This is my first foray in blogging. I have been a student for most of my life and have spent the past six years studying religion, particularly Christianity. I have no doubt that if I continue blogging that I will say many things about “traditional” or “conservative” Christianity. No doubt, most of it will be arguing against those things, but I want the first one to be a defense of the people who hold those views.
I grew up in rural South Carolina. While growing up, Church was not a choice but a weekly requirement. In fact, the more I have thought about it, the more I have thought that requirement was also true of the adults. In my region, it did not matter what the sign said outside, everyone tried to be Southern Baptist. I grew up in a United Methodist church, but the congregation is Calvinist and believes in predestination. Pastors’ attempts to come in and create a Wesleyan formation have been disastrous. I have yet to meet anyone from my region, who did not go off to school that is, who does not believe that the Bible is inerrant.
I was never quite comfortable with this Christianity. I wanted to believe. I desperately wanted to believe in a God who loves me and watches over me, but given my only options for Christianity, I could never fully take the plunge. I went to Church. I prayed, but my heart wasn’t in it. How could I reconcile what I learned in school and strove so hard to master with a faith that said those things were false and I could not believe them and Christianity. In many ways, I felt terrible about myself. Chiefly of all, I felt that I was the lukewarm that Jesus was going to “spit” into the lake of fire.
Wrestling with these things, I graduated from high school and went to a small liberal arts college. There, I formed friendships with those people like me, as humans are wont to do. In this case, I formed friendships with the Christian and academic crowds. At my Alma mater, there was a great deal of overlap between the two. While I was forming and solidifying these friendships, I was seeking a major. Eventually, I settled on religion. Obviously, as someone struggling with how to combine faith and intellect, the religion major would appeal to me.
Fast forward to my junior year, and at this point, my social circles are firmly entrenched. At a small school, this means that I have taken on several labels that restrict my movement socially. I am supposed to go out with the Christian crowd and that’s about it. However, at this point in my major, I start digging in deep and wrestling with my faith. I am encountering and reading thoughts and arguments that I have never heard or read before, and they change my faith. It was, at times, a painful transformation, but I finished it freer and more comfortable with my faith than ever before. But it has concrete ramifications. I no longer believe in the inerrancy of the Bible. In fact, I think that belief is dangerous, harmful, and antithetical to the Christian faith. I believe that homosexuals and other LGBTQI folks should be fully included in the life of the church.
These thoughts and feelings are not something easily hidden when you spend every day with folks and attend church with them. My views “come out” to my friends. Most were not all that willing to accept said views and my social venues dwindle down to a select few. In their eyes, I was a dangerous heretic that had to be put out before I infected others. From then on, they were not comfortable discussing faith or spirituality around me, and if they were, then it was only to argue with me and prove the strength of their faith compared to mine. In many ways, I experienced a very real social death. But let’s get some perspective; I experienced it for only two years. Even in the midst of it, I was aware that I was going to graduate in two years and those fights and lost friends would be minimal in comparison to the rest of my life. Obviously, making the choice to hold to what I believed to be right despite the retaliation had an impact on me, but the retaliation is pithy in light of my leaving that situation in two years.
This is where my defense of the “traditionalist” comes in. Let us imagine Jack. Jack is a middle aged, upper-middle class Christian in the South. Jack is a banker with a wife and two children. He goes to church on Sunday morning and Bible study on Wednesday nights. He has his friends with whom he watches sports and plays golf. He votes Republican because he is a financial conservative and the social things are secondary. He believes that the Bible is inerrant, women should not be ordained, and LGBTQI folks should not be a part of the church because that is what he was always taught and he never gave much more thought to it than that.
Let’s imagine that Jack starts hearing arguments for pro-gay marriage on the news. Let’s imagine that he doesn’t reject it out of hand, but he starts thinking about the other side. Pretty soon he starts thinking about other issues he held for granted. Soon after that, he’s not certain what he’s sure of anymore. At this point, Jack is not certain that he is pro-gay marriage or does not believe the Bible is inerrant, and as a result, he is not certain about voting Republican anymore. He’s not certain but he talks with his friends and church family about his thoughts and struggles anyway. They do not react well.
Jack is not a college student. He is firmly entrenched in his societal avenues and circles. His wife is firmly entrenched in hers and, to a certain extent, so are his children. All of a sudden, his church family does not respond to him in the same way as they used to. Jack’s pastor wants to discuss things with him and make certain that his “faith walk” is okay. His golf buddies are reluctant to discuss things with him that they otherwise used to. His wife wants to know why social invites aren’t coming in the way they used to. His children want to know why they don’t play with his friends’ children anymore. Isn’t it so much simpler that before any of this happens, he just rejects the questioning to begin with that the newscast brought up?
Obviously, I have given an extreme hypothetical example. This would not happen in every case and certainly not to the extent that I have described. There are, of course, many other reasons that Jack will not change his mind. But the point is this, that in many ways we can become imprisoned in the walls of the society that we surround ourselves with. We, progressive Christians, would love for Jack to have a transformation like I had and for Christianity to not have members oppressing their fellow human beings. We are incredibly frustrated by the fact that people continue to choose ignorance. I offer this thought, this perspective to you in the hopes that it will give you a second thought of love for those who continue to feel that exclusion and condemnation are the paths that Christ would have them walk.
An example of this would be my own experience. Whilst going through my own spiritual transformation in college, I started looking for answers from those Christians whom I knew were not like those I had grown up around. One of these people was one of the directors of my scholarship program. She is a wonderful human being whom I am still friends with. We met and discussed issues like the ones I have highlighted above an hour a week for a semester. I am certain that numerous times I said things that were offensive to her because I was trying to work out my own preconceived notions about many issues. However, she did not respond as she probably would have liked to. She responded with patience and Christian love. Would I have come to hold the beliefs that I do today if she responded as she would have liked to? Perhaps, but she definitely had a large hand in bringing my views to the progressive side of Christianity.
We would love for people like Jack to walk and preach of Jesus’ radical love and inclusivity, but it is our duty to love them regardless of whether they do or not. If we do not love, if we became the venomous option in a raucous debate rather than a viable option for their views, then why would they change their views? Why join someone whom you merely view as a threat to your way of life. You wouldn’t and neither would Jack. If we wish to change the mind of the “Christian Right,” if we wish to redefine the public image of Christianity to reflect a more public stance, then we must love our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ with whom we disagree. It is far easier to have interfaith conversations than intrafaith conversations, but if we are to live out Christ’s charge to love our neighbors as ourselves, then we must lovingly have those conversations.
 John Wesley (1703-1791) was an Anglican priest who is credited with beginning the Methodist movement that became the denomination. One of the most characteristic things of what could be called Wesleyan formation is the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. The Wesleyan Quadrilateral is a methodology for theological reflection that holds that theological conclusions should be sifted through the sieves of Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience.
 Despite the common translation, the verb used in Revelation 3:16, εμεσαι, most closely means vomit. An even more terrifying image!