I was talking the other day with a person with whom I disagree on just about everything—theology, politics, women in ministry, faith and science, biblical interpretation, doubt, hell, homosexuality, you name it. We were in the awkward process of making peace after some lines had been crossed and feelings hurt, and as we got to know one another a little better in that conversation, we had the chance to share more about our personal journeys and how we came to see the world in the ways that we do.
As we talked, I realized how much I had wanted to assume this guy was just taking the easy way out, simply toeing the conservative party line and falling in step with what everyone around him believed. But as his story emerged, I learned that he too had wrestled with his beliefs, that they had a profound personal impact on his life and his relationships, and that these beliefs indeed came with a cost. I had assumed he had taken the easiest path when he hadn't.
It bothers me when people make the same careless assumptions about me.
Just yesterday I was warned by someone that my support for women in ministry and my inclusion of LGBT voices on the blog represented an effort “to be liked by other people and win the approval of the world.” I shook my head and released a sad laugh. This person had no idea how much hell I’ve taken from people in my evangelical community for writing about my doubts, my questions related to heaven and hell, my views on biblical interpretation and theology, and my support for women in ministry and other marginalized people in the Church. For believing that the earth is more than 6,000 years old, I’ve been called an idolatrous shrew who hates the Bible and has no business calling herself a Christian. I’ve been denied speaking and writing opportunities and banned from bookstores. I’ve wept as close friends slowly distanced themselves from me and well-meaning church people treated me like a project—someone to pray about, gossip about, and fix. Institutions that once welcomed me as a daughter have essentially disowned me. It’s nothing compared to what many other people experience in the Church, but it’s painful. And there are indeed many professors who have lost their jobs, pastors who have lost their congregations, and others who have lost their families and friends as a result of their evolving perspectives on faith. It's not a road you take because it's easy.
I don’t ask these questions and explore these issues because I want to be liked; I ask these questions and explore these issues because I want to believe what’s true. I want to do what’s right. I want my faith to make sense in both my heart and my head and I want to honor Jesus with my life, my words, my actions. You can dismiss my views as unfounded or wrongheaded or unbiblical, but dismissing my journey in arriving at them as simply “taking the easy way out” or “capitulating to culture” makes a lot of unfair assumptions about me and my story. It also underestimates the degree to which various religious communities can themselves function as subcultures, complete with expectations, economies, peer pressure, blacklists, marginalization, and spoken and unspoken rules.
I do the same thing to those with whom I disagree. I assumed this hard-core complementarian Calvinist was just going along with the majority, just making the easiest decisions, just bumbling along without considering the views or experiences of other people so that his safe little religious world would remain intact.
And I was wrong.
It simplifies things when we can write-off the thoughts and opinions of other people by assuming they’ve taken the easy way out, that they're just trying to be popular and liked. It’s oddly affirming to tell ourselves that we’re the ones living counter-culturally, we’re the ones taking all the risks for the truth, we’re the ones getting persecuted for our right and true beliefs.
And it’s a bit disconcerting to confront the reality that it’s possible to wrestle with the same God and walk with the same limp and yet reach different conclusions.
Perhaps it is in the wrestling itself that we can find some common ground.
Have you ever made assumptions about how someone arrived at their beliefs only to be proven wrong? Ever get tired of other people assuming you believe what you believe because it’s easy….when it’s not? How do we move past our own persecution complexes while also acknowledging the very real pain in one another's faith journeys?