A while back (yes, I was goofing off instead of working), I was surfing Youtube and found this audio clip. Way of the Master Radio was a satellite radio program sponsored by The Way of the Master. This is a Christian Evangelical group headed by Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort. I’ve tried to see where they’re coming from theologically, but without success. From the tone of what I’ve heard so far, I’d say Reformed and fundamental, but that’s just an educated guess. Anyway, Way of the Master Radio (which was cancelled and replaced with Wretched Radio) was hosted by a fellow named Todd Friel. At one point, Friel (a talk show host and former stand up comedian) comments on Bell’s theology saying “We now know why Rob Bell’s hermeneutic (method of interpretation, I had to look it up too), is so goofy”. Followed by “Rob Bell’s hermeneutic is about interpreting scripture through the eyes of social justice”. He goes to say that Bell’s church, Mars Hill Bible church, is becoming more egalitarian, so much that, “it will not be long…before something will come out of Mars Hill Bible church, with Rob Bell leading it, about it’s okay to homosexual and Christian”. Now, if you’ve read any of the earlier entries on this blog, you know how I feel about that, so I’m not going there today. No, what I want to talk about is the way Friel used social justice and Christian egalitarianism as club to beat anyone who has the temerity to disagree with him into submission.
First, let’s talk about these two subjects. Social justice is the concept that there should be equal justice throughout society, not just in the courts or the government. This can take shape in many ways, but in my experience, the way works out in the church is through the various ministries like feeding hungry people, clothing them, sheltering them and helping them help themselves. Christian egalitarianism says that all people are equal before God. All people, man and woman, rich and poor, sinner and…, well, that one doesn’t matter because we’re all sinners, aren’t we? Both concepts, to me, seem central not only to the message of Jesus, but also to the principals this country was founded on. Everyone deserves a chance and we’re all equal. It’s a no-brainer, right?
Evidently, some folks (Friel included) seem to have issues with this. I was reading another blog (I can’t find it anymore) about social justice which said that conservatives feel like the term “social justice” has been hijacked by Liberalism through things like welfare and universal health care. That tells me progressive Christians are doing a shitty job at getting our message out, i.e. that social justice means we all have a shot at a decent life. I can only assume that Friel’s agrees with that conservative view and that he just assumes that everyone listen agrees with him as he does and doesn’t offer much in the way of explanation. Nice, huh?
The egalitarian side of the equation, I had to do a little digging to get a read on. Christian egalitarianism is concerned with things like gender, race and religion. That means that no one is restricted from leadership positions in the faith. Sex, creed or color do not matter. A good example of this is one of my former pastors (of whom I’ve spoken many times). She’s one of the best ministers I’ve ever seen. My father, who ranks preachers right up there with used car salesmen and politicians, agrees. My feelings on the matter echo that of my oldest daughter: it doesn’t matter what sex you are, if God has called you, God has called you. However, that attitude is as heretical to fundamentalists as is full inclusion for the LGBT community. Ideas which, I believe, are at odds with Jesus’ message of love and inclusion.
For me, the real problem with comments like Friel’s goes beyond their ignorance. No, these folks are out there, getting in others faces and forcing their narrow view down everyone else’s throat. And, because of that, unchurched folks believe that’s the way all Christians are. If you take the time to read anything by the New Atheists (Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris, etc.) you’ll see that the vast majority of their complaints are about fundamental concepts and ideas and they rarely address mainline Christianity. And, because they’re fundamentalists in their own right, they refuse to acknowledge any viewpoint but that all Christians are fundamentalists. Several times in the clip, Friel yells “BE THE CHURCH!” and I couldn’t agree with that statement more. Let’s be the church and stop beating people up because of who they sleep with, because they disagree with us, because of their gender or the color of their skin. Being the church means everybody gets in, no matter what.