Saturday, May 26, 2012

Where Are The Liberal Christians?

This semester I had the privilege of sharing social space at school with non-Christian students who "keep it real" with a lot of the larger secular context in which the outside world turns. One student in particular asked two questions that resonate very deeply in my heart: where are all the liberal Christians and perhaps even more important: if liberal Christians claim any identity as a deeper voice of the Good News of Jesus the Christ, then why are they not speaking up and why are they letting the right-wing control their religion? These are important questions. Let's be real: the media image of Christians, particularly in the USA, is -- in a word -- VILE. If you form your narrative understanding of modern American Christianity based on the story told in the media then Christianity stands against critical thinking, science, education, immigration, abortion, Islam, and most strongly and vociferously against anything that appears like an agenda from the alphabet-soup of sexuality ("LGBTQQIA, e-i-e-i-oh"). I actually, just several days ago, saw a posting from a high-school classmate saying in no uncertain terms that:

1) there is no war on women in America and that the only social war in this country is a war on church being led by Obama (note that this person is a conservative Catholic, so if this point sounds a lot like something Rick Santorum would say, there is a reason); and

2) people on the anti-Christian left just do not understand that there is a basic difference between accepting homosexual people and allowing them to sexualize children by redefining marriage.

What the fuck? The second point really frosted my wookiee. What on God's green Earth does the legality of my access to marriage have to do with sexualizing children? I mean... dude. Seriously. Just stop right there. And who the hell do you think you are, claiming that the left is anti-Christian? I am a CHRISTIAN who lives on a daily first-name basis with Jesus the Christ, and I am also a left-liberal socialist. God decides who is Christian, not you. And furthermore, the Holy Bible contains THOUSANDS of verses about economic injustice and radical overthrow of the social order as a means of redistributing societal wealth and less than one dozen verses that even appear to address queerfolk. Where is your righteous indignation toward capitalism? Toward the banking industry? Toward the 1% of society?

Deep breath.

In with Jesus, out with Satan. Again.
Breathe in Shekhinah. Cast out Haśśāṭān!

But, this is a perfect example of the problem. When I saw that comment on this person's Facebook wall, did I confront him? Did I call him out on it? Did I even attempt to have a dialogue with him, pointing out that aside from the personally offensive and illogical nature of his second point, all I ask is that he respect the other voices in Christianity that might or might not be Catholic but which certainly disagree with his understanding of the Bible as handed down to him via papal edicts and his own reading of the text? Did I take him to task for his blind-spot in seeing that he himself is sexualizing his children when he answers questions like "where do babies come from" and then his kids connect the dots and realize that he has porked his wife?

Well, no I didn't. And ironically, here is one reason why: someone else already attempted to challenge him. And the absolute disrespect with which he responded to her was so offensive that instead of enter the dialogue, I supported my sister in Christ by contacting her directly -- privately -- to offer my voice of support to her. Now, I will also admit something: the individual question was one of the major reasons that I ran away screaming from Christianity in my adolescence. He taught me that 1) no understanding of Christ is correct if it does not meet his understanding of Catholic doctrine, 2) homosexuality is a pit of vipers and as long as I did not let God "fix me" I was going to hell, and 3) he specifically insulted my own grandfather by telling a class we shared that the Masons do Satanic rituals with the blood of Catholic babies.

Lord forgive them for they know not what damage they do. And now that I have come to know Jesus personally, I will add: Lord please help this man, and people like him, to see the handprint of Satan on their lives for they know not that they have embraced the prince of lies, the false teacher, and are under his thumb doing his work for him. Point of clarification: this is absolutely not a statement on Catholicism. It is a statement on extremism and fundamentalism from any sect.


I have a simple answer to the question re: where left-leaning and/or LGBTQ-friendly voices are in Christianity. I believe that they are in two places.

1) They are a silent and totally disheartened majority. They see no point in even confronting hate-speech masquerading as "hate the sin, love the sinner" or "I love you, I just do not support your lifestyle choice" or "Adam-and-Eve not Adam-and-Steve." This is probably the same group of people who take so much of their beliefs on the inalienable equal rights of all humankind for granted -- and as self-evident -- that they do not understand why minority populations need our allies to step up and make noise on our behalf when we are not around to defend ourselves. Many of the people in this population do not even bother to vote, and then wake up the morning after Election Day in shock that so much right-wing hate speech is being enshrined into political offices, being added to the constitution of so many states, etc. And I would be remiss if I did not comment on the voting patterns of the millennial generation: everyone speaks of the "youth vote" and yet, look at the exit-poll numbers... the younger voters, who claim to be so passionate about so many social causes, DO NOT SHOW UP ON ELECTION DAY. My grandfather fought at Guadalcanal. When you do not bother to vote, it is a personal offense to his memory and to the memory of the entire generation of Americans who were willing to die to protect this country from Hitler, from Mussolini, from Shōwa Emperor Hirohito. People DIED for your right to vote. Who the fuck do you think you are to not accept the civic duty to vote as a chance to HONOR THOSE WHO GAVE THEIR LIFE FOR YOUR FREEDOM?

