Image by Ryan McDonald
Today’s post is both hard to write, and easy to write. I guess easy to write, but hard to share, really. I need to say these things…but I’m not sure how others will react to them.
An online friend had the guts to muse publicly about this sort of thing earlier in the week though, which is giving me the courage to finally say it all. What she said was, she believes in God and Jesus, but no longer considers herself a Christian.
The Church in My Life
I’m someone who never really accepts what I’m told. I don’t really follow, much less idolize, anyone. Never have. Thus, I like to study many different belief systems and ways of thinking, and people, before I make up my mind about anything. And I still scrutinize. I’d call myself a skeptic, but the meaning of that word has even become tainted. Too bad.
I came to the church when I was 18 years old. I was in a relationship with a guy (who, ironically, is now an atheist, as far as I know) who was uncomfortable with the fact that I wasn’t really a believer and wanted me to come to church with him. I agreed, and on Good Friday, we went.
That day the youth group was presenting the Stations of the Cross. After each, they explained in “real world terms” what each station meant. So much of what I had always believed about life, what jived with the issues I’d been wrestling with, was right there. It seemed that the modern church did, indeed, hold a place for me.
I became heavily involved with the church after that. I went weekly, I joined the choir, I began to teach PSR (this was a Catholic church; that was the faith I was raised in). When I met my husband, he was Protestant, and coming to an agreement about our faith and finding one church to raise our children in was a sticking point from very early in our relationship. We compared beliefs and found that we agreed on most things; it was only the religious traditions and celebrations that differed. Thus, we began to attend Protestant churches together (most of which had very rough Baptist roots, but are not like the Southern Baptist churches that are so iconic in Christianity).
Since getting married we’ve been in and out of churches – mostly in. We were in one church when we got married, and when the pastor left that church, we followed him to a couple other churches. They eventually started a home church, and we went, but felt like outsiders. All the other families were 10 or so years older than us, and our efforts to help or lead were often ignored. (In some cases they flat-out told us we weren’t old enough or experienced enough to step into any real role.)
We felt that they looked down on us and our abilities because we were so young (very early 20s). They remember it all differently, I’m sure – we tried less and less to connect so I would venture to think that it was our issue, for not trying harder. When they found out we’d tried out a new church, they stopped speaking to us. We’ve attempted to re-connect a few times but have been met with polite, distant replies and no interest in talking.
The new church we joined intrigued us and we jumped in with both feet. I did music sometimes, and my husband did the audio visual team regularly. I also volunteered in the children’s ministry and we joined a small group. We attempted to connect, but always felt like outsiders. Again, we stopped trying, and they stopped speaking to us, and after about five years, we left that church too.
I still wonder if it was our fault, because I know that they think it was. I know that some of them think that we were judging them for not being “alternative” like us; that I was holding up some measuring stick to see if they were as “good” as we were. Which I never was, not intentionally anyway. I know they think we didn’t try hard enough to get to know others or be a part of things. I’d say that it wasn’t a good fit all around.
For quite awhile after that, a year or more, we didn’t even go to church. We were too disillusioned with our experiences to make seeking a church a priority. I felt guilty when my Christian friends talked about going to church, or pointedly asked if we had been, or if we had found a new church home yet. I felt that we were failing to live up to our Christian lives by not being active in a church community. I felt…actively “not Christian enough” in some of their eyes, especially those who were sweet, well-put-together, patient, and very open about faith and their involvement in their churches. I’m sure that most of them were not judging me (although perhaps some were), but I still felt like I was failing.
During the time that I was out of church, and even since we’ve gone back to church (early in 2014; the new church is a bit radical honestly, in a good way), I’ve thought heavily about our experiences and about belief systems and life in general.
One Belief, One Truth
I find it harder and harder to accept the modern church – both the extremist views I encounter in certain sects (many of which I outright reject) and the experiences that I personally have had. Not that I consider myself blameless in my own experiences.
I have a lot of friends who hold different beliefs and live different ways. They are all good people. I have conservative atheist friends. I have liberal Christian friends. I have friends who defy all stereotypes. It’s given me the opportunity to see them for who they are instead of dividing them into groups, or considering them ‘in’ or ‘out’ depending on how much of my beliefs that they shared.
I used to feel…mildly stung when I found out someone wasn’t a Christian, or believed strongly differently about anything that was important to me. How could I be close to someone who opposed me on something I felt strongly about?
Turns out, quite easily.
I’ve come to love them for who they are, not what they represent or what they believe. I’ve come to see their value as humans instead of their value as a member of a particular group or system.
But what I have noticed, in the world, is that extremism usually leads to hate and intolerance. I don’t use those words lightly, because too many people these days use “hate” to be synonymous with “disagreement.” They really see a difference of opinion, respectfully stated, as outright hate. That’s beyond sad.
There is hate, though. There’s hate for extreme liberals/non-religious people. There’s hate for Christians. Each group feels persecuted. Neither group is, as much as they think they are.
The media’s pretty pro-liberal. But they’re also pretty pro-Christian. Just about every magazine I pick up features an interview with some celebrity, the majority of whom proclaim how important their faith was in their success and in who they are. Faith is mentioned, in some way, just about everywhere.
Still, those who are extreme on each side only see the bad in the “other side.” Never the good. And there’s good and bad in each.
Religion and Morality
This all begs the question…what is morality, really?
Christians believe that morality begins and ends with the Bible, and a staggering 53% of U.S. people in one survey said that you can’t be a good or moral person without a belief in the Bible.
I can’t reconcile that, even as a Christian. I can’t.
I believe morality comes from the Bible for many. I don’t think it’s the only source of morality.
