This is an axe I have been grinding for well over a decade. Having been a bona-fide "Conservative Christian", I can say with certainty that many of the values I have now -- some of which might be considered downright Marxist by some -- crossed over directly from that old millieu.
For instance, an emphasis on anti-materialism; a strong disdain for American obsession with the aquisition of money and things; the practice of treating everyone with the same level of dignity, regardless of rank or social status (this has been especially helpful in my IT work, and good ol' Jesus himself is my role model); helping people because it is simply the morally right thing to do, and not because of what you can get in return for it; a sense of empathy and altruism, the list goes on. If I wanted to, I could point you to specific Bible verses for each of these points. But I will spare you all (and myself as well - lecturing y'all leftists is one thing; preaching sermons is quite another :-)).
As I've been thinking lately about what I want in a church, I've been remembering what it was that drew me to it in the first place. These posts reminded me of one of my first emails to Telford last year, when I told him why I liked his blog: "I hope you're right that there's a love out there that's bigger than (my office's) bruising conservatism or the increasingly curdled secular liberalism I grew up in."
Reading that reminds me that even though I'm frustrated with my progress, I really have changed in the last year. I was alienated from almost everybody around me then. Exactly why is hard to say, because it was a buildup of things rather than any big thing. But the post-Sept. 11 environment made it worse.
Now, I know that you don't have to believe in God to believe in empathy, equality, etc. But in my experience, it sure helps. In my life back then, most people seemed to be living up to stereotypes: the righties were macho social Darwinists, the lefties long on anger and short on vision. All of us, it seemed to me, were lacking the same thing: a transcendent hope.
Getting into Christianity was a rebellion on a few different levels. Going to a Pentecostal church in particular rebelled against what I'd been brought up to be. It's the same family of church that most of the Christian Right comes out of, so going to Christian Assembly had a bit of the feel of Romeo climbing onto Juliet's balcony.
CA is not a political church, however, which is how I wanted it. And in a lot of ways, it brought me some of the basic things I needed. It brought hope, a lack of cynicism, a place where a person is allowed to be weak and broken. But I do feel that my rebellious flirtation with the evangelical subculture may be coming to an end. What's bothering me, I think, is that even though CA didn't adopt fundamentalism's attitudes of culture war, it does have some of its theological narrowness.
I mentioned how last Palm Sunday Telford had to do "damage control" after the sermon presented subsitutional atonement as the one and only explanation of the Crucifixion. SA is one of those "five fundamentals" that give fundamentalism its name. (The other four are Biblical inerrancy, the virgin birth, the physical resurrection of Christ, and the physical second coming of Christ.) These fundamentals were put together in the early twentieth century as a reaction against modernizing trends in Christianity, but as Peter noted the other day, fundies bring in their own form of modernism:
Unlike most forms of mysticism, fundamentalism is uncomfortable with ambiguity and tends to read the figurative and metaphoric language of religious faith in an ahistorical and excessively literal way. It imagines that it is being faithful to the past, but it views that past in ways that are thoroughly modern.
Getting back to Jeanne's post (you thought I'd wandered off, didn't you?), I think my problem with entangling religion and politics too closely is that it also makes religion small. One of her commenters refers to the governor of Alabama's recent change in tax policy and how uncomfortable this makes him. I agree with Jeanne's answer:
I don't want to see any politician on the left trying to make an argument that a certain policy is what Jesus would want. I'm uncomfortable with that tax crusade, too. I'm more comfortable with a politician using language from his or her faith to inspire, to help people summon their best selves.
As Jeanne and Laura say, Christian activism has an illustrious history, so I'm not making a general indictment. But I know I don't want a church that's all wrapped up in cultural or political wars, from either side of them. I came wanting a Jesus who transcends those divisions, and that's what I still want.Posted by Camassia at August 18, 2003 07:02 PM | TrackBack