Thursday, June 28, 2018

My Journey to the Left

I'm a liberal.

There, I said it.  Among my family, I'm one of the few.  In my friends circle, I'm one of the few.  Among my colleagues, across denominational lines, I'm certainly one of the few...but I haven't always been.

I was born into a conservative, southern family.  I grew up in a very conservative, small country church.  I was taught a very conservative interpretation of scripture; the bible says what it says in the letters on the page, end of discussion.  It was all I knew, therefore, I never questioned it.

I'm proud of the way I was raised, honestly.  My parents instilled in me a set of core values that have continually shaped who I am today.  I was taught respect.  I was taught to work hard for the things I wanted or needed.  When I was 9 years old my dad did one of the best things a father could do for his son.  He told me, "Boy, one of these days you're going to want to drive a car.  You'd better go to work."  So, I did.  At 9 years old I started hiring myself out to the local farmers and when 16 came, I was able to pay cash for my first truck.  I've worked hard ever since.

I was taught the value of life, not just human life, but all life.  The men in my family were hunters, but we only killed what we were going to eat.  There was no such thing as pulling the trigger just for the trophy.  We raised a garden, and we all helped in it.  Summers were spent with my parents, and grandparents under the shade trees shucking corn or breaking beans.  It's just what we did, and I wouldn't trade anything for my upbringing.

Then, as I grew through my 20's and began to realize that what I had been feeling for years was a call to ordained ministry, my thinking began to shift.  I would read something in scripture and think, "That can't be right."  I would hear conversations in the church and think, "I'm not sure Jesus would agree with that."  I would see the things going on around me in the world, how some in the church responded to them, and think "I know Jesus wouldn't agree with that."

Then social media became a thing, and suddenly, people had a much larger audience among which to spread their ideologies and opinions.  The more I watched, the more I studied, the more attention I paid to the struggles of others...the more steps I took to the left.

In nearly 20 years of pastoral ministry, I've heard one scripture quote after another being used to support less than Christ-like behavior.  Yes, the bible does say those things, but context is everything, and it falls to each generation to, through prayer and study, try to figure out what God is saying to us today.

I'm no longer a literalist.  I don't take holy writ at face value.  If I am studying (exegeting) a text, I want to know when it was written, who it was written to, and why it was written.  This prevents me from taking one verse from here or there and using it to support my own personal agenda.  (Which is closer to eisegesis than exegesis)  It forces me to look at the big picture.  It requires of me a level of patience that has always been a growing edge, as I try to discern what it is God would have me hear.

It's changed my political leaning.  Growing up in South Graves County, you had no real choice but to be a democrat.  During the Clinton years, that no longer worked for me, so I changed parties.  Now, the Republican party bears very little, if any, resemblance to the party I felt would be a good fit for me nearly 15 years ago.

After reflecting on this for a while, I'm honestly not sure if I became more liberal, or always was and just didn't know it.  Either way, as a liberal in the UMC, which is way too liberal for some folk anyhow, I will continue to stand up for those on the margins. I will continue to call out our government for the way they are handling the immigration crisis that they, by the way, created.  I will continue to stand with my brothers and sisters of color and condemn racism for the vile, hate filled institution it is.  I will continue to fight for the addict because we are all sinners saved by grace.  I will continue to proclaim that God does not, in fact, hate gay people and that we are all people of sacred worth.

And...if that makes me a bleeding heart, or a snowflake, or any other term folks use to describe folk like me, I'm totally cool with that.  Why?  Because, after nearly 20 years of studying scripture, exegeting texts, creating outlines, and watching the world spin around me, I keep going back to the time Jesus said that there were two things that summed up the Law and the prophets; Love God with everything you have, and love your neighbor just like you love yourself.  For me, that's enough.