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February 03, 2006



I certainly do sympathize with both of you. My first reaction to the conservative evangelicals who claim that they are the only true Christians is not very Christian, I admit (roughly "Fuck off, silly man, and don't come back until you have something sensible to say"). My second reaction is, "You don't own the patent on it, and who are you to judge other people's relationships with God". This is similar to my response to the pro-war set claiming that anyone opposing the war is unpatriotic and treasonous, and to the use of the flag not to express solidarity with all the citizens but just a few.


Thanks Hugo - I thought that's what you would say. I admire Jim Wallis a great deal and I have an ex-boss who's a liberal Methodist and I just admire him a lot. He walks the talk of compassion and social justice. They were my introduction to liberal christianity and it's very refreshing. I'm also fascinated with my fiance's family (Irish Catholics from Boston). He has an aunt and uncle who started out as a priest and nun, fell in love, got married, and are still very devout catholics. The Christmas letter we got from them was a combination of rabid liberal politics and devotion to God and I just found it incredibly refreshing when what I have grown up with is conservative mormons. (We don't talk about politics in our Christmas letters.)

Very good point about Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton and on the flip side, I so desperately want the democrats to start framing their discussion in terms of values and morality. Compassion is a moral value. Charity is a moral value, and I think we would attract more voters if we showed them that, unlike what the conservatives have been telling them, the democratic party is a party of values and morals.


Hugo, I agree. But....it sometimes feels, after reading this post and the earlier one about the church official on the plane, that you put yourself in a position where it seems there IS an "easy" or clear-cut answer to these situations, and that you have those answers. I've read your blog enough to want to believe that you are not so arrogant. Can you write more about how you'd respond if or when you would or already have found yourself in the position where someone asks you "what are you?"? Are you asserting that you answer these questions with little to no ambivalence about your identity as a Christian? I am not asking because I want to hold your feet to a fire; I'd actually like a little guidance in terms of how to go about doing this. Over the past year or so, I have come to realize I almost never answer "Christian" when that question is posed to me. I am far more likely to answer "Protestant" or "Lutheran." I am fully aware that in doing so, some may see me as moving away from an inclusive Christian identity. However, I see it as my attempt to identify myself as a non-Roman Catholic and have spent a lot of time thinking about why I would do such a thing (and I have no concrete answers at this point!). My point here is that, while I agree with you that the clergy member's response on the plane was a direct lie and I can understand why you'd distance yourself from her and her lack of self-identification, I am not so sure you are aware that, in doing so, you may be setting up a division that confronts your interest in maintaining an inclusive Christianity. Also, I do not want to use words like "witness" because I know all too well that many Christians seem to have latched on to that word and used it to proselytize (which I don't want to do, because I do not see that as a call to my own faith). I am not sure that I see my role in announcing (or keeping quiet about) my faith as somehow in direct conflict with my beliefs. Maybe that's contradictory to what I just wrote, but I'd rather not fall into that trap of "us versus them" which I hate to see you start to do.


When we march against war, or in defense of undocumented migrants, or for women's rights, or in favor of inclusion for sexual minorities,

For sexual minorities, do you include sex workers? It is easy enough to be in favor of homosexuals' rights since that battle has been largely won. But prostitution is still a crime throughout much of the US. And many communities place all sorts of restrictions on strip clubs and the like.


But your point is well taken about the right hijacking christianity. And it is a very odd part of the right, too, that seems to identify christianity with attacking homosexuals.


Exactly the same problem I get with the bunch of Stalinists who've hijacked all my favourite descriptors from "Marxist" to "socialist" to "communist". Just as we respond to the right beating us with the USSR stick by showing there is another socialism, so progressive Christians need to reclaim the positive. As an atheist and militant secularist, I can't help but have respect for the guy at my uni whose tshirt proclaims "Jesus was the original hippy"!


We might not convert all of our progressive allies, but we'd make it clear to them that there are many of us who combine an evangelical passion for the Lord with an enduring commitment to justice for the poor, radical equality for women, and civil liberties for all.

Umm... I feel that this statement is biased against non-evangelical liberal christians. There is plenty of room for Christianity and for left-activism outside of the evangelical movement. I don't wish you silence your evangelical passion, but I think your diagnosis on what's wrong with the christian left is perilously close to divisive sectarianism.

Lynn Gazis-Sax

It is easy enough to be in favor of homosexuals' rights since that battle has been largely won.

In Massachusetts, Vermont, and California, maybe. I have trouble believing that battle has been largely won in Indiana, Texas, and Kansas.


The hi-jacking happened because of the abortion debate, so far as I can tell.

"Ever hear a serious Five Point Calvinist get into a shouting match with an Assemblies of God pastor over the issue of whether or not the "gift" of tongues is still valid in the modern church? I have, and it wasn't pretty!"

Nope, but I saw this discussion between a Pentacostal and Liberal Nazarene once.

Funny stuff. Particularly the argument about wether or not they're valid if there's not an "interpreter" in the room.



This is a point too often missed--the spectrum in Christianity by Progressives. Some folks fail to realize many of my progressive values are informed by my faith. And what do you do with a gay theologically catholic traditionalist Anglican with progressive politics (on many matters) but who leans toward a consistent life ethic? Some progressives find that baffling.


