Susie Meister has explained how studying religion made her a liberal, with the result that she left the right, stopped voting Republican, and started voting Democrat. I want to provide an accurate summary of her concerns and try to provide the kind of things I would say in response if I knew her: if I was a trusted friend, her brother, or her pastor.
A lot of her post is personal narrative about how she campaigned for Bush, “represented the worldview of conservative evangelicals” on an MTV reality show, and then went off to study religion at the University of Pittsburgh. She talks about how people at her church warned her about liberal university influence, and of her confidence that: “surely a faith as strong as mine could stand up to academic scrutiny.”
She explains that “what happened . . . wasn’t an abandonment of [her] faith, but a shift in [her] understanding of Scripture.” From what she says in her post, she appears to have shifted from believing everything the Bible teaches (the position of her un-schooled Sunday School teachers) to believing the parts of it that would be embraced at the University of Pittsburgh. She describes reading the Bible “through unfiltered eyes” and learning “about scholarly investigation.” In the end: “[the evangelicals’] old Jesus looked nothing like [her] new Jesus.”
How did her new Jesus differ? She could “no longer reconcile
- Jesus’s calls for non-judgment
- loving your enemies
- and taking up your cross
“with many of the Religious Right’s positions on
- social services
- women’s rights
- and the LGBT community
She goes on to relate how “increased reading of the Bible correlated with greater passion for social justice–a trait typically associated with liberalism.” She describes her “worldview fall[ing] apart like a house of cards,” and states, “Now I no longer identify as an evangelical, but I study them for a living.”
“Only after my doctrinal evolution did I realize I no longer aligned with the political conservatism for which I once literally campaigned. Jesus was a champion of the poor, the weak, the meek, and downtrodden. He encouraged his followers to ‘sell their possessions’ and give them to the poor. He hung out with hookers and crooks. The lifestyle of Jesus didn’t look anything like the politics of the Right.”
She voices some other concerns about the hypocrisy of evangelicals supporting the likes of Ronald Reagan the divorcee, Mitt Romney the Mormon, and Donald Trump the bragging adulterer. She concludes, “The life of Jesus simply didn’t reflect the agenda of the political right, so now neither could I.”
I suspect that many people resonate with Susie’s concerns, and I don’t want to be antagonistic in the way that I address them. Let’s be friendly, and let’s talk about the ideas and issues, isolating them and understanding the choices that we’re all making.
As I listen to Susie, I hear four concerns that I would like to discuss with her. The first has to do with the way that Jesus lived, with his instruction to “judge not” in Matthew 7:1, and with “the Right” that Susie left behind. The second has to do with the shift she describes in her understanding of Scripture, the third with the relationship between the Bible and worldview, and the fourth with the influence of our families, our communities, and our teachers.
1. Jesus, Hookers and Crooks, Non-Judgment, and the Right
Susie is right that Jesus was a friend of sinners–and praise God for it! We’re all sinners, and what a relief that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim 2:5).
But what Susie doesn’t mention is that while Jesus engaged people where they were, he never left them there. Jesus told that woman he defended (it’s not clear the woman in John 8:1–11 was a prostitute) to go and sin no more (John 8:11).
That very passage also addresses the “non-judgment” issue. The defense Jesus provided for that woman against those who would stone her relied upon him judging that what those accusing her were doing was not right and them being convinced by his righteous appeal to the truth. The words of Jesus in Matthew 7:1 cannot mean: never make any kind of moral judgment. If they did, Jesus could never have told that woman (or anyone else) to stop sinning. But Jesus tells everyone to stop sinning–that’s a lot of judging going on!
Even the context of the statement in Matthew 7 shows that the words of Jesus can’t mean “never make any moral evaluations,” because Jesus immediately speaks of seeing specks (moral imperfections) in other people’s eyes. He doesn’t say “let’s all pretend those specks aren’t there,” but rather “get the log out of your own eye before you address he speck in your neighbor’s” (paraphrase of Matt 7:3–5).
