Reflections of a turn-coat Christian

I’m a die-hard Minnesotan in [almost] every way I can think of. I sport the accent in certain situations; I head to the lake on the first day of warm weather; I was raised Lutheran and while I may not necessarily hold onto many of those beliefs now, I really appreciate what I learned and how I've grown from it. The only way I see myself deviating is my love for the Green Bay Packers. I’m sorry, my parents raised me that way and no matter how cool the new Vikings stadium is gonna be, I’ll never give it up.

You hear that, Purple People Eaters? You’ll never take me!

I also have begun realizing that I've now embraced another Minnesotan tenant — progressivism.

Minnesota has been in the limelight recently for all sorts of achievements — best job economy, best state for women, overall the best state (perhaps that’s more of an opinion), and most famously the so-titled Minneapolis Miracle by The Atlantic. In short, it’s a vastly underrated, yet highly performing (if not a tad cold) state. I sometimes think other states forget we even exist, lumping us into the general conservative Midwest stereotype. My girlfriend hails from Washington, and upon meeting her, she described her impression of Minnesota: “a bunch of farm fields, hicks, and red state Republicans,” she said.

How wrong she is. Sure, greater Minnesota is pretty conservative, but Minnesota is one of the most liberal states in the nation.

I can forgive other states’ impression of us. That’s fine, because our weather here still makes it hard at times (as I write this we are just finishing a light dusting of seven inches of snow — it’s late March). Plus, my opinion of other states probably isn't too correct either. I’m sure not everyone in Mississippi is an inbred racist, nor is everyone in Colorado a pot smoking counter cultural hippy. We all have our biases.

Where was I going? Oh yeah, progressivism. (Sorry, Minnesota just gets me on a rant). Another aspect of Minnesota is Lutheranism. More specifically, a more liberal blend of Lutheranism. The ELCA denomination is headquartered here, and it is commonly thought of as the more liberal Lutheran denomination. This Lutheran activism is a huge reason there is such a vibrant immigrant community here. We have the largest number of Somalians outside of Somali as well as one of the largest Hmong populations outside of Asia. Make no mistake — we’re not a bunch of homogeneous white people.

This compassion and activism, many time decried by Christianity’s more conservative adherents, seeps into nearly everything we do, whether you realize it or not. Raised a more conservative Lutheran myself, I look back and see that despite my early political and theological leanings, I still had an attitude that resembled a lot more compassion and care than many conservative churches tend to preach. “Minnesota nice” is a thing; just come here and see for yourself.

So how did I arrive at this point? Certainly culture alone can’t change one’s belief system. I would also argue that my belief system hasn't changed — my interpretation of it has. My points boil down to a few critical ones:

  1. Jesus’ ministry was to the poor, the weak, the outcasts of society. He hung around with the so-called scum of society, something a Rabbi/religious leader would never do at the time. He administered to them, preached the heavenly kingdom to them, and ultimately showed that they would be first in the new world. "For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in." (Matthew 25:35) Hello!!! Does anyone even read the beatitudes anymore?
  2. Jesus focused approximately 0% of his ministry on how to run a government and fiscal tax policy. Yes — I understand, these are important issues today and obviously we need to care, but gosh darn it, if the amount of time, money, and energy social conservatives put into trying to force the government to see issues their way (which is ironic because they claim to hate the government and want less of it), was put into programs that actually help the poor, the needy, the at-risk, we as a church would be in so much of a better position. Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they marveled at him. (Mark 12:17). Juxtapose this small chapter of Mark with what the mainstream conservative movement preaches, and I think their priorities are completely in whack. Jesus knew that since we Christians are just temporary citizens here on earth, our real citizenship is up in heaven, where the real politics are already taken care of.
  3. Conservative leaders and icons are perhaps some of the most un-Christian people you can find in the media. Whether it’s some dope in Congress claiming “actual rape” can’t result in pregnancy or the recent arise of Phil Robertson, the hillbilly evangelist who will tell us all what’s what — especially to those darn atheists and gays — none of these public figures who repeatedly tell us how much they love Jesus and how our Christian faith is under attack would be the first to call for the stoning of Christ were he here today. It’s sickening.
  4. The mainstream conservative’s war on science and belief. Look, I honestly believe God made us with brains for a reason — to ponder, marvel, and investigate this wonderful world he’s given us. So why is it that nearly every flippin’ time some new study comes out that might possibly contradict some verse in the Bible (newsflash: the Bible is full of contradictions; we within the church have yet to iron all of their meanings out), some conservative icon is leading the next “grass roots” movement of denial and retribution against this said-science? Climate change? Yeah, science shows it. Too bad Ted Cruz doesn't see it that way. Evolution? There’s a whole organization dedicated to fighting this proven science, and it makes us all look silly. All on the basis of “literal six days”. (But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 2 Peter 3:8) Which, you know, an all-powerful God like we believe in couldn't do it in any time frame he decides? It’s ridiculous to keep fighting this fight. God made an awesome, explorable world that we are so privileged to enjoy, and yet most of us haven’t seen it. I like to refer back to the Psalms, which are hard to read at times, but which truly give a view into how God was revered (and still should be):

