Dear Christian Evangelicals: Please Stop Calling Me a False Prophet and/or Satan
by Nicole Plyler Fisk
Seriously. I know you’re angry, because I identify as a progressive Christian. See how I always shout *progressive* first? It’s because I’m as loathe to be identified as an evangelical as you are to be identified as a progressive. So, I understand that part of your anger has to do with the fact that I dare call myself Christian at all, since progressives (in case you didn’t know) subscribe to the following . . .
(1) about faith: “Faith is not about concrete answers, religious absolutes, creeds, or dogma. Faith is about the search for understanding, the raising of important questions, the open honesty of having doubt, and the realization that no one has it all completely right nor does any human hold all the answers.”
(2) about Scripture: “The words of Jesus found in the gospels – specifically, what he states are the greatest commandments: ‘Love God with all of your essence and love your neighbor as you should love yourself’ – are to be the focus for any disciple of him. We submit the rest of Scripture to the position of ‘sacred commentary.'”
(3) about other religions, and no religion: “Recognition and affirmation of the differing belief systems of others . . . is crucial.”
(4) about science: “God created humans with a brain capable of discovery and reason. God does not require us to ‘check our brains at the door,’ along with our coat and hat in order to be a part of the faith.”
Believe me, I get it. You feel like my version of Christianity is seriously cramping your style. I get it, because I feel like your version of Christianity is seriously cramping mine. In that way, at least, we’re more alike than you’d care to admit.
What concerns me is the implication that this difference in philosophy makes me evil, or at least an instrument of evil. Such talk got people burned at the stake back in the day. Scott says I *totally* would have been accused of witchcraft and burned at the stake, and I think he’s probably right. sigh.
As someone who comes from an evangelical background, I feel compelled to say: I don’t think you’re evil, even though I think you’re wrong about *a lot* of things. But, for the most part, I think you’re trying to stay true to a tradition you associate with the people you know and love (whether grandparents, parents, siblings or all of the above); you feel loyalty to a church community that has no doubt been generous to you in many ways; you get tremendous comfort from reading Scripture selectively (b/c you *do* read it selectively), and from praying and then feeling like all the blessings in your life are signs of God’s favor (it’s always fun to feel like you’re a favorite — says me, an only child).
I. get. it.
For me to have abandoned that tradition for one that I see as truer and better is no doubt unsettling. But I’m not trying to convert you (see #3, above). I’m just trying to convince you that I’m not dangerous in the form of being a false prophet and/or Satan. So, to that end:
Criticism #1, paraphrased: “You are a false prophet and/or Satan because you don’t take the Bible seriously.”
I watched the documentary Hellbound last week, and I want Jaime Clark-Soles (Associate Professor of New Testament at Perkins School of Theology) to be one of my new bffs, because she explains why criticism #1 makes her feel as though her head is going to explode:
“I always get on guard whenever someone uses the phrase ‘seriously’ — ‘taking [the Bible] seriously’ — because by ‘seriously’ they don’t mean: ‘Have you learned all the Biblical languages, and all the languages around it that were being spoken, and [the languages] in the centuries after it, including Coptic?’ They don’t mean that. I sat through ‘Eastern Roman Provinces’ in graduate school. I don’t care about eastern Roman provinces, but I care about the Bible; therefore, I had to care about eastern Roman provinces, because guess what? That’s the context within which the Bible was written. When I say ‘take the Bible seriously,’ I mean you better go study and you better care enough to do the hard, really boring stuff.”
In short, the reason I read books (both primary and secondary); and watch documentaries; and listen to all kinds of people from my religious tradition, other religious traditions, and no religious tradition is that I take God/ethics/religious texts very seriously indeed. I haven’t learned Coptic (I’m a disaster with languages in general), but that’s why I seek out people, like Jaime Clark-Soles, who have.
This does not make me a false prophet and/or Satan.
Criticism #2, paraphrased: “You’re a false prophet and/or Satan, because the Bible warns us about people like you, and the Bible is inerrant.”
People who say the Bible is inerrant haven’t read the Bible very well — not the “hard, really boring stuff” anyway. I remember reading the God-sends-bears-to-kill-the-42-kids-teasing-Elisha story when I was, like, 8 years old. I remember thinking that I was reading the *grimmest* of a Grimm’s fairy tale, not the true account of a God-ordained kid massacre.
The Bible isn’t inerrant, because the human beings who wrote it weren’t. They didn’t understand the Earth revolves around the sun (obvious when you read Joshua 10), let alone the science behind, say, natural disasters and human sexuality.
And, despite what you say, you don’t treat the Bible as inerrant either. If you did, you wouldn’t eat shellfish, or wear polyester, or permit divorce, or charge and pay interest, or cut your hair certain ways . . . the list goes on, and on, and on.
We build our theology based on the Bible, but we do so thoughtfully.
Criticism #3, paraphrased: “You are a false prophet and/or Satan, because you trust humans rather than God.”
I trust love, and if God is love . . . well, yeah. You see: 1 John 4.8 just happens to be one of those verses in my “canon within the canon.” And I trust humans who are loving to others — in the most generous and reckless and ridiculous ways — because there is something out-of-this-world intangibly beautiful about them.
This does not make me a false prophet and/or Satan.
Brian McLaren (author of Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and Muhammed Cross the Road? Christian Identity in a Multi-faith World — super fun title!) claims: “in a pluralistic world, a religion is judged by the benefits it brings to its nonmembers.” If he’s right, evangelical Christianity is in serious trouble. But that doesn’t mean it can’t . . . well . . . evolve into something better.
The first step? Start empathizing with, rather than demonizing, nonmembers — or, in other words, stop calling people false prophets and/or Satan.