I want to first direct you all to Matt’s most recent post. Done reading? A few years ago, Matt, his wife Sara, as well as fellow blog-friends Mary, Jon, Cory and others were all students in Madison. At some point in all of our college careers, we were part of a large evangelical campus Christian group. This group’s main goal was to evangelize (convert) people on campus, and then disciple (train) them to become good Christians. I credit this group with a lot of stuff in my life. It helped me grow. It tore me down. It built me up. It produced severe doubts about my faith.
Here’s what I am really trying to express in this post — contradiction, confusion, a sense of no longer knowing what is right and wrong. A few years ago I was a person who fiercely defended what I believed to be right. I hope I was never a mean person, but I used to debate my newspaper friends about their lifestyles, beliefs, approaches to faith, etc. I would say things like, “God loves you infinitely and perfectly, but He doesn’t love that you underage drink.” And today, in March of 2006, I believe little of what I did back then to be important. I still believe in God, but probably not in the Bible the way many Christians do, as an inerrant document from which you can pick and choose phrases as they suit your arguments.
My relationship to faith and religion in the past few years is love-hate, black and white, completely gray and confusing as hell. I grew up in a world where discussing issues of the soul, faith, politics, inner issues wasn’t exactly the norm. I went to college and things changed a lot. Perhaps the world changed, people changed, but I can’t view things as black and white as before. I used to be so sure, perhaps because I was taught in church that it was very important to be sure about things of faith. Occasionally someone would speak in a positive light about “doubting” Thomas, but usually it seemed we were supposed to be take the Bible at what it said, love God, and do what was right. Perhaps I thought that if I had doubts that I would be that wierd person who didn’t fit in in church and therefore didn’t make friends with the cool church people.
What I have noticed lately is that a lot of people seem to be having a struggle related to Matt’s. So many people take issues with bits and pieces or big chunks of what they were taught as a child, yet still want an experience like church in their life. We want community, we want discussion, we want companionship, perhaps worship. But if the church is not a place where like-minded people with similar if not nearly identical beliefs gather, then what is it? Is it possible for the church to gather in all these stragglers, who can’t say they believe that the Bible is word-for-word true, or that all Hindus and Muslims are going to hell, but still want to be in that place? I understand completely that I could go to church. I am never going to be a “seeker” as we call people checking out the faith, and always somewhat of a cynic, but then I think, why go? If all I am going to do is judge everything that seems fundamentalist, why should I show up just to be disappointed? Then I think, maybe if I were to find a church with a lot of people like me, but that doesn’t exist, so I need to stop looking.
I grew up in a mega-church where there are a lot of amazing people and a lot of good things happening. I believe their priorities are generally in the right spot. There are many well-meaning, intelligent people there. However, I don’t really believe the same doctrine as their statement of faith. I crave authenticity and am not sure I want to involve myself in a place where I cannot express my real doubts about our society, the world, the church, the Bible without having people ridicule and disregard me. The ironic reason that I believe this will happen is because I know back a few years when I was quite zealous and caught up in “being a Christian,” that’s what I would have done with myself. I would have met me, figured out I had some issues with Christianity, and probably considered me someone not to be involved with. I know how judgemental I was (am?). I know that it’s hypocritical to say what I am saying, but I don’t know how the church works filled with people who believe their way is God’s way (the right way) and mix in a few people like me. If a church has a statement of faith and doctrines and things that they hold to that hold it together, how do you dissent from that and remain part of it?