Progressive Christians: It’s Awful to Waffle!

I like progressive Christians. They’re a fun bunch: witty, conversational, tending toward expressive body language. And they always have lots of wine they purchased at a reasonable price. What’s not to like?

One thing it’s pretty easy for progressive Christians not to like, though, is, sadly, me.

I know! I can’t believe it either! It still shocks me every time one of them yanks a wine glass from my hand and asks me to leave.

“But why?” I respond with wide-eyed incredulity. “I thought we were having such a great conversation.”

“Yeah, we were,” they say. “Until you joined it. You’re to a normal conversation what a backhoe is to a spoon.”

See? Witty!

But cruel. Witty and cruel. Tough combo. Then again, if Witty & Cruel was a law firm, you’d hire it. But you wouldn’t respect yourself in the morning.

Anyway, the reason I tend to in fairly short order utterly fail at blending with progressive Christians is because … because … .

Oh, no. I feel a rant coming on.

I knew I shouldn’t have had that extra venti latte.

Too late. It’s on. I could no sooner stop this upcoming rant than Willy the whale could have stopped wanting to be free. (I didn’t see the movie, but I assume freedom was Willy’s goal. Willy was also a killer whale, right? So the reason he wanted to be free can’t be good. Willy’s kid owners must have been, like, “Free Willy!” And all the dolphins and fish outside of Willy’s pen must have been like, “No, don’t!” But did we hear their side of the story? No. Freakin’ Hollywood. )

But on to my rave.

So if there’s one thing to recommend discussing theology, it’s that doing so allows you to remain firmly within the warm and fuzzy confines of The Waffle Zone (motto: Where the food isn’t particularly inoffensive, and there’s not enough of it.)

And nobody more enjoys seeing if they can cram one more angel onto the head of the proverbial pin than does your typical progressive Christian. Progressive “followers of Christ” (and can we please drop that faux-modest nicety, and just call ourselves Christian: why does the right get to keep that word?) are fairly enamored of discussing theology and All Things Churcy, in the main because doing so affords them two irresistible opportunities: the chance to assume the airs of an intelligent person, and the chance to justify avoiding any thought that actually matters.

Pontification fodder and elaborate waffle dressing! Why, it’s like ordering the breakfast platter at the International House of Spinelessness!

A simple-minded person such as myself prefers simple thoughts. Here are two simple thoughts that I think should be fully morphed into the brain (and spine) of anyone with the cajones to call himself a progressive Christian. (Though at all employing the term “progressive Christian” automatically slides you into a booth at IHOS, since it denotes anything from socially progressive, to theologically progressive, to socially progressive but theologically centrist, to theologically progressive but socially centrist, to socially theological but progressively boring, to would you like a little half-flat seltzer water with that half-empty glass of white zinfandel?)

If you’re going to call yourself a Christian progressive, I would like to suggest that you step out of the sugary-sweet Waffle Zone, and instead unapologetically claim as your own these two readily comprehensible beliefs:

  • Being gay is no more an indicator of a person’s moral status than is the color of their eyes.
  • There is no such thing as hell.

There. Those are two things that all progressive Christians should believe. If you are a Christian who doesn’t firmly and comfortably believe those two things, then stop calling yourself a progressive Christian.

And if you simply need help remembering these two tenets, try these fun rhymes!

God’s okay with you being gay / ‘Cause he knows he made you that way.

See? Catchy! Who could forget that?

Now let’s do one about hell.

If you say “You’re going to hell!” / then shut the fuck up.

Whoa. Much less catchy. Sorry.

The first big step to creating hell / is telling other people they’re going there.

Hey. It’s a start.

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About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. John is a pastor ordained by The Progressive Christian Alliance. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. And don't forget to sign up for his mucho awesome monthly newsletter.

  • http://polygonsandsprites.wordpress.com/ Blake

    John, this was great! I’ve been shy about standing up for my beliefs around other Christians around here lately, but this shit has to end. The belief that being gay is wrong and/or that you’ll go to Hell if you don’t believe the right things is SO INCREDIBLY UNHEALTHY.

  • Kris

    As always…well said, Mr. John Shore.

  • RayC

    …and definitely no Heaven, too.

  • http://leap-of-fate.com/ Christy

    WOW! I never liked waffles anyway. And SWEET! I’m in! And, damn, with the STFU. John Shore is welcome at my wine serving party anytime! Dude, you blend.

