Sunday, August 09, 2009

Christian... But Tainted...

I read a blog recently where a friend was stating his frustration with Christians. Though he is one himself, he recently had a Christian friend reject him because he had the "wrong" view on homosexuality.

This is a rampant problem in Christianity: the myth of having the right view. In most Christian circles, divergence of opinion is not tolerated. There are rarely friendly disagreements. This is because many Christians view someone of an opposing view as being "tainted". Claiming Christ, but having a wrong view makes you a dangerous individual. Your wrong view may be spread, or caught. You become a carrier of a very harmful virus. This is why there are tens of thousands of splits within the Christian faith. They all claim the same God, and will have some interaction, but overall they keep a safe distance lest any harmful views be catching.

This fear of catching something can be as subtle as just thinking oneself superior (more pure) or as obnoxious as working to violently stamp out all views but your own.

One of my more impactful run-ins with this phenomenon occurred last year. Most folks in my church who know me are aware of my lack of orthodoxy. To some my views are intriguing, to others comical, and a few are just glad that this non-christian is coming to church on a regular basis. :)

However, the following e-mail conversation started over a blog entry that a church member had read (I knew this blog would get me in trouble some day). I was commenting on a Mormon/Evangelical event I had attended, but clarified that I was neither Mormon nor Evangelical.

This was her email (name changed):

Andrew – I found it interesting that in your blog ... you said that you were neither Evangelical or Mormon. Can you clarify why you would not consider yourself an Evangelical?

I was not looking to offend or shock with my response, but here is my reply:

Hey Deb,

I kind of started to avoid the term Evangelical a few years back. It just didn't seem to fit as a descriptor anymore. Though the term is broad, it tends to focus on folks who have certain political and religious leanings. I started to notice it was easier to say I wasn't one and then find areas of commonality than it was to say I am an evangelical and then have to talk over various untrue assumptions.

But to be more specific:

Evangelical and Republican have been nearly interchangeable in the past few decades. Though I think some of those ties are starting to weaken, they are still two peas in a pod. I have been becoming less republican minded over the years, so I feel less "Evangelical".

Evangelicals tend to be very certain about things that I am rather agnostic about.

For example, I don't necessarily believe in a triune God. I think the Shema had it - “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!” As I read Paul, there are just too many times he sets up a hierarchy between Jesus and God. I don't see equality and interchangeability being presented in the New Testament. I think if I had never heard a trinitarian teaching prior, I would have been hard pressed to develop such a notion through scripture reading. Still, as I said, I am rather agnostic on this point. I am not sure what to make of it, so I am trying to keep my views limited to the ideas I see about Christ presented in Scripture.

Another place I would probably defy the definition is in my view of Biblical inerrancy. I don't believe the Bible is inerrant. I do believe it is the writings of people who encountered the True God in their time bound circumstance. I believe it is inspired. I believe God accepts it as a human reflection of him and as such speaks through it to draw men to Himself. It is the foundational cornerstone of my theology. I don't think that, as a Christian, I need to think any more of it than that.

My views of salvation are probably a little too fuzzy for an Evangelical definition. I would need pages to type my theses on this but, simply put, I see redemption much more as a God act than a man act. I think some of Paul's offerings of "this is how this may happen" in our hands have become "this is how this does happen". I think our present systems of salvation theory are much too limiting and do not let God be God.

To be clear, I love my Evangelical brothers and sisters, I just don't think the term fits me at the moment.

Not sure what ya might make of all of that so feel free to ask a follow-up.

Andrew Hackman

To which I got this reply:

Andrew –

Thanks for your thoughtful and honest reply. I like your ability to not just jump into the “Evangelical Box”.

I do however have concerns about your roles at [our church] and wonder if you would fill in some blanks for me. During the application/interview processes for joining the church plant team, joining [the church], becoming a Sunday School teacher, and/or a small group leader (don’t know if you have been or not), did anyone ask you if you believed in a Triune God or if you believed the Bible was inerrant or any other faith based questions?

I love your heart and your desire to learn and to grow, I just wonder if being in leadership roles in an “Evangelical” church is where you should be at this point in the process. I believe that we are all on a journey, just like you are, but I do think that Evangelical families attending an Evangelical church would expect that the leaders/teachers would at least believe the basics of their own faith. I believe that the Trinity and the inerrancy of the Bible are essential to the Christian faith.

