“Not that kind of Christian” fatigue

Added July 1. 2014: So yesterday Hobby Lobby, a company with Christian owners, won a case at the Supreme Court level allowing the company to opt out of covering contraceptives for female employees. It was hailed by some as win for “religious freedom”, in that “Christians” have a moral objection to contraceptives because birth control is only used by promiscuous women. Never mind that some women need the medicine to regulate their cycles. Never mind that making parenthood decisions is one of the single most life-altering decisions that any woman can make. Never mind that it would seemingly be immoral to bring a child into the world unprepared… or as least as prepared as possible. Never mind that millions of Christian women use contraception. Good Christians, real Christians could never support the government mandating that companies help pay for their employees promiscuous behavior.

Also, Fuck Obama!

Seriously, I feel like my friends and I double down on saying “we’re not like that” when stuff like this happens. I’m tired of it. I’m tired of defending the “Christian” label. The term no longer means anything for me. Maybe I’m just not one anymore.  I don’t want to be associated with sexism, or homophobia, or disdain for the poor. I don’t want to be associated with “religious freedom” that privileges one form of religious expression over another. I don’t want to be associated with the narrow and narrow-minded ways that the faith is represented in this country. I’m done. I want out…

… but I don’t get an out, do I? My faith and my faith communities mean so much too me. I can’t and won’t bail on them. I need them. So we press on. Trying to recapture the essence of who we are, a community of love. 

Originally Posted December 23, 2013

Others, I’m sure, have written on this topic more eloquently than I ultimately will, but I had a sudden urge to put thoughts down and so I’m going to dive in while I still have the notion. I have seen a shit-ton of articles about the whole Duck Dynasty thing. (“shit-ton” is a metric unit, I believe). I don’t watch the show, but I knew of its existence. Some of my friends have written in defense of the duck guy. Most of my friends have not. My friends are critiquing the comments as homophobic. Some are also picking up on some things the duck guy said and pointing at the racism inherent in some of his statements. Some are upset about the way the Bible is being used in this whole ordeal.

I should stop for a second and say a little something about my friends. For the most part, my friends are progressive Christians. Many are also pastors. I have used the term “progressive Christian” for myself historically. I define that term in two ways: 1) Progressive Christians tend to focus on the broad themes of scripture instead of isolating specific passages. To that end, many of my friends say that they take the Bible “seriously, but not literally”. Most of us have had some training in historical criticism of the scripture and spent a great deal of time wrestling with the biblical languages (Hebrew, Greek, some Aramaic). Many of us feel like we’ve seen how the sausage was made when it comes the Bible. You may like the final product, but you can’t ignore all of the things, good and bad, you see going in and the process itself might affect your overall enjoyment. That, in my mind, leads to 2) an emphasis on the social aspects of the Gospel as opposed to the emphasis on personal salvation that is often found in more conservative brands of Christianity. It’s a matter of emphasis. My friends tend to be more interested in how their faith can be a motivator for social changes in favor of the “least of these” (Matt. 25: 40, 45) instead of thinking of their faith as a ticket to an exclusive afterlife. It’s also fair to state that most of my friends are politically left-leaning. Most are moderates, but a few all out liberals. This is me, painting with broad brush strokes, but I don’t think I would get too much push back on this. (Vigorous push back in 5, 4, 3…)

Christianity in this country is largely associated with both theological and political conservatism. The areas in this country where the church is actually growing are in the non-denominational, evangelical communities that often interweave their theology with Republican political ideology. There is a notable “whiteness” to this form of Christianity in the public sphere. A “maleness” as well. There is an emphasis on financial prosperity as a sign of God’s blessings and the believer’s faithfulness. There is an emphasis on the Bible as the literal, inerrant Word of God, but with that said, there is a particular emphasis there as well. The emphasis tends to be on the Old Testament (excluding the prophetic literature that is not read as “pointing to Jesus”), the portions of the Gospel where Jesus does supernatural things, the cross narratives, and the letters of the Paul. These passages are often cited as places where the Bible gives a moral code for individual living. This includes things like a sexual ethic that calls homosexuality sinful, including the passage that the duck guy paraphrased from I. Cor. 6. This is the public face of American Christianity.

The conflict that exists with these two expressions of faith living side-by-side, and with the conservative side more often than not being seen as the “winner” by all measurable observations, inevitably creates an angst in my friends that bubbles to the surface every time a public figure, whether politician or entertainer, leans on their faith to express their opinion as a God-ordained truth. The angst often comes out in blogs, Facebook posts, and tweets. The angst boils down to a frustration that there seems to be only one legitimate expression of Christianity and it ain’t ours. That the monolith of American Christianity often goes against more progressive sensibilities puts most of my friends on the defense when they attempt to express that there is an alternative to what is commonly seen as the public face of the faith. And so the common refrain is “Yes, I’m a Christian, but I’m not that kind of Christian”.

Some times this refrain has the ring of an inferiority complex. I think it is particularly hard for those of us that grew up in more conservative traditions and then migrated to more progressive ones. We question whether there is anything left from the faith of our childhood. Or we question whether there even should be. Or we question if what we are should even bother calling itself “Christian”. Certainly it would be better to be free of the baggage, right? I envy my friends who were raised in progressive faith traditions. I imagine that their angst isn’t as loaded as mine, but maybe they feel even more misunderstood because they’re not privy to the evangelical in-jokes.

I write this because “I’m not that kind of Christian” posture can be an exhausting one to take. We feel misunderstood by our non-Christian friends and by our conservative friends. We feel like our faith is widely misrepresented. We salivate over the few public figures who make our faith seem palatable (looking at you, Mr. Pope). We feel like we’re entitled to give a thoughtful rebuttal to those who give “our” faith a black eye. I get all of that. And yet…

… the best defense of our faith (or any faith… or no faith) is hungry people fed, naked people clothed and sheltered, prisoners visited, sick people cared for, visitors welcomed, wars ended, and nature tended. Most people aren’t willing to be talked out of their previously held views. And maybe that’s not our job. That sounds like an awful job, actually. But people are compelled by transformation. They are drawn to results. Every one recognizes that the world isn’t as it should be and any faith worth its salt should compel people to make the world better. And “better” has to mean better for everyone.

At the end of the day I can tell you about my faith or I can show you what I believe in the ways that I love people. Feel free to call me out if what you see doesn’t line up with what I say.

6 thoughts on ““Not that kind of Christian” fatigue

  1. I love you but I think that you are mistaken in thinking that it’s easier as an evangelical. If one is trying to live out– to make flesh and blood– the love of Christ, one will be misunderstood, shouted down, hit by sticks and stones and words that hurt. The famous and rich of this world will still lord it over us. I have a simple solution to the problem: ignore the whole silly mess. I’m pretty sure Christ is. Merry Christmas, Derrick. Love on!

    1. Clay, I didn’t mean to imply that it is easier to be an evangelical. I apologize if that’s how it came across. That said, I also won’t fully buy into the narrative of the persecuted evangelical, seeing as how they still make up the power base of this country.

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