Black sheep bleat “sibboleth”

My good friend Cliff Martin describes the experience of people like myself who have followed the truth even when it took us outside the borders of the evangelical reservation and found that its gate-keepers enforce stringent import restrictions on items we acquire outside its borders  — of course, he does so using the perhaps more apt biblical analogy of the shibboleth.

Speaking from experience, Cliff writes:

As I take a few steps back from the accepted traditional theology of the evangelical church to which I belong, that very church keeps nudging me to step further away. I am asked to keep my concerns to myself. When I try to warn my friends that the edifice of Christianity is supported by pillars of styrofoam, I am told things would go better for me if I would just keep it to myself. I am told that the personal rejection I endure on so many fronts is my own fault. I come on “too strong”, they tell me.

Let me interrupt here. Knowing as I do how tactfully and respectfully Cliff engages in conversation with those he disagrees with (read the comments on his blog posts!), I find it hard to imagine the label “too strong” being applied to him in any bad way, at very least in any way that wouldn’t also apply to the very evangelical polemicists he is talking to. More likely the label these people are reaching for is “too credible and unnervingly likable”, but regardless, he is passionate because he believes that these conversations are important. As he continues:

The fact is, I haven’t found any polite way to tell people that the survival of evangelical faith will require the shedding of many cherished shibboleths.

I agree completely. God knows that I don’t opine on subject after subject out of some perverse love for sacred cow tipping (I do consider that to be perverse), or to show off as a free-thinker. But some of evangelicalism’s sine qua non‘s, which almost all go back to hopeless dependence on the false, extra-biblical doctrine of inerrancy, are in desperate need of being expelled.

People are leaving the faith because they receive only condemnation when they voice their honest doubts about the “official” pronunciation of the secret code word. Outsiders are recognizing the too-real threat of quixotic Christian culture warriors heroically stabbing at scarecrows, leaving the crows to ravage their fields, while all the time real world needs that we all recognize are not being met.

I’m truly sorry, my conservative friends, but Cliff, I, and the like-minded cannot and will not just shut up and go away. Christianity is our home, you are our family, and we’re not just going to watch the termites gnaw away until there’s nothing left except for useless but perfectly “orthodox” ruins.

We intend to tread lightly, be judicious in our challenges, and speak lovingly to you whom we embrace as family but who view us as dangerous outsiders. We will try to be patient, because we can’t blame you for protecting what you are convinced is precious.

But the deck is stacked against us. What can be done?

Meanwhile, we black sheep are just going to keep bleating “sibboleth”.

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