Conservative Christianity as a whole seems to embrace a type of binary thinking that is counterproductive, simplistic, and judgmental.
The Bible describes for us – whether we believe in it as literal or not – that God’s creation of the world began as binary work. In the first two days, God created heavens/earth, light/dark, day/night, water/land.
After that, the diversity began. Vegetation of many kinds, fruit-bearing plants and trees; various “lights in the vault of the sky” that marked the seasons; all sorts of living creatures in the sea, in the sky, and on the land – “every living thing with which the water teems…every winged bird according to its kind…all the creatures that move along the ground.”
Then the crowning glory of God’s creation: humans. No two are alike.
Why have we reduced all this abundance and variety and complexity to kindergarten thinking? Everything is either good or bad, of God or of the devil.
In my decades as a conservative, evangelical Christian, I thought this way – but now that I’m outside that camp, the world is bigger, more beautiful, and more inviting. I only wish I’d left sooner.
I want for my conservative friends and readers the same richness, the same freedom.
In that spirit, I want to deconstruct some actual examples of reductionist, binary viewpoints that I used to espouse, and that I see every day. I hope that you’ll do as I did: acknowledge that the world is more complex than you thought. I’m not asking anyone to become liberal or progressive – just to think with more nuance.
Example: what is God’s will for my life?
A reader commented on my recent post, “Do you know God’s will for you, or just assume you know?” like this:
Yes, I know exactly what God’s will is for my life. That He will be glorified in whatever I do. It really is that simple…
So, when we look at the job part, for example, it is obvious. Being the driver of a trash truck or a bartender? Which of these will glorify God?
This shows a kind of humble willingness to do “dirty work” for God’s glory, but it’s also overly simplistic. Even for someone who is literally trying to decide between a career in sanitation or bartending, it’s problematic. Doesn’t the Kingdom need people who can minister to people who frequent bars? (Also, is a bar by default a den of sin? Are all bartenders by default dishonoring God?)
And what about other jobs? Is there a continuum of occupations, in which, for example, school bus driving is a 6, and stock trading is a 2? “When we look at the job part, it is obvious”?
The idea that certain lines of work glorify God and others don’t is utterly lacking in nuance. We know that people in full-time ministry (the top tier of “godly work”) have fallen hard, and convicted criminals (the “hopeless”) have gone on to serve God faithfully. Also keep in mind that a woman caught in adultery was blessed by Jesus, but teachers of the law were scolded!
Most life choices are not a matter of right and wrong, glorifying or dishonoring toward God. There is a middle ground. God made each of us unique. One-size-fits-all answers don’t take that complexity into account.
Example: God is a Republican
Here is just one of thousands of political-religious binary tweets I’ve read (this one dated January 24, from Mario Murillo Ministries):
“If you voted for Biden…there is peace and forgiveness available.
“To those who discerned the times and stood with Trump, and are still standing for one nation under God, there is the peace of knowing you stood with the vision of America that the Founding Fathers received from God.”
Translation: either you stand with Trump and you’re right (in more ways than one), or you’re on Biden’s team and you’re wrong. Either you’re in agreement with the Founding Fathers and by association with God, or you’re against the Founding Fathers and God. (I’ve written plenty about Trump – here, here, here for example.)
If you are Evangelical, you are probably nodding in agreement with those statements. And you will probably also agree with this comment from Facebook:
“All Biden wants to do is kill babies and old people. He is of the devil.”
According to this mindset, President (or “Not-My-President”) Biden is heartless, and wants only to kill the vulnerable. He is acting on behalf of Satan, so he is incapable of doing anything good.
A binary-thinking Christian divides everything and everyone into two camps: for God and against God. There is no middle ground, because as we know, Jesus said, “Whoever is not with me is against me” (Luke 11:23). (Jesus also said, “whoever is not against us is for us” (Mark 9:40) – but that’s a conversation for another day.)
But this binary thinking causes us to make assumptions we have no business making. Jesus could declare to the Pharisees “You are of your father the devil” (John 8:44), but we are not qualified to make such statements.
Biden can no more be defined only by his political position on abortion than Trump can be defined only by his extramarital affairs. We are all multi-dimensional, complex beings, and we owe it to God and each other to acknowledge that in ourselves and each other.
Issues are also complex, and deserve nuanced thought. Again, this doesn’t imply that you need to change your mind – just that we betray our God-given intelligence, and become quick to judge, when we oversimplify. (Please read some nuanced thoughts on abortion here.)
Our world is full of diversity and variety. Put on some grace-colored glasses and be filled with wonder.
(There is much more to be said about this. Subscribe to my newsletter, maybe?)
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