January 29, 2013

Issac J. Bailey | Maybe conservative and liberal Christians must part ways

Conservative churches along the Grand Strand don’t want liberal members.

Conservative churches along the Grand Strand don’t want liberal members.

If this was San Francisco, where the liberal view is more prevalent, I’d argue the reverse.

But this is South Carolina, the heart of the Bible Belt, where I’ve heard a countless number of people proudly say that you can be a liberal or a Christian but not both.

Conservative churches in this area might like the idea of liberal Christians sitting in the pews more than the reality, unless the real goal is for them to eventually adopt conservative views or, as I’ve been told, come to see “the truth.”

I’m not talking about politics, Democrat and Republican.

I’m not talking about enjoying each others company or being respectful and friendly across the divide, or mourning with each other and crying with each other and laughing together and playing together and breaking bread together and wishing each others kids well.

Those things should come fairly easily to people who say they are guided by a higher power. I’m talking about the harder stuff.

If you believe homosexual activity should be discouraged in all of its forms because it is an affront to God’s order of things and I don’t, either my view has to give, or yours does.

If you believe a liberal view of gay marriage is an existential threat to the church itself – God’s representative on earth – either my view has to give, or yours does.

There is no middle ground when one side has decided that its view is not only correct, but the only true one in the eyes of God. There is no possibility of an equitable coming together.

One view will be taught from the pulpit and in small groups and in private counseling sessions and in kids’ church, and the other will not.

That’s the stark reality many in the Episcopal Church are facing, particularly after the conservative Diocese of South Carolina split from the national church over significant disagreements about gay marriage and other such issues.

It is painful because it is about how different Christians within the same church or religious tradition view God, and how that view plays itself out in practical terms.

If one side believes certain views are fundamental threats to and a perversion of the “Word of God,” it makes little sense for them to sit silently while those views are trumpeted in their church.

But should those who think differently – who still love God and their traditions – sit in the back pews and just listen to the other side declare their position as the absolute truth knowing there is no serious attempt to have their own views respected by the church?

I don’t mean superficial respect; I mean the kind that forces you to seriously consider the opposing point-of-view and not just pay it lip service or kindly dismiss it by conjuring up a thousand reasons why that “good person” has been supposedly led astray.

One side argues that gay people need to repent or somehow change their sexuality or, if that’s not possible, remain celibate. Until they do so they should not be visible in the church, particularly in positions of leadership.

The other side argues that gay people are the equal of heterosexuals and that should be reflected in leadership and marriage and social acceptance, that if they unite in loving relationships that make each other better, they should be celebrated, not shunned.

It’s inconceivable that those opposing arguments can thrive in the same church for long.

You can’t believe that what liberal Christians are espousing is leading people straight to Hell and want them in your church – or allow their voices to be heard inside those walls.

You can’t have it both ways.

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