On Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, I was called “liberal.” (Or at least something I said was.) I can only think of two occasions where I have felt more flattered (and I can only actually remember one of those).
This label is somewhat startling for a number of reasons, which include the following:
- The people calling me such were not evangelical or fundamentalist Christians.
- I had, just moments before, given a defense for the tendency of evangelical and fundamentalist Christians to share and try to propagate their (I guess I mean “our”) faith (while acknowledging that the methods employed are not always the most helpful), and furthermore asserted that I believe in Hell.
I guess I spun both topics slightly differently than the young couple with whom I was dining and chatting had heard before. Also, I followed up the Hell thing with something about God’s love. Something in response to the husband’s complaints about the guilt and fear he felt had been foisted on him in his religious upbringing. Something about how I believe God is worthy of our respect—and even our fear—because we all have, in some way or other, disappointed Him. But also something about how we can be pretty sure that, if the Bible’s right and Jesus really is God’s Son, God doesn’t actually want us to go to Hell. He wouldn’t have come down here and gone through all that if He did.
That was when the husband said, “That’s really liberal, you know.”
He meant it as a compliment, and it pleased me, and it also made me want to laugh.
And it also makes me want to cry.
God’s love is surprising in the lengths He went to in order to show it. But if its surprisingness is so rare among certain manifestations of His people that other people don’t imagine they could find it there—shame on us. Shame on me. It’s one thing to talk pretty. I don’t know that I usually love in that startling way.