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A Challenge for Progressives

April 7th, 2014 | Posted by Lana Hope in Fundamental/Evangelical | Progressive Christianity

When I took a graduate course on postmodern philosophy, it did not just make me a better liberal. It also made me a better conservative.

In our society, we immediate identify people by their origin. Wherever I go, I am always identified as the outsider because I have a deep Southern accent. Wherever we go, we are shoved into categories. You are straight, you are gay. You are female, you are male. You are progressive, you are barbaric. You are black, you are white. You are fat, you are skinny. You are evangelical, you are atheist.

We are more than our labels. If there was the single best critique of modernity that came out of the postmodern phase of modernity, it’s that labels are illusions.

I’ve seen a lot of labeling coming from the “progressives” lately. I hear people say, “You believe in hell, you are evangelical.”  Or “you believe in hell, therefore, your understanding of love is F’d up.”

I was at the pub recently when a philosophy student said, “You know that people can be intelligent and still believe in hell, right?” And I wanted to go over and give him a big hug and say, “and they can be progressive and believe in hell too.” The facts are there are a lot of intelligent reasons one may believe in hell. I think the biggest reason is free will. It’s difficult to imagine why God would give us free will on earth if he is going to take that away in heaven and make us worship him.

I like what my online friend Tim said in the comment section of my blog,

I keep my foot in evangelicalism because there are some there who are trying to create change–and they need my support.

There are evangelicals who still are sticking it out, still pleading for the abused and the broken. But the message I keep hearing is that it’s not possible to be evangelical and progressive. Why is this label necessary?

Homi Bhabha and Dipesh Chakrabarty changed my life. But I knew it when I read them that they would demand more of me than I might be comfortable with. Chakrabarty writes about the superstitious tribes in his home country, India, and he says that we can’t call science better than superstition if those people are getting meaning from their legends and beliefs. And that is a mouth full to take in

But I realized something. If I let the hill tribes be who they are, I have to let the evangelicals be who they are. I have to let the conservatives be who they are. I have to let it rest and relinquish the control.

Bhabha’s critique largely centers on this notion of progress. He says that as long as we believe in progress, then we have to set goals on how to progress; we have to draw hard lines on the sand that forces everyone to our standard – otherwise, we will not progress. In short,  everybody and everything who does not conform to those goals has to be ostracized.

We were talking in one of my classes how the Christian narrative was silenced from academia in Canada until recently; Christians, of course, are academics, but they keep Christianity out of their conference papers and publications. As someone said, the notion in the humanities in Canada is that Christians have talked for too long, it’s our turn to be quiet, to listen.

But this is absurd. Everyone should get a voice in academia. But this will never happen if we think in terms of progress – because in a progressive mindset, either Christians are seen to inhibit progress, or atheists are seen to inhibit progress, depending on what country you are in or what subculture you run around with.

What needs to take place is that we need to create spaces in between us. As Bhabha says, we need to locate culture in the space between – not on your side, not on my side. But right in between.

Marriage equality make an interesting example. We have two ways we can view and understand marriage equality. We can say that marriage equality is about progress. Or we can think of marriage equality as a space that creates new possibilities for genuine community without the barriors of discimination.

If we could all rid ourself of the binary, all that would be left is a space for everyone. There would not be oh, you are gay, you are straight, you are progressive, you are conservative. There would just be an open space for everyone.

In fact, I hate the word progressive because it assumes that everyone else is barbaric and holding back progress. That is not true. Progress is not only an illusion, but also it will always be followed by new forms of discriminationPeople run around in subgroups because they think everyone else is the enemy of their progress.  People  also run around in subgroups because if we want to run around with other people, we have to be them in order to be included. If a conservative wants to run around with a progressive, they usually have to become a liberal thinker. If a gay wants to hang out with an evangelical, he or she has to “become” straight.

In some of my circles, the enemy of progress is the evangelical. In some of my circles, the enemy is the atheist. Both are forms of discrimination.

The problem is that we can’t ridicule the evangelical for shoving out the atheist until we also laugh at ourselves for what we do.

There is certainly wrong or right, but discrimination is not wrong because it inhibits progress. It’s wrong because it inhibits community. It is wrong because it hurts people. It inhibits our ability to dine together, to sit together, and to tell stories together.

