28 February 2010

Liberals and Conservative Christians

Nicholas Kristof writes today that conservative Christians have been doing a lot of the kinds of international work long championed, and practiced, by liberals. Kristof suggests liberals need to relax their "snootiness" and Christians their "sanctimony" to work together as a powerful coalition for social justice in the world.

He makes a good point. And I know some conservative (and not-so-conservative) Christians, and it does seem that their faith contributes to the ways in which they're very good people. Twenty-plus years ago, teaching English in China, I got to know several members of a Christian group also teaching there. They turned out to be really good people, too.

But the first time I met one of them, as I was working on fixing up the used bike I had just bought, his opening salvo was, "Oh -- look at the lady mechanic!"

And there, in a nutshell, lies my problem with the evangelicals and other conservative Christians (and, for that matter, conservative Jews and Muslims and probably conservatives in other faiths as well): very narrow ideas about gender roles.

Well, that and the fact that they think gays, Jews, Muslims and most of the rest of the world other than themselves are going to hell. Literally.

If I were to go off and volunteer with a Christian group, they might take me for the Jewish diversity cred. In that unlikely event, I'd then have to deal with all the questions... about keeping my name after I got married, going off to work while The Mate looks after The Offspring, letting said (male) Offspring wear pink clothes and long hair....

(Back in 1997, though,I applied for a job at a university that I didn't realize operated under the auspices of a conservative Christian group. The advertisement to which I responded hadn't mentioned it. By return mail, I got a four-page application form with questions about my pastor's name and address, and my relationship with Jesus.)

So while I applaud Kristof's column, I see following his advice as somewhat problematic for anyone who isn't nominally Christian, heterosexually and fairly conventionally married, raising fairly conventional kids -- and even many of those folks will have a tough time with evangelical intolerance toward people not like themselves. Conservative Christians need to give up more than sanctimony. They need to give up their conviction that it's their way or the highway.