In my most recent blog, I talked about why I am spiritual and religious. In the article I advocated for a healthy embrace of religion. I also mentioned the process of deconstruction taking place in many young evangelicals in our country. Deconstruction is the process of philosophically taking apart a belief system. For some, like myself, it is a painful and spiritually violent process that eventually leads to a reconstruction of steadier faith. For others, however, the reconstruction process never takes place. Faith and devotion are traded for doubt and skepticism as a philosophy of life. The truth is, there are much more people on the verge of a deconstruction than are willing to admit. Many of us are not in communities where doubts, questions, and skepticism can be expressed without threat of being deemed a rabble rouser or being rejected. And if people are not given space to express themselves honestly in religious communities, then we as members of such communities are failing our neighbors.
Religion, like deconstruction, can be a terrible or beautiful thing depending on how we approach it. When religion is so inflexible it does not have room to adapt to the ever-changing tides of culture, the best-case scenario is it loses its relevance, while the worst case is that it destroys lives. Let us look at how the church as treated the LGBTQ+ community over the last fifty years. Regardless of your experience with, or exposure to this community, there is no denying that the church’s unwillingness to grow and understand has come at the cost of thousands of LGBTQ+ lives. Preston Sprinkle is a writer and professor who has done extensive work on educating churches about the horrific ways in which this community has been mistreated in the church, while also doing extensive work on how churches can lovingly hold to what is being called the traditional view of marriage. In his book, People to Be Loved, Preston writes, “The church is supposed to be a hospital for the sick, not a museum for the saints … so, when did it become a graveyard for LGBT people?” The tide has been changing in more recent years, and more churches today than at any other point are grappling with the question of love and inclusion when it comes to this community, to varying degrees of success. But Preston’s point still stands. Most studies show you are much more likely to attempt suicide if you are an LGBTQ+ person from a religious background than if you were born in a non-religious family. That is religion gone bad. As Michael Gungor once sang, let bad religion die.
Recently I was talking with a pastor who bragged to me about not having changed their views or theology in over thirty years. He believed it was a testament to his faithfulness. I understand this perspective, and I do believe there are essentials in Christianity that must be observed in order to still consider yourself a part of the historic Christian tradition. Jesus is the same today, yesterday, and forever. However, if you haven’t changed or adjusted your belief system and practice you can’t really claim to be growing in your relationship with Christ. Whether you lean conservative or lean progressive, Christianity is at its ugliest when its members refuse to model teachability and humility. We are works in progress, ever so slowly inching our way towards Christ-likeness. This is a life long journey that requires change and growth. If we want to pass down a religion that looks enough like Jesus it won’t require such an aggressive deconstruction, we have to pass down the virtue of being a life-long learner.
Maybe God’s beloved community includes the people you would have never associated with when you first came to faith. You might have bible verses and books by reputable authors to prove they ought not be included, but maybe God is still in the business of catching us religious people off-guard by how expansive his love is. Maybe God has standards of behavior for his people you will have difficulty observing, but just because you don’t like the standards or struggle to honor them does not mean they aren’t there. Maybe what God expects for one person is not the same for the whole collective, because God sees us in our personal contexts and knows what’s best for each of us. This isn’t moral relativism, it’s the grace of God leading us in ways that will bring about the most fruit. Maybe Jesus really meant it when he said judge not or you too will be judged. The point is, God is not interested in fitting into the boxes we try to put God in. The only time you will find God in a box is because he wants to be where we are. God is wildly free, infinitely mysterious, and loving beyond our wildest dreams. A thousand lifetimes are not enough to learn all there is to know about the Divine.
May we have awareness that we are all works in progress, we are being and becoming. The thing God is doing in you will not always be the same as the thing he’s doing in your neighbor. May we have humility when we approach each other, and resist imposing the things God asks of us on other folks. May we trust the Holy Spirit, who convicts of sin and gives wisdom, who still speaks today, and who works in diversity. May we love our neighbors as ourselves. We all need people who will patiently stand by us as we figure some of this stuff out. We need guides not drill-sergeants. The beautiful collective of God’s people shines most when we come alongside each other and support one another in our God given assignments, not arrogantly assert they follow God down the same path we’re on. Sometimes Christ meets someone on their path while they’re a reviled tax collector, or while they’re a revered teacher of the Torah. Sometimes he meets us while we’re raised in a loving and stable homes, sometimes he meets us while we’re running a drug deal. Sometimes he meets in holy places, other times he meets us in profane places. There are many roads that can lead to Jesus, and we’re all traveling slowly. So, lets offer the grace to each other that God gives us every day, and cut each other some slack.