I got a heartbreaking email today. I know it is sincere. I know it is well meant. I know it is representative of a large group of today’s United Methodist believers. What I believe… let me reiterate, it is my belief… is that it is an opinion grounded in fear rather than faith, in exclusion rather than inclusion, and in judgement rather than grace. Do I hear the deep concern? Do I hear a perceived problem? Do I understand the criticism? I hope so. I don’t want to hurt or offend anyone. I want a church based in love, grace, mercy, forgiveness, and justice. It breaks my heart when what I advocate is seen as sinful and wrong.
I wrote a blog a few days ago sharing an experience I had at the School of Congregational Development, (How To Get in Trouble Without Really Trying). One of the issues raised was that of evolution and the compatibility of science and religion. A young pastor wrote me this email (sections shared) expressing concern over my answers to the woman who challenged me on my thoughts. I share her concerns and comment on three main points:
“What are you trying to do? There is no way that Darwinism can be reconciled with Christianity. If the Bible is true, Darwin is wrong. If Darwin is true, the Bible is wrong. You must take a side. Your blog takes a side. You believe in evolution, therefore you do not believe in God. You are either:
There are no other options. One pastor has written trying to say this and you have not responded to his issues. You are an ordained pastor. How can you promote an unBiblical and unChristian premise as true and call yourself a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ?
Do you believe in God? Do you believe in miracles? Do you believe that our faith has any validity and truth? I look at the things you say, and I believe you want good for people and for the church, but I do not get the impression you really knowGod. It is vitally important that Christian leaders exemplify the highest Christian ideals. You are corrupting the gospel — accommodating the world to compromise the Word of God to make people more comfortable. This is a pathway to hell, not redemption.
The church cannot give in to the values of the world. The church must lead, not follow. We cannot be a people of science. We must be a people of faith. We cannot be a people of the secular culture. We must be a people who offer a better option. We cannot be deceived by every new fad and theory and popular idea. We must defend eternal truth. I know you think you are doing good, but you are doing incredible damage. Everyone who listens to what you say is harmed. You speak and write well, but what you say is not good. We need to speak truth, and we need to make the church safe against all the forces that work to destroy it. My appeal to you is to work to make our church safe, and not to continue to make it weak. Don’t confuse people. Speak truth, or, please, don’t speak at all.
I hope this woman is not right. I absolutely hate it that anyone thinks that what I do is negative, damaging or unChristian. However, she does make some good points. But I am not sure that her answers are the only answers. Case in point:
- I do not believe that our world is clearly either/or. I am a both/and kind of guy. I actually am not a Darwinist. I think we have learned a lot since Darwin, and as a person of faith, I thank God for the revelations that have come to us through science. I believe that the human mind may be one of the greatest gifts to us from God. What the human mind can conceive is incredible. As we learn more and more, I believe we gain deeper insight into the incredible complexity of the creation of our God. I have little sympathy for or understanding of those who believe that human understanding is somehow a violation of the will of God.
- I agree that Christian leaders should exemplify the very best of beliefs and behaviors. But I believe that this includes what we learn from the physical sciences as well as the metaphysical. I don’t believe in a division between what God creates and what God does not create. My belief is that God is Lord of all. I believe that the Bible contains amazing and life changing truths. I also believe that the Bible contains outdated and provincial beliefs that no longer have validity for a rational and modern people. I cannot conceive of a defensible argument for slavery or the persecution and oppression of women, no matter what the Bible says. Ours is an incredible faith in formation. It has never been finished or complete, and it may never be — given the limitations of human beings to act like Jesus Christ.
- There is no greater advocate for the church as a counter-cultural alternative to the world than I am. I believe we should be better. I believe we should be brighter. I believe the church should exemplify the very best that human beings can possibly be. However, I believe that the best requires an integration of mind and spirit. I do not believe in an “anti-intellectual” faith. If our belief-system cannot support the best believing alongside the best thinking, then it isn’t a faith worth holding.
Obviously, I cannot understand what it is about what I am saying that is viewed as subversive or unfaithful. I’m okay with differences of opinion and disagreements about what might be true. What I struggle with are people who cannot allow for alternative points of view. I do understand that, if I am wrong, I am a danger and a threat, but I wouldn’t staunchly defend a position I didn’t believe in. (And this is the point the woman is trying to make.)
Belief is hard. Certainty is dangerous. Rigidity is painful. And judgment sucks. Being Christian is not easy, no matter how much we would like that to be true. I don’t want everyone to agree with me — how boring is that? But, oh, how I long for a church and a world where we can wrestle with these magnificent issues of faith without having to dismiss one another as evil, stupid, crazy, or deluded.