Tuesday, July 17, 2012
Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Neither Liberal Nor Conservative?
My point here is not to critique or pick a fight with the Episcopal church. I was baptized and confirmed in the Episcopal church. And although I have not attended an Episcopal church for years (for reasons not related to the present controversies), there is a part of me that still identifies with that church. But what got me thinking was the articles declaring the end of liberal Christianity. Ross Douthat of the New York Times asked Can Liberal Christianity be Saved? He is less than optimistic. Responding on the Huffiington Post was Diana Butler who reminded Douthat that conservative Christianity wasn't doing so well either. Her question is Can Christianity be Saved?
Wading into the middle is Rachel Held Evans who looked at both sides of the issue and declared that she doesn't want to pick sides. She rightly points out that missing from both articles is the fact that we are both in this together. I want to echo some of Rachel's sentiment and ask my readers to chime in.
I really do hate the whole culture of labels. I realize that some labels are necessary and helpful. But quite often they are used to tag, demonize and or marginalize. They are a convenient way of summing up everything about someone or some group in one word. Of course, when was one word ever enough to describe anyone? Calling someone a liberal Democrat or conservative Republican fails to consider that as individuals such labels really don't describe what a person believes about policy issues. It's possible to have a Republican who is pro-abortion and anti-healthcare or a Democrat who wants prayer in school and higher taxes on the rich.
I find the use of labels troubling in Christianity as well. As a biblical scholar I find that I rarely "fit-in" in any group. When I am around more "conservative minded people" I feel like I am a "liberal" who is always rocking the boat and causing trouble. I wonder sometimes who people can be so myopic and they look at me as if to say "heretic!".
But when I am around more "liberal Christians" I feel like the a fundamentalist in the chicken coop. I hear some of what they say and I wonder if they have thrown the baby out with the bath water. They look at me with eyes that seem to say "ah, an another unenlightened fool."
And of course people always want you to give yourself a label: "What are you?" "How would you define yourself?" "Who do you support?" And I always find it difficult to answer. The easiest label to reach for is that of "moderate," but that sounds more like a glass of lukewarm water, useful to no one. I sometimes say "I don't use labels" which means that I am labeled as a closet liberal or conservative depending on who I am talking to.
Part of the problem is that so many of the issues that divide people do so because they are so complicated and arose so much passion. They usually can't be solved easily with a "liberal" or conservative" label and once you dig in deeper the less inclined you are to use those labels. So much in life, theology and politics just isn't that easy.
In the end I have yet to find a solution. I move between various groups feeling like I am a secret agent from the opposing team. And what I really want is to just be able to exist and dialog without having to "take a stand" in such a way that I "fit in."
What about you? What labels do you accept and reject? How have you navigated this path?