Stuck In The Middle

Politically and theologically I’m a left-of-center leaning moderate 1. In today’s cultural climate this leaves feeling rather out of place.

This isn’t a new feeling for me. There have been few occasions in my life when I felt I belonged somewhere, and even these spaces have existed for only short periods. I’ve found life to be transitory, and this makes a sense of belonging transitory as well. I’m used to it.

What I’ve not been accustomed to is not being allowed to ask questions, describe where I stand, or convey my thoughts on a news topic without being smacked by the ideological guardians from both left and right.

To be honest, being smacked by right-leaning folk is something I’ve come to expect over the years. Through college, seminary, and then into the pastorate I’ve encountered the back-handed slap of right-leaning dis-ease over and over and over. It’s one of the things which have pushed me more left politically, and out of evangelicalism theologically. I’ve had too many theological discussions where I make a point or raise a question, only to be lashed out at, by people I’d considered friends or colleagues, to feel comfortable in those settings 2. I’ve just resigned myself to understanding that a good number of Christians, with whom I share a number of theological convictions, might consider my faith suspect because I’m not part of their tribe. And they are right, I’m not. I’ve walked away.

The rise of the “religious left,” however, has only served to deepen my sense of alienation from my fellow believers. I’m not comfortable with “smashing” language 3, nor do I feel the need to toss my hat in with the cause of the day to show I’m “on the right side of history.” I recognize the need for inclusive language in order to communicate with a culture that no longer sees “mankind” as inclusive of all people, but I get squeamish when people think changing the Trinitarian formula is a good idea 4. But I have become fearful of engaging my progressive co-religionists, even those I’ve counted of as friends for much of my adult life, because I fear being written off as a useless moderate who empowers oppression 5. So while I have walked away from one of the dominant tribes of our era, I’d never be accepted in the other. And, much as I’ve concluded with the right, nor am I sure I would want to be.

So I’m not sure where I fit. I never have been sure where I fit, but the space in which I’m free to figure that out is shrinking. The competing visions of the church, as trumpeted by the dominant tribes of our time, just don’t include me. It makes me sad.

  1. Though I’d be considered a bit further right theologically than politically. People think these two things are the same, they are not. 
  2. I once had someone accuse me of bowing to a Protestant Pope because I said I needed to look up something in Bibleworks before continuing a discussion. That boggled my mind. 
  3. I marvel at the mental gymnastics which declare violence wrong, only to later adopt it because it serves “our” ideological ends. The reason being that this violence doesn’t count, because “we” are righteous. It’s right up there with the religious right spending decades demanding only moral men should be president, only to embrace Donald Trump as a “dream president.” 
  4. I’ve yet to hear an alternative which doesn’t take away the communication of personhood in the language – the alternatives are often outright modalism. Though, in general, I have no problem with people referring to God as “Mother” in prayer. 
  5. The alt-right squeals of “white oppression” are, let’s face it, stupid. On the other hand, the use of “just another white guy” as a way of writing off even minor points of clarification is a cheap tactic used by progressives which only serves to draw tribal lines.