Growing up I didn’t really know there were other kinds of churches. I knew there were Catholics. I guess there were Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses too, but they were kind of like a weird cousin. I sort of thought all the rest were roughly the same. Some churches had an organ and some churches had a rock band but they were otherwise pretty similar.
As a kid, I went to private Christian school. In high school, my extracurricular activities included church and church youth group. There was church twice on Sunday. I led a youth group on Tuesday, went to the Adult Bible Study on Wednesday, and my friend’s church youth group was on Thursday. Friday nights I hung out with the charismatics. They spoke in tongues, fell out, slain in the spirit type thing. It wasn’t really for me, but I tried to keep an open mind. One time they prayed over me to receive the gift of tongues. I opened my mouth, but only English came out.
Right now I suspect you’re thinking I must have been extra cool and popular in high school.
Side note, why can’t we have adult youth group? How come once you turn 23, church isn’t allowed to be fun anymore? Where is the ping pong table, dance style worship music and ten minute sermon? I feel like I have worked really hard and I deserve to go to church and have fun. Those kids really don’t know how good they have it.
I went on to attend a private Christian university. Liturgical worship was trending. It was new to me, at least, and everyone was acting like it was the latest and greatest. Vintage worship was a thing—the new old way of doing church. Communion was now to be called eucharist. Baptist churches rebranded as Reformed. But it was all basically still the same. We all read the Bible, prayed, abstained from everything fun and wanted to win the world for Jesus.
Fast forward to around the time of the 2016 election, “evangelical” became a buzzword. Suddenly, the media keeps talking about “white evangelicals” as a voter block. I’m looking around like, “What? Who? Me? No… you gotta be kidding! Wait, it is me, isn’t it?”
I’m pretty sure if your idea of a good time is church 6 times a week, you might be an evangelical… or Catholic.
If you’ve read some of my previous posts, you have probably guessed that I don’t fit the typical media profile of an evangelical. Three years ago, when Adam and I landed in a Methodist church, I learned that there is this other category of church called “mainline.” I fit right in.
The truth is, I have not been a very good evangelical for a while. I have quietly questioned most of the assumptions I had been taught. Many of my life experiences have just lead me to see things differently. Honestly, it created concern for me at times, that I might be losing my faith. What if at the end of this journey I wake up and realize there is no God, the Bible is a hoax and my life has no purpose?
I’m still on that journey of discovery. Who knows? I could find out tomorrow that I am completely wrong about everything and need to re-rethink everything again. And that’s ok. The questions, and sometimes lack of answers, have helped my faith grow and blossom.
As Christians, we talk a lot about trusting God and having faith. Except, it seems like when we are challenged with uncomfortable concepts, we get a wave of anxiety. That same fear that I might lose my faith, that someone I love might be corrupted and fall away or the one I personally face most often, the fear that my people might think I’m not a good Christian.
Like most Evangelicals, I was taught (at home, church, youth group, Christian school, etc.) that the Bible is “the supreme source of truth for Christian beliefs about living. Because it is inspired by God, it is truth without error.”* This can be hard for a thinking person when you really start digging into scripture.
My husband grew up fundamentalist Baptist. They taught him that if any part of scripture was found to be in question, then the whole thing would be considered suspect. It’s as though our faith is a delicate house of cards and one wrong move will knock it all down. That kind of thinking doesn’t exactly encourage an open dialogue.
Here’s the truth. I really enjoy studying scripture because it’s the story of God. I believe that God still speaks through the testimony of believers from centuries long ago. I’m a big fan. I want to know God. I believe the Bible is one of many ways to understand God, but no book or anything that we could hold in our two hands could perfectly represent the Word that spoke the universe into existence.
That’s why questions are so important. The book or the errors it may or may not have are not the problem. The shutdown of conversation and fear are the problem. I want to choose to believe not out of blind faith, but because of thoughtful reflection.
I’m not sure exactly when I started asking questions. Here are a couple that I have struggled with…
Can you question the virgin birth and still be a Christian?
I know this one was rough on my dad, but he did a good job of playing it cool. I didn’t deny that Jesus was born of a virgin… not exactly. I came home from college and explained that I had a Bible professor who said that Jesus wasn’t the only figure in history who was said to be born of a virgin. He said that if he found out that it wasn’t true, it wouldn’t greatly affect his faith.
Do I believe that Jesus’ mom, Mary, was a virgin until after he was born? I believe that God created all things, so this seems possible.
In that era, a virgin birth was a sign of deity, so it makes sense to me how the story might have started. I think I’m good either way. It’s in the Bible, and Christians have been reaffirming this idea for several centuries, so it doesn’t bother me to stick with it.
