I’m a liberal. I’m a conservative. I’m pro-life. I’m pro-choice. I’m pro-abortion. I’m anti-woman. I’m anti-baby. I’m anti-adoption. I’m pro-adoption. I'm too secular. I’m evangelical. I’m damned to hell. I’m leading others astray. I’m progressive. I’m not progressive enough.
It’s amazing what my more controversial blog posts have led folks to say, huh?
If they aren’t outright labeling me, people are asking questions. Am I still a conservative Christian? Am I still evangelical? Am I a secular humanist now? Am I a Democrat? Am I a Republican? Am I still pro-life if I’m voting for Hillary? Am I still a Christian at all, if I hold the stances I’ve made public lately?
I find the conversation and questions to be a bit curious. For starters, very few people have asked these questions of me before now. Previously, it was just fine as long as I kept my mouth shut. I’m not sure if assumptions were made about my beliefs or if a don’t ask don’t tell sort of policy was in place.
I’m done with silence, though. And I’m done with letting people assume a false reality about me. I’m using my voice faithfully and honestly and vulnerably, even when it might get me in trouble. (As I recall, some religious folks weren't too keen on Jesus after all. So the cries to metaphorically crucify me for speaking truth and justice and love as I try to be more like him? I'm not intimidated by those.)
I will answer any questions that you have, but I won’t answer questions about labels. If you ask me “am I evangelical?” I will probably ask you what you mean by that. I would say that I absolutely am, in that I believe that we are called as Christians to evangelize, to share the gospel with a world that needs good news, and to represent Jesus in a way that makes others want to know him. I believe we all need the light and hope and healing God offers as we often chase after things he never intended for us.
But if you mean evangelical as in the way that I vote or the way that I treat a certain demographic or the rules I adhere to concerning who is and isn’t welcome in this Christian club of ours, then I don’t think that I am an evangelical after all. (I’m not alone in shrugging off this title. I recently signed this evangelical statement against Trump’s campaign. Even Russell Moore recently wrote about how this election cycle has him hesitant to self-describe as an evangelical.)
So am I an evangelical? I say yes. You might say no. And that’s why I’m going to ask for clarification the next time someone asks me where I set up camp.
Please, don’t think I’m being snarky here. I understand that theology and stances matter, especially coming from someone who might be inviting me to speak at their conference or partner with their organization on a writing project. I get that you might need to check some things with me. I am more than happy to offer answers toward that end. But I don't think labels serve us well or offer the clarity we want.
The second reason this discussion is curious to me is that none of my recent stances or posts are anything new. I haven’t voiced them, but I have believed them long before going public. Nothing is new here, except for my decision to be vocal on less than safe topics.
So if you felt like I was acceptable or well-reasoned or worth reading before, well, then that’s still me. Nothing has changed there. If you thought I was a woman of God, seeking his wisdom through a regular rhythm of scripture reading, prayer, and worship, none of that is different. (If anything, I'm spending more meaningful time in those practices now.) If you felt like I was adept at expressing why the inclusion of people with disabilities and mental illness in the church isn’t just a social issue but is one that is tied to the very essence of what we believe about Christ and whether or not we treat his words like they are really true, I’m still that person.
I get that I have outed myself as not aligning myself with some people’s versions of what Christianity is, of how Christians should vote, of who Christians should love, of what Christians should say about race, and of how Christians should treat the LGBTQ+ community, but I believed all those things before. Reading between the lines of my posts, you’ll see that. If you look into my friends, you’ll see that. If you ask my neighbors, you’d know that.
I haven’t hidden my beliefs completely, but I held them quietly. I did it out of fear, out of privilege, out of a desire to not rock the boat for the church I used to attend and the ministry for which I used to work, out of the intent to speak to the broadest groups of Christians with a message of inclusion for people with disabilities… but I’m done being quiet. I’m done standing by when I see people justify, invoking Christ’s name, stances that I oppose because of my Christian faith. I’m done being a white Christian who, in the words of Jim Wallis, embraces being white more than being Christian. I’m done shrinking to make others more comfortable and to avoid controversy. I’m done saying this doesn’t affect me, because as a member of humanity, it does.
I can handle disagreements. I can take questions. I’m even okay with criticism.
But this is me, and it’s always been me. So, please, don’t try to back me into a neat box or tidy category. I don’t think it works when we try to do that to God, shaping him in our image instead of seeing everyone as crafted in his. And I don’t think setting up divisions and persisting in who’s-in-and-who’s-out thinking serves Christ or his church well.
Since my first political post went semi-viral around the same time that we switched from a Southern Baptist church to a United Methodist one, the backlash from all sides has been a little overwhelming. My conservative friends (and strangers) have said that I'm not one of them anymore, while my progressive friends are ready to welcome me in open arms to their side. Meanwhile, I'm not comfortable with either, nor am I convinced that we do the church any good by dividing ourselves into such dichotomous camps. Some real fallout has occurred in relationships and opportunities, but I don't regret anything I've written or said.
This is me. Someone recently suggested that I was trying to be the next Jen Hatmaker or Rachel Held Evans, but that’s not true or fair (though I have been moved by the words of both of those fabulous women). I’m simply trying to be the most honest and authentic Shannon Dingle as I can be as I follow the one true God who has transformed and continues to transform my heart to be more like his.
I love Jesus, and I love people. That’s enough labeling for me.