I think there are a lot of roles that you can play at [our church] because of your strengths and your ability to think outside the box, but I would hope that as you are asked to fill different positions that include leading others, that you would let the [church] staff know where you stand on issues that are essential to their beliefs.

Just some thoughts for consideration.


While I was pondering this and how to "fill in the blanks", I got this follow up email:

Andrew, I felt it was in the best interest of [our church] to let [our pastor] know where you were at with all of this, so I forwarded your email to him, I believe he plans to talk with you.

I have a dozen thoughts on this event (ex: what makes certain beliefs essential... and essential to what?) and maybe will write on them one day, but today I want to deal with the "tainted-ness" that is communicated here.

I think the unspoken concern in her email was that I taught a Sunday school class (actually assisted) and her daughter happened to be in it (Kindergarten). I don't write the curriculum, I just implement it. There have been two occasions when I had a problem with what was being taught. I spoke with the directors about it, and since it wasn't seen my way, I just opted myself out when the occasion arose. Otherwise, I am doing the lesson as given to me. Even if I were tempted to go off script, I am not going to get into a theological discussion with a 6 year old.

I may be wrong in thinking those things would be obvious, but I am going to assume they were. So what was the real issue? I believe it is taintedness... other-ness.... Whatever I have could be catching, and we don't want our children or anyone impressionable to be around someone who doesn't hold the right views.

My church's stance on my teaching Sunday school was up for debate for a while, but never seemed to come to a decided conclusion. However, at that point I had kind of lost my taste for it anyway and bowed out at the end of the semester.

I share my friend's frustration with Christianity and the irritation at being rejected for having the "wrong" view. There are times when I get tempted to bag the whole thing.

But then I read the sayings of Jesus and his call to love God and our neighbors, to do good to those who harm us, to bring life .... and I think, "This is how I want to live!"

But the how is something I am still working on......


Redlefty said...

I'm with you brother -- thank you for not trying to wrap up this blog post with a bow on it. You acrruately reflected the fact that there are no easy solutions here.

When I first started adopting a less-Evangelistic, more-Universalist position, my wife's first response was "I will never allow you to teach this to our children." It just seems to be our protectionist instinct to avoid the taintedness you mentioned, no matter the cost.

To her credit, she got over that initial response and we've journeyed together beautifully since then. And what's interesting, after reflecting together, is that we've almost lost that instinct to fear and shun other viewpoints.

I'm also with you on the kids' curriculum -- my 4yo son played a bingo game today with the ten plagues! I'm picturing how in the world they did a gameshow atmosphere with something like the curse of death on firstborn sons. Hopefully my son's too young to realize that he's a firstborn son -- yikes!

Your email response in the blog post was excellent. I'd like to hear more of your thoughts on this, if it's been a full year since it happened.

Redlefty said...

p.s. -- you inspired me to check my own church's website for their "core beliefs", of which there is a list of 26!

I'm onboard with 10 of them. Yet I've preached twice this year. Go figure! I doubt there are 30 people in that church of 1,000 who actually agree on all 26 "essential" points.

Maybe the thousands of current denominations still aren't enough? ;)

curmudgeon said...

Andrew, I have complete empathy with what you are saying. It is funny how, with beliefs, there cannot be a fair exchange of ideas because beliefs are really more perception and emotion than fact. As a result they are easily threatened.
I often wonder how the conversation would go if those who asked to take my children to church with their families were granted permission if in exchange I could discuss my world view with their children in exchange.
What I do know is that I have ran into many people who like your example and Redlefty's example do not want alternative views shared with their children. To some extent I have been the same way.

Mystical Seeker said...

Despite the superficial cordiality of the email exchange that you reported, there is just something ominous and dark about your being subjected to heresy hunting and being reported to the pastor for daring to think outside of the box. Your story summarizes excellently so much of what is wrong with large segments of Christianity.

Christianity really went seriously wrong when it got wrapped up in creeds and dogma. It really is a shame that good and thinking people are driven away by this kind of crap.

Anonymous said...

I love it...I dare assume 99% of people in any church view 99% of issues differently. The problem is, it is through hashing out our differences that we find what we truly believe, and not just what we are told to believe. Thanks for standing out and standing up.

