Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Main-liners and Evangelicals: Is There Common Ground?

I've always been been passionate about building bridges, finding common ground, and networking with people, especially in the context of Youth Ministry but also in the more general context of Church and pastoral ministry. Because of this, I am frustrated by division. Because it is my nature to search for commonality, I have trouble accepting or settling for separation. Differences are ok. In fact, networking is all about accepting differences and diversity and benefiting from it. But division just sucks. Division is when two things are just so different that they can't come together. And by that definition, I don't know if I even believe that there is division in the Church. Yes, the Church is divided but I don't think that it should be...

The greatest divide in the Church might very well exist between "Main-liners" and "Evangelicals." While I don't wish to fully define these two camps in this post (not sure that you can at all), I do want to explore them. I hear Evangelicals talk against Main-liners and vice-versa. But are they talking about the true images of one another or are they simply talking against the caricaturization of the other and rejecting an illusory exaggeration of the truth? Of course there are extremes on both sides (and I think I've dealt with both in my limited experience)

Being in the United Church of Christ makes me a main-liner, I guess, and that makes at least a little bit of sense because I share many theological/social perspectives with the folks of my denomination, although I'm not without my share of disagreements. In many ways, I think I fit right into the UCC. But that fact that I am sensetive to the Evangelical perspective sometimes makes me feel out of place. I, in fact, do most of my ministry work within the Evangelical circle, and perhaps a conservative one at that, since I am locate in the rural setting of Ramona, California. I guess that makes me an Evangelical as well, which makes sense too because I share much with the folks with whom I work in terms of philosophy of ministry and passion for Scripture and for helping adolescents grow closer to Christ. But again, I have my share of frustrations with the Evangelical movement, not least in terms of political perspective and Scriptural analysis. So I guess, in many ways, I am both. So how can I be two things that are supposed to be separated unless they shouldn't be divided in the first place?

Main-liners think Evangelicals are all about getting souls out of hell (and sending some to hell), voting republican, beating up gay people, judging others for thinking differently, taking the Bible too literally, and making sure the world accepts their particular doctrines. Their impression seems to be that Evangelicals are closed-minded and arrogant among many other things. But most of the Evangelicals I have known are actually quite kind and even humble in their perspective. True, I can't always expect them to be totally open-minded but usually, if you'll take the time to speak their language (or should I say, "our" language) they're willing to understand. Evangelicals, I've discovered, are often much better at networking and working together than main-liners are. They're serious about their doctrines but they know when to set them aside for the sake of being together in worship to God.

On the other hand, Evangelicals often accuse Main-liners of being "ultra-liberal" to the point of ideology, committed more to "works" that worship, more to "new age" spiritualism than to Christian spiritual formation. Their impression is that Main-liners are old and dusty and committed to their denominations more than they are to the Bible. But the more Main-liners I meet and work with, the more I discover an authentic commitment to Christ and a seriousness about understanding the scriptures. Their honesty in approaching theology, and their humility in asking tough questions often gets mistaken by Evangelicals for compromise and lack of faith. But their questioning and their honesty often leads them to a very profound depth of faith.

Although the social issues have become so important in the conversation and it is true that there are fundamental differences there between these two groups. I think that there's a lot more common ground between Evangelicals and Main-liners than either side is ready to admit. If both sides would stop bashing the extreme version of their opposite, they might be able to do something together.

4 comments:

Robin Dugall said...

couldn't agree with your conclusion more...there is SO MUCH MORE than the mainliners and evangelicals share...everybody wants to be arrogantly "right/correct". You do realize that a majority of denominations were birthed by judgementalism,theological arrogance and a desire to "break relationships" not bear each other's burdens in love. So, instead of pointing the fingers at each other and saying "I am right and you are wrong"...it is time to demonstrate to the world that what Jesus prayed for ("that they would be ONE even as You - the Father - and I are one"), that being unity, can be lived out...loving and discovering the spirit of unity in the bond of peace...good reflections dude!

Steve Swope said...

Wes, we had this discussion a number of times when I was in Ramona, of course. And you know I often feel the same dilemma. I'll have to connect you sometime with a friend I've known since high school - he's UCC and evangelical, and also charismatic. He's also one of the most irenic, bridge-building people I've ever met.

WES ELLIS said...

Robin,
Thanks for the comment man! I relate so much with that verse, "that they would be ONE..." (especially when you connect it to the Shema). That is one of the sorta "slogan" verses of the United Church of Christ. But, I'm afraid they've only been successful in living that out among diverse (socially and ethnically) but still like-minded (liberal) people. They, like their conservative evangelical opposites, still aren't sensitive to the theological spectrum.
It's so good to hear from you Robin! I think of you often and I hope all is well.
-Wes

WES ELLIS said...

Steve,
We have had this conversation before and I suppose I'll probably continue to have the conversation for years to come--even repeating the same thoughts... perhaps like a mantra or something. I'd very much like to meet your friend. Sounds like a very eclectic and interesting person.
-Wes