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How This ‘Progressive Christian' Found Her Way Back Home

The Line of Fire / Dr. Michael Brown
The Truth Network Radio
April 6, 2023 11:54 pm

How This ‘Progressive Christian' Found Her Way Back Home

The Line of Fire / Dr. Michael Brown

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The following program is recorded content created by the Truth Network. Our host, Dr. Michael Brown. I have really been looking forward to this conversation today.

This is Michael Brown, your voice for moral sanity and spiritual clarity. Our goal today is to infuse you with faith and truth and courage to help you stand strong in the Lord. And I'm going to be speaking today with Beth Kaplan.

We recently got back in touch after knowing each other online in the friendliest way. We were on very different sides of issues. When she reached out to me, oh, a few weeks back, I was just thrilled to read what God had done in her life. So you're going to find this really, really interesting.

Maybe you got a family member, a friend who identifies as a progressive Christian or a liberal Christian or someone who used to believe as we might and now has, quote, deconstructed. I think you'll find this conversation today really, really interesting. A little later, I'll take calls on other questions you may want to talk about. But without further ado, I want to introduce to all of you, Beth Kaplan. Hey, Beth, thanks for joining us today on the broadcast. Yeah, thanks for having me. So this is the first time we actually have chatted. We've been emailing back and forth.

But this is the first time. So Beth, like me, you are of Jewish background. Were you raised in a religious Jewish home? Not at all, no. Kind of like how Anne Lamott described it, I was from more of a lox and bagel Jewish family than a religious family.

Got it. So it didn't have like a strong hold in your thinking about God or stuff like that? No, we were Jewish in a very cultural sense. We observed Hanukkah, Passover, the major holidays. But for the most part, my observance was limited to occasional Shabbat services and getting presents on Hanukkah. But for the most part, God was kind of irrelevant, really.

Got it. Yeah, and many American Jews would have similar background. Mine was slightly more religious than that, but not much more. So how is it that you then came to the Christian faith? That is a long story. I wrote a book about it, which is kind of embarrassing now, because I highly recommend not writing a memoir before your frontal lobe has finished developing in high school.

That was not the best idea. So I grew up in a very Catholic-centered area, so most of my best friends were Catholic, one of which grew up to actually be an ordained priest, the other was contemplating calling as a nun for a while. So they had a pretty big influence on me. I was allowed to, for some reason, participate in the local Christmas pageant where I was an angel, but for some reason I had a goal of always playing Mary.

I don't know why. So that was how I learned the Christmas hymn. It's probably the only reason today that I actually know the lyrics of those. I was, for some reason, very interested in the stories of saints and martyrdom, particularly Joan of Arc. I always kind of credit her as being the person who initially started to lead me to Christ. I guess because I was about the same age that she was when I first started becoming interested in faith. I was the same age that she started hearing voices, so she was someone my age that I could actually relate to.

So I read books about her, I started reading books about other saints, I would smuggle these from the library, hide them under my mattress the way a lot of teenage boys would hide their playboys. This is like contraband at my house, right? Because this is just going beyond your place. You can read about these people, you can appreciate them, you can respect their faith, but you have to know where you come from. Right, so even for a cultural Jew, that's them. That's not us.

We're Jews. All right, so teenager, you have this interest, and then at a certain point, you become a follower of Jesus. At least, as you understood, this is the steps you were taking. Yeah, I did not actually make that leap until college. I think I was always kind of fascinated in a look but don't touch sort of way.

Jesus was kind of like that bad boy next door, like you're not supposed to talk to him, you don't want you to be with him. So it wasn't really until college that I had this sense of independence, living away from my family for the first time, that I felt like I could actually make these independent choices on my own. I started getting involved with Campus Crusade for Christ. And, you know, I guess it's funny because, you know, my faith has kind of flip flopped over the years, I started like really conservative with that fresh deal of a new convert, I was really excited. And then there was that, you know, foray into progressivism as I kind of went through a period of deconstruction and doubt because life got really complicated, and now I resonate more with the person that I was in college when I first converted, so it's interesting how that all happened. But yeah, I would say that college was when I officially got saved, that was in the fall of 2008, so that's a pretty big chunk of my life at this point.

