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I saw these two statements on twitter, that to me, were making the same point or at least a very similar point – although each worded it differently. Here they are:

“There is a form of Christian progressive culture that has been formed and led by people who were raised in Christian legalism. The doctrines these progressives espouse are different from their parents, but the spirit still seems mighty legalistic.” – Doug Bursch

MORALISTIC PHARISEE: I disregard you because you aren’t as virtuous, well-behaved, and doctrinaire as I am.
‘GRACE’ PHARISEE: I disregard you because you aren’t as kind, accepting, and inclusive as I am.
God help us all. – Scott Sauls

I agree with these statements, and have observed and experienced such things. The point here is not to label people or define what being a progressive vs conservative Christian entails. Instead the point is a broader one, that can apply to both “sides” – to all of us really. We should all be cautious about our attitudes. It is all too easy to become the thing you oppose.

Whether it is Christianity or politics or a moral issue, I have observed those on different “sides” of it – who are startlingly alike. Their beliefs may be different, even opposite, but certain problematic attitudes are the exact same. Things like… arrogance, unkindness, lack of empathy, harshness, dogmatism, contempt.

I’ve observed individuals flee from a dysfunctional type of Christianity or from a certain moral stance to the “other side” – and sometimes this makes the “convert” a better person. Having once been in the previous position, they are filled with understanding and grace towards those with the differing view. Or they are filled with vitriol and sadly become like what they fled. (I don’t want to over-simplify things, as I realize that if someone fled a harsh past that vitriol can be normal and it takes time to heal and move forward.)

The phrase “grace pharisee” could make some nervous. Grace is to abound, after all! With Jesus, it is grace upon grace! But things can get misused. For example, we can become proud of our humility – and that is a contradiction. We can serve but lack love (1 Corinthians 13). The apostle Paul emphasized grace, but clarified that it did not mean sin should abound (Romans 6).

I asked Scott Sauls to clarify a bit for me about his statement. He replied that: “It’s an attitude. All about being right and looking down on others with contempt. Luke 15:1-2.”

We can get proud about our rules -or- about our grace.

We can look down upon those we don’t think “keep the rules”  -or- look down upon those we don’t think are as “gracious” as we are.

While Christian legalism (moralistic pharisee) is more what I am familiar with in my past, in recent years I have indeed encountered the grace pharisee. I think this phrase nails it, but should perhaps be used with some caution or explanation.

While I don’t think anyone in my denomination reads my blog, there has been some overt grace pharisee-ism going on recently. The denomination upheld and reaffirmed traditional views on sexuality, and those with traditional views have been terribly misconstrued, misrepresented, and treated with contempt. To be quite frank, the grace pharisee description nails it for some of the things I have observed. “I disregard you because you aren’t as kind, accepting, and inclusive as I am.” ….Yep.

But again, we should all be cautious about our attitudes. God help us all.

Related thoughts in posts to come…

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