Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Liberals & Evangelicals - Part II

In my last post I wrote that religious and political liberals need to start taking the Christian evangelical movement seriously rather than just ridiculing them and hoping they will go away. So in this post I want to present the flip side. I am not comfortable any time people, including myself, make broad generalizations about groups of people. I want to make sure that I continue to view conservative Christians as people - people who have a very different philosophy than I do, but not necessarily uncaring, mindless bigots either.

It is easy to look at their positions and come to the conclusion this movement is made up of people who hate women and the poor, and anyone not just like them. Corporately, I believe their philosophy is dangerous to a free society and yes, I believe that unconscious or unexamined bigotries underscore part of their worldview. But I don't want to judge individuals based on the group as a whole.

The marriage between conservative Christianity and libertarianism & nationalistic jingoism makes it easy to view adherents as selfish and uncaring, but...

Some of the most generous, selfless, committed, and loving people I have ever known have been evangelical Christians.

The public hypocrisy of some makes it easy to view members as insincere, but...

Some of the most spiritually passionate people I have ever known have been evangelical Christians.

Their portrayal in the media and the lack of intellectual curiousity of certain politicians make it easy to view these true believers as ignorant or stupid, but...

Some of the most well-read and intelligent people I have ever known have been evangelical Christians.

As a child raised in the evangelical movement I was taught to, "love the sinner; hate the sin." Now, I want to translate that into my current belief structure. I want to separate my appreciate of the individuals' value from their philosophy. Work against the movement; love the movers. A woman at my fellowship said soemthing once regarding getting along with her ultra-conservative son, "our primary relationship is not political." I have carried this phrase with me ever since and remind myself when dealing with my evangelical colleagues and family members. My primary relationship with my family is neither political nor theological. It is familial and based on love. After all, connection is why I got into the whole spirituality search anyway, right?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Liberals & Evangelicals - Part 1

I am always astonished to see religious and political liberals who are just now noticing evangelical and fundamentalist Christians and their influence. Where have they been all these years? I am a big fan of Rachel Maddow, but I have to shake my head every time she covers evangelicals and asks, do they really believe this stuff? Yes, yes they do.

Following political news has been a strange experience lately as I feel like I view the media coverage of various evangelical political figures through two sets of eyes. Maybe a better analogy is that I have one foot in two different worlds: one in that of my conservative Christian upbringing, and one in the secular liberalism that I chose. Like my fellow liberals I am often appalled at the statements and opinions of prominent conservative Christians, but unlike them, I am not surprised by them. They have been saying these same things for years, but few have been paying attention. It is only now that some of them are gaining real political power that their beliefs are getting notice.

Some people want to dismiss evangelicals as ridiculous, or na├»ve, or un-serious. This is a mistake; these people are completely earnest and they are not dumb. Their views may seem extreme, but they really mean them. They truly believe The Rapture is likely to happen in their lifetime. They mean it when they say that God has anointed America as a Christian nation and they are called to save it from the forces of darkness – they aren’t kidding. Treating fundamentalists as a joke or a fad will have serious negative consequences for liberalism because there are a lot of them out there, and they vote. Right now, they are successfully framing the debates. They are not just going to go away any time soon.

Evangelicals’ earnestness and commitment is beginning to have an effect in national politics. Old school beltway pundits wonder why it is that the Republicans are no longer willing to compromise. Yeah, um evangelicals hate compromise. They believe they are called to do God’s work in the world and that God requires them to follow the scripture. Compromise is disappointing God. Compromise is putting something else ahead of God and His commands. They are called to be apart from the world, not work with the secular world towards solution both sides can live with. This being the case, we need to stop letting them define morality for the majority of Americans.

It is time to really start paying attention to the religious right. We can no longer afford to dismiss them as a lunatic fringe. Religious liberals need to become a lot louder in their claims a vibrant spiritual life can be found a different way. We have got to stop letting them define which are good and bad religions, and what Christianity means. My struggles with Christianity are no secret, but it is the dominant religion of the United States and we need people to show that there is a meaningful way to worship Jesus Christ and the Abrahamic God with a focus on love and without dangerous literal interpretations. My fellow agnostics and atheists should be more vocal about how their humanistic belief leads them to a meaningful and ethical life instead of continuing to bash any and all forms of religion.

Our mockery and scorn for fundamentalists does not hurt or hinder them; it feels into their worldview that “the world” is out to get them. If the mainstream media does not like what they are doing, then it MUST be pleasing to God. Disbelief in their seriousness and effectiveness will not make them go away. We need loud counter-arguments to their claims. The evangelical movement has spent the last two generations gearing up for this. I believe religious fundamentalism is dangerous. If liberals want to keep the liberties earned and fought for over the last century, we had better start to pay attention and to advocate for a better way. Otherwise we could lose this debate before we even know it’s on.