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campbellobit1-articleInlineIf you didn’t know, Will Campbell died a bit ago. Author of Brother to a Dragonfly (best book by a clergyman ever), Campbell was a Civil Rights activist who infuriated Civil Rights liberals for his Christian love of the enemy.

Namely, Klansmen.

Campbell was a nagging reminder that Christians, whose primary story is the Gospel rather than America, defy easy categorization.

Campbell’s death brought to mind an experience I had recently.

Just a few weeks ago, I participated in a bible study on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Our bible study of less than a dozen people included Christians (and even one ‘none’) from all over the world.

As I noted in a recent sermon, the group was comprised of a gay Episcopal priest from San Francisco, a Unitarian lay person from Boulder, Colorado, a Catholic civil servant from Paris, France, a women’s studies PhD candidate from Barcelona, Spain, and a geologist from Italy who looked like a shorter, plumper, balder, older version of me. He even sported my sloppy dress and unkempt beard.

Then there was me.

And across from me was an Episcopal Bishop from California.

In the above mentioned sermon, I recounted how, in exasperation and upon remembering that the bishop before me wasn’t my bishop and, as such, had no authority over me, I burst forth:

‘Of course, you think that. You’re a tree-hugging, liberal, Baby Boomer Episcopalian from California.’

In the context of the sermon, it was just a throwaway line, a sneaky gauge of my listeners’ wakefulness disguised as a snarky joke.

In the context of the bible study in which it was originally uttered; however, what later became a throwaway line was initially a genuine outburst of exasperation.

I reduced the bishop to a political label.

I put her in a box.

And then I colored it a dark blue using the red-blue crayons the culture wars have given us.

I did so (if I were of a more ‘liberal’ bent I’d use the word ‘prophetic’ here) because that’s exactly what I’d listened to her do for upwards of 15 minutes.

Our scripture lesson that morning had been from 2 Isaiah: ‘Do not remember the former things…’ That scripture along with the long-suffering landscape of Pine Ridge became the only ingredients necessary for the bishop to launch into a diatribe against ‘right-wing, conservative Christians who [fill in predictable adjectives and knee-jerk assumptions about what ‘those people’ do or support].

As her diarrhea of the mouth built to a crescendo, complaining about all those Christians who listen to X radio preacher and Y cable news channel and hate Z demographic, I’d decided I’d had enough and threw up the words: ‘Of course, you think that. You’re a tree-hugging, liberal, Baby Boomer Episcopalian from California.’

My gross generalizing judgment had the silencing, subject-changing results I’d hoped and, like Lord Voldemort, we spoke of it no more.

I’m sure if the bishop had had the chance to rebut me, she would’ve protested that she  was a much more complicated person, her own views more nuanced and tempered by the ambiguities of life experience and vagaries that come with the relationships in her life.

And that was my point.

The same is true of so-called ‘right-wing, conservative Christians.’

The same is true of everyone.

All of us.

None of us so easily fits the boxes and categories we submissively allow the culture and its media to give us.

In my line of work, I know lots of Christians. Many- if not most- are conservative and almost none of them fit the template for ‘Conservative Christian.’

They all have incredibly diverse approaches, opinions and stories. And I think the word ‘story’ best captures my point. We all have one that’s unique to us and we all bring it, uniquely, to the Christian story.

As James KA Smith puts it:

‘We are Christians not because of what we believe, but because we have been called to be disciples of Jesus. Becoming a disciple is not a matter of a new or changed self-understanding but of becoming part of a different community with a different set of practices.’ 

Put a bit differently, Christianity is where our personal stories intersect the story of Jesus and that’s always going to result in a messy collision that’s unique for each and every person unlucky enough to have their life sabotaged by Jesus.

If Christianity isn’t primarily about opinions and beliefs, if it’s about our story and Christ’s story becoming one, if this is always an alchemy that yields a one-of-a-kind batch each and every time, then we should refuse to put Christians into boxes.

