Feb 19 2013

Love Radically: Why I Don’t Care If You Are a Liberal Christian? (Or a Conservative Christian for that matter)

Original post at http://loveradically.com/2013/02/19/why-i-dont-care-if-you-are-a-liberal-christian-or-a-conservative-christian-for-that-matter/

A few weeks ago blogger and professor Roger Olson wrote about why he is not a “liberal Christian” and he stated that while he was not a “Fundamentalist” he was definitely not a progressive Christian either giving several reasons. There have been several reactions to his post including one from Tony Jones. This morning United Methodist pastor Rev. Talbot Davis added his own take on Olson’s post by writing about 5 reason he is not a “Progressive Methodist.”  It seems that the terms “liberal” or “progressive” and “conservative” or “evangelical” are only used verbal grenades to be tossed at enemies like verbal grenades. We all have those friends on Facebook or Twitter that enjoy railing against one side or the other and perhaps we are guilty of the same. Personally, I think it is time to stop attacking and start listening at least within the Church. As the Church, we must do better than those around us and so, with that in mind I want to offer a respectful rebuttal to Rev. Davis’s Top Five Tuesday with my own Top Five.

The Top Five Resons Why I Don’t Care If You Are a Liberal/Progressive or a Conservative/Evangelical United Methodist

1) The United Methodist Church is a big tent housing many different views and opinions. One reason why I became a United Methodist is because we have a rich diversity of opinions and views on many different issues. The UMC encompasses a wide range of cultures, understandings, and viewpoints from the very conservative to the very liberal, but one thing that should unite us is our love for God and for each other. Diversity is beneficial because encountering and discussing with those with differing ideas helps us to grow and deepen in our faith. Proverbs 27:17 reads “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” The only way we can sharpen each other is if we are vulnerable enough to listen and learn from each other instead of automatically condemning each other. Imagine if Reconciling Networks could sit down with the IRD and have a reasonable adult conversation. What could they learn from each other?

2) This divide and the animosity it creates is killing our Church. As our politics have become more volatile over the last decade so have the debates and disagreements within the Church. I watched debates at each level of the Church including local, district, annual conference, and General Conference that were not only unhealthy, they were downright unChristian. The animosity between “progressives” and “conservatives” help to create mistrust within each level of the Church and this mistrust was palpable at last year’s General Conference. It is destroying our Church like a cancer from the inside out. If we do not trust each other then we cannot cooperate and if we cannot cooperate then nothing gets accomplished and we all have seen where that leads.

3) Labels do not really matter anyway. What makes a progressive a progressive? What makes a conservative a conservative? Despite what they believe, Mr. Olson and Rev. Davis cannot really define “progressive” or “liberal” because there is not set definition and the same is true for conservatives and that’s a problem. When those from the opposing side define their opponents it is almost always done negatively. You cannot define someone else, only you can define yourself. I have found that very few people are 100% one way or the other. We all have progressive and conservative ideals within us whether we want to admit it or not. We all want the same things. We want people to come to know the love of God in Jesus Christ and we want our Church to grow. Labels only serve to divide and conquer us.

4) We need unity not division. Our Church faces so many problems and issues today. There are so many people hurting who need a place to come and find refuge. How will we face our problems if all we do is fight and bicker? How will people see our light if it is dimmed by discord? We must face the problems of our Church and our world with a unified front. We will not always agree on everything, but despite what you read on the Internet there are more things that unites than there are that divide us.

5) People are really sick and tired of those “liberal” vs “conservative” crap. We just finished the most contentious presidential campaign in recent memory. Our Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, and inboxes are inundated with political vitriol. “I am 100% right and you’re 100% wrong and that’s the end of the story.” All people see is Democrat vs. Republican, Blue vs Red, conservative vs liberal and they are sick and tired of it. They come to Church hoping and praying for something different and only find more of the same. No wonder people are leaving the Church in droves. They would rather sit and home and watch football or a movie than go to Church and hear more arguing.

There is nothing wrong with holding firm beliefs and viewpoints, but when we attack those who disagree with us, when we call them heretics, when we call them unChristian, when we blame them for all the ills of our Church then we become the problem and not the solution.

About the author

Brad S

Permanent link to this article: http://methoblog.com/3_0/2013/02/why-i-dont-care-if-you-are-a-liberal-christian-or-a-conservative-christian-for-that-matter/


  1. jeff

    well said. thank you.

  2. Jon Van Dop

    Dear Brad S: Throughout the life of the church there have been theological divides. Even within the writings of the New Testament there were questions over whether to minister to gentiles or whether to be keep the Christian faith within the Jewish community. Disagreements about what we believe and how we go about living out those beliefs are almost as old as the church itself.

    I sympathize with your frustration over the contentiousness with which many people defend their positions. Many voices that (sometimes literally) scream their position with passion fail to consider that how they say something is just as important, if not more important, as what they say. It gets old.

    That said, I do not believe that Prof. Olson’s blog fits into the mold of passionate screaming without listening. Olson is not a United Methodist, regardless of what Talbot Davis might say. His blog reflected literally decades of study on the matter and, even then, he was careful to state that the categories he were describing were his and his alone. He never intended them to be universally true for everyone, they were just an observation of theological trends. While there is a quote about his opinion regarding liberal theology, it is often taken out of context (as many one liner quotes today are).

    Further, Olson followed up on his Liberal blog with a Fundamentalist blog. He listed reasons for why he did not fit into that camp either. While he has not come out with a statement of what he does believe, he is gradually forming, like a sculptor chipping away the excess rock, what Bishop Scott Jones might describe as the “passionate center.” This is a place that I believe many UMs currently inhabit theologically, but it is rare that someone will give voice to them because they are usually drowned out by the extreme left or right. The center must be nuanced and carefully stated, lest it be made out to be something it is not.

    Ultimately, I believe this via media is the reason we have such a “big tent” as you have described it. We draw people from the left and the right, we provide safe space for disciples to discern what they believe about God. In “churchy” terms, we give them a place to explore theologically. However, sometimes explorers will want to take different paths and that’s a difficult thing when we want everyone to go in the same (ie their) direction. (And on a side note: God help anyone who is or wants to be a Bishop.)

    I feel your pain Brad. I too wish we could just get along and sometimes think that our polity needs to be changed so that there is less of an “all or nothing” atmosphere within our Annual and General Conferences. Those discussions have been ugly, but the ugliness comes from the hearts of those who argue their positions, not from the positions themselves. I think that everyone who goes to a UM Conference at any level should be required to (re)read Wesley’s “Almost Christian” and Chrystotom’s “On the Priesthood” so that they enter with a proper sense of humility. Perhaps you and I need to pray, and invite others to join us in prayer, so that one day our polity will be lived out with the same grace that God gives us.

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