April 5, 2017

The Burden of Faith, the Lightness of Belief

Producing Exvangelical can take an emotional toll. It is taxing to hear the stories of how so many people have been hurt in God’s name. 

People are hurt in all manner of ways. They were told they can’t lead because they’re a woman, and their primary role was to support a man. Or they were damned because of their sexual orientation. Or they did not receive opportunities because of their race. They were taught their virginal purity was the most valuable thing about them. Their reasonable doubt was questioned. Their politics weren’t acceptable. Often, it’s some combination of those things.

I don’t see Jesus put value on any of those things. He treated women with respect and dignity; women were the first witnesses of the resurrection, and women were showed the greatest acts of love toward Jesus in the Gospels. 

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus portrays a member of a marginalized ethnic group as the best example of neighborliness and mercy. He does not condemn the woman caught in adultery. He does not condemn Thomas for his doubt.

Jesus has hard sayings, yes. But his priorities are different than the ones the American evangelical church has had for quite some time.

Through Exvangelical, I share these stories of people who have been hurt by the church. Often, I feel a deep sense of shame. These good people have been hurt by my people. These are not sensitive snowflakes, as conservative trolls would have you believe–these are the most resilient kinds of people you will meet. My shame is rooted in the fact that they have been hurt by people like me: white, evangelical Christian, privileged people who have systematically taken advantage of other groups for generations and centuries, by defining them as other, dangerous, inferior, wrong.

I’m not looking for sympathy. I’m not owed that. What I am looking for is some peace. 

I’ve found a starting point, I think, and it’s by bifurcating faith and belief. I’m providing my own definitions. Faith has an historical aspect. By ascribing to faith, I throw my lot in with the whole “cloud of witnesses” that has gone before me. It’s something I do, but don’t do lightly, and something I have to parse over and over: What do I affirm, what do I reject? 

Faith is a burden, an expectation, a boundary. Faith is a mighty fortress, but from time to time its foundation must be shored up, and on occasion the stones come loose and threaten to crush me. 

Belief, on the other hand, is light. Belief is a joyful, careless night watchman, striding atop the parapet at the edge of the fortress like a balance beam–testing boundaries and unafraid to fall, because belief knows it can fly.

Belief is an exploration of ideas. It craves space. It sees the open fields beyond the fortress of faith. It wants the fortress to open its doors, because it knows the fortress needs new builders and craftsmen with new perspectives and new techniques–or else it will crumble and become a ruin.

So I will remain in this faith. I will help rebuild it in the best way I can. But I will take my cues from Belief. Because I cannot fear being crushed any longer.