Because to do so would require a new box for each and every person.

‘Story’ and the uniqueness of each person’s story as it integrates the Christ story has been vogue for some time now in liberal progressive circles, where its emphasis implicitly- if not explicitly- encourages a certain charity towards every individual’s point of view.

An emphasis on ‘story,’ in other words, is inherently inclusive, engendering tolerance, patience and kindness.

To an extent.

Too often, I think, those who laud ‘story’ do so provided only that the person’s ‘story’ is staked out somewhere within the pre-approved vicinity of the liberal progressive camp.

Put a bit differently, Will Campbell’s death and my conversation (ie, heated exchange) with the bishop has caused me to wonder if those who espouse tolerance are tolerant only of those they deem safely outside the intolerant fold. Sure, it’s easy to point out examples of conservative Christians being intolerant of those with whom they disagree. That’s no surprise. They’re all over the media.

But, troublingly, it’s damn hard to find contemporary liberal progressive versions of Will Campbell.

I wonder how many of those who esteem ‘story’ today have listened charitably to the ‘story’ of individual conservatives? Or evangelicals?

Because, like I said, I think they’d find that it’s a waste of time to put folks in boxes. The nearest Container Store to me is in Georgetown and, even then, I doubt there’s enough boxes to go around.

 

121101065950-red-blue-state-jesus-custom-1This is a good take on the perspective of a good many people in my congregation. Frank Bruni does a good job of reminding us that Christian values include more than one value.

Faith in Jesus Christ- the faith of Jesus Christ for that matter- should pull us in more than a single political direction.

He says:

As the Boy Scouts of America reassesses its ban on gay scouts and leaders, we’re hearing a lot about the organization’s need to remain sensitive to people whose religions condemn homosexual behavior. Their morals must be properly respected, their God aptly revered.

But what about the morals and the God of people whose religions exhort them to be inclusive and to treat gays and lesbians with the same dignity as anyone else? There are many Americans in this camp, and their opposition to the Scouts’ ban is as faith-based as the stance of those who want it maintained.

Take Scott Ward, 48, a public relations executive and married father of three in Takoma Park, Md. He’s a scout leader, with a 10-year-old son who’s a scout. He’s also an elder in his Presbyterian church.

And for him, the ban must go not in spite of what Christianity says about homosexuality (or what selective literalists have decided it says), but because of what it says about humanity.

“From my faith perspective, singling people out for exclusion from the life of the church or the life of the community cannot possibly be part of God’s plan,” Ward told me on the phone recently.

He added, “If you look at the people Jesus tended to be most suspicious of, they were people who sat in positions of authority to say that they had the unique ability to judge others.”

We refer incessantly in this country to the “religious right,” a phrase routinely presented as if it’s some sort of syllogism: to be devoutly religious is to gravitate to a certain side of the political spectrum, one set of values dictating the other. “Christian conservatives” is an almost equally ubiquitous bit of alliteration.

But there’s a religious center. A religious left. There are Christian moderates and Christian liberals: less alliterative and less dogmatic, but perhaps no less concerned with acting in ways that reflect moral ideals. We should better acknowledge that and them.

And we should stop equating conventional piety with certain issues only and sexual morality above other kinds.

Our tendency to do that was illustrated by the hullabaloo last year over the Nuns on the Bus. The Vatican officials who wanted them to be more assertively anti-abortion and anti-birth control were portrayed as the dutiful guardians of tradition, while the nuns, focused on matters of economic justice, were the rebels.

Why? It’s as fundamentally Catholic and Christian to care about the underprivileged as to safeguard the unborn (or to combat homosexuality). Indeed, many Catholics look to a politician’s social welfare policies as much as they do to other positions, and vote in a manner that would be accorded a label other than conservative.

Many people of faith are pacifists, and that’s a decisive factor in how they cast their ballots, though this concern is infrequently characterized in religious terms.

You can read the rest here.