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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.

Final Thoughts

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.

How do you feel about God, the church, and modern religion?


This is the writings of:

Kate is wife to Ben and mommy to Bekah (6.5), Daniel (5), Jacob (3), and Nathan (1.5). She is passionate about God, health, and food. She has written 7 cookbooks and a popular book entitled A Practical Guide to Children's Health. She also recently released Healing With God's Earthly Gifts: Natural and Herbal Remedies, which teaches people to use natural remedies to keep their families healthy. When she's not blogging, she's in the kitchen, sewing, or homeschooling her children.

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26 Comments

  1. This post really resonated with me. We have been out of the church for several years now after a very painful experience. My kids are still active in the youth group but that’s really all. I really feel stuck trying to find a new “church home” and after the many bad experiences I have had, I just choose to teach my kids the best I can and live my life the best of my ability. I think there are going to be a lot of people who agree with you, and of course you will have people who won’t. You can only do what is best for you and your family.

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  2. Thank you for sharing. I have often struggled with church culture.

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  3. I agree with you completely. The weird thing is there seems to be a lot of Christians in this same boat. I can’t help but wonder why there are no churches for them. I always feel like an outsider in church.

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  4. I love this post. I describe myself as “currently unaffiliated” when it comes to religion. I was raised in a very religious family that was casually cruel to each other, not unlike the behavior of the members of the couple churches we went to. In my adulthood, I have been in and mostly out of churches. Most of my friends are very religious, several are Southern Baptists–they know that I am not in complete agreement with them on religious matters, and while we touch on religion in many of our conversations, we never delve too deeply into what my beliefs exactly are–they think I am an atheist, which is not accurate. I have been amused to hear that they whisper among themselves, amazed, that a heathen such as me can be as kind, loving, and moral as they are–and even more so–by their own admission. A happy, sweet, little old lady that lived near me growing up used to say to me that “God is love. Period.” That has resonated with me my entire life, and I try to bear that out.

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  5. I’ve been in this boat for years…and I’m sure I’m older than you. One of my very best friends is gay, and I had a hard time with it at first…till a “little voice” whispered, “it’s not your call to judge; just to love.” That’s the little voice, I think, that so many people have such a hard time hearing today. They’re too busy online, doing SOMETHING, doing NOTHING to pay attention to the people around them. I would truly love to go back to church (we left ours a little over a year ago due to some very nasty politics going on); but I don’t think there’s one out there that would welcome us with open arms and mean it.

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  6. Having been a Christian for a few years, I agree with so much of what you said. I saw “Christians” growing up, and I thought that if that was what it meant to be a Christian, why would I want to be that way? Having moved 4 times in 2 years, we found churches we liked, but we knew we wouldn’t be there long so we really didn’t get too involved. Now, we’ve been at a “mega church” for 2 years. I NEVER thought I’d like a church this big. There are multiple venues in which you pick what type of worship music you like and then watch the pastor on the screen. We have multiple “campuses” in different cities. Crazy. With an average attendance of 10,000 at all venues and campuses, I’ve never felt so connected! The teachings are from the Bible. I starting working there 8 months ago and LOVE it. It’s the most healthy place I’ve worked. They do a great job of connecting people, one of our pillars is Growth Groups (small home groups that are in the same “station in life”).

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  7. Great article–well thought out. I respect your honesty. I am bit of an odd duck in this area as well. I believe in the Christian GOD of the Bible, but the whole Jesus thing doesn’t make sense to me, so I can’t call myself a Christian (if I am following a literal definition.) I love the Old Testament, am down with the ten commandments, am good with the “eye for eye” approach, etc,.and I pray daily to the “GOD of the first half” as I call him, every day. But the New Testament has left me cold since I was a child, and I think part of the problem is the traditional artistic rendering of Jesus that one sees all the time. I was raised by pot-smoking hippies who sold drugs for a living, and they and their friends looked sort of like Jesus did. I loathed my upbringing, and so it is hard for me to see Jesus as a good guy, when he closely resembled the guy who was always stoned out of his mind at our kitchen table. Having said all of this, I am a big fan of Christians, and I think that most of them are wonderful people who add positively to society.

