Some of the good folks at this meeting spoke of some kind of battle between Right and Left, between Conservatives and Liberals. While some at the meeting were trying to be sincerely gracious concerning those with whom they have strong disagreements, others found this more difficult. In many ways, I believe I was the most "liberal" person at the meeting, both politically and theologically. I felt a bit isolated.
Part of my problem was that the group seemed to be missing out on the real battle in the Church, which isn't "Biblical faithfulness" vs. "liberal heresy", or anything that simple. The real battle involves the proper and improper use of institutional power, and what that means for the disciplemaking mission of the Church. But I digress.
The group (in my view) suffered from some other misconceptions, including some very basic definitions. "Evangelical" is not a synonym for "conservative". I have often been called "evangelical left", meaning, I suppose, that I'm on the "left wing" of the evangelical movement. Those who know me know that I am strongly anti-war (all war, not just in Iraq, which it seems "hip" to oppose these days), anti-guns (no civilian should own one), and anti-death penalty (why collaborate with God's Enemy?)...hardly traditionally "conservative" positions. Nevertheless, I consider myself a firm evangelical Christian.
Do you believe in the Incarnation? That Jesus was born of a virgin? In the Trinity? In the Resurrection of Jesus? That the Church is the united and Spirit-empowered Body of Christ? That the Bible is an authoritative voice for the Church (though not the only authoritative voice), and that it "...containeth all things necessary to salvation"? These (and perhaps a few other points) are what makes one an "evangelical" (a term which, we must remember, essentially means, "one who believes the good news").
Completely unrelated are a person's positions on the Creation, the End Times, the nature of the soul, proper polity, gun control, the sacraments, or even sexuality. These are all important issues, to be sure, but they are not and have never been "essentials" of the Faith. To make non-essentials suddenly "essential" is to become a type of fundamentalist, something very, very different from "evangelical". I know evangelicals in almost every Christian tradition; my brother is, I believe, an evangelical Roman Catholic (though he may object to this term as he might define it), a term which may seem oxymoronic to some, but is not, in any way.
What concerned me at the meeting was the manner in which some of the folks demonized those with whom they shared disagreements. To demonize is basically to dehumanize, and, when that happens, it's easy to dismiss altogether, and perhaps even to hate.
Look at the ways in which many on the far Right have demonized, dehumanized, and then hated homosexuals. A Christian response (synonomous here with an evangelical response) should be to love a homosexual person, even if one disagrees with their behavior. They are children of God for whom Jesus died. Look at the ways in which the far Left has demonized, dehumanized, and then hated George W. Bush. A Christian response should be to love the President, even if one disagrees with his decisions or policies. He is a child of God for whom Jesus died.
There's simply too much demonization in the Church today. I've been guilty of this sin; I confess. But I've had enough of that bad taste in my mouth. There are real evils out there, and so many people who need touched by the love and mercy of Our Lord; I'm tired of listening to (and playing) demonization games. I can disagree with someone (powerfully) but still find room in my heart to love them as Jesus does. This doesn't mean orthodoxy is any less important, nor that we simply "give it up", but this has to be a more fruitful approach...certainly one that is more faithful. If Jesus could love the Pharisees and the prostitutes and the tax collectors and the lawyers, so can I.
"Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will."
- 2 Timothy 2:23-26 (ESV)