Will most of progressive Christianity find itself on that side of history where persecution festers and overflows? An excellent article by John S. Dickerson, “The Decline of Evangelical America,” is badly used by More Light Presbyterians. They grab at the most damaging and ugly words and statistics about evangelicals as a means of lifting up their own agenda. Missing most of Dickerson’s points and concerns they go to this quote:
“Evangelicals have not adapted well to rapid shifts in the culture – including, notably, the move toward support for same-sex marriage,” Dickerson writes. “The result is that evangelicals are increasingly typecast as angry and repressed bigots. In 2007, the Institute for Jewish and Community Research, in a survey of 1,300 college professors, found that 3 percent held ‘unfavorable feelings’ towards Jews, 22 percent toward Muslims and 53 percent towards evangelical Christians.”
“Instead of offering hope, many evangelicals have claimed the role of moral gatekeeper, judge and jury. If we continue in that posture, we will continue to invite opposition and obscure the ‘good news’ we are called to proclaim.”
The MLP author bemoans the fact that Dickerson “ultimately defaults to a “love the sinner, hate the sin” position,”and fails to see that the article is about letting go of a political strategy and hanging onto the bountiful witness that God loves the sinner and has provided for her redemption with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. As Dickerson puts it:
The Scripture calls us “aliens and exiles” (1 Peter 2:11), but American evangelicals have not acted with the humility and homesickness of aliens. The proper response to our sexualized and hedonistic culture is not to chastise, but to “conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that, though they malign you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God” (1 Peter 2:12).
This does not mean we whitewash unpopular doctrines like the belief that we are all sinners but that we re-emphasize the free forgiveness available to all who believe in Jesus Christ.
The author of the MLP piece which bears the same title as Dickerson’s hurries on to emphasis a different article produced by MLP, the interview of a pastor who was once conservative but eventually came to believe that the ordination of LGBT people as well as same gender marriage is acceptable. Supposedly that is the answer to the decline of evangelicalism rather than a deeper sustained proclamation of the gospel of Christ’s redemption.
But to my original point, I believe, although unaware, perhaps not caring, many progressive Christians are moving toward such a polarized stance that persecution will overflow toward orthodox and evangelical brothers and sisters. I write this for several reasons. The kinds of articles MLP now link to are often grounded in a very angry and amoral society. As progressive Christians continually find meaning and guidance in western cultural mandates rather than biblical revelation their worldview will continually change. Culture changes, the word of God does not.
Love, disconnected from the God who is personal, eternal and unchanging, is easily emptied of all Christian content as are many other abstract words such as unity, righteousness and justice. The word of God pulls these words together and fills them with meaning. For instance Psalm 97 speaks of the foundations of God’s throne (his authority) being righteousness and justice.
And Psalm 133, which has to do with unity among brothers, likens it to the dew that comes down on “the mountains of Zion.” That phrase is filled with the understanding that God commanded a blessing of ‘life forever’ on Zion. But such life belongs to Christ who gave his life for the world. Without the biblical text and the ultimate redemptive work of Christ, words like love, unity, justice and righteousness can become harsh, tyrannical and full of immorality and death.
We never stand still—but movement isn’t without gain or loss. We either move toward Christ, centering our faith in his word, or we move away from Christ listening to the siren songs of culture.