If you want to see out-and-out prejudice by people who think themselves to be open-minded, here’s a good litmus test. Raise a matter of Christianity. Or, as a woman, wear a cross necklace. Then ask if it’s the same response you’d get had you presented something from another religion.
Put another way, I’d long ago been appalled by an assumption many of us liberals took in regard to Christians – and to be candid, I was once one who was self-righteously disparaging. Quite frankly, it’s out-and-out judgmentalism that hurts our progressive causes. It’s ignorant of the important support radical faith gave to many movements through the centuries and can still give to the future. It’s a point for dialogue with our opponents, if we’re willing to engage it.
Two common assumptions spring to mind here.
The first involves intelligence. There’s more to life, let me point out, than materiality. Think of love, music, morality, for starters – people with knowledge of ways of empathy, too. Extend that, then, to a recognition that to be a person of faith does not automatically mean stupidity, even if we do see way too many examples in the public arena – not just those of the Christian label, either. Nor do Christian do not come in a one-size-defines-all homogeneity – some denominations, for instance, refuse to bear arms or participate in war as a consequence of Jesus’ command to love our neighbor, while other churches rally around the troops. The ways of thinking and the emphases vary widely, from Fundamentalists to Evangelicals (yes, there are differences there) to Pentecostals to various strands of Calvinists or Lutherans (yes, again some key differences) to various Wesleyan (Methodist) and Baptist and Anabaptist (Amish, Mennonite, Brethren, Quaker) and on to the Unitarians. And that’s just among the Protestants. Add to that the Anglicans (Episcopalians), Roman Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox and you have a very rich mix, indeed.
Within those are some very intelligent and sensitive people, along with circles of personal growth and ethical accountability.
The reality is that religion is capable of engaging our innermost motions – our hopes and fears, especially. It’s a power that can run many ways, challenging the status quo as well as establishing community. The state and the establishment have many reasons to desire to curb it, as history attests. Even at a personal level, it can be scary stuff.
Pointedly, progressive movements have sprung from this source. For centuries, up through America’s civil rights revolution, social change has grown from radical Christianity. A central thread of the Bible has been the evolution of justice and then radical peace and equality. Read it closely, and what emerges remains a challenge to the status quo. Let’s not lose it now!
As the prayer goes, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth …”
Many of us see that as a more loving, just, and peaceful society. Mock it if you wish, but think of the alternatives. Are they really progress?
All of that, of course, leads to my second point: the so-called Christian right, of the political sort, hardly owns the mantel of Jesus. And since any religion has the potential of engaging those most soulful endeavors of human existence, we see across the spectrum instances of appealing to fear and oppression, on one side, as well as forgiveness and oneness, on the other. Religion in this dimension presents an opportunity for conversation and growth, if we allow it.
For more on radical faith, see my book, Religion Turned Upside Down.