As many of you may know by now, I’m not conventionally religious. I’m a cultural Christian, not an orthodox one. I am both pro-choice and sympathetic to the gay plight in America. I am a Tory conservative, yes, albeit one of very maverick convictions.
I’ll confess, too, that I’ve never really been that comfortable with evangelical Christianity, even as a child raised in that faith tradition. In many respects and despite my best efforts, I never really quite got it, and as soon as I could fly the coop as a college student, I did. And I consider myself much happier and a better integrated person because of it.
But that’s just me, and I’ll be the first to concede that many of those who have remained in their childhood faith traditions have built lives just as happy, fulfilling and vital as mine. And as this article by Andrea Lucado, a member one of the nation’s leading evangelical families, serves to underscore: I should feel fortunate that many did. And equally important, I should feel fortunate for the American Christian rainbow, both its conservative and evangelical components.
We all should.
In America, the nation that invented religious freedom, both ends of the religious spectrum – left as well as right – serve a critical role not only in refining religious debate and dialogue but also in keeping the other side grounded and occasionally even honest with itself.
After I left the evangelical faith during my college years, I joined a mainline Protestant church and essentially never looked back. Like many rank-and-file mainliners, I’m sympathetic to a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy, at least in the early stages. Even so, I fear a world in which pro-abortion views are considered the only respectable ones. I fear even more a world in which those views are the only accredited ones.
We all should.
Maintaining a high standard for life is a prerequisite for a civilized and humane society. And I think the presence of conservative Catholics and Evangelicals within the public debate better ensures that high standard will be maintained.
I’m thankful for this intellectual diversity in other ways too. As one with somewhat liberal theological convictions, I feel fortunate for the worldwide presence of the Catholic faith, because Catholicism forms the bedrock of Christianity’s global foundation. And I’m thankful for the presence not only of Catholicism but also other forms of orthodox Christianity in terms of how they contributed to congealed standards of ethics and morality.
Thomas Jefferson once predicted that Unitarianism would eventually out-compete all conventional forms of faith to become the predominate American faith. But without evangelical Christianity, would we even have secured a functioning American Back Country? Would Unitarianism have proven as efficacious in ridding the early settlers of all those the vices that plagued the American frontier – drinking, gambling, brawling, wife desertion and a host of other bad behaviors?
Frankly, I rather doubt it.
The Second Great Awakening transformed the American frontier, decidedly for the better. It provided meagerly educated farmers and artisans with a simple but congealed faith and with values that enabled them not only to settle a vast frontier but also to build and sustain a culture that has lasted for more than 200 years.
And, yes, as Lucado argues so aptly in this piece, we need doubters within evangelical ranks, too. Doubters and skeptics keep big institutions on their proverbial toes, and megachurches and denominations are no exception this rule.
And this leads me to ask: Whatever happened to the longstanding and deeply ingrained American reverence for diversity of thought? In the digital age, I think this old American reverence for dissenting and maverick thought is needed now more than ever.