Several months ago, I put up a post on Common Sense Liberalism, where I intentionally began an effort to reclaim the term ‘liberal’ from its pejorative captors in the political and religious realms. It’s all part of my personal effort to explore what it means to be a ‘liberal’ Christian in ways that transcend the polarizing animosity that is currently ripping our churches and state capitols apart.
If that’s the case, one might argue, then why not abandon the dualistic liberal/conservative language altogether? There may well be a valid point in that. However, I’ve chosen to self-apply this particular moniker, instead of the more current buzzword ‘progressive Christian,’ for three reasons. First of all, it is used an insult. Commonly accepted group labels like Quaker, Methodist, Unitarian, and Christian had similar origins as insults. Personally, I don’t mind plucking this term from the landfill of language and bringing it back to life. I’m a liberal Christian. Double insult. “If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you.” (Jesus, John 15:18)
Second, I don’t think working toward peace, unity, and purity in church and society necessitates the elimination of all distinctions. I think it involves holding those distinctions differently. I don’t want to be a watered-down, lukewarm, non-committal, middle-of-the-roader. I want to be a liberal Christian who understands what respect, decency, and amicable compromise mean in the midst of controversy.
Finally, I’ve chosen to retain the word liberal for personal reasons related to my own journey. I wrote a Facebook post recently where I compared my relationship to evangelicalism to the relationship between a recovering alcoholic and social drinking. Some people can be evangelical Christians and live sane, healthy, and balanced lives. But, for whatever reasons, I cannot. I’ve spent many years blaming evangelicalism itself for the spiritual wounds I obtained in my late teens and early twenties. But I think it’s time that I also take responsibility for the ways in which I intentionally chose to sustain an unhealthy relationship with my theology. I tend to give myself wholly to the things I care about, sometimes pushing past the point of reason. In a subculture that supported biblical literalism, I pushed it to the extreme. My friends and pastors supported me in this because they thought I was just “on fire for Jesus.” They probably had no clue that I was actually nursing a pathological obsession that eventually bordered on the psychotic. I still think there are many aspects of evangelical culture and theology that are worth criticizing. However, it’s time that I stop casting them as villains and myself as victim in this story. It’s time that I own my part in it. I’m a recovering evangelical, not because evangelicalism is evil, but because I can’t handle it responsibly.