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  8. I don’t remember where I read this recently, but the basic gist was – what is the minimum belief to be a Christian? What do we mentally, spiritually etc hold on to that makes us a follower of Christ? So many things that we learn in church are extras. Abraham, David, Isaiah, the thief next to Jesus, all are granted eternal life with God, but what minimum is there? I don’t remember the author’s conclusion, but this blog post of yours posits some similar ideas. Love one another. Love God. Many issues will clarify if we can do this.

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  9. I came OUT of the church at 18 after years of being dragged to services and told I was going to hell. I don’t even try to go now because I can spot a hypocrite a mile away. What drives me nuts is that many people live like the devil until Sunday, then attend church like nothing ever happened.

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    • Kelly, I totally understand where you’re coming from because people have a huge power to hurt us. It drives me nuts to see people live that way too. Heck, it drives me nuts when I do it! It isn’t intentional, but I stumble and fall and have to get picked up, dusted off, and start over. I’m thankful for second and third and hundredth chances though! I beg you not to let others and their actions make the decision for what you do. If you know they’re hypocrites, actions not matching up to their words, then just discount them. Don’t let them drive you away from God.

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  10. Great post. I was raised Catholic and have attended a variety of churches since, but nothing ever worked for long, until I came to Seacoast Church when I moved to Charleston, SC. It is a large church with multiple campuses and an online presence, but I feel like I have a personal connection. No judgement, no legalism, the most important thing is love – love for you as an individual from God, love from you to everyone you meet. It is contemporary and is not affiliated with any denomination. The pastors deal with everyday and difficult issues openly and honestly (and with lots of humor). You can watch live online or access message archives if you like. (Google Seacoast Church and click on Church Online if you want to check it out.)

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  11. “Religion” is what Jesus came against when he walked this earth. He walked in love….that doesn’t mean he ignored the sin….he didn’t. He spoke to the person in love and told them the sin. Because of the way he spoke, they accepted. And I believe that he didn’t speak to everyone….he didn’t heal everyone. He was walking in the Holy Spirit, who lead him and guided him into all truths. If you look at the book of Acts, you get a glimpse of what “church” should be. They loved….they shared….they guided….they disciplined….they descipled…they where in one accord. One of the greatest tricks of the enemy is to get the Body of Christ in discord and division. It’s up to us as believers to live in the peace that Jesus came to give us. To live in the power and authority that was given to us. If we ask the Holy Spirit, he will guide us into all truth. I encourage all to read the Word for themselves and ask the Holy Spirit for revelation. Man will always we man, and we can’t follow or put our trust in anyone but Jesus. Keep on searching and seeking! Thanks for stepping out there into what could be a hostile environment! I pray for your boldness. Remember that no weapon formed against you shall prosper! Praise God!

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  12. Beautiful!! I too left the church long ago. My philosophy is simple. I believe in a higher power. I live my life like Jesus would want me to and I instill those values in my children. What happens at the end of a person’s life is between the individual and the higher power. No one else. We can’t really say what happens to us after we die because none of us have ever been there. Enjoy the here and now. Perform random acts of kindness. One does not need a certain building on a certain day with certain people to be a spiritual person. The end :)

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  13. I love what you said about the Bible being written by humans, edited by humans, etc. I’ve always wondered how we know the Bible is really the word of God. How do we know it wasn’t made up? How do we know the stories aren’t skewed to give a particular agenda? Did God really order the Old Testament genocides, or did the writers say He did to give themselves credibility? This is why I’ve decided to go into Biblical archaeology – I want to find the truth, and the only way to the truth is through facts, I think.

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  14. I can totally understand your frustration with church culture. My husband and I are a young married couple with a 1 year old daughter, and we too have had difficulty getting connected. All of the young couples are age are childless, and all of the people with children are usually 10 years older than us.

