When It’s Wrong to Be Right: Conversion

One of the things that some people do not like about conservative Christianity is the focus on converting people who are not Christians.  The attractive thing about liberal Christianity is that it can focus on the moral and ethical teachings of Jesus, encouraging us to better people, without taking the offensive step of conversion.

I can understand why this is difficult.  I remember as a non-Christian working for some Christians who attempted to convert me.  I did not particularly enjoy it.  But at the same time, I do not think spreading the Christian message with a hope of people embracing it is a bad thing.  First of all, as important as the moral and ethical teachings of Jesus are, it is also central to Jesus’ teachings that following him is essential for a good afterlife.  While at times, the eighty or so years on this planet seem like a long time, it is only a drop in the bucket when it comes to human history, not to mention eternity.  The fact is that we will be dead a lot longer than we will be alive.  If we take steps to have the best possible life, why not take the steps to have the best possible afterlife?  According to the New Testament, eternal life is found through faith in Jesus Christ and what he did on the cross.

Now you may disagree with an afterlife or the necessity of atonement.  You may think there is no afterlife or you may think that everyone goes to heaven.  But for a moment, put yourself in the place of an evangelical Christian.  If you truly believed that you had a message that would have a life and death impact on the people you cared about, what would you do?  Would you withhold the information required for eternal life for the sake of tolerance?  I know if someone had the cure for a deadly disease that I would hope they would share that information with me.  I might not believe them, but I would at least want the option to choose.

At the same time, I will admit that Christians have not always been the best at sharing their faith.  Sometimes conservative Christians have forced religion down people’s throats, imposing a “turn or burn” message on people.  I believe that the Christian message must be shared, but it must be shared with love and respect.  Conversions are not for notches on a Bible cover, they should be attempts to share important information with the people we care about.  When it has not been that, the church needs to repent.

When It’s Wrong to Be Right: Women

One of the problems with conservative Christianity is that it has denied rights to women and has attempted to keep women in submission to men.  Women are banned from important roles and are not seen as equal.

This is one of the hardest issues to tackle.  The reason is that throughout history, conservative Christians both in its Roman Catholic and evangelical forms have often not treated women right.  Sometimes the church has been used as a tool to deny women their rights.  Of that, we must repent.

All I can do is suggest that this is not at the heart of conservative Christianity.  Jesus was a radical in the way he accepted women, even having women as disciples.  Women played an extremely important role in the early church, even taking on numerous leadership roles (e.g. apostles and prophets and deacons).  I believe that it is a misreading of Paul that leads to a negative view of women in the church.

The church submitted to patriarchal traditions in society.  At the same time, there were brave women and men that promoted a positive view of women.  In more modern times, there are still some disagreements about the role of women.  Certain groups such as the Roman Catholics and the Southern Baptists do not ordain women, while many others (including my own denomination http://www.baptist.ca) do ordain women.  Even when Christians do not accept women as senior pastors, women still have been extremely influential as missionaries, teachers, hymn writers, authors, worship leaders and other roles.  There are actually entire denominations that have been started by women.  The church still has a way to go, as does the rest of society (note the differences in wages for the same jobs), but Christianity is at its biblical core pro-woman.  Before critics get too angry toward conservative Christians for being anti-woman, take some time to ask what we really believe.

When It’s Wrong to be Right: Abortion

My first introduction to the abortion debate was in a Political Science seminar at Brock University.  At the time I had not taken a position on the issue.  I was shocked by the emotion involved and was surprised at the anger the pro-choice side had toward pro-life, often accusing them of being mysogynist.

I have since taken a pro-life stance.  I am still surprised at the reactions by pro-choice supporters.  I was involved in one peaceful abortion protest where the signs were closely regulated as to their message.  The anger by abortion supporters was unfortunate.  To some people, one of the biggest problems with conservative Christians is that many of them are pro-life.  Pro-life is seen as anti-women and therefore something that should not be tolerated.

I find the abortion debate extremely frustrating.  One side says that they want to protect the life of an unborn baby and another that they want to protect the rights of a woman.  When you listen to the debates, it is as if they are having two different conversations.  One side sees the other as anti-woman and the other as anti-baby, when neither is the case.

There is a part of me that would like to be pro-choice, in fact I am with any other decision with a woman’s body.  What stops me is that this one choice will affect and in fact end the life of another human being.  Never has it entered into my mind that abortion should be opposed in order to take rights away from women.  Since pro-choice supporters are good people, they are forced to deny that a fetus is a human being.  This is problematic.  For example, in some areas, criminals can be charged with double homicide if they murder a pregnant woman.  Also, if a person wants to have a child, there is very real grief if the pregnancy ends in a miscarriage.  It is not the same grief of a missed opportunity such as if conception does not take place in the desired month.  There is a real feeling of loss.

