September 15, 2019

Saturday with Michael Spencer: Things You Can’t Say Around Other Christians

Saturday with Michael Spencer
From a 2008 post

Sorry to disappoint, but I suppose the career of the Internet Monk has been full of the kind of things I couldn’t say around Christians or in church, but felt I could say to thousands of readers on the same journey via the blogosphere. Mistake? Depends on whom you ask, and when, and where they were in the journey. But in thousands of posts, I tossed a few good pitches and I hit a few batters. I’d take some things back (and have,) but other things will be there for those on the same journey I’ve been on for as long as I can find the space.

There are some places that Christians will allow you to stand up and say “the sermon is pop psych” or “I’m not a young earth creationist” or “why do we act like we just invented Christianity this year?” What a gift it is to be able to speak truth and be supported by a community of the one who IS the truth.

In the church I grew up in I always heard that we believed in freedom of conscience, the right of private interpretation, the priesthood of the believer, soul competency and the sacred right to differ from the majority.

I heard about all of that, and I heard that it was other denominations, with their bishops and their hierarchies, that were hung up on conformity all the way down the line.

Well….let’s just say that it’s a good thing they don’t give awards for “Ironic Reversals of Reality” anywhere. Someone would need to build a shelf. A long one.

I’ve discovered there’s a good reason you can’t speak your own convictions among many church and denominational Christians. And I’m not just talking about a crabby email or comment.

My own denomination has a population of leaders who have been openly condemning certain bloggers for several years now, as for the first time, the usual regime of assumed power-preachers and denominational power-brokers discovered there was actual, real, thoughtful, articulate dissent being published out there. And that dissent was treated as a threat to the denomination’s unity and mission of evangelism, to the point that bloggers were publicly ridiculed in many denominational speeches in the past 2-3 years.

Be clear on this: I have no problem disapproving of the blogger who uses his/her power of personal publishing to lie, insinuate, gossip and undermine. But I am stunned and saddened to see how legitimate dissent, honest questioning, personal struggle, authenticate analysis and necessary discussion or consequences have been called sinful and destructive. It’s a tragic error.

Some bloggers have been irresponsible. I may have been too honest, too vulnerable, too transparent in my blogging at times. But when we mistake the silence of pre-programmed, enforced conformity with Christian unity, we’re already the victims of our own delusions.

There are still doors in Christendom where the truth needs to be nailed, and some of them aren’t far away from where you are.

We need to talk about what is and is not happening among real Christians living real lives.

We need to hear the truth about the Christian experience, not just the scrubbed and glowing testimonials.

We need to have the assumed wisdom and answers of denominational leaders scrutinized, just like every pastor has to face his critics in every healthy church anywhere.

We need a vibrant discussion of the “whys” and the “what fors” in the things we require of one another in church, denomination and ministry.

We need courageous writers who will tell the stories that can’t be spoken among Christians who are determined to create a culture of secrecy and religious conformity.

There may be a price for honesty, asking questions and telling our stories. But there will never cease to be a need for someone who has the courage to ask tough questions and tell honest experiences in the midst of organized religion. We won’t ever get the truth of our human and Christian journeys from the official spokespersons or the press releases. We have to speak it to one another and support one another in the consequences.

We can’t speak falsehood to ourselves, one another and our children. Even if the truth is clumsy, painful, inconvenient or unwelcome, it is still the truth and we should love it for Jesus sake.

Comments

  1. A refreshing reminder of Michael’s authenticity.

  2. What! Michael had detractors within church “leadership”?? Astonishing…

    I miss the Saturday Brunch.

  3. Steve Newell says

    What I find interesting is that for many churches, if you teach bad theology, they don’t get too upset. However, if you don’t follow the right politics, then they will have issues.

    If you are part of a tradition that is considered “theologically conservative” and you are not a Republican, you’re quested about your faith and the same is applies if you’re part of “theologically liberal” and not a Democrat.

    Sadly, we are more concerned about the purity of our politics than the purity of our doctrine. Correct Christian doctrine will result in a Christian life that reflects Christ’s love for those who are saved and those who are not saved.

