How is it that liberal-minded people who claim that they are open to allowing people to believe what they want and live the way that they want attack people like me who stand on the Bible? That’s real tolerant now isn’t it?
Answer: By Rev. David M. Felten
First off, allowing people to believe what they want is just one characteristic of “liberal-minded people.” But to characterize liberalism as some willy-nilly-believe-what-you-want perspective is a false claim. True, liberals are OK with people believing what they want – but only insofar as those beliefs respect the basic dignity of other people and doesn’t do others harm. That’s a big difference. I’ve also heard it said that liberals tolerate anything but intolerance. I think that’s about right.
And let’s be clear, you’re probably not being “attacked” for being a person who “stands on the Bible,” but for being a person who’s “stand” on the Bible is not in keeping with other peoples’ “stand” on the Bible.
Let me remind you that people “stood on the Bible” to defend slavery, they “stood on the Bible” to keep women from having the vote, they “stood on the Bible” to defend segregation. Without “liberals” who opposed those racist, misogynist, and un-American practices, our world would be a very different place indeed (and not for the better). Many of those appalling liberals, by the way, were faithful Christians who appealed to the Bible to further the causes of freedom and basic human rights. I’m going to assume that, in these areas, you agree with them and their “liberal” interpretation of the Bible.
Among today’s front line issues of defense on behalf of basic human dignity and human rights are LGBTQ rights and reproductive choice. Bizarre Biblical attitudes toward women and sexuality notwithstanding, neither of these (as we currently understand them) are topics in the Bible (uh-oh, no place to “stand”!). Similarly, although there’s no mention of cultural practices like female genital mutilation and sex-trafficking in the Bible, many conservatives “stand” with liberals in opposition to these sex-related challenges – and do so on the grounds of that eminently liberal notion of human rights.
Then, if you manage to filter out all the propaganda, cultural prejudices, and superstitions from the Bible, there are plenty of examples of where scripture is clearly aligned with what you would call today’s “liberal agenda.” Opposing racial injustice and the U.S.’s unjust immigration policies are just two examples where liberals have all kinds of Biblical precedent on which to “stand.”
So, don’t mistake the liberal tendency towards tolerance (which allows you – in broad strokes – to believe what you want and do what you please) to remain silent when what you believe and advocate fails to respect the rights or freedom of others. You can claim that your “stand” is the definitive interpretation of what the Bible says, but so did the slave-owning, sexist, and racist Christians of the past – and so do the discriminatory, misogynistic dogmatists of today.
~ Rev. David M. Felten
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About the Author
David Felten is a full-time pastor at The Fountains, a United Methodist Church in Fountain Hills, Arizona. David and fellow United Methodist Pastor, Jeff Procter-Murphy, are the creators of the DVD-based discussion series for Progressive Christians, “Living the Questions”.
A co-founder of the Arizona Foundation for Contemporary Theology and also a founding member of No Longer Silent: Clergy for Justice, David is an outspoken voice for LGBTQ rights both in the church and in the community at large. David is active in the Desert Southwest Conference of the United Methodist Church and tries to stay connected to his roots as a musician. You’ll find him playing saxophones in a variety of settings, including appearances with the Fountain Hills Saxophone Quartet.
David and his wife Laura, an administrator for a large Arizona public school district, live in Phoenix with their three often adorable children.