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?

Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas. (Psalms 8:3–8)

Did God make the world in 6 literal days as we interpret them now? Sure, he could of. He’s God. He can do whatever he darn well pleases. Is it possible he decided to take the scenic route and create us through the evolutionary process? Yup. That’s what science points to as well. Science and faith aren't enemies, yet many conservative Christians claim they are. Denial of science and forced religion in schools makes us no better than the Islamic countries who separate pupils, mandate prayer, and force the memorization of the Koran; these very same countries that many on the right rally war against under the guise of a holy crusade of inter-Abrahamic traditions. The two have more in common than they think.

5. Gay marriage and abortion. These are decided issues, the former especially. I don’t know why we put so much time and energy into fighting something that, as a secular nation and society, [should be] a right for all — marriage. Recent polls show a majority of Americans do support it, even among Republicans, especially the younger ones. Look, the society that Paula and the Apostles were witnessing in was far more sexually deviant and morally wrong than what we have now. Imagine Las Vegas, but entire provinces. The ancients weren’t exactly shy on their displays of affection. The problem here is that so many on the right are bringing a personal, religious argument to a public, secular debate. If this debate was around, “should churches be forced to recognize gay marriage?”, you’d find me on the other side of the battle. But it’s not; this is in the eyes of the government. Until these so-called Constitutionalists realize that the Constitution and this country was made for more than just people who see the world as them, they will continue to lose the younger people and in turn, turn people off from the church (the greatest tragedy). We are losing the ability to witness to an entire group of people — the LGBT community and allies — because we can’t get our heads out of our butts long enough to breath and see that there are more than just Christians here. “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9:37)

6. Lastly, the so-called “war on Christianity” that so many pander to. That’s bull crap. There’s no such thing here in America. Yes, the lawsuit against the Christian baker is dumb and an example of someone with a bone to pick, but that is by no means persecution. You know what’s persecution? What’s happening to the Assyrian Christians in the Middle East; What’s going on against the underground church in China and much of Asia; those in Pakistan who are denied simple amenities because they aren't Muslim. THAT’S persecution, and you only insult them when you claim what happens here is equivalent. The early church was crucified, beheaded, and even burned alive. We have no right to claim “persecution” when we can freely talk about our faith, attend our multimillion dollar churches, deduct tithes from our annual taxes, and assemble in public. Shut up about persecution.

You don’t have to go to Africa to find a fertile field ripe for witnessing to. America is full of it. Nearly 1 in 5 adults here are “irreligious”.

We could do so much good, Church, but instead, it seems, too many of us latch onto partisan political parties and motives and Jesus’ ultimate message of love and forgiveness gets washed away in judgement, denial, and even hatred. This is why I do not want to be a conservative. This is why I “Christianity” and “Conservative” to not be synonymous. There is to much to gain in the former and too much hatred in the latter.

I am working for a wonderful company called YouthWorks this summer, where I will be doing the Kingdom’s work on the ground, helping out with mission trips and local communities. I feel like we too often forget that Jesus did more than just preach, he did. He helped, healed the poor and lame, he went to Samaria and the places others wouldn't. Let’s get back to that church, and leave these politics behind. Even Paul says, Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. (Romans 13: 1–2).

Progressivism showed me that Jesus and the church aren't what is portrayed on the television. That’s why I left the right. We’ll see how things have changed when I get back this summer and have much more experience on the ground, doing the work I should be doing more frequently. I pray the rhetoric and hate changes, but with the upcoming presidential election, my hopes aren't too high.