My Dilemma, as a Liberal Christian.
The dilemma, for me, is not in being a liberal Christian, but how to get along with my Christian brothers and sisters who are emphatically not-liberal. They may be conservative. They may even feel that it is a contradiction in terms, to use the words, liberal and Christian, in the same sentence.
But I am a Christian. I know, this might mean different things to different people. It could mean that I live in a Christian community, as opposed to being a member of the Jewish community. To some, it may mean that I adhere to certain fundamentalist principles, and to certain guidelines of conduct.
To me, it means that I believe in Jesus, as the Son of God, and that I have accepted him as my Saviour. To explain that statement, I believe that I will have eternal life, by the grace of God. I used to say the same thing the Church says, at this point, that his “sacrifice” on the cross made it possible for me to be saved. In recent years I have re-interpreted this to mean that Jesus didn’t so much die to save us, but he simply demonstrated complete forgiveness in every aspect of his life. In other words, it’s not so much like a God had to be appeased, and demanded a sacrifice. No, I believe it was more like he was trying to show us that we ARE ALL forgiven, and always have been. Of those who crucified him, he said, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” If this applied to those present at that place and time, it surely must apply to all. There’s more that could be said about this, but for brevity’s sake, I won’t now.
And unlike many Christians, I fully believe in the separation of Church and State, and in religious freedom. Religious freedom includes the right to be atheistic, or agnostic, or even to be irreligious, anti-religious, or to cling to some different Faith, like Islam, or Buddhism. Similarly, any kind of religious sect, in a free society must be allowed, as long as they don’t break any laws, as long as they don’t try to force others to accept their cultish beliefs. This would also prevent members of established religions from forcing their beliefs upon anyone.
And that’s where we, as this American society, get into trouble. I really have a problem with the political religious right-wing, when they try to use the law to force people who don’t share their beliefs, to conform to their ideals of what our society should be like. They feel obligated to influence politics, in order to restrict the behavior of others who may be involved in things that they see as ungodliness.
Another thing that has grieved my soul to no end, has been the tendency of Christians to support the agenda of those who have become known as neo-conservatives. This is a political agenda, specifically, that of the Republican party, especially during and since the presidency of George W. Bush.
I began to notice this in the early 90’s, when the religious right political wing began to influence politics in a way that seemed very un-Christian to me. Over two decades, this caused me to actually lose my faith altogether, though I have now recovered my relationship to the Lord.
Still, I have to ask the question, and it just boils down to this: how can the church of Jesus be the most violent, warmongering entity in the whole world?
Of course, the obvious answer is that the true church of Jesus is not violent at all. But then, why did the religious right re-elect George W. Bush in 2004, knowing that he had unjustly invaded Afghanistan, and Iraq?
During the lead-up to the invasion, it was plain for me to see the truth that many could not see. I knew that George W. would force the invasion, regardless of anything Saddam did, and I knew the whole thing about ‘weapons of mass destruction’ was a lie. I was in Slovakia at the time, teaching English, and I accurately predicted to anyone who would listen, certainly to all my students, that this would happen. Plus, I predicted that it would be a never-ending mess, a conflict that would never be ended satisfactorily. I stand by this to this day.
So why does the majority of confessing ‘Christians’ have such an affinity for the Republican party? And not only that, they seem to tend strongly toward the ’neo-conservative’ far-right. And why is it the supposedly religious right that is now beating the war drums, urging an attack on Iran? We really seem to have learned nothing at all from these two recent failures at occupation of foreign countries.
Is there no one who understands that the United States has become the only country on earth that is invading other countries, causing the deaths of hundreds of thousands [millions?]. In the eyes of the whole world, most of whom don’t have the benefit of faith in Christ, America has become the bad guy, the aggressor, the problem country. That is, America along with Israel, America’s ally, our ‘fifty-first state’.
Perhaps it has something to do with a political ‘awakening’, in the church, and the ‘hot-button issues’ that were becoming concerns of that time. Then there are the ministers who have become power-brokers, who can make or break a politician. But, whatever was involved in the mechanics of the thing, it upset me so badly, watching the church be so manipulated, that over time, I actually lost all faith in Christianity. I denied Christ. I told my English students that there was certainly a God, but that I didn’t know His (or Her) name.
I’m very sorry, now, that I ever came to such a conclusion. This faithlessness led me down a path that eventually led to my downfall.
