Politics and faith are intimately connected. We may like to imagine a story in which that is not the case. In my Canadian context, we display a certain pretension that we have well separated state and religion. Though I wish that the pretence created space for civil discourse, I do not honestly think we are there.
The poles in our politics – right vs. left – are perpetuated in my Christian context as conservative/literal/fundamental vs. progressive/liberal. I admit I have never liked the terms, because words have power. The right/left and literal/progressive divisions limit our ability to create meaning that connects us. Furthermore, once we begin to form words into ideology and doctrine, it becomes easy to dismiss the ‘other’ with a pre-established set of stereotypes and assumptions. It has been my experience that this can lead to disdain for the Other that allows us to perpetuate our rightness and someone else’s wrongness.
It would also be dishonest of me not to recognise that I certainly feel a pull and affinity with the theology that arises from the progressive/liberal Christian vantage, especially in respect to diversity and dignity. But … I usually do not like the conjunction ‘but.’ In this case that is because – should I be honest – there are certainly aspects that resonate for me from a more conservative orientation.
The challenge is that the either/or model I have inherited limits my own thinking and reflecting. As one who endeavours to follow that Rabbi named Yeshua this is unacceptable. For a long time, therefore, I have tried to seek an alternative to progressive/liberal that unlocks the restraints I feel I have inherited from a Christian tradition that often feels more committed to being right than being compassionate. I guess what I would like is to find a way to begin to have conversations that lead to a both/and balance in my theological discussions with myself and the Other.
Fortunately, just recently, I found that ‘key’ word: expansive. Ever since I stumbled upon it, I knew a musing had begun. But what does that mean? It is certainly possible that it is simply ‘code’ for a new way to simply say ‘progressive’ or ‘liberal.’ Hopefully, therefore, the following helps with an initial exploration.
Expansive is defined as “covering a wide area in terms of space or scope; extensive or wide-ranging.” As Jesus came into contact with the Other, and as those of us who have followed, he had to wrestle with what Truth was. Specifically, he had to recognise that the marginalised Other challenged the absolutes that Truth required for who was in and who was out. I think that expansivity speaks to exploring the Truth as a ‘t’ruth. In particular, how do we hold multiple truths in paradox and tension, yet coexist without right or wrong. For those to whom the Good News resonates, therefore, how do make central accepting the Other in a context that means constant change? In this place of change, how do we celebrate diversity and dignity that is, ultimately, relational and speaks to nurturing communities that are life-giving?
For the sake of our ongoing conversation, therefore, let me share some initial assumptions. I hope we might explore these ideas that could lead to mutual and collaborative meaning-making in a Christian tradition that sometimes seems more keen to divide than unite:
- I take the Christian Scriptures – First and Second Testaments very seriously;
- The interpretative way I understand the First Testament is through the ministry of Jesus that is shared through story, metaphor and poetry in the Second;
- I understand that through Jesus’ ministry he named that he had not come to establish a new religion, but to refine, correct, revitalise that which is found in First Testament;
- Jesus, as a Rabbinic leader, was on a trajectory to reinforce who was in and who was out;
- This trajectory, after the death of John the Baptist, was repeatedly challenged because he also was guided by a Sacred love that embraced diversity;
- All too often in Jesus’ ministry, therefore, when he might sound like someone who was advocating for exclusive purity, he was challenged explicitly by those on the margins;
- A few of these examples of challenge arise with The Syrophoenician Woman (Matthew 15:21-28), the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), and the demand to heal (Mark 5:25-34);
- These are not exhaustive models, but illustrate a way to utilise an interpretative lens to the tradition that has been left to Christians; and,
- Though discussions of inclusivity and diversity are most important, I believe that those two things can actually reinforce binaries of progressive vs. conservative when considered outside of the idea of expansivity.
Expansive Christianity, as way of pause in our conversation, feels like a way to imagine how we might begin to find a balance in the current Christian discourse. This current dialogue, often argumentative and intent of establishing Truth (regardless of ‘side’) does not feel like a helpful way to share the Good News. When those in mostly secularising Western democracies look for spiritual guides or wisdom, it will likely not be to the Christian model until we find a way to treat one another with the compassionate love that Jesus’ own ministry came to expansively embrace …