In the end, the pastor and/or theologian who is not content to let God’s Word and Sacraments suffice will try to replace them with something else. And this act of replacement will exhaust them until either they change or give up their faith altogether. This is what liberal Christianity faces: theological suicide. Because instead of the light burden and easy yoke of Christ, they embrace the very world to which/whom they should be preaching Christ.
Liberal Christianity is marked by two inter-connected identifiers: segmented “theology” based on gender, race, sexuality, ethnicity, and any other personal traits, and the never-ending drumbeat for social justice. Social justice, of course, is a behemoth of a subject that covers every social ill you can imagine: environmental degradation and injustice, police brutality, racism, sexism, every sexuality grievance, and so much more. Obviously, the social justice issues are impossible to separate from the first identifier, the theologies that correspond to each person’s unique identity. The social justice work is simply where the rubber meets the road, for what good does it do to hold belief’s about a “preferential option for the poor” – for example – if your society’s economics don’t match it?
So your average liberal Christian (that is merely a theological moniker, not a political one, although there is more often than not a lot of overlap) will take on the above causes as they present themselves. What they will soon find is a media that is willing to help them uncover all of the social ills in our fine nation and a never-ending list of grievances about which to be concerned. One day it is a police shooting. The next day it is what a presidential candidate said. The next day it is an oil spill, and the day after that it is a the minimum wage. The liberal Christian will bounce from cause to cause, and aside from someone with superhuman strength or an ability to stretch time, they will soon find themselves without enough energy and time to properly care about each issue and follow through on what it demands.
An example. A few months ago a young woman was arrested in Texas, and tragically, she took her own life while in a jail cell. Immediately, even if it were proven that she did commit suicide, the calls came out that this was a modern-day lynching, and that even if she was a little combative with the arresting officer, the officer clearly was in the wrong, as were the jailers who were in charge of watching her. Well, justice was demanded, and vigils were held. Some even said that they would never forget this episode using a variety of hashtags that would draw like-minded people to thoughtful posts about this woman’s death.
But, predictably, this woman was essentially forgotten, at least by those who constantly champion such causes. She had to be. For the only reason there was time and energy to champion her cause in the first place was because a former cause was left behind. Perhaps because the officers were cleared – for now – of any wrongdoing, or perhaps because she was not lynched but chose to take her own life, eventually the vigils came to an end. The social media slowed down as the hubbub with the University of Missouri President came to a head, gun control arguments came up in the wake of ISIS attacks, and other injustices took the floor. Who knows what it will be tomorrow?
It is hard to imagine keeping pace with the world’s injustices and evils, for they will never stop and may even increase with time. And what’s worse is that few liberals share in the lives of those they champion. They write from comfortable homes on Facebook, a luxury in and of itself, because they are not able or willing to live among those they champion. We remember those who do, the priests and the activists who live as poorly as those they fight for. But most liberal Christians advocate from afar, and perhaps advocate as loudly as they do because, well, that’s all they’re able to do. At some point, if the word “hypocrite” can so easily be pointed towards conservative Christians who champion their capitalist/republican worldview, it seems that it could be fairly thrown back at those who champion an endless array of causes but do little for them.
Liberal Christianity is also self-defeating not only because of the inevitable burnout or hypocrisy that will result, but because it ends up not really even being Christianity. Jesus is just the moral authority borrowed early and quickly forgotten to justify the outrage. Of all the social justice-based theological teaching I have been subjected to, I do not remember a single time the biblical gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins being invoked. It may be assumed, but it is never proclaimed. Of course, that’s because they would say that that isn’t the actual gospel anyway, so why bother? But if Christians are not proclaiming the biblical gospel, but are just using Jesus’ capital to engage in political activism, are they really so naive as to believe that they are doing public theology? If it is the same worldview as the atheistic political activist, do they think they will make a difference in the life of their secular counterpart? In the end, there will be no energy for such activism remaining “Christian” because it is indistinguishable from activism that isn’t Christian.
Liberal Christianity has been around a long time, most often promoted as the social gospel. But it does not have the staying power of faithful proclamation and administration of the sacraments. It can’t! For it wasn’t promised to be blessed and it wasn’t commissioned by Christ. I’m not saying there isn’t a noble place for activism; just know when you have put more faith in your activism than God’s ordained means. And then repent before you burn out.