There’s a line in a popular Christian song that makes me cry every time: “We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord. And we pray that all unity may one day be restored.” It makes me question my attachment to labeling myself a Christian Progressive or a Christian liberal.
When I first came back to Christianity in my mid 20s, I didn’t know anything but “Christian.” I grew up in an Episcopal church that never put down another denomination and left by the time I was a late high school considering myself an atheist. When I came back, I attended a moderate Episcopal church with my soon-to-be husband every Sunday. I prayed daily, and we set aside once a week to grow spiritually as a couple. We didn’t attend any small groups because we were also in medical school at the time and our schedules varied too much, but we were close with one of the reverends who did our pre-martial counseling. I was more involved in church than I had ever been, but I still knew nothing of division personal to me.
When Gene Robinson became the first openly gay Episcopal bishop, it was when I finally understood how much taking sides meant to Christianity. Of course, I knew I disagreed with Catholics and some Christians on certain social issues and the way a service might run, but I also knew people within each faith who carried these struggles simultaneously. It was different watching my own denomination splinter and falter. It hurt my heart. I felt my Christian faith call me to support the church’s decision, but I still looked to the Bible and talk to my friends who disagreed because I wanted to reconcile. And because I heard them calling me something other than Christian.
The church I attended shrugged their brick and mortar shoulders and took the moderate’s way of “everyone’s right no one’s right” without much fanfare. I couldn’t do it even though I wanted peace so I left. I attended another Episcopal church with beautiful music and a thriving youth ministry, but they had chosen to stand against Gene Robinson and homosexuality. I couldn’t put money in the basket. However, I spoke with the young reverend there to gain insight into why Christians of the same God and with the same texts could make such radically different decisions. He didn’t judge my Jesus, but he said this was a conservative church. There was that word. I heard it again and again among my peers. I left this church as well.
I finally understood that I was and am not a conservative Christian. I can sing with them and talk with them and love them and pray with and for them. But I cannot attend their mega-churches. I don’t even understand what a mega-church has to do with God at all. I saw the Bible as living and breathing, and I didn’t have a definition for my Jesus. Yet.
I recently read the survey result from Public Religion Research Institute that the religious progressives has out-paced religious conservatives in young people age 18-33 years old. I’m about to turn 35 so I feel particularly trendy. But what really stood out to me was that:
…nearly 8-in-10 (79%) religious progressives say being a religious person is mostly about doing the right things compared to 16% who say it is holding the right beliefs. By contrast the majority (54%) of religious conservatives say being a religious person is primarily about having the right beliefs, while less than 4-in10 (38%) say it is mostly about doing the right thing.(source)
As a Christian progressive, I believe this whole-heartedly. I am to be a living example of Christianity and of God. It is by our works people know we are Christians — caring for the poor, words of kindness, acts of love — and it is often the greatest criticism of Christian conservatives that they talk and judge rather than do.
However, we must have beliefs to be Christian, too, right? I can’t disregard the foundation from which both conservative and progressive Christians arise . We can’t only be people doing good. Being Christian must mean something in and of itself.
I worried that we, as Christian lefts, have our own brand of what plagues the conservatives Christians. They have hate-driven exclusivity, and we have fear-driven inclusivity. That everyone who says they’re Christian is Christian even when it’s really some new-age, lay-in-their-own-crap, spiritual feeling that Jesus was a hippie from the 60s rather than a charismatic, historical figure from over 2000 years ago with non-English stories written about his life. Are we diluting Christianity the same way the Christian right has?
But I realize that I’d rather include everyone than make people prove their Christian merit at the door. What human would I trust to judge anyway? I don’t know what makes or breaks a Christian’s inherent belief system. But I know what it feels like to have my own Christianity questioned when I’m seeking to do what is right by God.
The rest of the song lyrics are: “They will know we are Christian by our love.” Embracing those who wish to be Christian is what I believe Jesus would do, and is the only chance that, someday, it won’t be right and left, it will just be Christian.
About the writer: Alex Iwashyna went from an undergraduate degree in political philosophy to a medical doctor to a stay-at-home mom, writer and Christian by 30. Four years later, she spends most of her writing time on LateEnough.com, a humor blog, except when it’s serious, about life, parenting, marriage, culture, religion and politics. She has a muse of a husband, two young kids and a readership that gives her hope for humanity.