Nine Blessings from the Non-Conservative Christian Movement

Progressive, Unfundamentalist, the Christian Left, Mainline, the Liberal Church, the Next Church, or Liberal Evangelicals.  Call the non-conservative Christian movement what you may, but these groups are changing the face of Christianity.  Conservative Christians may be praying that these groups go away, but I am pretty sure they are here to stay.  And they are not only changing the landscape of church, they are challenging conservatives to think about what it is they believe and claim to be truth.

There are nine things in particular that these non-conservative groups are bringing to Christianity that, whether you agree with them or not, are actually blessings to the whole church:

1) Emphasis on Continuing Jesus’ Ministry to the Poor and Sick.

The prosperity gospel is still very popular in America – often grounded in the mega-churches that dot the landscape of the suburbs.  People are drawn in with the message that if you live right, then God will treat you right.  When my own grandfather was diagnosed with a disease that would eventually kill him, he began sending money to a televangelist who promised that if you gave, then God would give to you.  It didn’t work.   And this was hardly the message of Jesus who ministered to the poor and sick without ever asking for a dime.  The non-conservative movement is calling the ministers of the prosperity gospel out.  And instead pointing the church toward Jesus’ ministry to vulnerable people insisting that all of us be his hands and feet.

2) A Far Reaching Understanding of Grace

The non-conservative movement rejects an understanding of faith as simply “believing in the right theology.”  They don’t support praying a particular prayer and thus getting saved.  They distinguish between religion as a ticket to heaven and religion as a relationship with God.  They see that a right understanding of theology does not make one a follower of Christ.  And, yet, at the same time, they have a hope that God’s grace will cover all of humanity – even those who don’t encounter Jesus in this lifetime.  Knowing the character of God – to love and pursue us even when we’d rather God forget about us –  is that hope hugely misplaced?

3) Sin Defined as the Absence of Love

The non-conservative movement doesn’t want to hear about a long list of rules they must follow to impress God.  The rules are too often cultural, for one thing.  I remember my brother telling me of man in his church who came down out of the choir, walked over to a boy who was wearing a baseball cap, ripped the cap off of his head, handed it to him, and then returned to the choir loft.  Apparently God will condemn a whole church if you let boys in wearing baseball caps.  The non-conservatives have returned to a definition of sin as the absence of love for God, others, and themselves.  They aren’t interested in arbitrary definitions of sin based on cultural norms.

4) A Desire to be Producers not Consumers

Non-conservatives often simplify Christianity into two kinds of Christians.  Ones that are consumers and ones that are producers.  Consumers go to churches where they are served by the clergy staff.  They contribute little to the Kingdom of God except attendance.  Producers are those who join with others in order to serve the world.  Non-conservatives don’t want to be caught consuming.  They want to be out producing – making the world a better place.

5) A Healthy Understanding of Scripture

For conservative Christians it is a mark of faithfulness to believe that every word of the Bible was inspired by the Holy Spirit making the Bible absolutely and completely true historically, scientifically, spiritually, and in any other way.   To them, if you can’t quite get there, it is a sign that God is not at work in your life the way God should be.  But this whole “infallibility of scripture” phenomenon in the Christian world is pretty new.  The problem with not allowing any human missteps of the writers is multifaceted.  First, scripture was not meant to be historical or scientific – it is a spiritual document.  It doesn’t really matter to the non-conservative if Adam and Eve were real people, because the story conveys spiritual truths.  Secondly, non-conservatives are convinced that the people who wrote scripture were not aware that they were writing what would become sacred.  And since Jesus never authorized a biography, it puts the collection of documents in a new light.  Plus there are a few obvious contradictions in the scriptures – some historical accounts that don’t quite match up – showing not falsehoods, but a limited human accounting of certain stories.  And we don’t even have the original scrolls to evaluate.  The list of questions generated by the claim of infallibility is long.  Therefore many non-conservatives have come to cling to Jesus as being the revelation of God to the world and the Holy Spirit as being the one who reminds us of all that Jesus taught.  They believe that the Bible is unique, holy, and rich with Godly wisdom, but that it was never intended to be a substitute for the Holy Spirit’s wisdom guiding our lives.