When I talk about evangelicalism, I would rather focus on the closed space – that narrow space that says gays are not allowed to dine with us unless they join our side, unless they become “one of us”- than focus on eliminating the evangelical narrative all together.

I can’t fight anymore for a space at the evangelical table, but neither have I closed the invitation.

Fighting is not how the world should work anyway. Fighting is the result of labels, of discrimination, or sin as the evangelicals call it.

I want to close with a quote from Rachel Held Evans.

So I find myself second-guessing the “leaving evangelicalism” language, not because it’s an inaccurate representation of what I’m experiencing, but because I don’t want anyone to think for a moment that this means walking away from the many, many people who identify as evangelical whom I love and respect very much. I have no interest in breaking fellowship with my brothers and sisters in Christ, be they Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, Mennonite progressive or evangelical. After all, we share the most important “label”— the one God gave us—as beloved children of God. (I’m beginning to think any other label might do more harm than good.)

. . .

As much as I wish I didn’t care, I still dream of an evangelicalism where both my friend Jen Hatmaker (who wrote this) and my friend Ben Moberg (who wrote this) are welcome at the same table. One baptism. One communion.  One faith.  One family.

In the church we are all worshipers of God, and we need to remember this.  But in the wide world, we are also all humans.  We all possess the same dignity and worth.

Please consider creating a space between you and the evangelical or between you and the atheist or between you and the whoever. This does not mean they have to dine on your floor, but that maybe, somehow, we can learn to dine in the floor between us. Maybe we can learn to see culture there, and not one side or the other side.

 

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  • sgl

    well, i’m still a bit confused, and i think you may be missing some issues, or perhaps considered them outside of what issues you were addressing.

    re: marriage equality

    are you discussing this solely from the standpoint of private individuals and the world vision affair? or are you considering the gov’t/legal issues as well? i think there needs to be radically different rules for gov’ts vs individuals.

    i consider this the issue. the fact is a large number of christian groups have actively opposed (ie, spent gobs of money and massive lobbying time) to prevent the gov’t from recognizing gay marriages. something that has no impact on them and isn’t any of their business. ain’t your body parts, ain’t your business.

    however, if you’re talking about private individuals and their behavior, then i think different rules come into play. while i disagree with the klu klux klan, i don’t think the gov’t should prevent them from having a parade, so long as they don’t incite a riot. but the gov’t should never endorse the kkk’s views. radically different.

    re: “There is certainly wrong or right, but discrimination is not wrong because it inhibits progress. It’s wrong because it inhibits community. It is wrong because it hurts people.”

    how do you determine right and wrong? (and i’m talking for the whole society, ie, the gov’t, not a subgroup like a particular church). if you think right and wrong come from god, how do you determine what god wants? there’s no agreement on this, which is precisely the problem.

    as an agnostic, and also having read history, saying “right and wrong comes from god” is highly problematic, and doesn’t really solve the problem.

    my view is that you should be allowed to do what you want, unless you initiate the use of force to get your way, or you use fraud to trick someone into doing something, or you steal something. otherwise, it’s voluntary association with others to pursue your own happiness.

    however, my problem with gov’t progressives is that they want to use the power of gov’t to force everyone into their view of a “better” world, rather than allowing others to do as they wish. (unfortunately, the social conservatives want to do the same thing, with a different set of rules.) my view is there needs to be a level playing field with basic rules, and allow individuals the freedom to join together to pursue their own goals. eg, room for amish/mennonites, and hippies, and wall street traders, each pursuing their own goals.

    and when you say “…discrimination is not wrong because it inhibits progress. It’s wrong because it inhibits community. It is wrong because it hurts people”,

    are you talking about state sanctioned discrimination, ie, not allowing gays to marry, or allowing businesses to discriminate against gays? or are you talking about private individuals making their own decisions, ie, evangelical donors deciding to withdraw their financial support from world vision?

    and furthermore, on what basis do you privilege community over some other value?

    so i guess my confusion is over which of your statements you’re applying to gov’t, and which you’re applying to just the evangelical church re: the world vision affair, and which you’re applying to the evangelical church and it spending massive resources to oppose gov’t recognition of gay marriage?

