Saturday, March 09, 2013

What I Believed

and monkeys might...
Three years ago, I posted a blog listing what I believed as a Christian. Two years ago, I reposted that list on Facebook and got taken to task by one of my pastors. I was still a Christian at that point, but my commitment and attendance at church had gotten thin. In fact, I seem to recall his response as a significant tipping point. There was no more denying that Evangelical Christianity and I stood apart.

Here is the list, and the subsequent conversation. It originally consisted of him responding to each of my points, and then I went back and addressed each of his concerns. For clarity, I will edit that into one streaming conversation. This is kind of long, so you might want to grab a beer and some popcorn.

• I do not believe God has any more investment in America than anywhere else. It is pure ego and insecurity that drives us into all of this "God is on our side" language.

• There is no "War on Christmas".

• I believe abortion is the murder of innocent life, but our attempts to legislate it away is closing the door when the horse has already left the barn. It is easy to shout against abortion, it is a sacrifice to work for the changes that need to come about to make a real difference.

• Christians are no different than anyone else.... really..... at all.

• I do not believe that any soul will spend an eternity in a place called Hell. Nope, not one.

• I believe prayer in public schools is motivated by a desire for power, not piety.

• I do not believe it is a threat to my children, nor to my marriage, if homosexuals marry.

• I believe the world would be a better place if the head of every ministry quit, then went and got a job at their local hospital.

• I do not believe in any kind of "rapture". I believe God wants us to redeem this world.

• I believe God is as close as out next breath, but that most Christian rhetoric shields Him from view.

• I believe Christianity competes with other religions, and that is a mistake.

• I believe most Christian parents lead their children to make spiritual decisions that they are not yet equipped to make.

• I believe organizations like Focus on the Family do more harm than good.

• I believe most churches indoctrinate their congregations and are houses of theological inbreeding. Inbreeding is bad in genetics and worse in theology.

• I believe Christians spend a lot of time working on "belief" rules (inerrancy of scripture, hell, trinity, salvation, etc..) so they can divide people into in/out and thereby give themselves a higher position.

• I believe Christianity has completely jettisoned the command to "love your enemy" and in doing so we have lost the heart of the gospel.

• I believe God stands with the poor. Christianity honors the poor while inside church doors, but mocks them in political discussions.

• I believe there are Christians who live contrary to what I have said, but they do not own the term "Christian" here in America.

And now, the conversation:

PASTOR: Andy, I really don’t think I can argue with your beliefs, because you obviously have a problem with some of the things Jesus and the Bible teaches. But I will give you my best shot from The Bible and the teachings of Jesus, just in case some may be swayed by your “beliefs”. 

Your friend! Pastor

ME: You seem to assume that your beliefs are biblically based, whereas mine are not. This is an erroneous assumption because I can scripturally account for every belief I hold. However, everyone “obviously has a problem” with various points of scripture because we all tend to highlight some parts while minimizing or ignoring others. This is why I often state that the bible is like one big Rorschach test. What we take away from it, I believe, says a lot more about us than it does about God. Using scripture to defend a point is of some value, but one can easily find scripture to the contrary point. This is why there are over 30,000 different versions of Christianity. The folks at Westboro Baptist probably have airtight scriptural reasoning for why they do what they do. I still think they are wrong.

•”I believe abortion is the murder of innocent life, but our attempts to legislate it away is closing the door when the horse has already left the barn.” 

PASTOR: REALLY? Go Back in time and tell that to the abolitionist and the slaves in both England and the USA. Glad they didn't take your advice.

ME: I don’t think I hold as contrary an opinion here as you seem to allude to. I just don’t think legislation accomplishes all that much when the majority of people hold a different ethos (not to say that it isn't an avenue). Slavery was ended, but it was generations before any real change started to happen. Some Christians feel morally obligated to vote for only pro-life candidates, yet it is often the case that less abortions occur under pro-choice legislatures and administrations. I just think this issue runs deep, but often we seem content as a Christian community to address this as purely a legal battle.

