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 discrimination. People 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.