6) Letting the Mystical and Science Hang Out Together

Non-conservatives often have no problem letting the mystical hang out with science.  Faith lets them believe in a God that does miracles while accepting that the world is older than one might deduce from the genealogies contained in the Bible.  They have no problem with the virgin birth, while believing that science brings valuable new information to our lives.  They can believe in both Jesus and dinosaurs without missing a beat.  They can accept Jesus’ power to heal without rejecting modern medicine.

7) Defining Tolerance as Tossed Salad and Not a Melting Pot

The word “tolerance” has a negative sound coming out of the mouth of many conservative Christians.  They think it means that Christianity will be merged with all the other religions of the world in one big melting pot.  They are worried that the Jesus of the future will wear a turban and be a vegan.  But the non-conservative movement has started talking about tolerance as a “Tossed Salad” not a “Melting Pot.”  They see themselves with their belief in Jesus existing right alongside those whose beliefs don’t include Christ.  They do not believe that kind of tolerance lessens their faith in anyway.   They may invite others into their faith with open arms, but they aren’t compelled to insist or threaten.  They see coexisting as a very good and beneficial outcome of living out the teachings of Jesus.

8) Authentic not Contemporary

This one surprises some people the most.  Non-conservatives are not generally drawn to contemporary Christian rock and loud screaming guitars on Sunday mornings.  This kind of worship music feels laughable at times to them and they’d rather flee than attend a church with a praise band leader standing on stage fussing at them to clap their hands with more gusto and to sing louder.  Non-conservatives are returning to high church with smells and bells – and lots of contemplative silence, prayer books, and the Eucharist generously practiced.  They want to learn spiritual disciplines and to worship in an atmosphere that lets the heart experience God.  Who would have predicted that?  But they aren’t into making church look and sound like a rock concert.

9) Understanding that Everything Hinges on Forgiveness

The non-conservative movement believes that forgiveness is not a suggestion.  Forgiveness is how the universe is set right.  Jesus forgave us.  So we have no choice, but to forgive others.  The act of forgiveness is the world’s only hope of salvation.    This means we forgive our enemies and live in peace. This is a complex and difficult concept in a world that thinks peace is manufactured by having bigger guns than your enemies.  The non-conservative believes that the way of Christ must begin with forgiving all others and seeking to live in harmony.

Whether you consider yourself a conservative or part of the non-conservative movement, I believe that one thing is almost certain: Denominations that will flourish in the next decades will be ones that humbly address the questions that the non-conservatives raise.  Not by arrogantly having all the right answers, but by creating a space for all the right questions.  A place where worshiping Christ together defines the community of Christ – rather than theological unity.

Please check out the sister article:  Five Things Non-Conservative Christians can learn from Conservative Christians.


April is a Red Letter Christian who writes about scripture and spiritual disciplines. See her latest book, James in the Suburbs.  


Author’s Notes:  1) The original article used the words “Anti-Conservative Movement” instead of “Non-Conservative Movement.”  It wasn’t a great choice.  2) This article speaks to conservative and liberal theology – not  conservative and liberal politics.   Though they often go hand in hand, they aren’t the same.  3) Several people have asked me to define Conservative/Non-Conservative.  Labels are always dicey and only true generally speaking.  For me, Conservative Theology is that which interprets the scripture literally – in our present culture that translates to denying women and the LGBT community full inclusion in the life of the church including the participation in church leadership.

49 thoughts on “Nine Blessings from the Non-Conservative Christian Movement

  1. April, I recommend that you learn a lot more about Conservative Christians. You have made some huge generalizations and with a very Us against You, judgemental tone. You don’t have a true perception of who we are. Christ’s Followers are in THE MOVEMENT. You don’t have to invent a new one! Jesus started it, remember? All of God’s people are at a different level of spiritual growth. God’s grace honors that. Everything falls in place, when you hold His hand and walk with Him. It’s not the man in the choir you want to follow. It’s Jesus. And, we aren’t your enemy.