  • http://gaychristiangeek.blogspot.com Rainicorn

    *applause*

    *more applause*

    That is all.

  • http://donrogers.org Don Rogers

    I’m progressive? Really? Well whata you know! I like it!! Onward and upward…so to speak…

  • http://cheriegate.org William Cheriegate

    I found much freedom, theologically speaking, from

    Andrew Perriman’s “The Unbiblical Doctrine of Hell”.

    Very succinct and very helpful …

    http://www.postost.net/lexicon/hell-unbiblical-doctrine

    • RayC

      There is no literal Hell or eternal punishment. That’s at least one thing the Jehovah’s Witnesses got right.

  • Ben

    This is a great rant. I like keeping it simple. I also like keeping it funny, which you excel at. I will be laughing all day thinking about your first hell verse. I’ll never forget the first time a christian told me that they hoped I would burn in hell. “hide it under a bushel, no! I’m gonna tell everybody they’re going to hell”

  • http://www.barnmaven.com Barnmaven

    Good to know I didn’t wake up this morning as an Eggo.

    I have more to add, but what I DID wake up as is someone with a very nasty sinus headache and so you’ll just have to wait to read my witty repartee. I’m going back to bed.

  • http://www.poesies.com Gina Cirelli

    Thank you for the coffee on my computer screen. Even though it’s half-decaf since I like to think I kicked that addiction years ago. ;)

  • Abbie

    Wow. That was…. not where I thought you were going with this post! I look forward to the next.

  • textjunkie

    Huh. I guess I hang out with more militant progressive Christians than you do–I thought they would have all signed on to those tenets, as well as the ones about love God with all your heart and mind and soul, and love your neighbor as yourself.

  • vj

    Wow, John – judgmental much? I, too, look forward to your next post on this topic, but based on what you’ve written here it seems like you don’t cut doubters much slack? When do doubt and uncertainty become waffle? How much grace are you willing to extend to those who are earnestly working through their beliefs? How much space are you willing to give to those who do not agree with you on these matters? Through reading your blog and books, and other books, and prayerfully contemplating life, the universe and everything, I have arrived at a place of not being sure about many things, and am on a personal journey of deciding for myself what I believe.

    If, for example, I am at a place where I totally accept that being gay is experienced as the natural state of someone who self-identifies as such, but am not *sure* that God *makes* someone gay (given the fallen state of the world, I cannot be sure that God has made *me* exactly as I am, therefore I cannot even begin to attempt to know what parts of any other person are as God intended or are the result of other factors). I do, however, have absolutely no doubt that Jesus welcomes anyone into his kingdom, and am therefore leaning towards believing that ‘the church’ should just get over itself and welcome gay marriage etc. The best reasoning I can come up with right now is that the 10 Commandments don’t mention sexual orientation, different cultures have different norms around marriage, and there’s no marriage in heaven anyway, so if a gay person chooses to follow Jesus, who am I to deny them entry? If I am to say that being gay is okay (in the same way that me being me is okay), must I also agree that God *makes* anyone gay? I’m honestly not sure about that, and therefore cannot fully endorse your 1st point. Does that make me a waffler?

    As to your 2nd point – I have never been that fussed about hell (or heaven, for that matter), since it must of necessity all be speculation. However, I remain utterly gobsmacked that any person can view “you’re going to hell for X” as something God would want them to say to anyone. I would very much like it to be true that there is no hell, but, again, I’m honestly not sure, and therefore cannot fully endorse your 2nd point either. Does that make me a double waffler?

    I am where I am in large part because your writing has challenged me to examine everything that I once took for granted. I am grateful for the experience, because I believe it has brought me closer to God, and also closer to understanding myself. But it would make me incredibly sad if you were to consider me a lesser person because I cannot (yet?) agree completely with your position on these matters….