    • Depends on the church. I’ve been in some Neo-Calvinist congregations where any whiff of a hint of human agency in salvation would get the speaker run out of the narthex on a rail.

    • “. Correct Christian doctrine will result in a Christian life that reflects Christ’s love for those who are saved and those who are not saved.”

      I once thought that. I was wrong. And I was Exhibit A as to why that is wrong. Right belief does not guarantee a THING. Afyer all, demons have solid theology proper, as James pointed out.

      • Christiane says

        This.

      • Norma Cenva says

        Much of the German nation had at one time all their doctrinal ducks in a row (whether Catholic or Lutheran)…
        The cattle cars still went East day and night to the gas chambers and crematoriums…

    • Robert F says

      I’ve been a member of parishes and congregations in so-called “liberal” mainline Protestant denominations all my life, and never once have I seen, or heard about, anyone’s faith questioned as a result of their conservative politics. What I have seen is plenty of conservatives leave the “liberal” denominations I was member of because they didn’t like the way the theology of the denominations was being influenced by supposedly “liberal” ideas toward a more inclusive position on women and gay inclusion in the church, including ministry, and in society; i.e. they left because of their own objections to the intersection of theology and politics that had developed in those denoms, and they left for churches in which the intersection of theology and politics was more in keeping with their own conservative views. No one kicked them out, or ostracized them, or questioned their faith; they self-selected out.

      • Clay Crouch says

        Me, too. Never a question. Our parish has right, left, and middle sitting in the pews.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      If you are part of a tradition that is considered “theologically conservative” and you are not a Republican, you’re quested about your faith and the same is applies if you’re part of “theologically liberal” and not a Democrat.

      Which is why Donald Trump is now the public face of Christ.

  4. senecagriggs says

    My politics are informed by whether or not the party believes infanticide is acceptable.

    • And… we’re off!

      Right on schedule, Seneca.

    • Robert F says

      But not by whether or not the party believes it is alright, once a child is born, to leave its welfare to the vagaries of free market forces?

      • senecagriggs says

        Is that the Pro infanticide argument?

        • Robert F says

          You don’t get to answer a question with a question, but I’ll respond anyway. Neither of the two major political parties support infanticide, though one party regularly accuses the other of doing so because of support for abortion. I answered your question, now you answer mine.

        • Robert F says

          Let’ be clear. What you are probably referring to is failed late-term abortion, resulting in a live delivery of the infant, after which it would be the mother’s choice whether or not to save the child from imminent death through medical intervention. This is infanticide through the abandonment of the infant, a person in need, to the elements. I do not support nor countenance this practice, and I disagree with the party in question where it advocates for and supports this practice. But I frankly don’t see significant moral difference between this and the other major party’s advocacy for eliminating the government provided safety-net and abandoning the child (a person in need) once she is safely born and past the stage of infancy to the elements of market-place forces. It’s just that one form of abandonment happens quickly and on the public record with the visibility that confers, while the other one takes a longer time and is largely invisible.

          • Klasie Kraalogies says

            Also: The nonsense that has been said by “that president” is untrue. The scenarios he sketched are horrible fiction, but hey, it is ok to lie to them heathens.

            What some people seem to want, instead of termination of pregnancy, is to have people get born to a life of oppression, marginalization, racism and disappointment. I call that torture. The delight they seem to have in these political philosophies is ghoulish.

  5. I am trying to imagine the reaction if someone in my church announced he was a Young Earth Creationist. My guess is that it would be regarded as a curiosity. If he otherwise fit in, it would be an interesting quirk, like being a Yankees fan. If he tries proselytizing, people would try to politely change the subject.

    YEC is, as I understand it, the official doctrine of the LCMS. I have to greater or lesser degrees been involved with the LCMS from time to time. The subject never arose. My sense is that, at least for us coastal elite types, it is official doctrine but ignored in practice, like the Athanasian Creed. I suspect that YEC becomes more of a real thing the further away from the coasts you get, but I don’t have any personal experience to confirm this.

