I know you disagree with me and so many aspects of my life—that’s one thing that seems to be overflowing with clarity.
That’s o.k, it really is, you are welcome to your own perspective.
To you, my nonconservative choices, values, beliefs, and even the very essence of who I am as a person are deemed to be suspicious at best, certainly inferior, and likely in desperate need of repair and a strong dose of repentance. In step with the marching orders of your creed, you pace back and forth, waiting for opportunity to put my faith and life through your conservative curling iron in hopes of straightening me out. You say you love me and it’s all from a heart of genuine concern—I want nothing more than to believe you, I truly do. Yet, it feels like everywhere you touch upon the fabric of my life, you’re insisting on your own way while claiming it to be God’s—desperately trying to unravel and pull apart what I’ve actually come to believe and cherish as the divine tapestry of my life.
You want all the Scriptures you so confidently quote, the stern warnings about hell, and your passionate lectures on all the ways that I’m desperately misguided to feverishly call my soul to attention. You want your guilt trips, silent treatments, and glares of disapproval to magically solicit an urgency within me to wake up and change. You want all the articles, books, and sermon videos barking the bullet points of your faith to bring me to my knees, surrendering in agreement and tearful repentance. Yet, deep down inside I have this ancient, Jesus-embedded sense within me that I just can’t ignore—if you really loved me and were truly being used by the Spirit, you’d simply listen.
No, I’m not talking about the kind of listening that’s nothing more than the inconvenient duration of time you’ve silenced your lips while reluctantly waiting your turn to speak. I’m not talking about the kind of listening that’s merely the sum of the moments you’re rushing ahead in your mind to all the ways you’re going to correct me. I’m not talking about the kind of listening that’s nothing more than the pause you give in your rebuttals to humor me with a moment to interject my wayward thinking—licking your chops, poised and ready to shoot it all down. No, I’m not talking about the awkward silence that ensues while your arms are folded and your chin is lifted in obvious disgust. Maybe you call that listening or discerning, or whatever faith term that fits your brand of religious conservatism, but I call it—hate. For nothing is perhaps more antiJesus, demeaning, and drooling with shame and condemnation than a Christian who refuses to listen.
You want me to believe that you love me—I greatly appreciate that. You want me to consider that you were sent by God to guide me—I understand that. Yet, with all due respect, I’m finding it very hard to convince my conscience to open the door of trust when every alarm in my Spirit is sounding to the clear and ever present reality, you aren’t even listening.
You speak, you judge, you correct, you assume, you admonish, you lecture—perhaps all with the most wonderful of noble intentions. Yet, all the while, it feels so reckless, like a sheep being dragged to the slaughter, as you don’t even glimpse beyond the surface to the intricate fabric of my being and the complicated walk upon which I have been traveling. At best, you’re shooting in the dark because you don’t take the time, extend the grace, and embrace the humility required to remove the blinders and truly see me and my story. In fact, at times, it feels like I’m just another sitting duck, traveling across your spiritual arcade, bracing for the impact of your prepackaged conservative bullets. Cocked and loaded, you’ll never hear nor encounter the story behind my eyes—a story that if I told you, would break your heart, humble your faith, and perhaps even cause you to put down your weapons. Maybe, when it’s all said and done, that’s what you truly fear the most and the reason why you refuse to truly listen—it’s all too risky, your entire faith-construct might come crashing down.
The one thing that’s missing is that one thing you seem to be so adverse to giving. It’s all I’ve ever truly wanted—so I’m begging you, would you please just listen?
Listen—with the reverence that completely stops and deeply considers that chances are you have something to learn, change, or reconsider first before ever being granted the green light from God to speak to my Christ-imaged humanity.
Listen—with the humility that, though you are certainly entitled to your own opinion, you certainly aren’t entitled to your own facts, nor the claim that you hold the one-and-only divinely-sanctioned interpretation of Scripture.
Listen—with the self-control that renders the noise of your stubborn insistence to a prison of silence in order to create the openness and freedom required to hear a true revelation from God.
Listen—with the determination to never lean on your own understanding, project your bias, and pepper me with labels.
Listen—with the level of compassion that no matter what you had to say, all I would ultimately hear is that you love me.
For if we aren’t listening deep enough to where we understand with fullness, empathy, education, and humility the very journey, perspectives, beliefs, and values to which we disagree or disapprove in another human being, we aren’t truly listening. For when Jesus left the halls of heaven and became a human being, it wasn’t just an act of becoming human flesh, it was an act of ultimate, divine listening.
So now, when you wonder why I don’t call, why I don’t respond, and why I’ve resigned to love you from a distance. When you wonder why I’m deeply hesitant to visit your church, come to family gatherings, grant you influence, and see you and your conservative faith-understanding as credible. When you wonder why I ignore you on Facebook or de-friend you altogether. When you wonder why the world is increasingly concluding that yours is a brand of Christianity that is filled with self-righteousness, selfishness, and hate. Perhaps you would consider this perspective, it may just be because I, and many others, can’t ignore the screeching reality—you’re not listening.
Say what you want, debate all you like, curl up in the fetal position of your guilt trips, and trumpet your Scriptural proof-texts—my heart breaks at all that we are missing, the time that’s being wasted, the hurt that’s being experienced, and the relationships that never will be. Largely because, like Martha in the Scriptures, it seems you’re insistent on making religious sandwiches of debate, correction, and condemnation that Jesus never ordered, while Mary was learning the true heart of Jesus—to sit down, be quiet, and simply listen.
