The following was written for the weekly newsletter of the church where I serve, Country Club Congregational United Church of Christ.
I’m not sure when I was first condemned to hell for what I believed or didn’t believe, but it had at least happened by my college years. Despite the conservative religious world I grew up in, my parents taught me things like there was more than one way to interpret the Bible, women were equal to men and grace was more important than dogma. In my college years, I was still pretty conservative socially and religiously, but I had begun asking questions that others frowned upon. Pretty soon I began to enjoy the role of upsetting the sensibilities of others who claimed to have all the answers. It would take years for me to understand that my own religious views could be just as arrogant as those I disagreed with. Eventually, I grew to no longer care who thought I was a heretic or why; I learned that there were too many hurting people in the world who needed love to bother wasting my time on people who judged me.
At this point in my life I’ve found myself often in the role of being too liberal for conservative Christians and too conservative for liberal Christians. I’m considered too liberal by Christians who don’t like my universalistic views on salvation, my refusal to believe the Bible is the literal Word of God, my support of and acceptance of LGBT people and so on. Yet, liberal Christians tend to wonder why I still believe in the divinity of Jesus, the doctrine of the Trinity and the supernatural intervention of God in the natural realm. I guess I just can’t please everybody—and maybe I can’t completely please anybody.
During our recent new member orientation, I shared about the United Church of Christ and that the common joke is that UCC really stands for Unitarians Considering Christ. (Although I’m learning that in Kansas City it could just as easily be called Unity members Considering Christ.). Here at CCCUCC, I’m finding that nickname to be true for plenty of folks, just as I’ve found it true at other churches where I have served. So, as one heretic to another, let me reassure all you folks who doubt Jesus was God or who hold some other non-traditional belief, that I your minister am neither worried nor threatened by your beliefs. I don’t understand my role to be the doctrinal enforcer, rather I see my job as helping our community of heretics to grow in love of God and love of neighbor. Exactly what form that love takes in terms of specific religious beliefs is open for negotiation as far as I’m concerned.
In worship on Sunday mornings, I pray in the name of Jesus Christ and I often use language that equally interchanges God, Jesus and Spirit. I will pray in language that speaks of God somehow making a difference in our lives and bringing healing to our minds and bodies. BUT I will do all these things without the expectation that everyone in the sanctuary speak, think, sing and pray in the same way I do. I’ve come to the conclusion that just as my beliefs have changed over my life thus far they will change during the rest of my life. Since there are beliefs I hold today that I may not hold in the future, I have to admit that I cannot be certain what I believe about God is true or that it even makes complete sense. My beliefs are the best I have been able to cobble together thus far on my journey. I view everyone else’s beliefs the same way.
A good example of the mixture of religious belief I cling to comes when I try to describe what I think about Jesus. I’m fully aware the doctrine of the Trinity doesn’t make a whole lot of sense from a strictly rational perspective, but I have stubbornly clung to a belief in the divinity of Jesus—not because an external authority like scripture or tradition tells me to do so, but because I take comfort in the thought that God has experienced what it means to be human. When I look at the amount of suffering in our world, at least I can find solace in the thought that God has personally experienced that suffering too. It seems to help when I fail to find a good answer for why God allows such suffering to exist. So, if I’m honest, I’m forced to admit that what I believe about Jesus probably has more to do with my own personal existential struggles than any kind of objective proof. If I’m willing to admit that my beliefs come in large part out of my own experience, I have to allow for others to do the same.
Take heart all you heretics in the pews! When you hear me using religious language that resembles that of others who may judge you, please remember that all I’m doing is proclaiming my own faith perspective and I don’t expect or want you to agree with everything I believe. I suspect that you will challenge and shape my faith at least as much as I as your minister will shape yours. Even though it might be easier if we all believed the same thing and could live our life together without anyone changing, such a relationship sounds awfully boring. I’d rather have the exciting and at times difficult journey where we challenge each other to transform and grow. I hope you want that too.
Grace and Peace,