It’s How You Say It

ignorance-296x300Lately, I’ve been speaking to people who are feeling disaffected by their current faith situation and are looking for something different. Today, however, I’m talking to my progressive friends. And, I want to tell some of you, you’re not helping.

Look, I know some of the things our more conservative brothers and sisters say and do can be infuriating. When they use language that excludes, when their words and their actions don’t match up, when they dig in their heels and refuse to listen to any point of view that doesn’t reinforce their own, it’s maddening. I get that. But, writing them off as ignorant rednecks, sheeple or asleep at the wheel isn’t the answer.

I realize that a lot of us have been hurt by people on that side of the equation. Hell, I was hurt by people on that side of the equation. Because of that, we have thin skins and very little tolerance for what we see as their bullshit. It is painful to see others take what, for us, is a beautiful statement of equality, love and grace and use it to divide, to exclude and to vilify. The thing is, they feel the same way about us.

All too often, I think we more progressive Christians see conservatives as poor, benighted, ignorant souls who must be brought into the 21st century; kicking and screaming, if necessary. In that effort, we say things that are harsh, condescending, even ugly. If that’s not the case, it’s like the white savior routine: Oh, you’re not smart enough, educated enough, good enough to get this on your own, you need me to help you. The only difference is that the majority of people we’re talking about are white.

Like most emergents,  I grew up in the evangelical culture. Oh sure, I was a Methodist and the UMC is a mainline church. Well, they are in other parts of the country. In the south, all churches are evangelical. Except maybe the Catholics and I’m not so sure they escape a swipe of the evangelical paintbrush. And, like most emergents, I left that tradition as I got older, seeking something different, somethingnewer, deeper. The only thing is, because I still live in the south, I didn’t really leave it. My friends. my family, my people are still active in this culture. Because they are my people and I love them, I am still connected to it. Does that give me some insight into how they think? Probably…, maybe…, hell, I don’t know.

Here’s what I do know: a patented mixture of condescension and scorn aren’t going to reach these folks. All that does is make them dig their heels in deeper. What will reach them? A little understanding and kindness. By understanding I mean realizing that most of the offensive things they say comes from fear. Everything they’ve heard, believed and been taught is being challenged and it scares the shit out of them. By kindness, I mean taking this fear into account when they say those ignorant and offensive things and reacting accordingly. Am I saying that we shouldn’t call them out when they say that stuff? No, I’m saying try not to be a jerk when you do.