But I digress.

2) From what I have seen as I pursue my MDiv, it boils down to money. Mainline protestant denominations are not supporting the next generation of seminary students like me who are Christ-followers and are hungry to preach a theology of radical inclusion, unconditional love, etc. Many of the mainline denominations are so busy with internecine throw-downs on LGBTQQI inclusion that they are literally hanging their seminarians out to dry -- yes, this was a direct allusion to the unpleasantness of the recent UMC General Conference in Tampa. And it is even worse for a person like me: I am post-denominational, in the sense that I see denominational polity getting in the way of the Good News far too often, so I am left to seek ordination in marginalized entities like the Fellowship of Affirming Ministries. My call takes me toward that kind of radically inclusive theology, but guess what? THEY HAVE NO MONEY. So, here I am, preaching and writing about all these things that Christians need to learn in order to make our religion more Christ-like... and I have NO ACCESS TO MEDIA, NO ACCESS TO THE FUNDING OF MAJOR DENOMINATIONAL BODIES, AND THEREFORE I FUNCTIONALLY DO NOT EXIST. And the sad truth is that there are literally THOUSANDS of Christian ministers-in-training like me. I go to school with many of them.

So, we reach the basic quandary.

I am doing my part -- I am studying for my MDiv, I am working toward some form of ministerial ordination in a church body which will pay attention to me (God bless you, Bishops Yvette Flunder and Bonnie Radden!), I am living on a budget that keeps me perilously close to homelessness, and I am looking for some form of legal employment to help pay my bills.

My question for Christians who claim to support a liberal voice in Christianity is this: will the already-established liberal church body do its part? Will the liberal body recognize that it needs the energy of the next generation of seminary-trained religious leaders to fan the flames of liberation? Will that body recognize that there are thousands of ministers-in-training out here, ready to fight the good fight, who just need help with our educational funding? I will hit the life-time cap for Federal Student Aid debt before I finish my studies and will have to turn to the secondary market where usurious interest rates are the norm. Will anyone help me?

I am here, doing my part. But is anyone actually listening?


Stop talking.
Start helping.

Stop observing.
Get involved.

Vote with your pocketbook to support me and people like me.
And vote with your eyes on Christ in November.

I ask, humbly, in the name of Jesus my Liberator, for increase.
-Philip Tanner, MEd

Reflection: End of Year One

It has been approximately 42 hours since I turned in my last paper from my last class of my first year of Divinity school. I have been in a sleepy haze since arriving home on Thursday night, punctuated with trivialities like making coffee, eating, petting my cats, and sleeping more hours than I care to admit. Since at this point I have only part-time work lined up, it looks increasingly likely that I will have significant time to write this summer. I am excited about that, although I dread the financial implications of part-time work. But that's not what this post is about.

During the course of the Spring 2012 semester, I had a blog post actually get public attention -- albeit "just" at school with a hundred-or-so views. That's plenty-enough "big time" for me, thank you very much. And the amazing thing about it was that my post ("Skeletons in the PSR Closet") helped to move an important campus dialogue forward. That, coupled with my re-baptism on Easter, followed immediately by getting a serious case of pneumonia that absolutely clobbered me for two weeks, then followed almost immediately by the end-of-semester crunch... well, let's just say the aforementioned "sleepy haze" makes a lot of sense.

As time permitted over the last six weeks, I took the advice I often give to other writers: write. Put pen-to-paper, or fingers-to-keys, and just simply write. I even wrote a draft for a followup post to "Skeletons in the PSR Closet" based on some constructive dialogue I had with one particular PSR student who wishes to remain nameless in the blogosphere. I respect that, certainly, although I do wish I could thank her publicly for her principled and personally heartfelt critique of my arguments. So... thank you and God bless you, person who knows who she is.  :)

Anyway, I began the draft of Skeletons Part 2 as well as several other potential posts. And I fully intend to work on them this summer. But for now, I am going to post something that just flowed through me into my text-editor a little while ago. It is a response to both a specific post by a wonderful Christian minister in North Carolina, as well as a part of a bigger dialogue that I have been having with my ministerial cadre as well as several non-Christian friends who are all loudly asking an important question:

Christians are generally depicted as right-wing conservatives.
Where are all the liberal Christians?

I shall address my initial thoughts on that in my next post, later today. But for now...
BBQ potato chips, cheese, and a nap.