    • Christiane says

      not all of our in-country Americana looks like this, just sadly more than we knew
      https://timedotcom.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/04_114703592.jpg?quality=85

      • Robert F says

        “Where’s Daddy” (asked in longing, or fear)?

        • Christiane says

          Good Morning Robert F.

          I think ‘Daddy’ (?) is standing to the left of the picture with his hand resting on Mama’s chair. This picture seems so sad because it reveals a kind of inert passivity or depression of the spirit, maybe born out of illness, or simply lack of hopefulness. Hard to imagine how this can happen in beautiful country like the Ozarks and Appalachia where the land is lush and there are many resources . . . . hard to understand . . . .

          there seems a discouragement in that photograph that comes from a very deep place, but honestly that land around is rich and fertile and these folks might have a good life, given some kind of health care, mental and physical, and some good role models to follow who come into community and are productive people with a positive attitude

          health care is much needed in these places . . . dental care . . . . a lot of drug activity and alcoholism is seen . . . .

          what is wrong seems deeply-rooted and you can see how destructive it is from the photos of that part of our country

    • Robert F says

      Same in my so-called liberal Lutheran parish. There likely are YECists among the congregation, there certainly are many members with very evangelically shaped forms of belief, as opposed to beliefs shaped by distinctively Lutheran doctrines, but nobody polices anybody else’s convictions or questions their faith as a result.

    • Brianthegrandad says

      The Athanasian Creed. Recited once a year on Trinity Sunday, and immediately after the service, many would circle up and begin asking, what did that mean?, once their voices recovered from the strain. We often would get a hankering to visit our Methodist friends if we remembered it was coming up. I just felt a pang of guilt typing that.

  6. I have always thought of this place as (comic reference) Will Ferrell’s Trust Tree. A place where you can say, almost, anything you’re working your way through and find others who don’t fall off their stool.

    • Christiane says

      🙂

      it’s the ‘almost’ that is interesting, but I agree that this was and remains a forum that allows a person’s voice to be heard, and challenged, and encouraged, and discouraged, and it’s all ‘okay’ because somewhere in the resulting tumult, we clarify for ourselves more of what it is that troubles us, and how it best be worked out over time

      • I agree completely. We can speak and people encourage or push back as the case may be. Absurdities or bs are typically spotted right away but a genuine query is generally handled with kindness. Especially from people like you!

  7. Laurie Prandeski says

    Jesus always sparked intrigue and conversations
    Among believers… He seemed always to be non-judgemental.
    I feel we can freely speak our mind and have a conversation
    Discussion always opens the door for those interested
    In sharing. People of faith are human beings that have very real
    Issues and worthy of being heard to work through and know the community supports their need to discuss
    Whether from various religious or political background
    Diversity and one common goal allows for stronger
    Community, The common goal of knowing Christ as our Saviour and living a Christlike life that honors and allows those who are listening to offer their very real experience and God’s wisdom to those who are voicing to be heard. This will lessen the critics who feel some things cannot be said around Christians.

    • Amen and amen

    • Robert F says

      Yes. And where a church community will not tolerate such diversity of opinion, where people are marginalized or ostracized and their faith is doubted as a result of taking unpopular positions, it’s time to leave and find somewhere else to go, or stay solitary if necessary; the latter can rightly be viewed as a form of spiritual asceticism and voluntary exile.

      • Robert, I often feel that way in my work place, and amongst my liberal friends.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          That’s because of the 80/20 rule as it applies to Groupthink.

          When the consensus within a group goes over 80%, Groupthink locks in and any and all dissidents are silenced or purged.

    • I think Jesus was often very harsh in his rhetoric; at times, judgemental. Jesus in Revelation too.

  8. senecagriggs says

    “Saturday with Michael Spencer: Things You Can’t Say Around Other Christians”
    _______

    I’m thinking infanticide is one of those words you must not mention within polite progressive Christianity.

    I’d love to hear somebody comment, “Yes I’m thoroughly progressive but I cannot accept infanticide. The buck stops there for me.”

