Nadia Bolz-Weber is ordained in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), a fast declining liberal Mainline Protestant denomination. Heavily tattooed and often obscene, she’s different from typical Mainline clerics. Formerly pastor of a small Denver church she founded, she’s a fairly popular writer and speaker. Wikipedia calls her a “public theologian.” Ostensibly her vulgarity makes her more authentic.
Perhaps she was being authentic when she recently tweeted to her 93,000 followers a pic of her middle finger aimed at a metro Denver bakery, declaring: “My 12-step program is next door to Masterpiece Cake Shop (of anti-gay fame) so as an act of resistance I always I always choose to take up their best parking places. It’s the little things…”
Masterpiece is owned by Jack Phillips, an Evangelical Christian who in 2013 declined to bake a cake for a same sex rite, which led to five years of harassment by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in litigation would have destroyed his business but for the help of Alliance Defending Freedom, which took his case to the U.S. Supreme Court. In a 7-2 ruling in 2018, the court ruled for him, judging the human rights commission had disdained his religious beliefs as protected by the First Amendment.
Evidently Bolz-Weber also disdains the baker’s religious beliefs and his rights to freedom of speech, which she rightly guards for herself and regrettably exploits for obscene and other dubious causes. That Philips is an Evangelical who upholds traditional marriage teaching makes him contemptible and an easy target for her and for much of secular culture.
Would Bolz-Weber have given her middle finger to Phillips if he were a Muslim upholding Islamic teaching? Or a Hindu? Doubtful. She likely portrays herself as a champion of non-Christian minorities even while ignoring their traditionalist views. Evangelicals in contrast are uniquely viewed as justified targets, especially when upholding historic Christian teaching on marriage.
Angry critics like Bolz-Weber like to shame traditional Christians for not surrendering to secular demands, while forgetting that their own liberal Protestantism is itself a tiny and shrinking percentage of global Christianity. Her own liberal denomination didn’t liberalize its marriage teaching until about a decade ago, followed by accelerating membership decline.
Less than 5 percent of Americans belong to denominations with liberal sexual teachings. The percentage of global population belonging to sexually liberal religions is even smaller. Yet persons like Bolz-Weber, because they echo Western secular culture and its elites, presumptuously assume they speak from a majority perspective and owe no respect to Christian traditionalists.
Supposedly Bolz-Weber and other progressive religionists are advocates for minorities and underdogs. But they champion only politically correct underdogs and causes. Religious people who are despised and mocked by secular culture are likewise despised and mocked by Bolz-Weber and her kindred progressive spirits.
Purportedly Bolz-Weber is a brave nonconformist. But she’s not brave enough to defend the rights of unpopular persons. She presumably was just fine with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, with its levers of authority and coercion, demanding that Jack Phllips relinquish his freedom of speech. And she apparently was fine when the commission tried to browbeat him into submission and/or bankruptcy.
The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately had more respect for the humanity and basic rights of an isolated religious small business owner than did Bolz-Weber, the pastor/activist/advocate for the downtrodden who supposedly cares for the voiceless. Such is her contempt for Phillips and his small business that she tweets her middle finger aimed at him while noting she routinely uses one of his parking places, merely from spite. How very Christ-like.
According to her expletive-laden writings, Bolz-Weber wants to make room for non-conformists in Christianity. But she in turn evidently demands her own form of conformity and her own form of rigid orthodoxy, from which dissent is not respected. They who are insufficiently progressive merit a big middle finger and perhaps more.
Traditional Christianity created concepts of pluralism, tolerance and free speech in civil society in which individuals and organizations are protected from coercion by government or other actors. Under the First Amendment, nobody has to participate in a same-sex rite or any other ceremony.
But under the doctrine of progressive religion promoted by Bolz-Weber and others, including the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, conscience rights are not protected in civil society. There is instead the imposition of a rigid orthodoxy in which all must actively burn incense before the altars of progressivism or risk punishment.
Bolz-Weber sees herself as a rebel against dogma. But she is herself dogmatist. And it’s easy to picture her as a heavily tattooed Madam Dafarge, angrily knitting the names of despised counterrevolutionaries for when vengeance can be enacted. From this perspective, there is no grace, just fierce retribution.
To her credit, Bolz-Weber ultimately did delete her middle finger tweet against baker Jack Phillips, even if without explanation or apology. Maybe she realized she had gone too far for an ordained Christian pastor. Or maybe she prefers to await a later day for retribution. In the interim, is she still, as an “act of resistance,” always choosing to take the bakery’s “best parking places” when he visits her nearby 12-step program? Maybe her future tweets will reveal.
Meanwhile, Christians might ponder: might we expect better from a “public theologian?”