My plea to pro-choice people who are angry with conservative Christians is to take a moment and imagine how they would react if they encountered a situation where children were being murdered.  How would you feel?  What would you do?  You might not think that abortion is the killing of a human baby, but considering the belief that life begins at conception, most actions (violent action excepted) by pro-life people are actually quite reasonable.

As a conservative Christian, I will continue to oppose abortion.  But I think the best way to do it is not to condemn people who have chosen abortion but to give people options by being willing to help with the physical needs of pregnant women and being willing to adopt when possible.  However, I do not believe these positions deserve the hatred of opponents of the pro-life movement.

When It is Wrong to Be Right: Homosexuality

Along with abortion, homosexuality is the big issue when it comes to the popular anger toward conservative Christians.  Evangelicals are put into the same category as other religious people throughout history who have withheld rights from certain groups, such as the blacks in the American south or South Africa, or women.  There is something that feels righteous to stand up for an oppressed group and to speak against the oppressors.  It is also assumed that evangelicals hate homosexuals, that they are homophobic, that they do not want them in their churches, and that they are convinced God hates homosexuals as well.  Why won’t conservative Christians get with the times and acknowledge that homosexuality is natural and stop being so intolerant?

I will readily confess that there are conservative Christians that would easily be described by what I wrote above.  The infamous Westboro Baptist Church is one example.  However, a belief that homosexuality is not God’s will does not make one a hate-filled person.  First of all, I do not think equating sexual attraction with race or gender is appropriate.  Anyone can choose to live a homosexual lifestyle, but you can not just choose to be black or be a woman (at least not without radical medical intervention).  I am not saying that homosexuality is simply a choice, I say this only to differentiate sexual attraction from these other categories.

I cannot speak for every evangelical, but I do want to present a balanced view.  Many evangelicals no longer believe the stereotype that people just choose to be gay.  But nor do we follow the popular idea that every homosexual is born gay.  Research seems to indicate that things are much more complicated.  How one is raised, parental relationships, sexual abuse, and other factors seem to play a role.  There may even be a place for a genetic predisposition.  So, if most people do not choose this, why do we condemn it?  No one should be condemned for what they feel, especially when they have no choice.  What is condemned is sexual activity outside of marriage (we will get to marriage in a moment).  That is heterosexual and homosexual activity outside of marriage.  One is not worse or more serious than the other.

So what about marriage?  Canada, where I live, has legalized same-sex marriage.  Why do conservative Christians oppose this?  The issue is not that evangelicals think homosexuals are bad people and therefore should be punished by not being allowed to marry.  The issue is that for many evangelicals, marriage by definition is between a man and a woman.  Many evangelicals have no problem with equal legal rights as long as it is not called marriage.

But why do evangelicals hate homosexuals so much?  I do not know any evangelicals who hate homosexuals (although I am sure there are some).  They are welcome in our churches.  At a previous church, I made a point of inviting a young man who was gay to sit with my family.  Nothing made me more angry than when I saw anyone giving him a hard time.  He knew that I believed that homosexuality was not God’s plan for him, but I also treated him with respect.

But is it not intolerant to be against homosexuality?  First of all, tolerance literally means reluctantly and temporarily putting up with something you do not like, so we better be careful how we use the word.  But let me answer the question with a question: Is it it not intolerant to be against conservative Christianity?  No one would see a person who was harshly critical of conservative Christianity as a bad person.  In some circles, it might seem like a good thing.  So why is it so bad to be critical of the homosexual lifestyle?

I do not believe that homosexuality is God’s will for humanity.  I was once called a “Hitler youth” for having such beliefs.  Does this really make me hate-filled or a bad person?  I do not hate homosexuals.  I attempt to treat all people the way I would want to be treated.  I would like to suggest, as unpopular as this might be, that anger towards conservative Christians who disagree with the homosexual lifestyle is misplaced.

When It’s Wrong to be Right

I do not often (ever?) describe myself as belonging to the religious right.  That phrase seems to have such a negative connotation in today’s society.  Still, I must confess that technically I am a conservative (although not as much as some) Christian.  One of the things that I have noticed is that there is a tremendous amount of anger toward conservative Christianity.  A politician who identifies as a conservative Christian is seen as being dangerous.  I will readily admit that there are some conservative Christians that I have very little respect for.  There are some that seem to lean toward hatred for people different than them.  I would then hesitate to see them as Christians and perhaps wonder if they are simply radically conservative.  I have no intention of defending the political power that is known as the “religious right” or the lobbying groups that are connected.  But I do think that conservative Christianity as received a bad name that it does not deserve.  I am starting a new series on this blog looking at “When It’s Wrong to be Right” where I hope to clarify some of the positions of conservative Christianity that seem so offensive.  I am under no illusion that I will convert people to conservative Christianity, but I do hope to open up the conversation and perhaps get people to see each other with some respect.