On the other hand, if Mary and Joseph conceived Jesus in the traditional way, I feel like God is plenty capable of working with that. Either way, he’s still Jesus.
As a side note, I’m no fan of venerating feminine virginity as pure and holy. Like abstaining from sex makes a woman better than, well, anyone else. That’s a prevalent mischaracterization of scripture. Read the Bible. You won’t find it in there. I promise. It also doesn’t say that women who have sex should be shamed. You see where I’m going with this? How a doctrine meant to illustrate the miracle of the incarnation has been used to oppress women? You get it. I’ll move on.
Can you believe that gay people can be Christians and still be a Christian?
Amy was my roommate. She had responded to my post about a room for rent on the seminary web site. By the time I suspected that she was struggling with being attracted women, we had already been through a lot together. I didn’t want that for her because I knew what a difficult road it would be, but I was going to be there for her. She was my best friend. Whatever the few obscure scripture references might have said didn’t seem to matter.
Coming out was definitely a process for Amy, and it wasn’t pretty. Her dad, who was also a pastor, called to ask me how I could be ok with it. I explained that I love Amy and that I’m going to support her no matter what.
The few verses in the Bible that talk about homosexuality didn’t seem to relate to my friend who loved God and just happened to also be a lesbian. I could easily find ways to explain why those didn’t apply, but that wasn’t important. My best friend was important. I could see that being her authentic self was going to cost a lot… dreams… relationships. I came to recognize she was better for it, being honest about who she was and trusting God and me to accept her.
I stayed quiet about it because I was on staff at a church that wasn’t affirming. I suspected that if anyone knew I supported my gay best friend they would definitely think I wasn’t a Christian, much less suited to be a pastor.
When Amy got engaged she asked me to sing for her wedding. Of course I said, “Yes!” I thought for sure Pastor Densel would fire me when I told him. But he didn’t. He was very gracious and said something like, “You have to make that decision for yourself.” I didn’t post any pictures on social media. Just sang my little songs and supported my friend quietly in the background.
I was confident that many of my parishioners would disagree with my decision. How could they respect my voice from the pulpit if they knew what I really believed? Would they wonder if I was even a Christian anymore?
At this point if I were going to lose my faith, I think it would have happened by now. Hold on, let me check in with myself for a second…
Do I still long to experience more of the presence of the Divine Creator in my life? Yes. 100%
Do I still wholeheartedly desire to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ? I mean, it’s the best way to be, so why wouldn’t I?
Do I still enjoy belonging to a less than perfect group of likewise committed to Jesus folks? I mean, I wish my adult youth group idea would catch on, but otherwise I really love it.
I think I’m still a Christian.
The voice in my head still wonders what other people might think. Sounds silly to say it out loud, really.
I know I’m not the only one who worries about what other people will think. It’s part of human nature. We are relational beings. Religion gives a sense of belonging and community. That’s a powerful force and we shouldn’t be cavalier about the influence that we have over each other.
That’s why when you meet someone new most of us start with topics like job, kids, pets and the weather. Should the conversation wander into a risky topic, most of us take care with what we say. There’s this whole weird process we go through of trying to put people in categories and predicting which ones they fit in. Really, we just want to know, are they safe?
I think most of us, if we thought about it, want people to feel safe to share their heart. We just don’t do a good job of showing it. We get so concerned over what box they fit in, if they are “one of us” or “one of them,” that we forget. They want to know if they can trust you, too.
Here’s my advice: lead with curiosity.
The next time you find yourself in conversation that starts to get uncomfortable, try this: “I’m curious what that means to you.” You might want to prove your point, get defensive or just move on. That’s normal. Just relax and ask another open ended question. “That’s a different idea. Tell me more.”
Follow up with sincere empathy. “That’s interesting. I can imagine how your life experience has shaped your viewpoint.”
You don’t have an agenda here. You’re just really trying to know someone better and see things from their perspective.
As a bonus try, “Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me. I really appreciate knowing where you come from.”
That’s it. That’s how you can start to communicate safety.
We as people of faith need this kind of communication. I don’t think we realize how badly we need this. Church people have spent decades making it very unsafe for each other and for the rest of their community. We have a lot of making up to do.
We are living through a pivotal time in history. Not just because of the pandemic, but because God is moving. Struggle, change, the whole world feeling upside down—it feels overwhelming sometimes. These times when status quo might feel like chaos, are the perfect opportunity to pause. Reflect. Search. Question. Rest.
This is the time that we heal. Right now is our opportunity to grow and find God’s grace fresh and new. So don’t be afraid of the questions. We may not know the answers, but we can be confident, knowing that God will go with us on the journey.
*I pulled this from Life Church’s web site: https://www.life.church/who-we-are/our-beliefs/