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Closet Christians

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I circulate in a strictly Blue State circle. I’m culturally pretty Blue State myself, except for the fact that I profess Christianity and attend church regularly. I have a number of progressive (new word for liberal) friends who alienate me with their anti-Christian ideology– and are part of the reason I feel myself ideologically at sea. Islam, Tibetan Buddhism, and whatever other religion, seem to get a free pass from criticism, but Christians suffer smackdown after smackdown. These are people who pride themselves on sensitivity to cultural difference– just try to blame Islam for the current terrorism crisis (of course I don’t, either).

A priest once asked in a sermon, “If Christianity were a crime, would the government have enough evidence to convict you?” I know that it’s my responsibility, but I tend to keep the fact that I am a practicing Christian to myself, while every allusion to my homosexuality wins me progressive props. Even when I mention something Christian-related, I find myself saying, “Don’t worry, I’m Episcopalian. We have an openly gay bishop, and the Archbishop of Canterbury likes ‘The Simpsons,’ and wants to be on the show.”

One problem is that many progressives are ignorant of the diversity (a word they like) of both theology and social beliefs among Christians. Even leaders like the Pope, with whom I have major problems regarding sexuality and Church over lay power, share chunks of the leftist agenda, including critique of developed nations’ responsibility for developing nations’ poverty, war (including Iraq), and the death penalty. In addition, this Pope has named a huge number of developing nation cardinals to jobs in the Vatican, not to mention naming the first indigenous saint in Latin America.

And don’t even get me started on the latent class snobbery that makes fundamentalists fair game for mockery. I believe that for the most part, people should treat the beliefs of even fundamentalist and evangelical Christians with respect and as part of the beautiful mosaic that is this country (strike up “This Land Is your Land”).

Criticism of Christians, I believe, is appropriate when Christians try to implement their beliefs and values in the public sphere– the schools, abortion, homosexuality, prayer in publicly funded institutions, those silly granite Ten Commandments in Alabama. I think that Christian political candidates and public officials, however, can speak out about their faith and values, so long as they are careful to sincerely celebrate religious pluralism. Surely progressives would jump up and down with glee at a Christian religious leader who denounced the war, called for social policy to reduce the gap between rich and poor, and advocated gay marriage? What would the intelligensia– left and right do? And the electorate? Maybe rethink what is a perception bound to make the Democrats the perpetual minority party– that it is unfriendly to out Christians.

Plenty of us are quite liberal. There is a great amount of theological diversity and debate in the Church– even at least one bishop who questions the Virgin birth and the Resurrection. Many Episcopalians and other Christian sects are opposed to the Iraq war, pro-government social services spending, pro-gay, pro-choice, etc., etc., although there is debate in almost every denomination. But progressives are supposed to be in favor of vigorous debate of ideas, right?

A great blog that is quite eloquent on this subject is GetReligion, which is mildly conservatice, and the Revealer, doesn’t seem to come from a particular religious perspective. Read the post that got me fired up here and here.

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About Ted Mills

  • boomcrashbaby

    One problem is that many progressives are ignorant of the diversity (a word they like) of both theology and social beliefs among Christians.

    Most of the liberals I know of, are aware of all the diversity in the Church. I think what you are describing – this ‘I am misunderstood’ line of thought, we all have experienced. I tell people I am a liberal. I get called a commie pinko even though I favor capitalism. The liberal middle can get labeled with the ideals of the fringe all the time.

    I think in the case of progressive Christians, they might say that people like Dr. Dobson, or Falwell or Judge Roy Moore don’t represent their values, but they remain silent when these people push their paleo-con agendas under the name of Christianity and the Bible. So when people push back against these agendas, they push back against the label that you all have allowed to be used as well. Does that make sense? When Japan went to war against the U.S., the Japanese-Americans were put in camps, even if those Japanese-Americans didn’t support the war ‘agenda’ against the U.S.

    I think this type of lumping together of a group, is common, across a lot more than just religion, and I can see why it is especially so in your case when progressive Christians allow such oppressive ideologies, by extreme fundamentalists to be put forward under the banner of Christianity.

    Where are your lamentations about Christians on the 700 club discussing gay marriage, and relationships while showing footage of 7 foot tall drag queens with platform pumps, thongs, glitter and rainbow hair dancing in the streets? Where are your lamentations when the Pope lays the blame for the many priest sexual abuse scandals on a homosexual orientation? Where are the lamentations when Christian leaders appear on news shows across America and talk about how a gay relationship will destroy a heterosexual one and lead to men humping animals? The progressive Christian is always strangely silent when these types of comments are put out in the name of Christian morals and have been for decades.

    Even leaders like the Pope…share chunks of the leftist agenda…this Pope has named a huge number of developing nation cardinals to jobs in the Vatican

    No offense, but what leftists do you mean? I know of no liberal party who cares about what cardinal gets a job, you must mean the leftist clergy?

    Surely progressives would jump up and down with glee at a Christian religious leader who denounced the war, called for social policy to reduce the gap between rich and poor, and advocated gay marriage?