    My kids’ school includes the following in their mission statement: “We are committed to taking all people seriously wherever they might be at their particular point of understanding, while at the same time sharing with them whatever insights may have been gained by our relationship with God.” and “We are committed to identifying and affirming what is good and identifying and opposing what is evil, and living as best we can in the mess in the middle.” My hope is that you would also be able to welcome those of us who are still muddling through the middle.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Okay, so here’s a quick tip: If any part of your motivation in writing someone is to help them understand the degree to which your morality is grounded in Biblical compassion, you might not want to start your letter to them with a snarky comment about how judgmental they are. Just maybe a little something to bear in mind. (But, no, of course I understand how everybody has to arrive at their beliefs in whatever way works best for them. All I’m suggesting is that people who DO call themselves progressive Christians should claim as their own the two beliefs I mentioned. That’s … well, all I’ve said.)

      • vj

        John, I apologise unreservedly for coming across as snarky, or as judging you. That was not at all my intention – my opening comment was intended to be in keeping with the style and tone of your blog post (which I found witty and entertaining), but clearly we don’t know each other well enough for that and/or I’m not a good enough writer to pull it off…

        Sorry.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

          Yeah, yeah: no problem whatsoever. I appreciate this kind statement, for sure. Thanks.

          • vj

            :-)

            I’ll try to remember my happy filter next time I leave a comment….

          • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

            Don’t even worry about it. You’ve always been a blessing to this blog.

  • Molly by Golly

    What progressive Christian doesn’t refute the existence of hell anywhere but the one we make for others right here on this earth? What progressive Christian isn’t pro queer?

    I don’t get it.

  • RosePhoenix

    I suppose I believe in Hell because I feel a need for some kind of punishment for people like rapists and murderers who did not serve time in jail here on Earth, and were completely unrepentant. I do not want to spend my afterlife with such people. If there is no Hell, and these people go to Heaven, I don’t think I want to go to Heaven. I don’t care if it’s Purgatory, non-existence, Hell, or whatever. Just please put those people somewhere separate from those who have lived their lives according to the greatest commandment–to love God and others. I cannot believe that God would be so cruel as to allow those people to be in the same place as the people they hurt for eternity. God is love. You would not make an abused person spend the rest of their life with their abuser, and God wouldn’t, either. I have trouble believing that people like Hitler went to Heaven. I need to believe that he’s not sharing space with the Jewish people he ordered slaughtered.

    As for it being eternal? I don’t know. Is it a lake of fire? Not necessarily. Maybe it’s a place without God. Maybe it’s a place without love.

    Maybe that’s why Purgatory was invented–people didn’t want to believe that a person went to Hell, but didn’t think that the way they had lived their life merited going to Heaven, so people went to Purgatory until they had properly repented and were ready for Heaven? Maybe my understanding of that is wrong…

    Now, I do NOT believe that anyone who isn’t a Christian goes to Hell. I am not going to tell anyone that they are going to Heaven or Hell, because it is God’s right to judge that, not mine. However…when someone does nothing but hate and hurt others…it just doesn’t make much sense to me that they would go to Heaven. I know that Jesus died for everyone’s sins, but that doesn’t mean that everyone can just go on sinning like that makes it okay. If everyone goes to Heaven anyway, what is even the point of following the great commandment to love others? That just feels wrong down to my very core.

    Also, what about those people who had near-death experiences? We don’t automatically invalidate the Heaven-based experiences, so why invalidate the Hell-based ones?

    I am liberal in a lot of ways–I am pro-LGBT (and possibly asexual), I understand why a woman–being one myself–would have an abortion (though I don’t think it’s always the right choice), and I am fine with people being of other faiths. However, I am sorry, I cannot let go of my belief in Hell, and I would like that to be respected. Sometimes I feel that it is not. You see, I have been following some un-fundamentalist Christian pages on Facebook, but I feel that I am being judged for believing in Hell. However, I cannot ally myself with fundamentalist/conservative Christians. I’m not sure what to do. I don’t think I fit in anywhere. I’ve got a lot of eclectic beliefs. I believe that evolution happened, but that it was directed by God. I believe that reincarnation is not out of the realm of possibility (and perhaps that is how souls not fit for Heaven end up going there in the end?). I also believe in earthbound spirits, i.e, ghosts, as well as angels and demons. In the end, I don’t know if I can even call myself a Christian anymore…except that I still do believe in Jesus, his divinity, and his message. In the end, I feel very lost and confused, and praying that I fit in somewhere.

    It hurts that I can’t be called “progressive” because of my belief in Hell for some reason. If I’m not a part of your group, and I am not a part of the other group, then what am I? Am I not a true follower of Jesus? Should I give up Christianity altogether?


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