I am a walking oxymoron in today’s religious climate – a liberal Christian. But it may be that my fringe status isn’t so much a religious ostracism as it is a political one. Calling yourself a “liberal” anything today is so scorned that even Dennis Kucinich won’t do it.
Well, I still do.
Yes, “proud liberal” is my political and religious badge. But on very staunch, thoughtful and reasoned grounds I reject the image that today’s pop-culture conservative (read Coulter, Limbaugh, and Fox News) has of me when I stake this claim. No, the image I claim is that of a patriotic USA-chanting, flag-waving American small-d democrat. And I maintain that my views are the mainstream views of America, and I am frankly offended by the religious right’s usurping of that banner – one which they clearly do not deserve to wave.
By way of demonstration, let’s review some of those views. Traditional liberal stances, each one of them:
I believe in:
– Legislated protection of lower classes from the greed of wealthy individuals and corporations, through fair, bracketed taxation, including estate taxation, stronger anti-monopoly enforcement, full capital gains taxation, and elimination of income taxes for the middle and lower classes.
– Legislated protection of individual’s rights to free speech, free expression, free worship and free association
– Enforcement of individual rights to equal treatment, regardless of race, religious affiliation, creed, color, national origin, gender identity, sexual preference or any other socially distinguishing characteristic. This includes full rights for individuals to enter into marriage as protected by the law with any individual of any gender of their choosing.
– Reasonable control of the right to carry firearms
– Legalization and regulation of controlled substances
– Fair, non-exploitative trade
– Legislative control of corporations, including legal recognition that corporations are not individuals bearing individual rights
– Complete and unequivocal eradication of capital punishment (whose rightful place is irretrievably in the trash heap of our barbaric history)
– A culture of rehabilitation, prevention, intervention and social (inner city) construction to reduce crime
– Removal of government intrusion into private behavior choices, and complete elimination of victimless crime law and legislated morality.
– Full free, legal and anonymous access to abortion.
– Full sex education in public elementary schools, including birth control education and free contraception distribution as a means of reducing the need for abortion.
– Illegalization of the teaching of religious myths as alternative scientific theory.
– A deep, abiding concern for America’s image and role in the world as a bastion of true freedom, opportunity and democracy, and not as a protection racket for the wealthiest corporations (I so hate being the bad guys…)
And many others. So, I am liberal. But what does all of this have to do with being a Christian? Well, have you talked to any Christians lately? I mean the mainstream ones who aren’t so embarrassed by the automatic association with Pat Robertson that they would rather not even bring the subject up? They would go down that list and mark each and every item off as the devil’s very thought spawn; as the reason the rapture needs to happen soon to come and rescue them from this breeding ground for demons and witches. And yet each one of these stances has at its core the primary tenet of the religion of Jesus Christ himself – the virtue of mercy. And we liberal Christians (wherever the rest of them are… hellooooo…?) carry the torch of that tenet among American Christians today
But the sad truth is, the religious right has succeeded in shutting us up. They have found strength in a political party that pretends to their notions and buys their votes with enticing, distracting lies about their dedication to protecting inanimate stem cells from being used as tools in the evil practice of life-saving research, and baits and switches them into accepting the illegal invasion of a sovereign nation that poses no threat at all for their monetary gain. They have found strength in Republican support, and intimidated the left-leaning politicians (Barbara Lee being the exception that proves the rule) into silence, and leaving us liberal Christians with no public support. So we have shut up.
But I was told by my Lord to go into all the world and preach the gospel. So preach I will.
Listen, Christian: Jesus was liberal. Jesus railed in indignant righteous anger against those who would take advantage of the needy; those who did not welcome the stranger, the sinner, and the tax collector; those who, in the name of their religion, set themselves apart from society’s rejects and disdained them. Jesus, in general, was a cool guy. But he flew into a mad rage every time he encountered religious hypocrisy and pride. And I submit that today’s religious right is a hotbed of religious hipocrisy and pride (Hey, TBN, Jesus said his father’s house should be a house of prayer, but you have turned it into a den of thieves – I am damned if he wasn’t talking DIRECTLY TO YOU). Mercy is not a value that is embraced by the judgmental religious right, not to mention the secular right, so I further submit that they have strayed from true religion (James 1:27).
Now, many of my liberal associates, some of whom even call themselves liberal (the bold sons of guns), wonder what the point of being a Christian is. After all, with them I reject the myths of creation, the parting of the sea, the sudden confusion of languages, the notion that once long ago folks got swallowed by giant fish for disobeying, that God wrote messages with a giant finger and talked through an ass, and all the other tremendous tales that my Bible seems to teach as historical fact to anyone not willing to pay attention. I even reject the myth of the virgin birth (gasp!), and in a strict sense the resurrection (gasp! again). So where does my Christianity lie? For the record, and if you care, my Christianity lies in acceptance of the salvation from sin given by grace that Jesus preached, that models the mercy that characterizes God in my limited human spiritual understanding, and that is exemplified in the story of his passion. Which salvation, by the way, is universal. But that’s all for another essay.
Perhaps to my spiritual discredit, I admit that in preaching the gospel as instructed, I tend to preach more about politics than theology – but that’s simply because where liberalism is concerned, it’s the squeaky wheel. For one thing, there are enough preachers trying to scare sinners into faith with stories of eternal damnation. That’s fine, I suppose. I mean, the Apostle Paul did say that even if their motives aren’t pure, at least Christ is preached. But God love me, I was formed this way, with these values, and with this love for humanity. If Jesus asks me in the end what I did to win souls for Christ, I will humbly point to my promotion of the liberal values I got from reading and studying his words and trust him not to strike me down with a lightning bolt. He’s merciful that way, so I don’t worry.
Mercy, after all, triumphs over judgment. That’s in the Bible, in case you wondered (James 2:13).