lies in the honoring of each individual as created by God, and having an intrinsic worth, not to be as decadent as you wish, but to be all that God has called you to be, and then to share that Good News of unmerited grace and love from God with others so they too can know freedom?
I know many readers will reject these motivations out of hand. They will refuse to recognize the validity of such views, even though some data support them. Most of those same people will also talk about how subjective truth is, how subjective reality is, and allow for all sorts of disparate views – as long as none of them contradict what their own ideology is. After all, as my grandmother said often, “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” To recognize the validity of these motivations, views, and evidence is to recognize the worth of that those who hold such motivations and views; and even the possibility that maybe they are right, and you are wrong (gasp!). It is easier to paint with a broad brush, and dismiss them out of hand. It is certainly more comfortable.
Again, I don’t wish to be as one-sided as those I read; I know what my motivations are, and what the motivations are of those I speak to. I respect the differences of opinion, and the people I work with, who have heartfelt, well-articulated views. I don’t question their hearts, their intellect, nor their own faith. We all need balance in our lives. Law and Grace, mercy and discipline, listening and exhortation (both with compassion). What I get tired of (and what this long rant is about), is the marginalization of people by current leadership and culture because an unwillingness to see a love of tradition, a desire for discipline, an insistence on objective standards, and a concern for the hearts and minds of people – their self-worth and motivation as much their comfort and care – as even minutely acceptable.
Let me finally close with this heartfelt prayer. I pray that each of you would experience God’s grace, know God’s love for you, and live a life that fulfills God’s purpose for you (and us all): To glorify God, and then enjoy Him forever!
Links to articles:
- “Donald Trump and the tale of two Gospels” by Rachel Held Evans; http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/donald-trump-gospel-liberty
- “Paul Prather: The mystery of Christians’ support for Donald Trump is solved”; by Paul Prather. http://www.kentucky.com/living/religion/paul-prather/article57553638.html
- “The Death of the Midwestern Church” by Lyz Lenz, http://www.psmag.com/books-and-culture/the-death-of-the-midwestern-church
An additional thought or two not in response to the articles, but going along the same path of thought
Could it be that much of our concern with the welfare state deals less with the money and more with how it is spent? That in our compassion for others, balanced by our recognition of human nature, we would rather see them given the tools and the discipline to succeed on their own (with God’s help) rather than simply handing out things so that they become dependent (intergenerationally!) on the hand-outs? Always we are told to love and care for the widow, the orphan, and the foreigner; and I believe that the conservative’s charitable giving reflects that. But we are also told to earn our own way as much as possible, and to hold each other accountable (if they don’t work, they don’t eat! Said Paul in his letter to the Thessalonians).