Five years ago I was a Calvinist, a Biblical inerrantist, a young earth Creationist, and if there had been a Reformed position on microwave popcorn I probably would have held to that too. Culturally I was progressive, but doctrinally I was a Calvin fanboy. I may or may not have had a t-shirt that proved it.
Then my faith sorta fell apart in spectacular fashion. It was the classic God feels really distant stuff at first. Then, after about a year of not feeling one iota of spiritual passion whatsoever, my defenses were sufficiently stripped away for me to start questioning the beliefs underneath them. I tied my brain in knots trying to figure out sovereignty and hell and the problem of evil. It's almost like there aren't any good answers to this stuff, I would say to myself. This went on for a couple years.
During the course of all this, I realized the earth is really old, Adam's sons didn't have pet velociraptors, the Bible needs to be interpreted a bit differently than I always had, and the issue of salvation and eternity is way more complicated than I had ever allowed myself to imagine.
And I was terrified to admit these things to anyone in my Reformed, Young Earth, Inerrantist church, where my wife and I still attend. I was sure we would be forced to wear scarlet H's as heretics and be out of the club.
I think one of the problems with most of us who consider ourselves progressive Christians is that we live in constant expectation of being judged by our fellow believers who are more conservative. It happens sometimes, but not nearly as often as we look for it. When I post something on my blog or on Facebook that I know runs contrary to the beliefs of many Christians I know, I can almost taste the judgmentalism coming. I monitor my blog comments waiting for a form-letter response like this:
"Dear Future Resident of Darkest Hell,
We noticed you recently decided to ignore every obvious truth of the Bible and turn your back on God. We're disappointed in you, of course, but we'd be lying if we said we didn't see it coming. It was, after all, established before the foundation of the world. God is receiving glory for your failure even as we type, so we're getting over it pretty quickly. We realize this might be hard for you to hear, but we'd like to remind it you it's your own fault for not having faith. As a consolation, we'd like to offer you this 10% off coupon for Christian McJerk's new book 24 Ways I Already Know You're Wrong and 13 More I Plan to Infer as We Go.
The Real Christians."
You know what, though? I've never gotten this kind of response. Not once. I have yet to have a Calvinist respond to me in any of the ways we progressive Christian bloggers like to reassure each other they'll respond when poked. In fact, the Reformed, conservative Christians I know have shown me nothing but grace, concern, love and understanding, darn them.
Oh, they've disagreed, and told me so. But in doing so they have spoken kindly, loved me as a person instead of regarding me as a doctrinal point, preserved the bonds of friendship, understood when I've expressed the confusion and discouragement of certain points of my story, and generally been all around better people than I am. I'm often left thinking I don't understand. The brochures promised you'd be rude.
If you find yourself in disagreement with conservative Christians, please give them the same chance to be loving, grace-filled, Jesus-following people as you would want them to give you. Some of them won't be, but chances are most of the ones you know are sincerely trying to follow Jesus just like you are, and they don't hate you, and they probably feel bad for poor people at least as often as you do, and they don't think dumping motor oil in the ocean is a good idea, and they probably don't really believe you're going to hell for voting Democrat. Yes, they believe some things that are frustrating, and yes, they will say things that come across as harsh, but they want people to know the love of God just like we do, even if they interpret it differently. We just have cooler magazines.
Let's drink the medicine we're selling. We preach acceptance and the freedom to disagree, but I know in my own case I am often reluctant to grant these things to those who are more conservative than I am. I expect judgment, and to be honest, sometime I want it. Imagining I'm being attacked allows me to discredit people I don't want to have to listen to and take seriously. Soon I'm a photographic negative of a Fundamentalist.
We don't have to agree with Calvinists, or Young Earth Creationists, or Inerrantists, or Complementarians, or whoever else gets under our doctrinal skin, but we do have to show love, and (what is sometimes even harder) we have to be willing to receive it from people and groups we've been conditioned to expect the opposite from.
If we'll take this step, we might find exactly what we've wanted in church all along - peace and unity in disagreement, and the love that should define us as Christians.
David lives in Ohio with his wife and young daughter, whom they adopted in 2008 from Guatemala. He currently works a totally unsatisfying job as an I.T. Specialist at a bank, which is a job most trained monkeys could do, except monkeys would get treated better because people would feel bad being mean to monkeys. He also runs a used and rare book business part time and is planning on opening a used book store in the next year or two. He's been writing since childhood and would love to do so for gainful employment at some point. And he make better paper airplanes than you. You can check out his blog here.