Liberal Christianity, Conservative Christianity, and the Caught-In-Between


Rachel Held Evans weighs in on the debate between Ross Douthat and Diana Butler Bass over “the death of (liberal? conservative?) Christianity”:

Some of you confessed that, rather than accepting one Christian “package” or the other, you’ve simply bowed out of church altogether—unable to fit into either group. (I can certainly relate to this dilemma.) Multiple studies suggest that this is exactly what’s happening, as young adults in particular leave the Church in droves. I suspect that the liberal/conservative divide itself is a factor in these declining numbers, and yet the divide grows with every new disconcerting study as liberals and conservatives point at one another and yell, “It’s your fault!”

Frankly, I find the whole conversation a bit depressing. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want either group to “meet its demise” because I love elements of both! In fact, I think there are a lot of progressive, mainline churches that could benefit from a shot of evangelicalism, and a lot of evangelical churches who could benefit from a shot of progressivism.  We have so much to learn from one another, but instead we’re like a pair of toddlers fighting over space in the sandbox.

But if the early church could survive—and in fact, thrive  amidst persecution—when it included both Jews and Gentiles, zealots and tax collectors, slaves and owners, men and women, those in support of circumcision and those against it, those staunchly opposed to eating food that had been sacrificed to idols and those who felt it necessary, then I think modern American Christianity can survive when it includes democrats and republicans, biblical literalists and biblical non-literalists, Calvinists and Arminians...so long as we’re not rooting for one another’s demise.   

With this in mind, maybe being  “in between” isn’t so bad. Maybe being “in between” puts those of us who find ourselves torn between conservative Christianity and liberal Christianity in a position to act as peacemakers and bridge-builders between the two groups.  Maybe it enables us to help break down these binaries altogether, as we are living proof that you don’t have to choose one or the other.

I’m sympathetic to Rachel Held Evans’ sentiment, though not necessarily her specific examples. But with her, I wonder why certain ideas and practices get packaged together. Why is conservative theology so often packaged with support for America’s wars? Why is concern for the poor so often packaged with Progressive politics? Can’t the orthdox oppose war? Can’t capitalists help the poor?

So here’s the question: Why are certain Christian ideas and social practices packaged together?

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2 thoughts on “Liberal Christianity, Conservative Christianity, and the Caught-In-Between

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  1. Perhaps for historical reasons? Pentecostals don’t drink because they have their roots in the Wesleyan Holiness movement. Reformed Charismatics coming from a Presbyterian background would have no problem hanging out together at a bar. Different theological beliefs and Biblical attitudes tend to come in these packages guided by historical reasons. The same might go for Liberal and Conservative branches of Christianity. Just an idea.

  2. My sentiments exactly, George. My research over the years, particularly with my doctoral dissertation in the 80s, is that we make decisions of ethical/moral and faith import based on a variety of factors, such as sociological, cultural and historical, not just theological. And even “theological” is complicated, for such factors also influence our theology, including the ways in which we interpret and apply Scripture.

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