I have some friends who are atheist, but who are very conservative in many ways and hate abortion (which I use because it’s a good example of a major issue between the two ‘sides’ here). This is in line with the beliefs many Christians hold; the only thing that differs is that the atheist doesn’t believe that these morals came from God. They hold the same values – no killing, no stealing, love and accept others – but these come from within, not from a higher power. Are they immoral?
In contrast, I have Christian friends, who profess in Jesus’ name, who are staunchly pro-choice (and hold some other beliefs that go against what most people believe the Bible says). Are they right, then, because they proclaim Jesus’ name? Even if their morals go against what the Bible says?
Morality is far more complicated than “The Bible.”
I’ve found, in fact, that some of my friends who do not profess a belief in the Bible are more accepting and more loving of others than those who do. I’ve found that I feel more accepting and more loving towards others when I’m outside the church than when I’m within. When our love and our faith and our light flows from within instead of from an external source (the Bible) things seem to be smoother.
Legalism VS Relationships
One major frustration I’ve found with some Christians is that they get caught up too easily in legalism. Should we circumcise our sons or did Jesus fulfill that law? Is it okay to eat pork and shellfish? Should women cover their hair or only wear skirts, or does it not matter? Is it Jesus or Yeshua? And if you call Him by the wrong name, are you going to Hell?
There are some pretty strong opinions out there on all of these topics. I’m not going to criticize anyone’s personal answer – I think if you pray on the topic and feel led a certain way, then that’s the way you should go. It’s not for me to get between you and God.
The problem lies, though, when people proclaim that one way is the answer, and they’re willing to throw down and speak unlovingly, or even downright harshly, towards those who disagree.
I know, the examples I gave aren’t completely clear in the Bible. There is no commandment saying “Women shalt only wear skirts.” Many Christians believe that these things are open to interpretation, as I do, and won’t condemn others for having different convictions.
Choose an issue that’s supposed to be fully clear in the Bible, though, and you’ll get a fully different response….
Homosexuality? Do I even dare go there? Suddenly the claws come out. The line is drawn, there are no two ways about it, it’s right or it’s wrong, and if you believe it’s wrong, then they are going to hell and it is up to you to explain this to them, condemn them, speak out however you possibly can to save them from themselves….
We forget so often that “the greatest commandment is love.”
It’s not for us to judge strangers. It’s not for us to place judgment over love. Our relationships with people should be paramount. Did Jesus ever call people out in an unloving manner? No!
If you believe the Bible and you believe homosexuality is wrong, then fine. But your first duty is to love and respect them as individuals created in God’s image. Let God deal with their hearts. I remember verses about “casting the first stone” and “removing the plank from your own eye” right now…because whether homosexuality is a sin or not, it’s not the worst sin (God judges all sin equally) and nobody is sinless. Why do we make it into this gigantic issue and ignore adultery?
I’m not giving my personal opinion on gay marriage because that will result in me getting attacked from both sides and that’s not really the point here. The point is, nothing should get in the way of loving people first.
People are Messed Up
We’re all messed up.
That can’t be helped. Whatever you believe about why that is, it’s true. The original sin caused man to fall in the Garden of Eden (or perhaps we just evolved to be screwed up and had crappy parents?) and so, we can’t help it. We say and do the wrong things. We hurt people.
The best thing we can do with our lives is get back to loving and accepting others. I personally feel like if I can feel love, gentleness, patience, and acceptance towards others, I can “be Jesus” to them (as much as a flawed human being ever can). I hope that they’ll know I believe in Jesus, and I hope they’ll see my efforts as a reflection of Him and wonder what’s so great about Him.
Even if they don’t, I will have treated them well and done what was right.
I can’t wrap my brain around a world where everyone proclaims to know the truth and everyone’s truth is different. In that world, most are doing good. Some are doing bad. All do some bad, even if inadvertently. “Truth” is out there in so many ways.
What I believe as truth is different than what my friends believe as truth, sometimes. But they are still good and lovely people. How do I cope with the idea that my truth is right, theirs is wrong, even if they’re possibly nicer and better than I am? Does being “right” make me better?
When we think that some people are better than others, we have entirely missed the point.
All people are flawed. All people have always been flawed. Look at all the examples in Corithians in the Bible – they were pretty darn messed up! Since there were Christians, people have always done wrong in the name of Christ.
That’s why I break free of much of the modern church. I want to live out what Jesus really stood for. I want to live out a life of love and respect for all people. I believe that Jesus’ message of love was simple the most important thing that He stood for – more than anything else he taught.
I know there are plenty who would argue with me. That I don’t understand the Bible. That I’m not preaching Truth. That I’m going to lead people astray.
If I take such a hard stance on any issue that I drive people away from Jesus, then I have done wrong. If I have loved them enough that they come to know Him, too, then I have done right, even if I’ve messed up a lot along the way.
Besides, the Bible was written by humans, the books in it were selected and edited by humans, translated by humans, and are interpreted by humans. Isn’t it possible that we could be pretty wrong about parts of it? I think that the leading in each person’s heart (so long as that leading isn’t to hurt others) is going to be more truth than any words that man has ever written.
Now that I’ve gone and made everyone out there angry and question my salvation, commitment to Christianity, and understanding of the Bible, I’ll just leave it here.
Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. I believe that. And I believe that the best way to know Him and bring others to Him is to love them as He would. To appreciate them each as God’s creation. To accept them and celebrate them for who they are. It’s only then, that they might trust me enough to ask, why Jesus? Why is Jesus so great?
Maybe I’ll never find my community of people who think like this. Maybe I already have it. Maybe I’ll die and God will say “I never knew you.” I don’t know. All I do know is that we’re all flawed, we can’t possibly know the truth for real and we’re best off loving others and praying like heck we’re getting it right.