The Cost

'Shoes on wire' photo (c) 2011, Andria - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

They say I’ve taken the easy way out.

They say I’ve given in to the culture in an effort to be welcomed and liked by my peers.  They tell me I’ve counted the cost of following Jesus and considered it too much, so I’ve jumped on the liberal bandwagon— embracing evolution, feminism, LGBT equality, and theological views that veer from the evangelical norm — because it’s the easy, convenient thing to do.  

And I want to shake their shoulders and ask, What culture do you think I came from? Who do you think are my peers? This church, this community, was once my whole world until it took the questions I offered with trembling hands and smashed them against the wall.  How dare you say I took the easy way out when these questions have cost me relationships, reputation, status, and security?  How dare you say I took the easy way out when this path has been so lonely and treacherous? 

There has been a cost: Professors who once beamed with pride at my writing chastise me for not devoting myself to worthier female vocations. A community that once celebrated and encouraged my gifts has asked me to keep my distance. I am the subject of gossip in the grocery store aisle and a topic for critical discussion in Sunday school. Friends have compared me to an addict and told me they need to step away. 

Oh, this has come with a cost. 

Even so, mine has been a relatively easy journey. My parents are  supportive and I have many faithful friends. I’ve found success and solidarity in my writing, and my husband has never left my side. But there are science teachers who have lost their jobs for teaching that the earth is more than 6,000 years old and biblical scholars who have been labeled heretics for suggesting Genesis 1 is not a scientific text. There are teenagers who have faced homelessness after coming out to their parents, and parents who have faced excommunication from their church for standing by their gay kids. I know women who can remember the way their hearts sank when a row of men stood up and left when they approached the podium to speak. I know writers who have lost book deals and pastors who have been run out of town. 

We aren't “giving in” to the culture; our culture is evangelical Christianity. We're struggling with that culture, and doing so comes with a cost. 

***

You're the ones taking the easy way out.

That's what I tell my detractors.

You're the ones who have given in to the culture in an effort to be welcomed and liked by your peers.

I convince myself that the people with whom I disagree hold their convictions because they haven’t really thought them through or because they're afraid to challenge the status quo. They've chosen willful ignorance over thoughtful inquiry, I say, the safety of fundamentalism over the risk of inclusive love.  They've counted the cost of really following Jesus and considered it too much.  They're the ones taking the easy way out, not  me. 

And I get to feel all vindicated and righteous for about seven minutes before the weight of the log in my eye starts to pull my whole head down. 

Because the truth is, their convictions come with a cost too. 

It’s painful to see your beliefs mocked in the media and satirized on TV. There’s a cost to sticking with your values when they strike others as old-fashioned or strange.  It hurts like hell to be the butt of jokes at your office or called a "bigot" or "extremist" on your college campus when nothing could be further from the truth. It takes guts to raise your hand and challenge the professor in a secular classroom or walk away from a compromising situation when it may mean damaging relationships that have been hard-won. And it's got to sting to be called a fundamentalist by other Christians (like me) when you're just trying to do the right thing and do it in love. It must hurt to be subjected to the rolled eyes and the know-it-all attitude we progressive-types can conjure as well as anybody. 

I have made assumptions about my brothers and sisters in the faith, only to learn that they too have struggled through big questions, they've just arrived at different answers. I’ve spoken with twenty-somethings whose families ridiculed them when they came to Christianity and with women whose professors sneered at them when they challenged feminist teachings. Once, after I told someone he must certainly have never met a gay person in his life, he responded that his ex-wife was a lesbian and he struggles with how to raise his children with her in a gracious and loving way.

How little I know of other people’s stories. How swift I am to judge based on where we met in the path without bothering to ask where they've come from.

***

I’ve been thinking….

We fight like brothers and sister because we are. We've all been adopted into God’s family. 

Maybe we don’t have to change each other’s minds to lighten one another’s load by not assuming motives, by giving each other the benefit of the doubt that we arrived at our beliefs through honest searching.  

There’s a cost to every conviction.  

What mine have cost me may be different than what yours have cost you, but the sense of loss is the same.  And so is the hope that comes with breaking bread together in spite of our theological and political differences and settling into the sweet certainty that following Jesus doesn’t have to cost this.  It doesn’t have to cost our love for one another.

Not if we don't want it to.

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