  2. April, I can tell that you are a progressive Christian as this article was very biased for the non-conservative Christian. You would probably label me as a conservative Christian and I am ok with that label. I do believe so much of these things would be a mute point if we did not have social issues in the political arena. It’s like this…we either have a faith in God which makes a difference in our life or we don’t. We either believe that the Bible is the inspired God -breathed work of God or we don’t. I believe in both of these things and yet, I can say I attend an evangelical non-denominational church which encourages non-believers to attend and process our faith. I do believe in science but I also believe in creation. We are not here by chance. I do believe in acting out our love for others but I believe that the only way we can do that is through Jesus Christ. My husband and I both are active in providing for the poor and needy. I am usually a very humble person but I would say that weep far more than our liberal friends, colleagues and neighbors. I see the biggest difference between progressive christian and a traditional Christian as one is afraid to talk about sin and the other isn’t. I think we need to come together but it will only be through the work of the Holy Spirit. Thanks and Happy New Year…Denise


  3. A very broad brush article. Having musically served and been in many different kinds of Christian churches, I would argue this author’s broad generalizations with groups and labels. But the main thing I would say to her is that true Christianity is defined in God’s word as both faith and works, love and discipline, grace and consequence, following and leading, order and mysticism. Finally, there is no getting around Jesus response to “what is the greatest commandment?”. When you accept His answer, you shall then find yourself called to become a student of all the answer infers – to be a follower of the King.


  4. Christ was a jew aiming to restore judaism. He was not bent on creating a new religion. We can thank Paul and the Roman authorities for distorting Christ’s mission and propelling it in a Hellenistic realm. Paul is the author of Christianity, not Christ.


  5. This is the most self-righteous essay on “Christian” factionalism I have ever read. And, from my experience, it is utterly wrong. What you’ve written is, most simply boiled down, what you want to believe about conservative Christians, whether or not that belief has any basis in fact. Indeed, I agree with the posters above who say: “Guess what? I’m conservative, and I believe in the vast majority of what you’ve written!”

    Let’s discuss what your article implies about conservative Christians. Conservative Christians:
    1. do not emphasize Christ’s ministry to the poor and sick.
    2. understand grace as a ticket into heaven rather than a relationship with God.
    3. base their view of sin on cultural norms.
    4. limit their Christianity to merely attending church rather than joining with others to carry on the work of Christ.
    5. believe that every word of the Bible was inspired by the Holy Spirit.
    6. do not believe that science has any value.
    7. do not believe that co-existing is a good thing.
    8. engage in worship services that are not contemplative but, instead, have a rock-concert feel.
    9. believe that forgiveness is a suggestion.

    The only one in this list that even comes close to defining who I am as a conservative Christian is number 5. The rest of what you’ve written is absolute baloney, at least as you attempt to apply it to the Christians with whom I worship, all of whom would define themselves as conservatives.

    I truly wish that, when you want to define me and other conservatives by implication, you would actually take the time to get the facts right about who we are, what we believe, and how we live our lives, instead of treating us like a group of unforgiving, superstitious ogres who care nothing for our fellow man and limit our religiosity to the pew.


  6. Great article and comments, I hope it helps in redirecting the Church back to it’s authentic roots and away from the recent stray into the political and worldly !


  7. I am a lifelong republican and I agree with almost everything Dr. Love-Fordham wrote. I began attending Quaker meetings 3 years ago after feeling distracted from worship by the rituals involved in protestant services. I found this article to be a good summary of my own feelings and also found the posted comments enriching. My personal belief is that Christ taught the path to salvation and to a rich, rewarding life. Focusing on loving our neighbors as ourselves provides disciples of Jesus Christ with a sense of genuine purpose and a life filled with healthy, loving relationships.


  8. Well said. I really like what you wrote. The on thing I would add is that some of the extremely conservative or fundamentalist lose their focus on Jesus and his teachings and worry a lot more about finding literal meaning in the old testament. Congratulations on voicing what many of us were feeling. Nicely done!


  9. I consider myself conservative, but I agree with pretty much everything you wrote. I believe your description relates more to an “authentic” Christian rather than whether someone is conservative or not.