Good post, Hugo. I must say also that this is a welcome antidote to the sort of language I often hear from the Christian left on this subject, which takes the "hijacking" language further: I've heard many statements to the effect of, "The right has stolen God/Jesus/Christianity, and it's time to take him back." (There was a whole book called "Stealing Jesus" on that theme, which you may be familiar with.) I realize the language is metaphorical of course, but something's hinky about thinking of God or the Church as objects that humans own and can steal from each other. Little wonder everybody else sees it as more a battle of personal opinions than as an attempt to God's actions in the world, which are happening whether we will them or not.


I would add that there are a whole bunch of people who don't identify themselves as members of the Christian Right or Left but who are basically just Christians of varying political commitments (Republican, Democrat, independent, whatever) who don't put a particular ideological "spin" on their faith. It could be that they're insufficiently connecting their faith to their life, but I also think that the ideological hothouse of the "blogosphere" (ghastly word!) gives a false impression of how many (if not the majority) of Christians in the U.S. live out their faith.


I dislike labels such as "Christian" when used as a box within which to place people.

I find the question "Are you a Christian?" a loaded question that really does not serve a useful purpose. It is an attempt to place someone in a label that means different things to different people.

Too often, it is used as "Are you one of us or one of them?!?!?"


I always struggle with the "are you a Christian?" question because my own faith is explicitly non-evangelical. I have long believed that being a Christian is about your private relationship with God and the kindness with which you treat others. My ethics are certainly informed by Christianty, but I prefer to stick with leading by example rather than leading by rhetoric.

What I find most deficient about the "religious right" is that there is no public discussion about acceptance, love, and compassion. It tends to be angry, vengeful, and political.

I would ethusiastically recommend John Danforth's op-ed "Onward, Moderate Christian Soldiers." It's a lot more eloquent on this subject than I am.


"What I find most deficient about the "religious right" is that there is no public discussion about acceptance, love, and compassion. It tends to be angry, vengeful, and political."

like this evil fizz:

"I wouldn’t have a problem identifying myself as a Christian if it weren’t for the religious right. I don’t want to be associated with them in any way, shape or form. ..."

"Fuck off, silly man, and don't come back until you have something sensible to say".

Apparently, the "acceptance, love and compassion" are reserved for those with whom we agree.



I would be the first to admit that it's hard to react well when you think someone else is butchering or adulterating your system of belief. It's most unfortunate that the majority of the debate is "We're right!" "No, we're right, and you're crazy!" and "No, you're wrong and you're damned!"


My grandfather is extremely progressive (although pro-life, I believe); his progressive politics are much like yours, Hugo, and are directly informed by his understanding of Christ and a message of God's love. He's pretty clear about that whenever he speaks, but he's not judgemental of other faiths. He teaches by example.

I'm a Quaker, and our Yearly Meeting has gone around the issue of whether or not Quakers need be Christians a couple of times. The definition of what it is to be Christian seems variant, and Quakers have a lot of seekers from other churches and faiths whose journeys bring them to meetings. It's hard to practise "big tent" Christianity, if what that means is both variable and exclusive: without some sort of line in the sand, though (Quakers in the Northern Conference tend to view inclusion as belief that "There is that of God in Every One"), how do you know if your use of the term has meaning?

The most humorous thing I ever saw was my grandpa - progressive mennonite - arguing matters of *singing during services* with a conservative mennonite from my area. For a couple of septegenarian pacifists, they were pretty riled up.


Small world! It's my Grandpa's nephew who's the pastor at Pasadena. He's going to Goshen college, soon, as president(?)


Yay for Jim Brennemann!


It was a little weird to surf your link and see my last name! So now you know where I get my tendency to write essays - Brennemans are a little verbose, so I've been told. ;)


The decline of Christian Socialism in NZ is even more marked than the US, and it really isn't the fault of evangelicals. It's the lock-step commitment to liberalism on social issues which has forced Christian socialists to shut up or leave.

I am generally uncomfortable putting modifiers in front of "Christian", although it depends on the context. I am a Christian first, a Conservative second, and am very happy voting for a Christian Socialist over a Nat who doesn't share my values. That's what it's about-Values. If Labour showed any sign of welcoming debate on the subject, I might not be so hostile to their agenda of social liberalism.


What John said. For left-wing Christians, the question fairly quickly becomes, which is more important? The left-wing part, or the Christian part?

Because the secular left is actively and openly hostile to the Christian part, and that isn't going to change.


I'd speculate part of that has to do with perceived hostility on the part of the secular left. I've known athiests who were unwillingly to identify as such for fear of being condemned for being immoral and damned. (Some have even referred to it as coming out of the closet.) The perceptions of hostility and ill will are emphatically a two-way street.


Stephen, it is hard to not treat pompous folk who say "well, you aren't Christian because you are liberal" as the bratty children they seem to be at that moment, even if laughing at them ("F off, silly, come back when you have something sensible to say") is not exactly an ideal Christian response. I am not claiming I know that they are or aren't Christians, so it certainly isn't a mirror situation. I am claiming that the conservative "Only we are Christians" crowd don't Own Jesus(Tm). I have to say that the liberal pew-sitters usually don't call the conservatives Not Christians, merely not following through on matters generally thought important by Jesus and the prophets and the generality of Christians (taking care of the poor, for example). The failure of the Alabama (or was it Mississippi?) state tax revision referendum to make it more progressive and exempt people below the poverty line, despite the very conservative governor giving it his support after reading an analysis by a Christian economics professor at a local college.

Robert Hayes

Fair point, evil fizz.

Although, isn't it supposed to be us evil righties who are consumed by self-righteous condemnation of the godless? Left-wingers are supposed to be filled with love. It says so right here on the MDC.

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