    Yes, they probably would jump up and down, personally I think I’d duck because lightning would soon follow, but such Christian religious leaders have absolutely no power over politics or societal laws/customs/mores. Can you name me one religious leader of that ideology who has the political clout of Gary Bauer, Dr. James Dobson, Falwell, Robertson, or all those who spend millions per year promoting their oppressive ideologies under the banner of Christianity? What actively-Christian politician has stood on the political platform and proudly stated she’s/he’s for gay marriage and concerned about the economic gap? Perhaps if progressive Christians want to know how liberals would react to that, they should make this nice dream a reality and give the progressive Christian the political power of the paleo-con Christian who tells the world he is acting on your behalf (while progressive Christians remain silent about it).

    I am a gay man too. I believe in Jesus, but I have left the church. One of the main tenements (sp?) of Christianity is to go out and spread the word. It’s a Christians duty to promote Christianity. So a Christian politican who does not promote his faith is not following his faith, is my understanding. But I believe in separation of church and state, so that’s the religious person’s dilemma, not societies dilemma, is how I see it.

    Another concept of religion, all religions, is that you are either saved or are damned. And usually, only through the religion can you be saved. It’s an ‘You’re either with us or against us’ philosophy. Many Christians (and even a Catholic here at BlogCritics) have told me that the bible doesn’t allow interpretation. You follow it AND the church or you don’t get into heaven. These people vote their beliefs into societal practice for all. And millions of us who don’t follow their beliefs get punished for it. Progressive Christians help support this, even if they don’t agree with it.

    Plenty of us are quite liberal. There is a great amount of theological diversity and debate in the Church….But progressives are supposed to be in favor of vigorous debate of ideas, right?

    Yeah, too bad you all keep that vigorous debate in the church but are in near complete agreement in the voting booth.

  • Eric Olsen

    excellent post Ted – I think there is (understandably) a lot of fear of religion, particularly on the left, due to perceived “irrationality,” the pro-life/pro-choice split, concerns over separation of chuch and state, gay marriage, etc, and this leads to stereotying and generalization

    Thanks and welcome!

  • SFC SKI

    Really great post, with a lot of food for thought.

    Christianity is not about a religious organization, political action group, or a party line, to me, it is a very personal walk with Christ, and how it reflects in your life and interactions with others. ( I say this as a poor day to day example of a Christian.)

    People can become so fault finding if you express your faith, before they even know you, whereas being a nice, trustworthy person is taken as something uniques to a lot of folks.

    Christians will only be effective if they live their faith one on one and day to day, trying as it can be, otherwisae they will just be another group of blowhards with a soapbox and an agenda.

  • http://tcpc.blogs.com/libchristian/ LibChristian

    Thanks for your post Ted!

    BoomCrashBaby is wrong about several things.

    1) near complete agreement at the voting booth.

    This shows your complete lack of knowledge on the issue. Christians vote across the board. A majority of both parties in the US are Christian, simply because we are the majority religion. If we hopped up and down telling everyone how we are an important part of the political and social progressive movements, people would ask why we always need to prove how important we are or how we’re running everything. Since we don’t say anything, your comment comes up. It often feels like a damned if you do, damned if you don’t scenario.

    I’m not saying we should speak up more – WE SHOULD. But just keep in mind that its your comments that get kicked back at us as we try to do so.

    For more info, see http://www.christianalliance.org, http://www.crossleft.org, http://www.tcpc.org, http://www.jointhewalk.org, and https://www.tcpc.org/resources/links.html for a list of over 40 more GLBT, environmental, poverty-fighting, peace, and other progressive Christian organizations.

    3) Progressive Christians help support this [heaven/hell theology], even if they don’t agree with it.

    No, we don’t. We are opposing it more than secularists do. We are giving people a third way between #1 accepting those beliefs and #2 turning away from their faith. Often, given that dichotomy, they choose #1 because it is less dishonest than #2.

    Besides, your entire accusation is ridiculous. Its like saying having a German accent in the 40’s helped support Hitler. I can’t help my beliefs – I just believe them. I’ll give them up when you believe there are 7 toes on your right foot.

    2) Can you name me one religious leader of that ideology who has the political clout

    Hell, can you name me one SECULAR progressive leader who has that kind of political clout?

    This is a part of our nature progressives have to deal with. We do not run to the mailbox and send the next great leader our entire pension money. We do not all adore one human being as the answer to the decline of society. We do not all pile on the bandwagon of an entire agenda of issues.

    Progressive Christians, and progressives of all religions, have the exact same scenario to deal with.

    You say we’ve been “strangely silent.” Um, no. We’ve been more silent than we should, YES. We should try even harder. But we’ve always responded. All the many Quaker and progressive Christian churches and organizations I work with put out press releases; send in guest editorials; write HUNDREDS of books. But if you don’t have a vast media empire supported by little old ladies’ pensions to BROADCAST your outraged protests, that goes unmentioned!!!

    The fact of the matter is hatred and juicy stories sell. Reconciliation and tolerance does not. We are trying to get into the media, and we’re trying more hard than ever in recent years.

    But we just don’t sell as well as hate.

    For more info, see my parable The Ostrich and the Cat: http://tcpc.blogs.com/libchristian/