  10. “Non-Conservatives” would take the sting of judgment, real or perceived, out of the discussion. Or “non-fundamentalist”. I consider myself both a liberal, theologically and politically, but a traditional Christian. Because the raging focus of the fundamentalists on issues of sexuality, tax rates and political endorsements is relatively recent in the history of the church universal. Traditionally, the body of Christ has served by leading in areas of healthcare, education, social justice, and sharing the grace of God where it may not have been seen before. The evangelism of mainline churches was lived out in acts of charity and service to those in need, thus preaching the gospel without resorting to words. I believe the Bible is the inspired testament of God’s presence and actions to all creation. It is not, however, in my opinion, a book of history nor science , but rather the best guide and source for the practice of faith in our lives. Reliance upon God’s Holy Spirit and the life and words of Jesus (Paul, not so much) to inform and lead us as we seek to share his holy love in a broken world.


    • The original article used the words “Anti-Conservative Movement” instead of “Non-Conservative Movement.” It was a very poor choice. But realizing that I could edit after it was published, I have changed it. 🙂 Thank you for the suggestion!! I will write about this in my next blog which comes out on January 3, 2014.


  11. Fr. Richard Rohr of the Center for Action and Contemplation has much to say about “non-dual thinking,” the either/or, black/white, us/them way we tend to see life A recent quote: “Non-dual thinking is the highest level of consciousness. Divine union, not private perfection, is the goal of all religion.”
    I am having difficulty resolving the apparent discrepancy of his view with April’s thoughtful essay.


  12. Dear Dr. Love-Fordham,

    I’m not familiar with you or your work, but a liberal friend of mine linked to this post on Facebook and I took a peek. I already shared my response with my friend, but wanted to also address some thoughts directly to you.

    #4 of your article states that “Anti-conservatives often simplify Christianity into two kinds of Christians.” Although I know that this was written in the context of producers vs. consumers, I find it to sum up your whole article rather well. Two kinds of Christians: anti-conservative and conservative, us and them, progressive and archaic, tolerant and bigoted, good and bad, Goofus and Gallant. However, I think there are quite a few Christians that wouldn’t fall into either of your categories. I, for one.

    I will identify myself as one that you would likely label “conservative”—and let you know that while I’m sure you meant no harm, I feel as though I’ve been stereotyped in a number of ways.

    This article seems to assume that all of the views being challenged (prosperity gospel, easy-believism, cultural legalism, and religious consumerism to name a few) come as part of a package called “conservative.” It suggests that Christian “progressives” have cornered the market on many of the virtues that display true Christianity (“nine things that anti-conservatives are bringing to Christianity”), as if conservatives have never heard of these things.

    You may find that many of “us” have more in common with you than you think, lining right up with you on some or all of the following points:

    1. The prosperity gospel is bs. Couldn’t agree more.
    2. It’s about our relationship with God. Yep.
    3. It’s not about lists of dos and don’ts. Right on.
    4. All believers—not just clergy—are called to serve. No problem there.
    6. Doctors are cool and dinosaurs were probably real. Still with you.
    7. We can all be friends. I had hoped so, but with this “anti” language, I begin to wonder if the feeling is mutual.
    8. Church doesn’t always have to look the same. Thank goodness!
    9. Forgiveness is the key to peace. Absolutely.

    You will note that I skipped #5, and Lord willing, I will do my best to defend the authority and inerrancy of Scripture until the day I die. I think many “progressives” would agree that this is the core point on which we differ. I have major issues with your sweeping statement that “scripture was not meant to be historical.” Of course, Scripture contains many literary genres and the first step of sound Biblical interpretation is to identify the genre we’re working with and proceed from there. But I digress, and will leave that topic with a couple of book recommendations: “Jesus Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus” by Wilkins and Moreland, and “The Real Jesus” by Luke Timothy Johnson. Though they deal primarily with the Jesus Seminar and its findings and methods, they lend a helpful understanding of the importance of the connection between faith and history.

    My point is that for many of us, believing the Bible to be absolutely true is completely consistent with your values of being Christ’s hands and feet, emphasizing a relationship with God, living a life of love, living to serve, embracing science as an explanation of God’s creation, coexisting peacefully with people who are different from us, allowing for freedom of expression in worship, and forgiving as we are forgiven.

    Hopefully, recognizing the many areas of common ground that we share will help us, in the areas where we do differ, to work through our differences in a spirit of greater understanding.