Tit for Tat said...

So I'd like to know where, you got the notion
said I'd like to know where, you got the notion

to rock the boat, don't rock the boat baby
rock the boat, don't tip the boat over
rock the boat, don't rock the boat baby
rock the boat-t-t-t-t

I got that message real clear as soon as I started asking questions. Suffice to say the love of Christ wasnt shared with me. ;)

Tit for Tat said...

I just finished listening with the wife. Hope it puts a smile on your face. :)

marianne Marty said...

Oh dear. . this is why I don't go to church anymore. Too many "Debs" out there. Do people that choose to give of their time and participate in church activities all have to believe the exact same way as EVERYONE in their church (according to the Debs)? Creepy.

Andrew said...

Red- I too have been loosing the "fear" of other viewpoints over the years. I think this has something to do with letting go of the need to control. Also, I was unclear whether you wanted to hear more on the topics in my letter, or my thoughts on hers?

Curmudgeon - I think that inability to have civil discussions of belief is because of our tendency to mislabel belief for fact. I think if we could distinguish better, we could listen easier.

Mystical - I put off writing this for a while cause I'd rather not use people I know in a critical light; but as you say, it encapsulates succinctly a very large problem that exists in Christianity.

Greg - I agree. I sometimes don't realize how strongly or weakly I feel about something until I have had a chance to say it outloud with input from others over a coffee or a few beers.

Tat - Too funny. The odd thing is that, overall, I really feel uncomfortable with contention... yet I do find myself stepping in it frequently for some reason.

Marianne - Comments like yours and some of my own experiences are really causing me to question the validity of church. Why do we do it? What need does it serve? Are we contriving needs in order to do it? Questions, Questions, Questions... :)

Redlefty said...


My answer to your question is "yes".

Cub said...

Cool blog - I just stumbled on it today. I find myself at an interesting juncture in my life. I am a tainted Christian - of the Mormon flavor. I was recently fired (released in Mormon jargon) from a position teaching young men because I told them that they have the choice whether or not to perform certain duties. Apparently, this is false doctrine because before we tell the boys that they have a choice, we have to tell them about the dire consequences of failing to keep God's commandments.

I was amazed how quickly the organization acted to stamp out perceived heresy. It's weird to see how a church distances itself from a "heretic" rather than loving the heretic in the way Jesus would. I see this as God's way of guiding me away from a shame-based approach to spirituality to into a life of God's love.

Andrew said...

Welcome Cub!

Sorry to hear about your difficulties. The more I learn about other faiths and religions, the more I see our glaring similarities. :)

Anonymous said...

Gotta love the " I am going to tell on you" approach this person took with you.

That said I was that kind of pastor if people heard about heretics spouting unbiblical (different from why I taught) teachings I wanted to know about it. I would confront the person and insist they change their beliefs. Things got real nasty when I became a Calvinist.

It grieves me greatly to think about how I abused the conscience of good people. Sadly many churches demand uniformity of brief above all else.

I am longer a Christian, but if I was I most certainly could not go to a church that lorded over people like you mention in this post . I realize at a certain level something must be believed but I am not sure how a church should deal with those who have a differing opinion. There is a huge difference between evangelicalism and universalism. I am not certain that the huge gap between the two can be bridged.

Andrew said...

Bruce - It is interesting to think about how one handles difference. I think of it this way - My daughter has a teacher who is Mormon, and when it comes to covering Utah history, he is decidedly biased - "Church" leaders never do anything wrong. Now, I can see some folks wanting to pull their children from his class because they do not want their child hearing a pro-Mormon view. However, I would just rather have a conversation with my daughter about biases - How her teacher probably is not being intentionally misleading, but from his perspective he really "can't" see it any other way. It would seem to me that I would be creating a second "bias" by not allowing her to hear his perspective.

I think the reason many churches and Christians would have problem with this approach is because they would then have to acknowledge that their view is a perspective.

Anonymous said...

The problem you describe is so bad and so widespread that one Evangelical who talks to Mormons advises them to seek out Wesleyan-type churches (i.e. Methodist) if they decide to leave Mormonism, and skip the Evangelicals. I'd post the link if I could remember where I found it. Personally, I attend Community of Christ.

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