My Liberal Ignorance

In one of my classes recently, we got into some "tussles" through online discussion.  One class member wrote, "those espousing a more liberal view have been the first to take offense and push back with belittling personal comments instead of addressing the issue with a salient remark.  Quite disconcerting."  

Yes, that was directed at me (and a few others).  Yes, I pushed back, no - I certainly did not belittle (I did tell someone their physically violent rhetoric was inappropriate for the seminary, so maybe that was out of line...) But you know what?  I think I'm a pretty patient person.  And when kind people disagree with me, I think I have a lot of grace.   Hell, I interact with conservatives all day, every day, and I'm pretty darned gracious.  I am not easily offended - though I tend to take the stance of "offense" on behalf of others.  So maybe I'm just rarely personally offended. 

Anyway, many conservative pundits love to dutifully recite exactly what I used to in high school and undergrad: "you say you tolerate accept everyone, except anyone who doesn't think just like you."  

And frankly, it's bullshit.  It's a bullshit argument.  It's not "salient" to fake objectivity.  It's certainly not salient to assume you think you have any semblance of objectivity.  It's not salient to ignore the voices of marginalized people because you've decided they're wrong.  

Orthodoxy is not the wretched theological posture that people who are personally impacted by theological issues are not emotionally fit to offer their insights.

And it's not okay to be so certain of your own beliefs that you refuse to be open - that you refuse to listen.  We don't understand, now.  We are blind, ignorant children.  We are obsessed with self-preservation and personal comfort.  "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known." (1 Corinthians 13:12)  I hope then, when I see God face to face, that I don't get what I actually deserve.  I hope, for your sake, the same for you.


A. D. Hunt said...

Peter, I'm not entirely sure this is merely wrong. In the Episcopal Church, it is not at all uncommon to hear one sing the praises of "radical inclusivity" in one breath and in the next call an African a homophobic mysoginistic bigot.

Likewise, parish personalities run deep. Often times a liberal parish ends up looking like a bunch of upper middle class white people who mostly think alike.

Now, it is not a home run so you are right to point out the sheer rhetoric of this person. Of course I'm not advocating this persons line of "argument" but I'm saying that it happens.

Peter said...

I do understand that Anthony, and I am familiar enough with Episcopal/Anglican current events to know how painful these issues are.

And I ABSOLUTELY agree with your "upper middle class white" statement about liberal parishes. Without a doubt.

There are issues, too, concerning Anglican churches in African countries - issues that are the indirect result of Western Colonialism. When people groups have been oppressed, the space in which they inhabit and hold power gets very small. Rather than physically expanding the matrix of power for everyone, groups often tend toward "horizontal violence" to those within their own group (e.g. women belittling other women rather than usurping male hegemony) or transference onto another group. But this is an area, as a middle class white guy, that's very perilous for me to comment on without appearing very condescending - which may be too late, but I recognize the danger of me spending too much time there...

This may not be a perfect argument or parallel, but I can help thinking that saying to be "tolerant" of all means to be tolerant of the intolerant is a lot like saying that since God is love, God loves sin. Or since Christians are called to love, we are called to love evil.

I don't think that's overdramatic - I think that the whole ethos of transcendent Christian love, acceptance and hospitality cannot be consistent with itself if it embraces and tolerates (leaves alone) those who deliberately oppose and undermine its self.

Now, I do have room in my heart and in my fellowship for people with sexist tendencies, conservative attitudes toward sexuality... hell, I even have friends who clearly hold racist attitudes. I know I'm a big enough asshole that I can't hold my friends, loved ones and neighbors to some unrealistic standard I don't live by. But in those areas where their attitudes become outwardly oppressive or hurtful to others, I will oppose them.

I have friends who have lovingly (and forcefully) done the same with me.

A. D. Hunt said...

I've heard that line too, "Well you can't tolerate the intolerant." :) Because most tolerant folk get riled up when the "other side" starts saying, "Well you can't tolerate the heretics." Mutual anathema doesn't really clear anyone's consciences. Not that this pertains necessarily to you.

And actually in Africa, most Anglicans are black Africans. There are certain places perhaps in South Africa where the numbers may be different (I don't actually know that) but for instance more African Anglicans worship on a single Sunday in Nigeria than in all of the UK, America, Canada, New Zealand and Australia combined!

Keep being your generous self!

Peter said...

Thanks A.D.!

As an aside, I assumed most African Anglicans were black - my comment about horizontal violence was regarding this: the oppressed, as oppressors.

I'd be curious if you have any insights into this. Or maybe more specifically, why conservative theology remains supreme among African Anglicans. And I'm not meaning that to sound tongue-in-cheek at all. I'm curious. My assumption is/was largely the dynamic of "learned oppression," but as I said, I know I'm being very assumptive.

Thanks dude,

A. D. Hunt said...

Well there are several points to make. First, South Africa at least is moderately liberal. Desmond Tutu is from there and he's "inclusive" of GLBT. But they are as you note the exception rather than the rule.

Of the many reasons that most African Anglicanism is "conservative" is that they are still under persecution in many places. I don't think that liberal Christianity really can cut that kind of environment.

They've also been cut off from the theological tradition of the West. Both in that they are not much listened to, and in that they are not recipients of the long western Christian academic tradition. Their institutions have not been around as long and lack the resources often to be an active part of the western intellectual theological scene.

This being the case, they haven't been exposed to the "historical critical investigations" and other movements with respect to Scripture that led to a predominantly progressive Mainline.

Also, homosexuality is an easy scapegoat in many societies, no less in Africa; especially considering their tense relationship with Islam which sometimes will point to the Episcopal Church as an apologetic against Christianity and as justification for violence.

And simply on a cultural level, we live in very different worlds, and ours has bred us to think in certain ways about sex or other religions. Most Africans simply don't know what it is like to live in our society, nor us in theirs.

For my part, I don't much use the "oppressor" language too much as I think that it shuts down dialogue and prevents reconciliation.

Peter said...

This is really helpful and thoughtful, Anthony. I'm grateful.

And you're probably right about shutting folks down. The language of oppressor is relatively new to me, though, and it's hugely informing my own spiritual development and Christian identity. I hope to get to a point where I don't feel the need to constantly throw it in people's faces. Right now, though, I think this is a sort of self-flagellation.

Peter said...

... rightly, or wrongly.

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