  13. (RE: Item #6): When Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life”, I believe he meant that He is ALL truth, not just the truth contained in first-century scripture, subject to the very limited understanding of even the most brilliant minds of that time working without today’s tools of discovery. Therefore, to reject the proven-to-be truthful discoveries of modern science is to reject Christ as He reveals more about the Creator through further discovery of the universe. To reject science is therefore sin, and to fail to use science for the purposes of solving today’s problems is likewise sinful.


  14. Excellent points… you state what Christianity is except that it is stated in a comparative name calling, judgmental, blaming manner with terms that, in our present society, place labels which divide people instead of draw people into a common ground. I am a Christian and believe in, and have always believed the statements you have made regarding Christianity yet you have labeled me as a right wing conservative Christian because I profess to be a Republican, which is associated with the terms “Conservative” and “Right”. [[ You have marked your stated “beliefs” to be “Liberal” just like Jesus ]]….. therefore Jesus must have been a “Democrat by our society’s standards.. Democrat / Republican / Liberal / Conservative have a history of being argumentative and fight words…. just the opposite of the points you are trying to make… love, patience, peace, forgiveness, and tolerance. Labels create controversy and division.


  15. A thought provoking piece, thanks. Here’s my provoked thoughts:
    1. This is indeed good, if it is a personal call to right action, rather than (merely) left politics.
    2. One can, indeed all should, hope for the salvation of all, but we need to not lose understanding that salvation is a partnership. God does the heavy lifting in providing the path, but it requires of us sinners our repentance, not to earn grace but to accept it. Otherwise, what is the point of prophet after prophet crying “Repent!”?
    3. I fear this definition of sin paints it as some emotional failing if you do not point to Jesus saying that we demonstrate our love to him by our obedience. Sin is an absence of love, yes–but an absence of loving submission to God and loving service to each other. The modern mind reads love as ‘nice feelings’, which puts this in danger of misleading.
    4. This is another good point, if a bit of a strawman, as you are not so much arguing against strong conservative believers, but lukewarm believers of any stripe.
    5.I fear that this elides the fact that some scripture is indeed intended to be taken literally, and we dilute its meanings to our peril. A proper understanding of the intentions and full meanings of any given passage are crucial and vital work, but without a commitment to scripture that is binding once it is properly understood leaves ones values and beliefs adrift on cultural winds.
    6. I think that this is false in one sense and banal in another. There is only one truth, and thus when faith and science conflict, one is wrong–but most often this is due to an improper or incomplete understanding of one or another. On the other hand, in most cases traditional or mainstream Christians are plenty comfortable with science, be it medicine or technology.
    7.I think you are exalting tolerance beyond what is warranted. We are to live peacefully with all men as much as possible, yes, but the end goal is for their persuasion, not that they be made more comfortable in sin or ignorance.
    8. This is interesting, as I have heard very similar criticisms from very traditional Christian voices. However, I think this is largely a matter of taste in either case, acknowledging that many contemporary Christian worship songs can be cloying or trite.
    9. Forgiveness is key, indeed, and–praise God!–the story of the Bible is one of reconciliation of depraved sinners of all sorts to the Holy one. But the consequences of sin will not disappear while this earth remains, and we are not to be foolish or unjust in dealing with these consequences while we forgive, individually or as nations. Let the prisoners be reconciled, but not, in every case, released, and let nations live at peace, but not make their own innocents vulnerable.


    • It “Requires” repentance? As Lutheran Christian, I view repentance as a “gift,” not a “requirement.” The prodigal son returns to his father when we realizes “I have a father who loves me.” That causes him to run back home, -turn around, metanoia, turn. Only the Holy Spirit can grant this faith that leads to repentance. It is not our doing.


    • The end goal is persuasion? No, no it is not. This is not the meaning of life. This is not the meaning of Christianity. How many times have we all heard over and over to share the gospel and let God do the rest? We were NOT sent out to brow-beat people into submission of the church. Our end goal is NOT to make converts. Conversion is left up to the Holy Spirit, alone. OUR job is to live righteously. This means showing examples of what it means to be loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and projecting self control. When you start to think in black and white, in good vs bad, in right vs wrong, and in christian vs non, you remove your capacity for grace. Persuasion is superficial and usually includes end result justifying means. This blows open the window for allowing things life fascism, where a religion is the LAW and all who fail to follow or be converted will be tortured until they do so.

