By John Pierce

A large portion of my life has been spent with conservative, churchgoing people. In fact, these are “my people” as we say.

Blue-collar Baptist congregations are as familiar to me as hand-cranked ice cream and salted watermelon slices.

I am both defender and critic of this expression of the church. My defense comes from the nurture and instruction I received at the hands of devoted (though not always accurate) Bible teachers — and the genuine compassion expressed in times of sorrow.

My criticism comes from a deep and continuous disappointment that so many conservative Christians always seem to come out in opposition to basic human rights — with the same misuse of the biblical revelation as their justification.

Much too often, as I’ve said before, the church is the caboose rather than the engine of needed social change. This has been/is true regarding inequalities and injustices based on race, gender and sexual orientation.

Most troubling is the continuous failure to allow even the possibility of being wrong on a current issue despite a long history of errors on earlier ones. Instead we hear the same ol’ nonsense: that “the Bible is perfectly clear” on this issue.

So after “my people” just played a decisive role in yet another step in this wrong direction, in North Carolina, many today are writing off conservative Christians (and sadly the Christian faith more broadly) as being hateful.

Indeed, I’ve encountered some hateful people within conservative Christianity. But I must hasten to say they were few and very far between — and usually in leadership roles.

Most conservative Christians I have known through the years are honest, gracious and loving people. Tragically, however, some can be ignorant and fearful as well.

Their thinking does not allow for separating a firm “I believe…” from “I believe all others should…” even if force is required. How the basic understanding of living in a free society escapes them, I don’t know.

But I do know that the idea of granting others the same freedoms these persons enjoy causes irrational fear. And that usually boils down to one thing: fear of change.

In my other role as critic, I am often frustrated by the results of such ignorance and fear. And I find myself vacillating between wanting to challenge them, change them or leave them to their just desserts.

My frustration at how Jesus gets portrayed by such ingnorance and fear leaves me with little room for sympathy at times — but I keep trying to go back and recover such feelings.

One of my friends — often a target of hostility from very conservative Christian leaders — has always responded to his critics with grace. One day I asked him why.

He said he sees these persons as captives to a narrow way of thinking and to unfounded fears. He didn’t come across as patronizing with his explanation. I could tell that he cared.

That is a helpful perspective — though not an easy one to own. Yet in times like these, it is worth a try.

And it is a good time to remember that more grace and light are need for them and for me as well. For all of us have a blurred vision of divine truth, unfounded fears, and a self-centeredness that is never fully defeated.

And, on that, the Bible is perfectly clear.




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