Over the past weeks I have been dealing with two very different constituencies, one conservative, the other liberal. Both call themselves “people of faith,” but the faith of the first is clear and compelling while that of the second appears muddied and confused.
The conservative camp believes their Bible is the inerrant Word of God. The liberal camp is unsure as to what the Bible is, or what to make of it. Because of their passion for the Bible, I found it easier to engage conservatives, challenging those who focus on Leviticus 18:22 and imagine God’s main concern is with homosexuality, not to ignore the 2000 plus verses dealing with the poor and to commit themselves to God’s greater concern with poverty and powerlessness.
While liberals need no encouragement to care for the poor, their call to compassion and action is not based in Scripture. Asked to cite even a single verse of Scripture that guided them, not one of dozens of liberal people of faith did so. When privately pressed many people told me that Scripture and the Bible’s anthropomorphic image of a violent male God who sanctioned genocide, misogyny, and homophobia embarrassed them.
My work with the conservatives was to focus on these violent images of God, and to challenge them to identify and decry what I called the Voice of Fear that comes not from God but from men (literally). While I cannot claim to have made much headway, I was excited about how quickly we could get to the real issue of what Scripture said and why it mattered.
My work with the liberals was to help shape a prophetic politics ala Michael Lerner and Jim Wallis rooted in the Voice of Love. Here too I made little headway, but the problem was more fundamental: there was too little knowledge of and even less trust in Scripture.
I don’t believe God writes books or speaks to people from bushes. I believe that there are rare spiritual geniuses among us who tap into the Divine Reality and are overcome by compassion for self and other. These saints return to their communities and seek to communicate in the language of their time the timeless and ultimately ineffable love they experienced. They speak in the Voice of Love. I also believe that there are many more false prophets who claim to have the same experience, but who are simply imposing their own agenda through the Voice of Fear.
I understand why liberals are reticent about God and Scripture. And I applaud those who boldly reject both and root their call for justice and compassion in other things. But I see myself as a person of faith, a person who more and more surrenders to the One Who Is All, and finds in that surrender a challenge to do justly, love mercy, walk humbly, and to love neighbor, stranger, enemy, and the earth. I had hoped to find other liberals with the same experience. The fact is I am more apt to find like-minded people among the conservatives. Odd. And disturbing.