beyond liberal and conservative …

A lot of us are convinced that good outcomes to our global crises are inhibited by the combative binary attitudes we too often slip into – even as we’re trying to solve them. Sadly, anyone who works to forge friendships and collaborations (and, please God, space for civil discourse!) across the various divides is often seen as a traitor to “their side.” The following email beautifully expresses the struggle many of us feel as we seek to promote civil discourse and bridge-building for the common good … (after the jump)
Evangelicals especially could benefit by listening to these thoughts from someone who is “very attracted to some aspects of evangelical theology,” but who is “sick and disgusted” by other aspects. And non-Evangelicals should note how he is “sick and disappointed” by parallel traits among “liberal Christians” as well.

Hi Brian,
I’ve written before, but I wanted to write again and express my appreciation for the cordial and generous tone you maintain throughout your books and on your blog. I am so sick and disgusted with the way some Christians feel the need to attack and demonize other believers of different theological persuasions. I was raised in a liberal Protestant environment but am very attracted to some aspects of evangelical theology; especially with regards to the centrality of the individual relationship with Jesus and the belief in an active, tangible Holy Spirit at work in creation.
But for a variety of reasons I have always been forced to keep my distance from the evangelical movement and evangelical faith communities. The most glaring reason is that I am a Democrat who supports legal abortion in the first trimester, equal rights and protections for gays and lesbians, and I vigorously oppose any military activity when not explicitly linked to self-defense against an aggressor. I know that, no matter what creeds about Jesus I affirm, these political views would make me a pariah in almost every evangelical church around the country. Here in [my state], there was even an evangelical church which made news several years ago after forcefully kicking several members out for voting for John Kerry. I fear I would be treated similarly in many evangelical churches.
Another thing which bothers me about the evangelical movement is the angry tone many evangelicals adopt in defense of their creeds. Whenever a liberal Christian expresses doubts about miracles, the Virgin Birth, substitutionary atonement, so often the evangelical will call said person “heretic” or use similarly demeaning or exclusionary language. From my perspective such language only seems to drive a further wedge between various branches of the faith community. Wouldn’t it be better for evangelicals to see a “doubting” Christian as an opportunity to adopt a generous and welcoming tone in defense of evangelical theology? Wouldn’t such a tone sow the seeds of potential faith much better than the angry, defensive posturing we so often see?
And I don’t want to be seen as only bashing evangelicals in this regard. There have been times in the liberal Protestant community when I have encountered dismissiveness and intolerance. For instance, I wanted to talk about St. Augustine at a discussion group one time and a participant proceeded to tell me what an awful sexist and guilt-mongerer he was. Sometimes liberal Protestants can be very uncharitable towards more conservative Christian thinkers and writers. I remember once at my local church a pastor substituted who was more conservative than what the congregation was used to. In his sermon he spoke of John’s Gospel as having been written by John the beloved disciple (a view espoused by most evangelicals but doubted by many liberal Biblical scholars). And after the service many in the congregation were ridiculing and snickering at this pastor’s “naivitee” behind his back. It made me very sick and disappointed in my faith community.
How sad that we as Christians continue to fight amongst ourselves in this way! As Paul says, perhaps it is time to put childish things away. There are many valid contributions to the faith community to be found in liberal/conservative/evangelical/mainline/emerging Christian communities. But we will never make any progress until these various branches of the Christian church learn to treat each other with love and respect. The only thing central to being a Christian should be love and reverence for Jesus of Nazareth and his ministry. All of these other doctrines are secondary and should not be means of exclusion and fighting. Not that we can’t have productive, important, and valuable debates over these doctrines. But we should always engage in debates rooted and grounded in love, whether the issue be Virgin Birth, nature of miracles, substitutionary atonement, role of gays and lesbians in church etc. It’s time we started crossing the barriers that have sprung up between so many branches of the Christian church. And doing this might be a necessary and vital step in a more generous and productive relationship with other faiths and belief systems outside of the Christian church.
Thanks again for all you have written; especially the chapter in A Generous Orthodoxy “Why I am liberal/conservative.” I have pretty much memorized that chapter.