Dear Conservative Christians: the world is complex and nuanced

Dear Conservative Christians: the world is complex and nuanced February 22, 2021

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?)


YOU MIGHT BE INTERESTED IN THESE:

We’ve made God in our image, and we’re answering our own prayers

Hate has no home in Christianity

The deception of “righteousness”


FEATURED IMAGE: “Coral reef fish IMG_9240” by OZinOH is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

 


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4 responses to “Dear Conservative Christians: the world is complex and nuanced”

  1. Kathryn. Have you recognized that you accuse Conservative Christians with the same things you Progressives do?

    Progressive Christianity “as a whole seems to embrace a type of binary thinking that is counterproductive, simplistic, and judgmental.”

    Note too that it’s the privileged Progressive Left who have dominated the institutions of power and privilege for some decades now, hence it’s they who control public debate and thought and thus causing such division in society.

    That aside, God’s view of humanity is BINARY (Saved or Unsaved), hence the Christian view should focus on His priorities for humanity, and not those of worldly political parties (remember 2Timothy 2:4 ).

  2. ^^^Harry-You should go back and read the article again…You ASSUME that God’s view of humanity is binary, but what if it isn’t???…What is ALL are saved thru Christ, not just the people you think ‘should’ be???…What makes you certain that you know the mind of God when Jesus said “God so loved the WORLD that he sent his only begotten Son”??? (Jesus’ invitation I’d to EVERYONE not just a certain small specific group of people)…What if God is really Love and there’s no such thing as Hell or if there is a Hell it’s temporary (semantically speaking the very definition of Hell is the absence of God, so it’s possible that Hell is a positional place of perspective and not a literal place)…Would a loving parent delight to throw their children in the fire and NEVER help them and offer no mercy???…Have you considered that God loves all of us regardless of our religious affiliation and takes NO delight in the suffering of others (including the suffering of unsaved souls being spiritually tormented in Hell ???..You seem so certain of what you believe, but based on what exactly???-How can you be so certain that you know everything there is to know about God’s plan???-Also if you are so certain that you know the mind of God (or how they will judge us in the future), wouldn’t that make you superior to God??? I assume by your statement above that you have the market cornered on God, so I’m not sure why you would claim to follow Him or have any need of Him??? If God is truly The Master Creator then He (or She) would be so complexed, nuanced, and Infinite that the human brain couldn’t possibly comprehend it)…So…I would argue that you should exercise caution when you assume to know what an Infinite Higher Power being is thinking bc there really is no way for you to confirm that and you seem to be elevating yourself above God by making such a claim…After all, if you can put God in your pocket by making assumptions about their behavior I’m not sure what use they are to you other than an idol or a good luck charm…How disappointing and boring that sounds…I will stick with trying to keep an open mind about God and my place in the Universe because the more I have searched for The Truth and answers the more questions I have…Not everything fits into a nice neat theological box, but it’s always a worthwhile endeavor to ask hard theological questions even if the answers (or lack thereof) give you spiritual discomfort…Just a thought…

  3. Charlie. Jesus Christ’s own words confirm that there is only one way to Heaven.

    John 14:6 states that Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”.

    In Matthew 7:21 Jesus says that only those who DO THE WILL OF GOD shall enter Heaven.
    There are many different religions, etc, but only those who DO THE WILL OF GOD shall enter Heaven.
    Non-Christian religions do not do the will of God.
    Even some professing Christians do not do the will of God.

    In Matthew 7:14 Jesus says “narrow is the gate and difficult is the way that leads to life, and there are few that find it”.

    The Progressive Left’s cultural and religious relativism leads them into embracing the false gospel that all roads lead to salvation. This clearly contradicts the words of Jesus Christ.

  4. I love your comment, especially the last bit: it’s always a worthwhile endeavor to ask hard theological questions even if the answers (or lack thereof) give you spiritual discomfort.

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