There’s Always a Bigger Out-Group

There’s Always a Bigger Out-Group February 20, 2023

As I listened to Brian McLaren’s wonderful book Do I Stay Christian? a while back I had lots of thoughts. The book has prompted me to think and reflect not only about the book’s content itself but also related (and at times tangential) matters. One major theme in the book, even if not flagged as such, is shifting from being part of a conservative Christian minority in the context of a liberal secular society, to being a liberal inclusive minority in the context of conservative Christian society.

This got me thinking about the way conservative Evangelical Christians seek to harness the rhetoric of going against the flow, the majority often being wrong, and so on, while at the same time claiming to be defenders of traditional values of society as a whole, and trying to see their values embodied and expressed in legislation in the country in which they live.

If you think about it, pretty much any group can claim something based on alleged normativity in society or history, and the same group can claim to be doing something subversive, maintaining a truth not all accept in an environment that is hostile.

If we ask which is more similar to the case of Jesus, he was critical of his own people in a context in which they were in turn part of a larger entity, the Roman Empire. He was not, however, pro-Roman for that reason. If anything, he recognized that many of his own people, much like today’s conservative Evangelicals, thought themselves righteous merely for being opposed to the larger pagan society. He called them to a deeper, more radical way of living in love and seeking justice.

Now, to be clear, I’m not convinced that it is a good guide to being on the right track to aim to have just the right proportions of people or constituencies disagree with you. But there is certainly a clear danger in going too far in one extreme or another. Being in the minority among extremists for being more extreme than they are is a danger sign, as too is thinking everything is fine with the way things are done in one’s society. As an academic, if I never disagree with anyone then I’m not doing research that produces innovative possibilities worth exploring. If I disagree with everyone then I’m almost certainly wrong about most of my views and have become a fringe denialist.

If you call yourself a progressive Christian and what that means is that you support the direction the Democratic Party in the United States is going in all respects, you’re probably just a Democrat. You may actually be okay with that, but if your Christian identity doesn’t lead you to at least reject the way some people all across the spectrum, but including in your own preferred party, seek to achieve their goals, then there is likely as little substance beneath your label “Christian” as there is beneath that of your counterparts among the Republicans.

This itself is something that should be characteristically Christian, but that by no means makes it exclusively Christian. McLaren’s emphasis on being a particular kind of human being, however one answers the question in the book’s title, reminded me of something I wrote just over ten years ago, and so let me conclude with that.

Human First

I made a quote from it into a meme a couple of years later.

Brian appeared on Tripp Fuller’s podcast:

Brian McLaren: Should I Stay Christian if I don’t Believe?

See too Diana Butler Bass’ recent post on what is happening. She writes,

‘Pew’s conclusion? By 2070, Christianity in the United States (the whole thing — all forms of Protestantism, Catholicism, and Orthodoxy, all racial and ethnic Christian communities in a single category) will be a minority faith in a nation with a majority of “nones.”’

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