      This is where it gets tricky with fundamentalists vs non. The nons do not feel it is their mission in life to force, cajole, coax, brainwash, propagandize, seduce or argue people into a religion. Religion is suppose to be a PERSONAL relationship based on choice. This is why I cringe hard when I see very young children being brainwashed by parents, never giving them the chance to explore life and taking away their crisis of faith. Without that crisis, how do we really know what we believe? God did not call us to be robots, to follow him out of fear of a made up eternal punishment, God wants us to follow him because it’s what WE want. Each of us, alone, on our own, making that choice for ourselves, free of… persuasion.


  16. A lot of his statements contradict scripture, like #3. Jesus himself said if you love me you will obey my commandments (a bunch but see john 14:15). That means that a part of love is obeying. This isn’t taking people back to the roots of Christianity, but making a new religion that early church fathers would have considered heretical.


    • What’s heretical? Church fathers have been completely unable to agree since Day One. The Nicene Creed is one wonderful example…it was a compromise hammered out by a bunch of men who passionately disagreed with each other, and the creed they produced was not entirely agreeable to any of them. Such is the nature of most of the church’s dogma.


      • Well when Jesus points to the right and says “this is love” and our culture points to the left and says, “that is love,” then that doesn’t make our culture right. We have to observe what Jesus said love was and Jesus repeated it MANY times that love includes obeying. Here are a few examples: John 14:15, John 14:23, etc. That’s from Jesus’ mouth, there is also what his apostles said in 1 John 5:3, 2 John 1:6, etc. I’m not saying it’s easy, because to me that is so difficult and I fail to show Christ love, but he does say it and how can we ignore that?


      • Ditto to what Cole said. If Jesus points to the right and says “this is love” and our culture points to the left and says, “that is love,” then that doesn’t make our culture right. We have to observe what Jesus said love was and Jesus repeated it MANY times, here are a few examples: John 14:15, John 14:23, etc. That’s from Jesus’ mouth, there is also what his apostles said in 1 John 5:3, 2 John 1:6, etc. I’m not saying it’s easy, because to me that is so difficult and I fail to show Christ love, but he does say it and how can we ignore that?


  17. This was a very strange political? article. Good to know Jesus came to save us from these straw man arguments. I will pray for you.


    • The original article used the words “Anti-Conservative Movement” instead of “Non-Conservative Movement.” It was a very poor choice. But realizing that I could edit after it was published, I have changed it. I will write about this in my next blog which comes out on January 3, 2014.


  18. Well put. Though I’d contend that we’re not defined so much about what/who we’re against (“anti-conservative”), but rather what we’re for. Indeed, in many ways, “What’s referred to as ‘progressive Christianity’ isn’t really new. It’s a reformation of the Church to its earlier, pre-modernist and pre-Constantinian roots. Rather than focusing on exclusion, judging, and damning, progressive Christians reclaim our original values of inclusion, grace, acceptance, and unconditional love. In reality, it is progressive Christianity that is conservative — conserving what made Christianity such a beautiful gift to the world in the first place.”

    Roger Wolsey, author, Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity


  19. A lovely piece. Thank you, Dr. Love-Fordham. I agree with nearly every word, but I do have difficulty with the term “anti-conservative,” at least as a defining principle of the Christian left, or Christian liberals. Yes, by our nature we are “anti-conservative,” but I hope that is not the goal, it’s more a byproduct of our beliefs. I didn’t become a liberal Christian because I was anti-conservative. I became anti-conservative because I’m a liberal Christian. And I’m not even really anti-conservative (which implies being against people) but anti-conservatISM. I am pro-people, whoever they are, and even if I disagree with them.


    • The original article used the words “Anti-Conservative Movement” instead of “Non-Conservative Movement.” It was a very poor choice. But realizing that I could edit after it was published, I have changed it. I will write about this in my next blog which comes out on January 3, 2014.



Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s