    • http://wideopenground.com Lana

      You are thinking more deeply than I am, so not sure if I will be able to clarifity. As far as ethics, I can agree with you that what “God says” is overall not very helpful. There will never be a universal agreement on all issues for all cultures and all times. Unfortunately what we put our values in is not static. Generally I would agree with you. People should be able to do what they want as long as they are not harming other people. That gets tricky sometimes too. What if you harm yourself in a high powered drug and cause the government a bunch of money? the government has to draw the lines somewhere, and I am not apart of the government for a reason. I dont’ want that job.

      I don’t have a problem with there being anti-discrimination laws, though. I’m probably more indifferent than most people. I’ve lived on other parts of hte world with no regulations. That was kind of nice too.

      I was not talking about WV though. I am saying that we should not see marriage equality (at the government level) as proof that we are progressing. We are not progressing. Right now there is discrimination going on in America, some the result of stupid people, other the result of bad laws. I wasn’t think as deeply as you, but I guess it goes both ways

      I do priviledge community over individuality because if I have my desires and you have your desires and they collide, we have violence. Or if we don’t have violence, we have discrimination. This is what we see in the church. If one person is gay, they can’t come into the Christian tribe unless they are straight.

      I guess we could create community in one of two ways. We could create it like we do now, by labels. Or we could create it by putting aside our own priorities and living together.

      BTW, you’ve visited SE Asia, right? Very different there. Maybe that’s part of the reason I value community They aren’t perfect, but it could be comforting in some ways too.

      • sgl

        re: “I do privilege community over individuality because if I have my desires and you have your desires and they collide, we have violence. Or if we don’t have violence, we have discrimination.”

        but there will ALWAYS be conflicting desires. forcing people against their will into a “community” doesn’t make those conflicts go away, it merely makes them fight harder to use the group power to impose their will on those who disagree.

        however, allowing the right of voluntary association (and hence the implied right of voluntary dissociation) for private groups, allows people to sort themselves into groups that suit their needs. if any group becomes too onerous, people leave and form new groups.

        however, there is a very big difference to me between private groups and the gov’t. ie, there is no justification for the gov’t to prohibit same sex marriage and the legal and tax benefits that come with it, because that is between the people getting married. the gov’t shouldn’t be allowed to discriminate against any group, since they impose taxes on everyone, and impose rules on everyone, there is no way to opt out.

        that’s very very different than the boy scouts discriminating against gays (or atheists), since they are a private group, and those opposed to their policies can attempt to persuade the group rules to change, or leave and form their own group with different policies. leave the group (or never join to begin with), and it costs you nothing, and imposes no rules on you — you’re free.

        now, re: private organizations, i have no problem if you want to maintain community with evangelicals or not. nor do i have a problem with those who stay with the catholic church to try to change it from the inside. or the boy scouts. nor do i have a problem with those who leave any of of these entities.

        the more parts of the economy the gov’t takes over, the more potential for conflict there is. as you noted, with nationalized health care, there’s a cost for drug use. however, there is also a cost for obesity, and hiv/aids, and accidents caused by bungee jumping too. how much intrusion into personal lives is now justified because of this? yet, if health care is done privately instead of by the gov’t, now it isn’t the gov’ts business anymore. (altho i’m sure insurance companies can get nosy too.) (altho alcohol prohibition, and the war on drugs, both pre-date gov’t paid health care in the usa, so that isn’t the justification used for intruding in private lives in either case.)

        i’d also note that the evangelicals have fought tooth and nail against gov’t recognition of gay marriage, which is very different from them fighting world vision or the mozilla ceo. so they aren’t following my principals of making a distinction between gov’t and private groups either.

        re: community in asia
        i didn’t see more community there because i was a tourist. in fact saw less community among fellow travellers in asia vs europe because it was inexpensive so individual hotel rooms were the norm, not youth hostels with group rooms and common areas. expensive europe in youth hostels had more traveller community at that time, altho i’ve read these days that travellers are all on their notebooks or cell phones and don’t talk in hostels like they used to ages ago.

        • Lana Hope

          You are right. We should not force people into a community mindset; it would only work if it was voluntary. But I often wonder what would happen if we fostered it. However, I don’t see that changing in North America just yet because we’ve set our economy up to survive on independence.

          It’s interesting that you are not okay with the government banning gay marriage but are okay with allowing private organizations to discriminate. I have not formulated my thoughts completely, but it seems to me that we have some duty towards those who may be bullied and mistreated.