• Christians are no different than anyone else.... really..... at all.

PASTOR: REALLY? The Bible Calls Christians “sanctified”, “set-apart”, “chosen” “holy”. Christ made a Huge difference in my life. Without him, my life would be a crap hole. If Christ in me, the hope of glory doesn't make me different, than I am one to be pitied.

ME: But lots of folks have pulled their lives out of a “crap-hole” without “Christ”. And many people with “Christ” remain in a crap hole. As Christians, we are just as statistically likely to divorce, gossip, slander, sue, go to war, hate our enemies, kick the dog, etc. We can say lot of euphemisms to declare our differences…. But we are not fooling anybody. Jesus made this clear during the Sermon on the Mount. IF one is really different, I think it should be what others say of us… not what we say of ourselves.

• I do not believe that any soul will spend an eternity in a place called Hell. Nope, not one.

PASTOR: REALLY? From what do you base this belief on. I do not like the concept of hell at all, but the one who claimed he was the Way, the Truth, and the Life taught more on hell than heaven. If we don’t believe in one, we shouldn't believe in the other. 

ME: As I stated above, I have scriptural arguments for my Universalism (all on my blog). But here is just one “In Adam all died, in Christ all are made alive”. I never said I didn't believe in Hell, or ramifications, or punishment – I just don’t think scripture consistently can be used to make an “eternal” argument. “God disciplines us for our good; that we may share in his holiness.” His corrections, like all good fathers, have a hopeful end. God never fails.

• “I do not believe in any kind of "rapture". I believe God wants us to redeem this world.”

PASTOR: REALLY? There is only one redeemer, Jesus Christ: “Christ redeemed us from the curse” Galatians 3:13. Not even Jesus can redeem this world. He can only redeem those who believe and are washed in his blood. The rapture is clearly communicated by Jesus, the Apostle Paul and others in the Bible.

ME: Well, again, your hermeneutic here is just different than mine. I believe scripture calls us to be redeeming agents in this world (we are his hands and feet, equipped to do good works). I would also argue that the rapture is a fairly new Christian teaching and exists clearly in the Left Behind novels, but fuzzy in Scripture – if at all.

• I believe Christianity competes with other religions, and that is a mistake. 

PASTOR: REALLY? Jesus said “go and make disciples of every nation.” Guess what his disciples did. They went out and made disciples of Jews, Gentiles, Idol worshippers, and people of all religions. That’s not competition, that’s obedience to Jesus. We Christians still follow Jesus’ commands, whether you think that is a mistake or not. 

ME: But in many cases I think our conversions are often worsening the problem (“You scour the land and sea to make a disciple, and when you do, you make him twice a son of Hell). But my point is that our view of other religions is often based on false assumptions, and our superior/competitive attitude often prevents us from being good neighbors.

• I believe most Christian parents lead their children to make spiritual decisions that they are not yet equipped to make.

PASTOR: REALLY? I believe that Christian Parents should: “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” Deut 6:5-7
Unfortunately, from over 20 years of experience in Children’s Ministry, most Christian Parents do not teach their children to Love the Lord with all their heart. Some even forsake the church and release their children to the world.

ME: Teaching is one thing… indoctrinating is something different. I guess it depends on how one is using the word. However, I was addressing decisions. We would never let our 9 year-old pick their spouse at that age – Why? Because they do not have the facilities to make such a huge decision… what musical instrument they want to play is probably enough at this stage. Yet parents often want their children to make big religious decisions. It makes me wonder if they really believe it to be an important decision. A lot of parents direct their children into decisions and somehow think their child made a “real” decision. I have a card trick that I do for my students. They are amazed at the end because they think they made every choice along the way, yet somehow I knew their card. The truth is that “I” made every one of those decisions – performers call this “magician’s choice”. I see parents do this all the time with their children spiritually, but not only does the child believe they made the choice, the parent also believes the child made the choice.

