A letter to the Christian Right
While not willingly accepting the label, I would be considered by most to be a liberal.
I am a pacifist, have communist leanings, disdain the Bush/Reagan empires, have gay and lesbian friends and am against the death penalty. I read Mother Earth News, for heaven's sake!
So, if many would consider me to be on the left, I can forgive them their conclusion.
However, I would like my friends on the Religious Right to know that I come by my belief system honestly. I've read the Bible. This essay is my attempt to broach a misunderstanding that many have of the Religious Left.
Many times, the stereotype is drawn that has religious conservatives as being clean-cut, crisply dressed Bible-believing literalists, and religious liberals as being long-haired, tie-dye-wearing former hippies who sometimes respect Jesus but don't really believe the Bible.
This is, as with all stereotypes, sometimes but not always correct. As a case in point, may I share my story?
I started out as a Biblical literalist. I was an often overly earnest teenager and young adult who read the Word diligently and wanted the Bible to validate the conservative belief system within which I had been raised. However, the more I read the Bible and took it literally, the more I came to believe that what the Bible was teaching me was that it was a book of Big Truths. Of God's Truths.
For instance, in the story of Jonah and the whale, the Big Truth taught is that God loves everyone - Ninevites and whale-belly-laden xenophobes alike. That is THE point of the story. Whether Jonah was in the belly of a whale, or a great fish, or just had one helluva hangover in a bar far away from Ninevah is not the point and, from a literalist's point of view, is missing the important Truth of God's Love.
So, as a literalist, I discovered that the Big Truths are the vital lessons to be gained from the Bible. This is not to say that Jonah wasn't swallowed by a great fish, just that the literal veracity of the story in no way takes away from its Big Truth.
Furthermore, as I read, I did not find support within the Bible for most of what passes for conservative orthodoxy. Growing up, the "Big Truths" that I learned were Don't Drink Alcohol, Don' t Smoke, Don't Curse, Don't Dance (and All That Implies) and Give Your Life To Jesus, none of which (except perhaps the dancing) are within themselves bad bits of advice.
However, the first four, I discovered, are mostly extrabiblical and the last one ill-defined. Give your life to Jesus? What's that mean?
In reading the Bible, the Big Truths that I've discovered are simple, at least in concept:
1. God loves us all and wants the best for us
2. We ought to love God
3. We ought to love God's creation (including God's people)
Eventually I found that, as a literalist, I had to set aside being a literalist, because a literal and logical interpretation of the Bible does not support literalism, it supports these Big Truths. Other facts and lesser truths within the Bible can be interesting to debate and discuss, but they are so far removed in importance from the Big Truths as to be trivial in comparison.
I believe that every fact and every other Truth found in the Bible ought to be viewed and filtered through these first Big Truths.
Now, I will be the first to admit that making practical applications in everyday life of these Big Truths can be quite difficult. How do I best love the homeless fella who's asked me for a quarter? How do I love both sides in a warring country? How can I possibly love Osama bin Laden?
I would suggest that, however difficult it may be, it would be in our own spiritual best interest if we begin by putting aside our preconceived notions of what the Bible says, read it honestly and then, begin the very real, sometimes difficult work of loving God and loving God's creation. I believe this is a notion that we should all be able to agree upon.
Perhaps the Truths you find may lead you to accept gays and lesbians in your church as brothers and sisters, to the realization that war is outside the realm of God, and that Jesus may well have been a long-haired hippie communist!
Or perhaps not.
Regardless, because of the stereotypes of those on the left as being anti-Bible, the message that I want to share with those on the right, as well as those put off by the right, is that conservatives are not necessarily the only "People of the Bible." In fact, in most cases I do not think they are a people of the Bible at all.
Christian fundamentalists are, in my mind, a people of the Traditions. They are a people of all the traditions that have grown up around the church and defined in the popular mind what it means to be Christian. Some of these traditions I continue to find great value in, others less so. My point is that many, if not most, of these traditions go beyond what the Bible has to say.
I hope that no one reads this as being intended to show disrespect to those more conservative than myself. I owe them a lot. They taught me to take the Bible seriously.
It is something of a litmus test among conservative Christian churches to ask if you take the Bible literally. I'm of the mind these days that I'm less concerned whether you take the Bible literally and more concerned that you take it seriously.
For, in truth, there are those of us on the left who believe what we believe not in spite of what the Bible says, but exactly because of what the Bible says. The Big Truths of the Bible. Love God. Love your neighbor. Love your freakin' enemies! Oh, that we would rally around these Truths.