Got it. All right, so when you and I intersected, you were at that point in a different place, you were in a deconstruction journey, and I don't know if somebody pointed out to me, it came out of some Google alert, whatever, but you were quoting me, you were an Episcopalian writing for an atheist website, a friendly atheist, and really trashing my position as a trans hater and things like that. So I want to get to that in a moment, but how is it that you went on that journey where you became progressive and questioned many of the things you once held to, and people like me were looked at as the enemy? What prompted it? And just tell us about your own deconstruction journey.

Yeah, there's a lot of factors that went into that. So following college, I went to seminary. I went to Denver Seminary where I was there for about a year and a half. I started a Master's in Divinity.

I had this idea that I was going to be a chaplain, because really I just like the sound of Chaplain Kaplan. There's really no other reason for that. Are you serious? It does sound good, but okay, go ahead. It does.

Yes, that's the last thing that I ultimately would not even keep. So I went there. I didn't actually put a whole lot of thought into what I was going to do with my life. I think I just thought that as long as I'm in school that I can kind of take some time to think about my life and what I want to do.

I don't have to make any plans yet. So I moved out to Colorado and I was going there, and it was great for the first semester. And then about at the end of my first year, studying the Bible brought up all these questions and doubts that I never had before. And so I would bring these up in class and just get shut down by other people, other students. The professors were gracious, I will say that, but the other students just really needed a very uncomfortable environment to have questions. These are people who had been Christian their whole life.

I kind of got the impression that they'd never really interacted with people from other backgrounds before. So to be partially put down for having questions like, how can we trust the Bible? How can we trust the Gospels?

What about the fact that these manuscripts have been copied and translated so many times? Things I hadn't really thought about before. It really kind of put a bad taste in my mouth.

Is this what it means to be a Christian, that I'm not allowed to ever question or have doubts? And it kind of spiraled on from there. There were some personal things happening in my life too. My father had a resurgence of cancer.

He'd been struggling with it for a good deal of my childhood, but it was during seminary that he really took a turn for the worse. So there was one particular day that my mom called, scheduled for a surgery. There were complications and they were not expecting him to ever wake up. So she booked me a flight that very day. I was calling every single person that I knew who could possibly give me a ride to the airport. And I was really devastated. Not that I couldn't get a ride because it was last minute.

I understand that. But the fact that nobody followed up with me. They didn't call or text me back just to find out what was the emergency. How can I pray for you?

Is there anything else I can do? And it just kind of made me think, wow, these people, they claim to love Christ, but they're just really hypocritical. They don't care about other Christians. And I started to get really angry about that. It just kind of worsened the crisis of faith that had already started. And so I went home. My dad was OK then, but just barely. So I went back to Colorado.

This was my family's in Ohio. So I spent some time in Ohio and then eventually I went back to Colorado and I just couldn't finish my last semester. It was just way too hard. I had way too many questions.

That was also the year that I started drinking and I was a struggling alcoholic for several years after that. You know, which having that effect, your thinking also is not great for producing clarity. So there were just so many things that were factoring into this process and it just made me really angry, really bitter. And, you know, like, misery loves company. I wanted to be in the presence of other people who could fuel that for me.

Interesting. Because Christians, you know, they're people who focused on hope and, you know, trusting God. And that was with your problems.

And that was just not where I was anymore. So, yeah, what's interesting and I want to come to in a minute is that you didn't become an atheist entirely or leave the faith. You went to a different version of the faith, which in many ways is not the faith at all. But, you know, Beth, as you refer to your history, I've actually been a visiting professor at Denver Seminary, know some of the profs there.

And they do love the Lord and they're folks that you could sit and talk with. But it's unfortunate that many times in our conservative Christian circles, the moment you raise a question, you become the enemy. As opposed to, I urge everyone, we should have an environment where we welcome the questions, especially ones we've never heard before. Like, that's a good question.

I never thought of that. Let's dig and get some answers together. There's no reason for us to be insecure or hostile. But, you know, the three different things that you just speak of here, they all happen in your life at the same time in this period of months and years. Often people experience one of these three things. So one is the intellectual doubts and this feeling of being stifled in your quest for truth.