• I believe most churches indoctrinate their congregations and are houses of theological inbreeding. 
Inbreeding is bad in genetics and worse in theology.

PASTOR: REALLY? The Church is the bride of Christ. Calling her a theological inbred is just not nice.

ME: I don’t mean it as an insult but as a description. When theological ideas are coming from only one source, or only approved sources… that is inbreeding. It can produce theological offspring with serious “health” issues. Paul warned against this - “when they judge themselves by themselves, and compare themselves with themselves; they are not wise.”

I love you and your family, and actually don’t hate anyone. As a pastor, I have never taught anyone to hate another person, nor have I ever been a part of a church that taught hate. You make the church out to be “The mother of all Haters” and for that I am saddened. As a leader in the church, perhaps I and all my fellow ministers should give up, close the doors of the church, and “redeem the world” as you put it. But that wasn’t God’s plan. Jesus said, “Upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hell (yes, a real place) will not prevail against it.” God’s only plan is the church. It is the only hope for the world. It’s the only organization which can point people to their Redeemer, Jesus Christ.

Think About it!

ME:  My thought is that I don’t think I make the church out to be the “mother of all haters”, but neither do I see the church as one monolithic unit. As I indicated in my last “belief” there are many types of Christians out there, but the kind of Christian I would hope would pop in the mind of a non-Christian is usually not the one that pops in when the term is mentioned.

Again, we differ on a perspective of organized church…. I think it is part of how God is redeeming the world, but not limited to it.

Yes, I believe Hell is a real place…. And I also believe it will not prevail, not once.

I don’t expect you to change your views based on anything I said, but I hope we can move away from your initial insinuation that you are speaking for God, whereas I am speaking without Him. We disagree on many things (perhaps strongly), but we probably agree on many as well. I would hope there is enough common ground there to find us each a place in Christianity.

PASTOR: Love you man. Happy New Year to you and your Family!

and that was that...

Just as some background, my family moved out to Salt Lake with about 35 other folks 10 years ago to start that church. At the time of this conversation, we were already on our way out. My views above had been that way for years, and did not mesh well with the church and some folks in it. Still, inertia kept us going there for quite awhile after our expiration date had passed. I was given some advice that I could get back into everyone's good graces if I would just quit announcing my opinions and tone down the blogging.

"It might happen. Shyeah, and monkeys might fly out of my butt!" ~ Wayne Campbell


Don said...

It is interesting, as I have done, to watch your evolution. The man I met seven or eight years ago began asking questions of his faith organization and found few answers from it. He then began to seek them for himself. There was no turning back, no returning to previous beliefs. I admire you so much. We have both gone through quite an evolution. Although there are things about which I'm sure he could not agree, I find you to be accepting of the fact that we are all seeking our own way, and universal agreement is something that isn't going to happen. I enjoy your posts. I somehow missed this one I guess, but am glad to have been able to pick it up now.

dritta said...

For what it's worth:

Your list of beliefs is entirely within the realm of orthodox Christianity. There are many mainline groups who would agree.

The response of the evangelical buffoon are ridiculous and shallow. Omg. No wonder you left evangelicalism.

Andrew said...

Don - It's been a fun ride, hasn't it? :) I appreciate your friendship and encouragement!

Dritta - It is interesting how quick churches are to jettison folks for simple lack of congruencey over theology. I think, if there had been a mainline church in my town, I might have found a safe harbor in liberal Christianity. But I often joke that the Salt Lake Valley is a bit like the barowner in the Blues Brothers - "We got both kinds of Christianity here in the valley: LDS AND Conservative Evangelicalism!" :)

irreverance said...

Sorry for the late reply to this. It has been a couple of years since I started following this blog. Unfortunately, I haven't kept up with it as much as I would have liked.

Going back though your posts to see what I missed, I stumbled across this.You've grown a lot, despite the norms of your environment. It's not an easy accomplishment. As a pastor, I must say that to come across something like this is heartwarming. Thanks for posting it.

Andrew said...

Welcome back Irreverance! Good to hear from you!

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