For some reason, whenever I talk about the “spiritual but not religious” or Lillian Daniel, the site stats go way up. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or if there are a number of people plotting my demise. I gonna believe the former over the latter.
In our continual chat about SBNRs and Lillian Daniel, I want to lift up something I’ve been thinking about. Daniel is going after the SBNRs with a bit of snark that has set some of her co-religionists off. While she is tearing the SBNR’s a new one, I wonder if she is inadvertently going after another target: liberal Protestants like herself.
One of the reasons I’ve appreciated her words is that she is offering a full-throated defense of a liberal Protestantism that sometimes seems all but dead. One that is invested in tradtions and community, and not simply the latest trends. It’s not a repackaged evangelicalism but a call to a more vibrant liberal Protestantism that takes this Jesus and church stuff seriously. In a recent interview, this is what Daniel said about the church:
Obviously if somebody is sitting in my pastor’s study telling me they’re SBNR, I’m not scolding them. I’m listening and I’m being kind. I’m also impressed they made their way to a church. I try to positively affirm what’s going to be different for them by virtue of being part of a community of faith. And it’s not the services we’re going to provide. We tend to talk about ourselves like we’re the gym: “We offer this great youth program,” or “We have yoga classes.” No. It’s going to be really hard. You’re going to be made uncomfortable. Your narcissism will get challenged and you won’t get everything you want. I think that’s respectful of people on the journey, rather than, “Hey, you’ll love it, the youth group is really fun and we won’t ask anything of you, don’t worry.” No, it’s more like, by the way, we ask you to share your money and not to get services. There’s a way in which we can talk to the SBNRs as though they are mature people ready to engage in an intelligent conversation, as opposed to just listening and overwhelming them with our niceness.
I think people who see the church as a service provider that should be grateful for their attention, just don’t get it. It won’t surprise you to know that I don’t perform non-member weddings for exactly this reason. I think Christian community means something and has expectations. When we devalue ourselves it’s not necessarily attractive to people.
I think in the mainline we need to talk about what we do with some seriousness of purpose. Our churches are full of people who make really big sacrifices to keep the institution going. They’re giving hours and hours of time to teach Sunday school, they give 10 percent of their money. That’s a story worth telling.
I need to hear this, as snarky as it is. As much as I still love and respect the evangelical roots and I sprang from, it is not my home anymore. For better or worse, liberal Protestantism is my home. It can be a good home, but it can also be incredibly frustrating as well. We never feel very sure of our message. We question some of the more basic beliefs. We don’t know how to talk about faith, let alone our faith.
In some ways, Daniel is the liberal version of Ross Douthat’s critique of liberal Protestantism during the summer of 2012. Daniel is calling the church to take this whole thing seriously.
I think the reason that Daniel struck a nerve on SBNRs is because there are so many of these folks in our pews and even behind the pulpits. A lot of us aren’t sure of this whole church thing and so we patch together different things and make a God of our own. Maybe Daniel is calling us back to community, church, tradition and even Jesus.
Maybe I’m full of it on this. But maybe not.