There is something being hidden, something I'm not told. The second is personal disappointment with other Christians, right? That you get hurt by the church or by a leader. And then the third is personal sin. And personal sin and loving the Lord with all your heart don't go hand in hand. You know, there's the old saying, either sin will keep you from the Bible in prayer or prayer in the Bible will keep you from sin.

So all three of those streams coalesce in your life at the same time. And we've got a break coming up here in a moment, so I don't want to introduce new questions. But when we come back, friends, I want to ask Beth the obvious question of, okay, why didn't you just leave the Christian faith entirely and say the whole thing is bogus? Why become, quote, a progressive Christian? And then how did Beth at that time see people like me?

And many of you listening to the broadcast of Like Heart and Like Mind on cultural issues and social issues and things like that, how were people like me viewed? So we'll get into this. And then, of course, the reason Beth's on the air with me today is not to have a debate about these things, but because after deconstructing, by the grace of God, she has reconstructed.

And I've got to tell you, when I follow her on Facebook now, when I read some of her blogs, they're so Christ-centered and Jesus-exalting and biblically sound, I just smile as I read them. So we're going to find out about that transformation. When we come back first, there's an important word from our sponsor.

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That's their number to call. All right, so by the way, the questions I'm asking Beth now, I know a smidgen of the answers. Most of what I'm asking, I'm finding out the answers for the first time. So Beth, you've been very candid sharing about your journey. So my next big question is, why didn't you just leave Christianity entirely if you're questioning the veracity of the New Testament, if you've been hurt, disappointed by other Christians, if you've got some sin problems, you know, alcohol in your own life. Why just walk away from God and this whole thing entirely? How did you end up, quote, a progressive Christian?

That's a very good question. Really, I guess you can just sort of chalk that up to God. I mean, just refusing to let go of me, I think that is a huge piece of this. But also, I think, you know, my whole life, even before becoming a Christian, even when I was still trying to be a good Jew in my childhood, I always believed in God. I think I held that the creation of the world, of the universe, it just could not have happened by accident. I think I always held that intention with Christianity, or whatever, I was doubting Christianity. You know, I always believed, like many people say, and many in my family will say this too, that there's quote-unquote something out there, they just don't know what it is.

So that always seemed very obvious to me, and I always held that separately. So really, I just don't think I was ever capable of being an atheist, personally. But yeah, you know, I just went through a period of wondering, like, well, you know, there is a God, but I don't know if Christianity is true. But then, probably thanks to social media, you know, you've got people like Rachel Held Evans, like the Bible scholar Peter Enns, I discovered these people on Twitter, and I don't want to say that they made doubt look cool, necessarily. I know, you know, that did kind of become a thing at some point. But they at least kind of made it possible to still be a Christian and have questions, and at the time, they were the only Christian people that I knew that kind of modeled that in a way that I could kind of understand, that I could grasp onto, that still made Christianity, I guess, plausible for me. Yeah, so now you're smart, you're enlightened, you're among the good people, not these fundamentalist bigots and closed-minded religious fanatics. Yeah, you know, I guess I can say honestly, like, now I would not have admitted it back then, but in hindsight, you know, when I encountered people like you, there was a certainty there that I was just frankly jealous of.

Yeah. And you had something that I wanted, and the best way to cope with that was just to lash out. And that is so fascinating to hear that.

Wow. Because you'd never get that, you know, reading what you had written back then, that there was even something hidden there. I always remind folks, you know, let's say, for example, I'm dealing with a gay activist and this person is angry with me and hateful. Often I think, you know, behind that anger and hatred is a lot of pain, and they felt either personally hurt by me or the church or God, so they're lashing out. It's nothing personal. I want to look beyond that and say, okay, there's pain there, how can I help minister to that pain? But anyway, I encounter you with blogging on the Friendly Atheist website and attacking my writings and attacking me. I'm a transphobe and homophobe, want to eradicate transgender people. So how did you end up writing for Friendly Atheist, and who was I to you, or what did I represent to you back then? So it's funny how that came about. I started freelance writing from home when I was still in seminary.

