I love evangelicals. You all drive me crazy, but I love you. I’m liberal – in fact I left liberal in the dust so long ago I’ve forgotten what it looks like. But as I read Hijacked, a new book by Methodist pastors Mike Slaughter and Charles Gutenson on responding to partisan politics in the church, I felt a glimmer of hope rising within me. You see, I’m concerned that the church is dying. A lot of mainline Christians and virtually all of the “spiritual but not religious crowd,” are so disgusted with the partisan church divide that they’ve opted out of Christian faith. (Outrageous, I know.) They look at you all, (and me by association if you can believe that), holding angry political positions based on literal interpretations of ancient texts that can’t even correctly calculate the value of pi (I Kings 7:23), and write us off.
Christians have actually tried to change the value of pi in textbooks based on that verse. And why not? Accept that the Bible is wrong on that one, and the next thing you know, you’ll slide down that slippery slope and deny the bodily resurrection of Christ. Reductio absurdum? Yes, but the point holds and sheds light on the fear festering at the heart of these debates. The spiritual but not religious folk can smell it and they know, without hearing the verse quoted, that “Perfect love casts out fear” (I John 4:18), so they’ll have none of it.
But please don’t think I’m being overly critical; I really get the fear thing because what I see from over here on the dark side, is the slippery slope, the embrace of the modernist deconstruction of Biblical authority that leaves people without a context of meaning for the sometimes tragic life we lead. No context of meaning, like Tony Hall described: “I had this very vague feeling I was walking around in nothingness” (p. 115). He was. Want to see the consequence of a society stuck in that place? Watch the news.
So I can see how, if you think the choice is between no context of meaning and a bitter partisan grip on faith, you might go with the partisan divide. But that is not the choice and the authors know it. (Hence the earlier stated hope.)
The authors might disagree, but I believe the Scriptures represent a long theological conversation. Stories, interpretive history, poems, oracles, etc., were written, edited and brought together such that the aggregate forms the basis of a conversation which offers a context of meaning to people of faith. It is an active conversation, inspired by Spirit, that leads us to describe and live our faith even as our understanding of the world evolves. Such was the case in the development of the Scriptures themselves.
The authors understand that the conversation has been truncated, sometimes even eradicated, by fear. They offer a prescription to pull us out of that malaise. Love one another and get out of the ideological bubble. Cool. We can agree on another essential: Perfect love casts out fear. Really, I love you evangelicals.
Sam Alexander is the Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in San Rafael, CA, and an Adjunct Professor of Homiletics at San Francisco Theological Seminary.