          Yes, there is a nice travel community in Europe. I have only stayed in a few hostels; some where nice, others were more of a party atmosphere. But the campgrounds were lovely, very lovely. I miss them, and really need to go back. In North America campgrounds are so much more spread out with large plots. I camped at the Grand Canyon last spring – at this little place just outside the national park. Huge lots, we could not even hear our neighbors, and I could have put a bunch of backpackers and their tents on my piece of land. Yet the campground advertised as full and were turning people down. I was never turned down in Europe, and never felt isolated in their campgrounds.

          In Asia they have a local community that is strong. If a baby gets sick, the whole village contributes to send the baby to the doctor (assuming the parents had no money) – that kind of thing. Here we form those kind of communities online, but not with all our neighbors.

          • sgl

            re: “But I often wonder what would happen if we fostered it. ”

            fostering community is a good idea, and i support you in that regard.

            re: “… it seems to me that we have some duty towards those who may be bullied and mistreated.”

            well, physical bullying, or verbal bullying that’s intimidating, should be protected against. eg, KKK should be able to get a parade permit, but shouldn’t be allowed to incite a riot, or stand outside someone’s house at 3 am with burning crosses, or get a large group surrounding a single person and yell at them, etc. all those are physically threatening, which is much different than free speech.

            we have free speech, which means the gov’t can’t stop you from speaking. but private groups don’t have to listen to you, or provide you a forum. and you still are subject libel and slander laws. and subject to laws against inciting a riot. and you can’t yell “fire” in a crowded theatre. and there’s limits when state security is at stake. ie, “free speech” isn’t absolute, it’s constrained by other rights and limits, and by public reaction. and by some businesses refusing to serve you too (altho i don’t know what rights groups like hotels and newspapers and tv stations have in that regard. however, i think those laws are fairly well developed.)

            should a hotel be allowed to refuse to let the KKK hold a convention at their hotel? how about a group of gays? or atheists? what about newspapers and tvs and advertising — who should they be allowed to refuse run those ads? based on what? why? should they be required to treat every group exactly the same, or should they be able to refuse service to some groups? who decides, based on what criteria? do we need to decide this at the gov’t level?

            one definition i saw of tyranny was “that which is not required is forbidden.” making it illegal to refuse service to anyone unless they are doing something that’s actually against the law leads to that sort of outcome. but allowing them to refuse service to some people is discrimination. gays are but one of many groups that are/were controversial, and religion is one of many type of controversial issues. so just looking at advertising and hotel convention space, what about: KKK, gay groups, Wesboro Baptist church, NORML (legalization of marijuana), republican/democratic party, atheists, …..

            also, many of the above groups are based on someone’s opinions which they can change, not something like race which is not under their control, and the science seems to indicate that there’s a genetic component to homosexuality. i don’t know all the legal distinctions between the categories, but i think it’s been mostly worked out due to the civil rights laws, but i don’t know what those distinctions are.

            also, certain businesses that people depend on probably need protections. eg, taxi services (which usually have a gov’t licence too, ie it’s a regulated market), should be required to not discriminate on passengers, since you could too often be left in a lurch. same with medical care, etc.

            however, in the case of the infamous wedding cake (and i haven’t read the details of the case, or even know much about it), it partly depends on when they found out they would not make the cake. if they ordered a couple weeks ahead, and were told “no way” immediately, they had plenty of time to find another cake maker. however, if they ordered ahead of time, and they didn’t find out they were being refused until the night before the wedding, then that is a severe impact on their event not having the cake, which has a lot of planning, people travelling, etc, and can’t be rescheduled. and there’s no way to easily recover from that, and it’s something that the wedding cake people should have told them up front, rather than ruining their wedding. (i don’t know what the details of the case were, so i don’t know if that was the situation at all.)

            but it also brings up whose religious freedom predominates? eg, what about a major chain like wal-mart. should it be the religious views of the owner, the shareholders, the particular employee making the cake, the manager of the store? can one party only veto it, or can another party require it? if your personal religious views are to not discriminate, and you work at a store whose policy?

            is there any precedence for such things? i think there is some, but i don’t personally know what it is. however, i think it’s opening a whole can of worms to pass new legislation for “religious freedom”. i doubt they really know what they’re getting in to. i suspect they may end up regretting it when a wiccan is suing some fundy business owner for now allowing the wiccan to do something.

            but lastly, i’d say, that the gov’t has definitely not been leading the charge in gay rights at all. nor did they really lead on civil rights either. it’s only after various parts of the public are already doing the right thing, and fighting the gov’t, that the gov’t finally capitulates, changes it’s own rules for gov’t, and finally forces the strangling remnants of the public to change too.

            so the real progress in the last 50 years has actually come from the private sector, and from individuals standing up for gay people, not from the gov’t. pride parades, people not laughing at gay jokes, corps like apple and disney giving same-sex benefits, etc.