And then as my dad got really sick and I needed a job that would allow me some flexibility, I was able to take care of him and still earn money and plan a wedding at the same time. So again. And then I'm not exactly sure how he heard of me, but Hemet, the owner of the Friendly Atheist website, he contacted me and said that he wanted me to write for him as a Christian. So, you know, whether I was actually representing Christ well or not, you know, that's a whole other thing. But he at least knew me as someone who still professed Christianity to a degree. So at the time, I really respected him for just being willing to have someone use that label on his website. I mean, obviously it's called Friendly Atheist, but you would not expect that there would be someone professing any kind of belief in God.

And now, obviously, I could not do the writing that I was doing at the time. I think that he wanted to show a show of good faith, you know, that he's living up to the name Friendly Atheist by hosting a Christian on his face. Not everybody liked me. I have to say, you know, even taking the very liberal stances that I did, there were still plenty of readers who resented my presence on the site just because I was not an atheist.

Interesting. So, you know, I was still ruffling feathers, but, like, many of the same reasons that I do now. It's funny, like, no matter what type of Christian you proclaim to be, like, there's still just going to be some people that are offended. Yeah, that's going to happen. The key thing is, let it be because of Jesus, not because of us. You know, I tell people, listen, that person was your friend until they found out about your beliefs. Now they hate you, they're hostile towards you. It's not because you're a jerk or you're mean.

I mean, if we are jerks, I mean, let's take responsibility for it, but if suddenly someone turns on you for the faith, okay, it's for the Lord. It's about Him. I'm just going to read, we have been laughing about this, so this is not the woman I'm speaking with today. This is the woman who was, and we're going to, I'm just going to give a couple of quotes that you'll smile as I do. But this is when I wrote an article taking issue with what you had said, and when I was talking about transgender activism in the schools and things like that, and then your response.

So, let's see. I've written, last week I encouraged Christian parents in California who had children in public schools to defy the law and pull their kids from the state's extreme sex ed curriculum. How did the friendly atheist resident Episcopalian blogger respond? So, according to Sarah Beth Kaplan, I want these parents to teach, quote, their kids that transgender people don't exist.

And then she added, this is just faith-based, hate-fueled, fear-mongering, it's the only subject in which Michael Brown is an expert. We've got two minutes before the break, but did you really see me like that? Was it? I mean, I was really the enemy, I was really a bad guy. Um, yeah. I mean, I was involved in a lot of progressive circles by that point, private Facebook groups and Twitter hashtags, so that was the party line, and I honestly, I wasn't really thinking too much about it.

I just knew that this is what people say makes them feel unloved, and I'm a Christian, I'm all about love, so this is the line I have to take. Yeah, so you were very sincere in writing that. So, you know, I interacted, I challenged it, but then said, hey, let's come on the radio and we'll have a discussion. Little did I know that when your father came on the radio, it would be this discussion. And, boy, you know, I want to play a clip for you. Tell you what, Kai, let's just play, this is a pastor speaking at a Christian concert. I'm going to jump in at a certain point, but I want you to hear what he had to say.

Let's play it. He's saying, you can't drink. He says, I'm going to make wine at this party when we run out. They say, I'm going to be judgmental. I'm supposed to be judgmental. Jesus says you should not be judgmental.

Otherwise, you will be judged. They say that nobody of the same sex should ever get married. Jesus goes mute on this issue. Jesus says love is sacred. There's only one unforgivable sin. The sin against the Holy Spirit, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. And if you think preaching against love isn't blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, then I don't know what is.

When people love each other, break that up. That is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. And it's time for someone in church. I'm going to jump in there. So, Beth, I want your response.

We've got another real quick break. So here is a pastor saying that it is blasphemy of the Spirit to say that a same sex couple should not be together. And the only thing that's sacred is love. Of course, he puts words in Jesus' mouth that he never said. And that if people love each other, then you can't speak against that. That's the blasphemy of the Spirit. We'll get the current and real Beth's response to that when we come back.

And then the question everybody wants to know, how is it that Beth Kaplan went from deconstruction to reconstruction with a very beautiful expression of faith that can endure the hardest of times? We'll be right back. Hey, friends, this is Dr. Michael Brown. I want to invite you to join our support team.

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