I read a post this week from Rachel Held Evans that may represent a turning point in her theological journey.  (Though, in today’s post, On Needing Some Time… , things may have changed for her personally.)

I had the joy of meeting Rachel very briefly at the Lion & Lamb Festival in Fort Wayne, IN last year.  I got to joke that in a seminar where she discusses the difference between being silent and being silenced, I was the guy holding the time cards to let her know it was time to wrap it up.  Here’s what I know about her from limited interaction: She is a genuine, fun person who is trying to be faithful in a time when faithfulness gets called into question by those who may think differently.  Is she more liberal theologically than some would like?  Yes, absolutely; however, that doesn’t make her any less genuine or serious about her faith.  Here’s a little secret I’ve learned through the years… shhhh… don’t tell anybody I told you this… theologically liberal people can love Jesus just as much, or even more so at times, than theologically conservative people.

In a post entitled “What Now?” she shares her disappointment with evangelicals and World Vision over recent events in the organization.  In case you missed it, World Vision announced that it would no longer discriminate against employees in same-sex unions.  World Vision is mostly known for organizing sponsors for children in need all around the world.  

Predictably, the “Evangelical Machine” (as Rachel puts it) kicked into high gear with people who were just outraged that an organization would stop discriminating against a segment of the population.  Evangelicals took to social media to express their outrage, and many started to drop their sponsorships because of this decision.  Within 24 hours, more than 2,000 children sponsored by World Vision had lost their sponsorship.  Read that again… I’ll wait.  More than 2,000 children were dropped simply because an organization decided not to discriminate in its hiring processes.

World Vision began to see some major fallout, and reversed their decision just a couple of days later.  Now, we are left with picking up the broken pieces of a theologically misguided evangelicalism.  As Rachel put it in her CNN article, “the situation put into stark, unsettling relief just how misaligned evangelical priorities have become.” Were these children little more than conservative bargaining chips for these people? Of course, these same people who dropped their sponsored child have no problem swinging by Starbucks on their way to work for their venti mocha frappe double-shot whatever… (okay, I don’t really know the language, you got me…)

One of the things she says in “What Now?” is that she is “done fighting for a seat at the evangelical table, done trying to force that culture to change.”  And now, the problem starts to come to light, doesn’t it? Why in the world is there such a thing as an evangelical/progressive table in the first place?!?

Who was at Jesus’ table? Anybody and everybody. Because the table is supposed to be the place where we can come, eat, let down our guard, enjoy each other’s company, build relationships with one another.

Rachel points out an awesome revelation that came out of all this: “But I think that perhaps I became more invested in trying to ‘fix’ evangelicalism (to my standards! oh the hubris!) than in growing the Kingdom.” I love this because she starts to realize that it’s not a table anybody should be sitting at in the first place.. because there shouldn’t be such division in the world of the Christian faith.

We live in an increasingly divided world.  We live in a society where apparently it’s become okay, not just to talk about religion and politics, but to openly berate and belittle people who think differently.  We put labels on everything.  Why?  Because it’s easier that way.  It’s simply easier to label Rachel (and those who think like her) as a theological liberal that must absolutely hate the Bible, than to engage in the conversation.  To listen and be heard.  If we know that so-and-so is “on that side” then we can sum up their arguments for them.  We can build our strawmen and knock them down… and put them down… and belittle them… after all, it’s nothing more than a scarecrow.

I find it ridiculous the things that Christians end up arguing about.  I have a friend who recently said something about being put down because of her opinion on a particular issue.  I don’t know the whole of the conversation, and it’s not my story to tell anyway, but what business do we, as followers of Jesus Christ, have putting down anybody simply because they think differently than we do?

Have we become nothing more than modern day Pharisees & Sadducees?  It certainly seems that way.  We’ve become conditioned to see them as “bad” people when we read the gospels, so we forget that they were the religious leaders of the day.  The Pharisees were the ones concerned with holiness, and making sure that everybody else was as well – the evangelicals of the day, if you will.  The Sadducees rejected the notion of the resurrection of the dead, a central idea for the Pharisees and Early Christians – the progressives of the day, if you will.  And along comes Jesus, saying, “Hey!  The things that you are arguing about… they don’t matter!  Love God, love people.”

Yet, we find ourselves, once again, using labels.  Putting people into boxes.  The labels we use aren’t helpful. Progressive, evangelical, liberal, conservative, left, right – what do they all mean? Well, basically, they mean that person doesn’t think the way I do.  I have two words for those labels: so what?  

You fancy yourself a progressive.  Let’s forget about the hubris associated with that term for just a second (like, if you’re not liberal, then you must be living in the Stone Age), and ask… so what? A progressive is simply one who concerns him/herself with social justice, with living out one’s faith. You don’t have to be liberal in your theology to think like that.  

You call yourself an evangelical.  So what?  An evangelical is simply one who believes Scripture, has a relationship with Jesus Christ and sees the importance of sharing one’s faith.  You don’t have to be conservative to be an evangelical.

A few weeks ago, I was able to hear Mike Slaughter share about the direction of the United Methodist Church in the coming years.  There’s a lot of talk about schism right now (schism which, most likely, will not happen for a long, long time), but what gets lost in this talk is that there are people in the middle for whom there will be no place if it gets divided into the Left Wing UMC and the Right Wing UMC.  We aren’t all conservative or liberal. There’s a number of people who look up and find themselves in the middle, trying to make sure that they hear and understand all sides.  Truth is, we are all at multiple points on the spectrum… because we all think differently about different things.  This is why labels don’t work, but listening does.

Would I agree with Rachel Held Evans on every point?  Probably not.  That doesn’t mean I respect her less or think less of her as a follower of Christ.  The same can be said for any two people who claim to be followers of Jesus.  We all walk this journey together, but we all walk it a little differently.

Perhaps the best (only) labels for us to use may be the ones we see in Scripture: disciple, beloved, child of God.  To modify Paul’s words, “There is neither progressive nor evangelical, liberal or conservative, right or left for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  Let’s stop making our own tables, so people can stop fighting for a place at the table.  Let’s remember that we have all been invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb.  We don’t get to make that guest list – God does.  We don’t get to decide who gets to sit at the table, and who has to wait outside.  God is the one who is putting on this dinner; let God decide.