        • Lana Hope

          PS. and you are right that people should have the right to drop their sponsorships with WV. It doesn’t mean they are not jerks for it though.

          • sgl

            oh, i definitely agree they’re jerks. i think it shows their true colors. something much of the non-fundamentalist public is quite aware of, but too many religious people are not aware of, because they don’t see it. just like your story of the black person being asked to leave the church revival meeting, and all the white people ignored it. they probably put it out of their mind, and don’t think of themselves as racist because the rest of the time the sermon isn’t about race. they just don’t see it. and don’t want to see it.

            while world vision was a loss, there have been other wins. eg, the ceo of mozilla donated $1k to the california stop gay marriage campaign, and once that became public, he only lasted a week or two due to public backlash. the tech community is more progressive and liberal on social issues that rural fundamentalist communities.

            even the ceo of chick-fil-a recently said something about he wouldn’t do it again or it wasn’t worth it. i don’t think he meant he changed his mind on gay marriage, i think he just realized he’s losing more than he gained in his business. ie, i suspect that the flood of support business ebbed after a while, and the people disgusted by his views never came back. i suspect more and more businesses are seeing this. you might get a brief pop of fundamentalist business, but lose the liberal business for the long term. economic suicide in general, and particularly dangerous in a poor economy.

            in other words, the “market” of public opinion works pretty well much of the time, and much faster than gov’t in many cases.

  • http://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/ jesuswithoutbaggage

    Lana, there is so much I love about this post! Though most evangelicals think I am going to hell, I cannot call them my enemies. They are not my enemies; they are my brothers and sisters. I have no enemies. (though some might consider me their enemy).

    However, I do not subscribe to many things that some evangelicals think essential, and I am happy to dialog with them on those things. But I will not try to force them to change their minds when they are not ready. There are many evangelicals (and fundamentalists) who are at some stage in their journey away from baggage doctrines, and I want to be available and approachable to answer their questions and give them support at a fearful time of crisis in their life.

    I like your idea of meeting people in the in-between space, and I really resonate with your thought that discrimination “Is wrong because it hurts people. It inhibits our ability to dine together, to sit together, and to tell stories together.”

    Thank you for this post!

    • http://wideopenground.com Lana

      “Though most evangelicals think I am going to hell, I cannot call them my enemies.” This. so.much. At the end of the day we cannot forget this.

      I also dialogue with evangelicals too. I tell people they are wrong. But I also have to remember that I am wrong about a lot too. One thing that helps me is that evangelicalism has not been all bad for me. I went to an evangelical college, and I never felt threatened by controversial opinions. Some of my professors were feminists, some of the students were atheists. Then I went overseas, and I met amazing evangelicals who were doing some amazing work. As you said, there is a lot of baggage, but there was a lot of good.

      For me, I need to find a different community to fellowship in that the evangelical church, but I do not hate them.

  • Pingback: Eine Herausforderung für die Progressiven | Die Nacht ist vorgedrungen()

  • http://www.ChristianEvolution.com Christian Evolution

    Hi Lana, nice post here. Your point is well stated about the value of staying engaged and not letting one’s idea of progress be an pass to judge everyone else as inferior.

    I grew up Catholic, and then later in my teens checked out eastern and new age stuff. Then spent about 10 yrs in leadership of evangelical church activities (mainly UMC). After a while I got beaten down by the evangelicals need to judge and be right at all costs, and eventually stepped away from leadership, although I still go to church and am still active in charity work with evangelical friends. But there is a gap that I have found to be most understood by people who stumble into the “progressive” label. So today I call myself a “Progressive Christian” because its a good signpost to find people with similar experiences, although I really don’t like either of those words because of all their stigma :-)

    • Lana Hope

      Yea I reluctantly go by progressive Christian becaues there are no other labels out there that work right now. I’d call myself a postmodern Christian, but I don’t think most people know what that means.

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