    The part of the post I’m confused about is the skepticism of the Bible. If you accept Jesus as your savior, I presume you base your opinion of Him on what is presented in the gospels. So are the gospels accurate? What if Jesus didn’t actually rise from the dead? What if he was actually sinful, and the authors conveniently left those parts out? I just don’t understand why you would accept as true the presentation of Jesus as he is in the gospels, but then question whether the other parts of the Bible are true. I’m not necessarily speaking to you, Kate, specifically, but anyone who thinks this way.

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  15. Kate,
    I love your site and reading your posts. I just feel like I need to say that it is possible to be confident that you are going to spend eternity with your Creator. He promises us this in the Bible. I know I will be with Him when I die because I am not depending on anything I have done to get me there. He has paid the price for us. All we have to do is believe. It can’t get any more amazing than that!
    If your curiosity is intrigued, then here is a link that explains the details:
    http://www.faithalone.org/tracts/ycbs.html

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  16. Another great post! I don’t “subscribe” to a religion or religions practices, though I do believe in a Higher Power, which I’ll often regret to as God. I no longer believe in the inscription of religion, primarily because of the disconnect between many’s words and actions. Despite humans being human, I also believe that there is much “hiding” behind religion or religious convictions as a way to harm is injure others.

    Nonetheless, I do strongly believe in certain things, have great morality, and think that loving with love forward (first) and acceptance are the way to go. I, periodically, find this to be my way to truth and peace. :)

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  17. Kate, I knew we had a lot in common, but I didn’t know how much. I too came from a Catholic background, struggled with my skepticism, married a protestant and church hopped and didn’t attend churches for years and then finally found my way home in a large non denominational church. Since then, we’ve moved a lot, struggled each time with finding a new home and found a variety of different churches that spoke to us in different places. Always with our moves, my biggest dread is the church search. It is so good to have a church home you love. Any way, I love everything you’ve said here :)

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  18. It took a lot of courage for you to write this article! I agree with a lot of what you shared, though not all. One thing that made me sad was that you said you feel more loving and accepting of others when you’re outside the church than when you’re in it. That bears some thinking about, maybe some discussion with others. It’s definitely an indictment against the church for its lack of love and acceptance. I’m not sure I feel the same, so it may be a matter of the people we’ve associated with… It’s a grave matter though.

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  19. […] The One About God, the Church, and Modern Religion […]

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  20. I’m so sorry you’ve gone through bad experiences with Christianity. I have gone through two churches that I didn’t feel a part of, but finally found a home church that I absolutely love!!! There is no judgment, no cliques, and everyone is so open and loving! I believe there are many churches out there like that, but unfortunately there are also churches that are the opposite. We as Christians should live to show people Gods love every single day. There are many hypocrites and judgmental, unloving “Christians” and one day they will have to account for their actions and words. We all fall short, we all judge at some point, we have all been hypocritical also, but that’s when Gods grace steps in and erases our mistakes. You and your sweet family will be in my prayers, I pray for clarity and peace for y’all and that you will find the perfect church you were meant to be a part of :)

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  21. Kate, thank you for your article that gets us thinking!
    God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are one, and we were all created by God, so we naturally have his moral code written on our hearts. Unfortunately, we also have our sin nature that turns away from him. Jesus is the only way to turn us back to his morals and love, and forgiveness of those sins, but it is a daily problem for each of us. No perfect people in this world thus no perfect churches. We do have his Word written for us that is perfect, that we can go to.

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  22. Hi Kate,

    I appreciate your post and it really resonates with me! The points you made about the Corinthian church was really good,creating a wonderful parallel on how “messed up” we all are. However, I’m confused on this one point you made:

    “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?”

    Do you believe the Bible contains errors? If so, why would you believe in Christianity, if we could be “pretty wrong” about parts of the Bible?

    Thanks!

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    • Hi Tara,

      I do trust the Bible, but I don’t necessarily trust peoples’ interpretations of the Bible. So I don’t always believe what “studies” say about it, or sermons, etc. I think people can (and do) choose to twist what the Bible actually says, whether accidentally or intentionally.

      Reply

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