    [ There is a connection between the post and my comment – ]

    • The fact that you brought up “infanticide”, as you name it, is not the issue. The issue is that these things are the ONLY things you bring up. Abortion, YEC, inerrancy… rest assured we all know EXACTLY where you stand on these issues. What’s frustrating is that you never go any further than the fact THAT you believe these things – you never talk about WHY. Believe it or not, some of us – myself included – once believed as you do. We don’t any longer, and there are stories and reasons for our change. But you aren’t interested in any of that. Your stubborn lack of empathy, and utter lack of curiosity as to the arguments behind our disagreements, are what annoy us.

    • Seneca, I know of no progressive who supports infanticide (the crime of killing a child within a year of birth, per dictionary, not your ideologically inflammatory usage). However, I have seen plenty of conservatives who support infanticide via drone attacks.

      Abortion numbers and rates began a long, steady decline during Clinton’s first term. However, interestingly, in George H. Bush’s term and his son’s first term abortion numbers and rates bumped up. I wonder if this is also true of the Trumpster’s presidency? It may be that it’s safer for children to gestate during Democratic presidencies than Republican.

      http://johnstonsarchive.net/policy/abortion/graphusabrate.html

      One of the real-world realities that plays out is that putting women at risk does not protect the yet to be born and infants. If live healthy births is the goal then it makes sense to direct more of the budget to improved health care and nutrition programs.

    • Christiane says

      Hello Senecagriggs,

      here is a case for you:

      we had a man in our state running for Governor who said he was ‘pro-life’ and he was elected. THEN, this man tried to take funds away from the main childrens’ hospital in the state, the one with the biggest NICU unit (a unit that is set up to receive preemies who can’t make it without very specialized medical help)

      So he talked the talk, got himself elected, and THEN tried to pull the plug on the NICU preemies. He failed. He was outed as a crook who was taking bribes (both he and his wife were on-the-take)

      ‘INFANTICIDE’ is not a ‘political’ issue in the hands of immoral people who state they are ‘pro-life’ to get power, and then turn on little babies with intent to cut off help that keeps them alive.

      I think ‘the right to life’ is not a political weapon, it is a moral issue between a woman, her husband, her pastor/priest/rabbi and her physicians . . . . she must live with her conscience and only the people involved in her case can know what is going on with her and how to advise her best.

      Politics?

      The GOP has had quite a ride on ‘getting rid of Roe v. Wade;
      but that won’t stop abortions, no. Because it is a MORAL issue first and last. And the strange thing is that the Church KNOWS this, that hearts must be changed, that a ‘law’ won’t do the trick in the end to stop anything for a panicky woman who thinks there is no help for her and her unborn child in this world.

      Does our country provide support for new mothers? For working parents? There are a thousand things that would REALLY make a difference for pregnant women who feel they have no one and nothing and no hope.

      I think you can understand this. I hope so. Otherwise, you might end up with a governor in YOUR state like we had, and may God have mercy on the preemies in the NICU units there because that politician will have no mercy.

    • So sad…

    • Christiane says

      May God comfort her family at this time. So very sad, she was so young.

    • Burro (Mule) says

      Memory eternal.

      A husband deprived of his wife and children deprived of their mother is always a hard road to travel. They will all of them have my prayers in the coming days.

    • Patriciamc says

      Oh no!

    • Dana Ames says

      I am so, so sorry to hear this. Rachel’s was an honest voice, like Michael Spencer’s, and just as timely. May the Lord grant her family great comfort. Memory eternal.

      Dana

    • Klasie Kraalogies says

      Just saw that. Very sad. I respected her in life, and also in death.

    • anonymous says

      ‘Death lies upon her like an untimely frost
      Upon the sweetest flower of all the field.’

    • Robert F says

      It’s just too terrible.

      Eternal rest grant unto Rachel Held Evans, O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon her. May she rest in peace. Give comfort and strength to her grieving husband and family, O Lord. Amen.

  9. thatotherjean says

    Oh, no! Christianity has lost an intelligent, vibrant voice it could ill afford to lose. All sympathy to her family and her friends. She will be much missed.