A Third Way That’s Neither Liberal Nor Fundamentalist

A Third Way That’s Neither Liberal Nor Fundamentalist

Whether Buddhist, Islamic, Jewish, Hindu, or Christian, adherents to religions tend to fall somewhere along a bimodal distribution that looks like this:

On the left side of the graph are those who are sometimes referred to as progressives, liberals, or left-leaning moderates. Towards the right are those referred to as conservatives, evangelicals, fundamentalists, or right-leaning moderates.

In Christianity, the Roman Catholic Church and the mainline Protestant denominations (Lutheran, Methodist, American Baptist, Presbyterian, Anglican/Episcopal, etc.) generally include clergy, faith communities, seminaries, and individuals across the spectrum. Denominations like the Untied Church of Christ tend to fall towards the left side; denominations like the Southern Baptist Convention tend to be on the right side.

Very generally speaking (and this is true for other religions as well as Christianity) those on the right side tend to be scriptural literalists, and those on the left side tend to have a broader interpretation of their religion’s sacred texts. 

In spite of well-meaning efforts by those on both sides to persuade others whom they see as either too ridged or too tepid, neither is likely to convince the other.

Theological progressives see conservatives as close-minded. Theological conservatives see progressives as having abandoned the faith. Both sides insist that they alone represent a true expression of their religion. 

There is a third way, at least from a Christian perspective.

The third way is radical. The third way is irreligious. It has never been popular.

It is the way of Jesus. It involves being spiritual, but not religious, if by “religious” we mean the outward form of institutions. 

The third way is actually doing what Jesus said to do – forgiving enemies, turning the other cheek, willingly going the second mile, washing feet, serving humanity, caring for creation, promoting justice and mercy, living in solidarity with the marginalized, visiting the sick and incarcerated, eschewing violence and coercion, being willing to die but not to kill, loving unconditionally. The only law is cruciform love. 

This third way was lived out by the radical Anabaptist reformers in the 16th century, by the likes of Clare and Francis of Assisi, Mother (now Saint) Theresa of Calcutta, Father Damien among lepers in Hawaii, and numerous Mennonite and Brethren conscientious objectors in both world wars.

This third way is being practiced in communities like the Simple Way in Philadelphia and the Bruderhof communities. It is being proclaimed by voices like Woodland Hills church in Minnesota, The Meeting House in Canada, and Northern Seminary in Chicago. 

This is the way virtually all followers of Jesus lived for the first 300 years of Christianity.

This third way is the way of purpose, inner peace, deep happiness, and meaning. Here, we love and are loved. Here is joy.

But, this third way is not popular. It’s not patriotic. It rejects nationalism and capitalism and militarism. It won’t bow the knee to Caesar or Mammon or Mars. It might even get you crucified. 

About Dr. Larry Taylor

Radical Anabaptist, Jesus Freak, Red Letter Christian, sailor, thinker, spiritual director, life coach, pastor, teacher, chaplain, counselor, writer, husband, father, grandfather, dog-sitter

Posted on March 31, 2021, in Christianity. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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