Silencing Spiritual Warfare

Two weeks ago Jana and I were grateful attend the Why Christian? conference hosted by our friends Rachel Held Evans and Nadia Bolz-Weber. As a part of the conference I led a breakout session entitled "Exorcism 101: A Progressive Vision of the Devil, Demons and Spiritual Warfare" based on my recent book Reviving Old Scratch.

I was curious, and not a little apprehensive, about how the session would go.

I knew that the Why Christian? crowd was very progressive and liberal, drawing from mainline traditions to post-evangelicals, a group I knew would be very suspicious about any attempt to rehabilitate the notion of "spiritual warfare." Would anyone come to the session? What would the reception be like?

Well, the room was packed. And the reaction was strong and positive.

I think it helped that we took some time at the start to talk about all the worries, concerns and potential for abuse attendant to any talk about the devil or demons.

After logging all those concerns I went on to sketch out six reasons progressive Christians need to invest in a theology of spiritual warfare, from Jesus to what I called the "colonialism of disenchantment" to the "spiritual dimensions of justice work."

I concluded by sketching out the foundations of a progressive theology of spiritual warfare, drawing from the last part of Reviving Old Scratch.

During the session and after, there was a strong and emotional desire to have this conversation. That surprised me.

Let me highlight two comments from the session.

One attendee talked about how she believed in the devil and spiritual warfare but feared sharing those beliefs in her liberal, mainline church for fear of educated members of her church looking down on her, intellectually and theologically. That struck me, that people in progressive churches feel shamed for believing in the devil. As I mentioned during the session, the enchanted/disenchanted divide is one of the least talked about fractures running through our churches. It's not just about the devil, but about prayer, miracles and host of other things.

Toward the end of the session another attendee shared experiences of spiritual attack and oppression but, again, felt silenced in her liberal, progressive church, fearing that people would think she's crazy. She had tears in her eyes sharing the painful isolation she was experiencing in her church.

All because liberal and progressive Christians don't want to talk about the devil.

I guess what struck me about these comments was the shame and the pain happening in progressive, liberal churches due to the silencing when it comes to the devil.

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