Saturday, February 9, 2008

Liberal or Conservative? An Emerging Perspective

I'm quoting myself in this a lot - stuff I posted on another website, slightly reconstituted for here.

I've mentioned, and some of you are familiar with, the term "emerging" or "emergent" church. At a really basic level, the term speaks to how the church is changing (or needs to change) to keep up with shifts in culture, from a modern to a post-modern world. A lot of times emergent folks talk about it using the metaphor of a conversation, because what "post-modern" means, and will mean, is still evolving - emerging - so it can't be described fully. But if you've ever heard or used the phrase "cultural Christianity", ever thought that Christianity in our churches was sort of nominal, not going very deep and not creating a community or environment where people lived like Jesus did, then you have something in common with the emergent conversation.

Note that the message of Jesus is always spoken in, and interpreted through, a culture(s) and worldview(s). Paul talked about "being all things to all people," so that by any means he might win some - this is someone who understood that cultural differences or preconceptions shouldn't get in the way of the Gospel. And for some, who are already on the "post-modern" end of things, the "modern" era church is a church from another culture - one that's difficult to understand or to get excited about, one that doesn't seem very relevant. One where you can fall asleep during a sermon week after week - can you imagine anyone sleeping through one of Jesus's sermons?!??!

Another way to look at it - the message of the gospel has to continually be put in fresh wineskins. The old ones burst.

Anyway, much of the emerging conversation is a lot more radical than this - this is a soft-pedaled, not-even-scratching-the-surface description of the conversation. For a lot of people, emerging stuff is suspect - maybe heretical. For a lot of other people, emerging is a revival and reformation of God with, perhaps, the potential to rival the Protestant Reformation for its power. (Hopefully without any burnings at the stake or religious warfare this time around.)

All I know is, my very modern-era seminary education just about killed me. That's not entirely fair - I'm sure I'll blog about the seminary years at some point - but, it was not a good period. It's taken a good chunk of the last five years to recover.

The other thing I know is, over the last year and a half that I've been engaged in emerging conversations, I've been more excited about what God is doing - had more passion (in the current sense and also the archaic sense of pathos) for seeking to live in the way of Jesus - been more aware of the Spirit working in, through, and around me - and had more hope in and love for the church, than I've had in years. It's also reawakened a love for learning and a commitment to missional living (that being a key component of emerging/post-modern discussions of the church).

Anyway, this started off to be about politics, but I know lots of my friends aren't familiar with emerging stuff, and these days, to know what's going on with me, you have to know a little about it. My attraction to the emerging church came initially (I have more reasons now) from the concept that “post-modern” attached to the church meant “post-liberal” and “post-conservative.” I’ve been a token conservative among liberals AND a token liberal among conservatives, without much modifying my views – because, in my opinion, speaking primarily theologically and not necessarily politically/socially, I think the conservative/liberal split is one of the great tragedies of the church in the modern era and one key reason the church in the West is so weak. My first exposure to emergent was in finding convergence among those coming out of a post-liberal and a post-conservative viewpoint – in other words, across denominational lines people looking seriously again at the message of Jesus were finding themselves agreeing more than arguing.

Specific examples of how the liberal/conservative split seems, to me, unsupportable? I’ll use admittedly extreme examples - One side supporting a social gospel that doesn’t include belief in the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord (the disciples had a spiritual experience, there wasn’t a bodily resurrection); the other side loudly proclaiming faith in the resurrection but closing a school of social work at their seminary because Jesus wouldn’t have been concerned about feeding poor people.


Both sides seem insane. That's not very charitable. Sorry. But come on - is either side reading the Bible they're fighting over? One talking about a gospel but not believing in the best thing about it – the Resurrection, the death of death, the reason we have hope! The other side proclaiming a gospel about the resurrection, but ignoring the words of the One Who was Resurrected, who proclaimed that he was anointed to preach a gospel of good news to the poor, and who encouraged the wealthy to sell all they possessed, give it to the poor, and come follow him.

How did the liberal/conservative split become so…well, it’s offensive, but the only word I can think of is irrational, or at least inconsistent. If you take the Bible seriously, it seems to me you should be kind to the alien in your midst and think more about grace than law – the way Huckabee talked at the start of the campaign, not the way he talks now. Or the way that the Democrats speak. It also seems to me that if you take the Bible seriously you at least have to wrestle with the issue of abortion, and not be in favor of everything that supports it and against everything seeking to reduce the (staggering) numbers of abortions. In other words, closer to a typically Republican position.

(By the way – I’m weak in a pro-life stance, primarily because forcing a woman to bring a baby to term against her will seems inherently gross and violating. And more pro-life folks than I am, I think you should acknowledge that. It might, ultimately, be more important to fight for the unborn who can’t fight for themselves; but it’s still a violation of a woman to force her to bear the child, and it can never be fixed – it will affect her whole life. And of course it will on the other side too. I go round and round…primarily, I’m saying that Christians ought to wrestle with that issue more, and also focus on systemic issues that promote abortion like poverty and unequal opportunity and children who don’t have parents and get raised by the gov’t. Church folks that believe in the family, why are we letting that happen? And I don't say more about that because I'm single and not in any position to adopt and so not in any position to moralize about it.)

It seems to me that if you’re Christian you have to temper support for the military with commands to love your enemy and turn the other cheek. You may or may not be pacifist, ultimately – it’s a legit debate - but if you’re Christian you shouldn’t be competing with other candidates to sound most hawkish, so that you talk about bombing people to Hell. That kind of language shouldn’t be used lightly.

I could go on and on and on…basically, it drives me crazy that Republicans co-opt half of the moral/ethical/religious arguments I take seriously, and Democrats take the other half, and both splits seem so irrational to me.

That’s why I’m independent, and why I’m drawn to McCain and Obama – their stance on reaching out across the aisle, regardless of individual issues, strikes me as the most Christian response (working with enemies) and as the one that produces hope of policies balanced between extremes on the left and on the right. I also understand Christians who feel they can’t support either side – I’ve decided that in the past. (Not sure I’d make those same decisions again, but I did at the time.)

And yes, it should be a right not to die of something treatable just because every generation of your family for hundreds of years has been poor. (Not saying that applies to every uninsured person – but it applies to some of them.) And yeah, I'm supporting Obama. (But if Senator Clinton beats him out, I'll go back to McCain. Why? Because, whatever they or the pollsters tell you, McCain is post-Conservative - at least a little - and so am I. Hillary is definitely not post-liberal.)

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