Jesus is telling people not to be overly judgmental and ungenerous and self-righteous. Everyone makes moral assessments and comes to conclusions that can only be regarded as judgments. Susie does so in her post–she concludes that the judgments made by the left, for instance, are superior to those of the right.
I’m not a shill for the Republican Party, and this post is not for defending what they do.
I do have some questions, though, about life, sexual morality and marriage, and the economy that I hope Susie will consider:
- Jesus taught us to treat others the way we would want to be treated. Doesn’t this extend to the way we treat unborn children in the wombs of their mothers?
- Susie rightly mentions that Jesus was a champion of the weak–is anyone weaker than the defenseless child in its mother’s womb? If Jesus is their champion we should do what we can to protect them too, right?
- Jesus taught that God the creator made man male and female and said that the two should become one flesh (Matt 19:4–5). If we agree with Jesus, won’t we believe that the only appropriate way for humans to engage in sexual activity is within the context of a covenant of marriage between one man and one woman, right?
- Would Susie agree that the Bible treats all sexual activity outside of marriage as sinful? Would she agree that the weak are the ones who are most often exploited and victimized by extra-marital sexual activity?
- The commands not to steal and not to covet make some assumptions, right? Don’t they assume that people are going to own things? (true socialism abolishes private property and everything is owned by the state). And don’t these commands also assume that other people are going to have some things we would like to have ourselves? (that is, isn’t the Bible forbidding certain responses to income inequality?).
- Is it possible for the government to make things better? Are people who want the government to fix the world’s problems putting government in the place of God?
2. Understanding of Scripture
Susie talks about reading Scripture through “unfiltered eyes,” but none of us is really capable of this. We all have some kind of filter. I wonder if perhaps Susie has replaced a Sunday School filter with what she learned at the University of Pittsburgh?
The real question is this: are we going to believe everything the Bible teaches?
If we believe everything the Bible teaches, we won’t be captive to either the right or the left, the Democrat or Republican Party. We will have concerns that overlap with some on both the left and right, and then we will have to rank those concerns in order of importance.
The life of the unborn, the definition of marriage, and the free exercise of religion–the right to live out our faith–are the weightiest concerns facing our civilization. At present those concerns are shared by the Republican Party and not the Democrat Party. I wish the Democrat Party would share those concerns. It would make life better for everyone.
3. The Bible and Worldview
Susie speaks of having her “worldview fall apart like a house of cards,” and I suspect this was a direct result of the “shift in [her] understanding if Scripture.” God gave us the Bible as a worldview building book. If Susie became convinced that the Bible was not totally true and trustworthy, or if the “scholarly investigation” she learned about left the Bible in rubbles, then it would only be natural for her worldview to fall apart.
Every one of those challenges to the unity of the Bible can be answered. And I suspect that if Susie’s confidence in the Bible were to be restored, she would see that the house of cards was not the Biblical worldview she abandoned but the new one she replaced it with.
4. The Influence of Family, Community, and Teachers
There is more to Susie’s story than she related in her short post. But from that post it appears that at one time her church community held primary influence in her life and thinking, and then that primary influence shifted to a new community whose values she now shares.
She wrote, “surely a faith as strong as mine could stand up to academic scrutiny.” The issue is not whether her faith could stand the scrutiny but whether the truth claims she believed would be defended and maintained.
The reason Susie’s church family warned her about the liberal influence of the academy is that the liberals in the academy defend their own conclusions not the ones Susie formerly believed.
The history of ideas demonstrates that people will believe bad things if good things are not explained, defended, illustrated, and applied.
The problem was not a lack of faith on Susie’s part but the lack of diversity in secular universities. I suspect there is not a single evangelical who holds to the inerrancy of the Scriptures at the University of Pittsburgh. No one should be surprised when a school’s graduates believe what its faculty advocates.
So Susie, I hope and pray that you will reconsider the Bible. If those who defend it convince you that it stands, and it does, you might find yourself in a better place than on the left or the right. That is, you might find yourself in the arms of the Jesus of the Bible, at home in the true church.
If you’re ever in Louisville, I hope you’ll come visit us at Kenwood.