Monday, December 11, 2006

What One Liberal Christian Believes

Carol Balderree writes a regular column for the Heber Springs, Arkansas Sun-Times. This was a good one:

...Perhaps the greatest rift between liberal and conservative Christians is over the issues of inerrancy and infallibility. Conservative Christians believe that the Bible is the Word of God, without error, and is therefore historically factual and to be taken literally. Liberal Christians view the Bible as both sacred scripture and the product of human endeavor and experience. The Bible was written over a period of hundreds of years by many different people. It comprises the stories of the people of Israel, the life and teachings of Jesus, and the spiritual development of the early Christian community. Liberal Christians understand that these writers were limited by the culture and time in which they lived and by their lack of scientific knowledge. According to Bible scholar Marcus Borg, belief in biblical infallibility, historical factuality and moral absolutes creates an insurmountable obstacle for many Christians, who nevertheless rely on the Bible as the central document of their faith. For them, the Bible abounds in metaphorical truth, which is both more real and intensely more personal than literal truth. They are willing to apply reason to their interpretation of scripture and to adjust their understanding in the light of new medical and scientific knowledge.

As a person of the 21st century, there are things in the Bible that I cannot accept as God’s truth. I cannot believe that the world was created just 6000 years ago, that Adam and Eve were the first humans, that God fashioned Eve from Adam’s rib, that God condoned the wholesale slaughter of men, women and children, or that God destroyed all living creatures on earth by a flood, sparing only Noah, his family, and selected pairs of animals. I don’t believe that God condones slavery, although the Bible never condemns it. I don’t believe that women are inferior to men, although there are plenty of passages in the Bible that would support this view. By the same token, I cannot believe that homosexuality is an abomination when the medical and scientific communities have concluded that it is neither a mental illness nor a moral depravity, but the way that a minority of the population expresses human love and sexuality.

I may disagree with evangelicals on matters of theology, but I have great respect for the work they do in the world. I do have problems with the harsh and intolerant rhetoric of the Religious Right, as represented by Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, among others. It is unfortunate that these leaders have come to represent evangelicals in the minds of many Americans. Pastor Jim Wallis, co-founder of “Call to Renewal” and editor of Sojourners magazine is an evangelical Christian who is attempting to counter the influence of the Religious Right in politics and public discourse. Evangelical comes from the word “evangel”, which means “good news.” According to Wallis, the Religious Right preaches a message that is more ideological than evangelical, and includes little about Jesus. In his book “Who Speaks for God,” Mr. Wallis reports that when he asks people around the country what they think of when they hear the words “evangelical Christian,” the answers he gets are invariably a long string of “antis”—anti-abortion, anti-liberal, anti-feminist, anti-gay, anti-welfare, anti-immigration, anti-environment, and anti-poor. They describe the Religious Right as “harsh,” “divisive,” “self-righteous,” “intolerant” and “mean spirited.” When these same people are asked what Jesus was like, the answers included “compassionate,” “loving,” “caring,” “humble,” “friend of the poor and outcasts,” “forgiving,” “critic of the establishment,” “peace-maker” and “reconciler.”

There is no wonder that there is so much variation in what we believe about God. We are all so different, and our finite minds cannot possibly grasp the infinity that is the mind of God. For me, the essence of Christianity is to be found in the life and teachings of Jesus. Blessed are the poor in spirit, the pure in heart, the gentle, the merciful, and the peacemakers. Pray for your enemies, forgive those who wrong you, don’t hold a grudge. Treat others as you want to be treated. Don’t cast stones. See Christ in all persons. Love God with all your heart, love your neighbor as yourself and all the rest will follow.

1 comment:

ProgressiveChurchlady said...

Progressive Christians should try to "cast out the demons" (pun intended) of what it means to be an Evangelical Christian today. The joy and suffering of spreading the good news about your Christain faith journey belongs to every Christian--not just those with a particular Christian theology.

I think is particularly hard for the most progressive of Christians (those who respect other faith traditions besides Christianity as legitmate paths to God) to claim to be evangelical. After all, that might be stepping on someone elses' toes as they travel their different faith journey!

This is cerainly something I've been thinking long and hard about the past 3 years. How does one go about being a progressive EVANGELICAL Christian? I don't believe these terms need to be mutually exclusive. Certainly this is a very critical piece of work for progressive Christian faith communities today--how to be progressive and evangelical at the same time!