Partly as a result of my disillusionment with the Church, I became kind of rudderless, when I was in Europe. Then, after a sudden and senseless divorce, I fell into using prescription drugs and drinking, mixing the two. This is like committing suicide, in a way. Some may be able to resist the destructive effects of this behavior for a while, but for most, it is a sure path to destruction. Combine all of the above with a financial downturn, in which all companies I worked for cut back on their English lessons for their workers, and it was a recipe for my fall. And fall I did. I landed back in America a diminished person. I felt that I was unable to find my way on my own.
I had spent some time in the Intensive Care unit of a Hospital in Prague, as I have written. Part of that time was spent in a coma, due to blood loss. This, combined with the alcohol and so forth, had left me actually somewhat brain-damaged. When I came to my brother, Dan, a minister in Tennessee, to his Recovery Center, I needed a touch from God. I needed to go back to a ‘reset button’, to a mindset from many years past. This is not to say that I don’t still need help from God, nor was I wrong, to accept a very basic form of Faith, an evangelical viewpoint.
I needed this, at that time, especially, to get through that time of crisis, to have time to be healed. And then, when I moved out, to be on my own, in another town, I needed the little Baptist Church where I began to attend. They were perfectly suited to me, since they loved to play and sing old-time gospel music.
But, little by little, I have felt that old tension rising between the Faith that I believe in, and the political leaning of these people. Things were said, only occasionally, that let me know that I am definitely not in agreement with these people on a number of important issues. The right-wing politics, their ultra-conservative social stance, these are things that would soon lead me into a conflict with someone there. And conflict is NOT what I need, at this stage in my life.
Beginning with the first invasion of the gulf, under George H.W. Bush, I was shocked and appalled to find my fellow Christians celebrating the destruction of another country’s armies. I write about this elsewhere, in this book, as I document an old diary that I did back in 1991. But I was wrong to let the mistakes of a so-called “Church” turn me away from the loving and compassionate and non-nationalistic Lord. So, now, I am determined that I won’t be knocked off track again. My Faith is strong. But I realized that to spare myself from unpleasant stress, I needed to distance myself, somewhat, from the fundamentalist Christians, at this time.
I went back to my old friends at the Unitarian Church, where I had gone in the 90’s. And even though I have never fully accepted the beliefs of this church, they have never demanded that I do so, as long as I respect their freedom of thought.
Well, it seems like a real God-send. Suddenly, when I think of going to church, I feel exhilarated. And it’s a real relief to be around people who feel as I do, on political and social issues. There really are some admirable qualities about these people, especially the ones in my particular town.
About my dilemma in working with the American Church, it’s helpful to know that they are not the only group for me to work with. There is an Iranian Christian Church, a Syrian Church, Palestine has an active Church, there were Christians in Iraq, even as we bombed them. Our intervention in their country made it impossible for them there, and they fled to neighboring states, to avoid the violence. The Cuban people are quite dedicated to their Catholic Christian Faith, God bless them. So, I have a whole bunch of Christian brothers and sisters, none of whom would be comfortable with having an American flag on their license plates, nor in their churches.
God is love, and God is not angry with those who are having trouble accepting His/ Her existence. After all, God hasn’t been seen in modern times. God hasn’t appeared on television, to be interviewed by Oprah. God could easily call up any television anchor, and I’m sure they could find a spot on their schedule for such an interview. However, this would put an end to the concept of believing “by faith”.
And we keep saying “Jesus is coming soon”, yes, but this has been said for 2000 years, which is a liberal use of the word, “soon”, we have to admit.
And there are many things that can’t be explained, like:
“Why do bad things happen to good people?”
“Why did God create (or allow) evil, and why doesn’t God put an end to it?”
We have made feeble attempts to answer these questions, without a truly satisfactory result. So maybe we all have to admit that we may not really have the ultimate understanding of everything religious, nor of everything philosophical.
One major difference between me and my Christian friends, I am inclined to believe that since all must be saved by grace, as the Bible says, then this grace would apply to every differing Faith. Surely, if a person is faithful to the religion of his or her people, God must honor their sincere worship. If it were up to me, I would. I could not look at a life of dedication to God, even if they use a different word for “God”, and then reject this person, saying, “Too bad, you were born in the wrong culture. You should have invited missionaries from another country.” And if I would be willing to accept them, I must ask the rhetorical question, am I more kind and loving than God? I think not.
Furthermore, I think that if people of differing Faiths everywhere could accept this premise, as I do, it would help a lot, in finding peaceful coexistence.
So, maybe this is not such a dilemma, that I find myself in. I’m beginning to see how it might just work out.