No, I’m not perfect, I certainly have my faults. But right now, I can’t trust you nor give your voice credibility, not because you aren’t speaking, but because I can’t hear you listening.
Conservative Christian, if you really loved me, would you please just listen?
“Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak…” James 1:19
Grace is brave. Be brave.
This is so good Chris! And it certainly speaks for me, too.
(And thanks for not being silenced by the barrage of disapproval and “correction” you were subjected to after your last post.)
Living Liminal, thank you! Once again your words bring life to me! I am never going to be silent, there are too many lives at stake! Thanks for being brave along side of me and holding my arms up in the battle. I pray in some way, I am doing that for you too!
You sure are Chris! 😀
You are asking conservatives to be active listeners and to understand you, to empathize with you, to walk in your shoes and be you for even a moment. That isn’t possible. An example from my personal life.
I have a dear friend, from junior high (we are both in our mid-50’s now), who is a ‘yellow dog liberal’ (his term) and another friend (at least at the time) who was as conservative as a person can be. I had invited both to a party and had warned my friend, we will call him Mark, about Jim (the conservative).
Mark, went up to Jim during the party and said “Hey you know everyone is expecting we are going to get into a big political fight. Why don’t we have some fun, I will argue your political POV and you argue mine?” Jim’s response was “I can’t argue your political POV because it is absolutely wrong and their isn’t any reason for anyone to have your political POV.” Mark just laughed at him and walked away.
Conservatives have to have order and stability. It is actually hardwired into their brains. They can’t do what you are asking them to do – unless the Holy Spirit rewires their brains.
David, thanks so much for reading and taking the time to comment! As a former Evangelical, I know first hand the wisdom of your words when you speak of conservatives needing to have “order and stability.” That was me. And I’m also am not opposed to the notion that there may just be some level of brainwashing in it all.
Chris, this is a really interesting pespective! When you’re in the midst of hardline conservativism it really is hard to look at other sides. It’s like everything is called “Fake News” and you just buy into that mentality. It’s hard to imagine actually having a conversation with some of the folks from church “way back when” without being branded a heretic. Or, honestly, some people in my office who are Very fundy that I work with on a daily basis.
Richard, thanks so much for the honor of your comment, I appreciate you reading the article. Trying to communicate with religious conservatism can feel like the Twilight Zone for sure! I suspect they probably would say the same about me. 🙂 As a former conservative Evangelical, I found labeling people and their views was a easy way to discount them and step aside from the hard work of listening and dealing with the potential anxiety of reexamining my faith and long held beliefs.
Actually, it’s impossible to argue anything (that word “argue” is the problem) with hardliners of any stripe–“I’m right. You’re wrong. You’re a threat to me, errrr, I mean to other people, and I’m going to do everything in my power to eliminate your threat.”
I disagree with the idea that many folks seem to believe, that the reason Jesus’ enemies hated Him was because he showed the emptiness of their beliefs. I suspect that the real reason they hated Him is because he threatened their world view, their sense that they were somehow better, smarter, more perfect than everyone else. That mindset is as common nowadays as it was 2,000 years ago.
What a very thoughtful reply. I think that your last point is particularly spot on. Jesus upended and questioned the beliefs about God of the day and it upset those that were in authority – both in and outside the church. It is the same now as it is today. People don’t like the feeling that they might be off track and have to rethink things – especially against the tide of people they know that have the whole faith thing tied up in a bow and believe they know exactly where God goes for coffee.
What if you flipped this upside down and were a conservative asking a liberal to truly listen? As a radical, progressive liberal, I agree with your blog. And I also confess that all too often I take the same approach with conservatives – biting my tongue while they speak, thinking about my rebuttal, not what they are saying. Respect goes both ways. They will know we are Christians by our love, not our self righteous arguments. If nothing else, I respond “My goal is to follow Christ’s teaching and example. I hear what you say, but I disagree.” Then turn and walk away.
Sue, thanks for reading and commenting. I totally agree with your sentiments, love, respect, and listening are universal qualities that should be distributed equally among all.
These posts are helping me in my day to day life feel less alone in my thoughts and beliefs than ever. I wish there were more ways for followers of Jesus who don’t identify with mainstream religion in most of its current forms to gather. I have searched in my area for a church or group or something that supports these beliefs, to no avail.
Thank you for speaking truth into the craziness, Chris. That Donald Trump has somehow been let into the Christian camp is absurd.
Yup. This, THIS, is why I put down my debate weapons. This is why I stopped being immediately terrified of my non-Christian friends, and why I no longer consider myself “Evangelical”. I started listening and realized that the “love” I was showing was really quite cruel. And God showed me His love for several of those same people while I listened to them speak. Changed me, and I’ve never looked back. Life is so many more shades of grey than I realized. But also so much more beautiful.
Well said Kim, thanks for reading and commenting!
Listening works both ways and many liberal Christians don’t seem to be any better at it than conservative ones.
Hello, I suppose the problem I have with this is that you’re not actually using the Bible. And the second you’re assuming that they aren’t listening and that they are just judging. But I am a conservative Christian and I feel judged by you! Who are you too tell me I don’t care? Of course I care, because I use to be you. Until I read the Bible. No one has to tell me what I believed, there were no marching orders, I simply read the Bible, I studied it. And the fact is there are people who do things in the name of God that are simply wrong, but we aren’t all like that. I just wish you could see that I care because truly I use to be there. And that I am afraid to talk about what I believe with my liberal friends because they can be just as hateful. I would really like to have a sincere discussion please email me.
Also I do agree with some of what you say so please don’t just dismiss me. Thank you.