Is Left Ever Right?

Apologies for the slow week. Our big semester-end paper is this week, which has meant late nights and the corresponding late mornings, and when I wake up late in the morning, the blog gets axed.

Scot McKnight must have known my family when I was growing up:

Among conservative evangelicals moving to the right seems never to be wrong.

Moving to the left, however, is either on the way to being wrong or is in fact already wrong (for the right).

To the left is a slippery slope, to the right is faithfulness (even if it is extreme).

Indeed.

Many conservative evangelicals are like this today; they are right-facing zealots. No one to my knowledge has ever been kicked out of the Evangelical Theological Society for being too conservative, and frankly I don’t think anyone could get kicked out for being too conservative. Why? Because going right is never wrong. Go as far as you want, you’ll never get into trouble. You can believe in dictation theory, in views on the authorship of books that are more miraculous than anyone needs to believe, in snakes talking to Adam and Eve (as a result of a miracle, mind you), in a 10,000 year old earth and in youth earth creationism, in radical views of complementarianism, you can deny women their rightful place in ministry (it’s in the Bible, after all, that women were prophets and apostles and leaders of the whole People of God), you can equate right wing Tea Party libertarianism with what the Bible is teaching, you can be as Calvinistic as you want to be (and more), and I could go on and on … no one ever gets in trouble for espousing these views among conservative evangelicals. Ever.

But if you wonder if science might have a few things to offer us when it comes to Genesis 1-3, if Isaiah didn’t write that whole book, if something in one of the Gospels just might be midrash (did Peter really grab a coin from a fish’s mouth?), if maybe God made a world where there is divine self-limitation (some forms of open theism), if Jesus rides (or will ride) on clouds, if justice is at the heart of God’s mission in this world, especially through the church … well, then, you’re on the slippery slope. Going left is wrong (for the right); going right is never wrong. Even if you can show that your view is justifiable biblically, many think any move away from the right is wrong.

It feels like sometime soon, my parents and I are going to have to talk about the fact that it is OK for me to no longer share their increasingly fundamentalist theology and political ideology. I’m not looking forward to that. Scot’s post seems to be venting a lot of the frustration I’ve been feeling this week.

My goal is to find a place on the spectrum where I can embrace both the truth and the ambiguity of the Bible and the Gospel. I’m not sure where that place is, but it’s likely to be viewed as somewhere on the slippery slope by most of the formative influences in my life. That’s exciting in some ways, but the conflict it generates – or, worse, doesn’t generate – is disheartening. I just don’t see why I can’t move left.

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3 comments on “Is Left Ever Right?

  1. Jon Fuller says:

    This is something I have had to do with my parents as well, but on a different level. My mother, in particular, has made a shift to a more liberal political stance, but retains fundamentalist interpretations of scripture, including the idea that “The word is clear on what you should believe.” There is little room for discussion or influence from outside sources, such as non-CofC theologians.

  2. Paul says:

    How did that conversation work out, if you don’t mind my asking?

  3. Jon Fuller says:

    Oh, it’s been working out for about… 14 years now. Sadly, I don’t believe that we’ll ever see eye to eye on a lot of the issues, and it’s a long process to achieve a level of understanding. I don’t try and discount her beliefs/interpretations, just try and explain mine in a fashion, backed by scriptural evidence (since non-scriptural sources are “biased”) that lets her say, “That’s valid.” So far, it hasn’t happened, and when it does, it will only affect whichever issue we’ve been discussing that time around. I’ll have to repeat the process every single time there is another contention in our readings. If any progress is made, I’ll let you know.

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