Wrestling with Religion…

In the last 12 years I have wrestled with the Christian Religion.  Faith has never been a challenge for me.  However, I have butted heads with religion and doctrine multiple times in faith communities.   I have been a member of three different churches in different parts of the country.  In each church I have eventually made the decision to leave due to a position that the leadership held, that I couldn’t agree with.  Most recently, I left a church due to the fact that it didn’t allow women to be in positions of leadership such as Pastor or Elder.  Since leaving, I have examined the Bible and its origin more.  Further investigation has led me to the conclusion that I can’t agree with the Traditional Church’s view of homosexuality.  If a woman has the skills, experience, and character to lead in a given context, let her lead.  If two adults want to show fidelity and love in the union of marriage, they should be able to do it, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

After this last church departure I find myself frustrated with my own lack of personal responsibility.  In 2005 I first came to faith in a little church outside of Houston, Tx.  It was at a time when I was searching for hope beyond the depression that shrouded my life.  I was trying to make sense of why I had worked so hard, for so long in school, just to be miserable with the job I landed.  That year I began to devour the Bible.  The stories of faith and hope in desperate situations immediately jumped out to me.  The story of Joseph in The Book of Genesis is my favorite.  These stories inspired me to trust God with my life.  I thought to myself, “Surely God can’t use me to the fullest if I’m in a constant state of depression and having suicidal thoughts.”  I knew I had to walk away from the engineering job.  However, my church, my family, my friends, and my coworkers, didn’t agree with the decision.  Many thought that I was being ungrateful and foolish. According to certain people in the church, I was squandering God’s blessings.  I couldn’t convince them that the depression wasn’t just a phase.  I made the decision to leave on my own and that choice started a cascade of confrontation that distanced me from almost everyone that I loved at the time.  I  left the church, stood alone in my faith, and made my choice.  Walking away from engineering is still one of the best decisions I have ever made.  People wanted me to fit myself into a box that I didn’t want to get in to.  Thank God for the faith to believe in myself and trust my instinct.

I left that first church with many knives in my heart.  Lots of hurtful things were said to me in that time period.  As much as my life took a turn for the better, I also had a lot of bitterness and unforgiveness.  How could the “People of God” not understand faith?  The real question is, how could they understand my faith?  The answer is, they couldn’t!  It’s my faith!  It’s what I believe about God!  It’s what I believe the Creator has placed inside of me.  The only entities in the universe who can see that to any full clarity are myself and God.  Don’t expect anyone to believe in your hopes and dreams for you.  Don’t expect anyone to see what you see in your mind.  It’s yours.  It’s your cross to bare.  It’s your path to walk.  Your hope, faith, and understanding of God is not for someone else to understand.  It’s yours.  To the extent that is doesn’t harm yourself or others, we should have the freedom to walk in that faith and the freedom to test that faith against life.

Cross

In this last church that I was a part of, I met lots of incredible people whom I firmly believe love me and want nothing but the best for me.  I think the same is true of all the churches I’ve been a part of.  I was a part of this last church for 3 years before I learned that we didn’t allow women to lead in the roles of Pastor, Preacher, or Elder.  A woman led the first church that I was a part of.  She had flaws, but she also taught with great clarity and wisdom.  So when I learned of this restriction on women, it was a red light in my mind.  I let it go for a while, but it would not leave me alone.  I stayed because I loved the people in this church.  I researched the Bible and in particular, I researched the lives of women in Biblical times and in Ancient Jewish Tradition.  Without getting into all of it, it’s extremely patriarchal.  I couldn’t agree with it and I will not agree with it.  I left.  Of course, when you ask one question, it’s easier to ask others. “How was the Bible formed in the first place?”  I’m ashamed to admit that in all my time in church I have never bothered to ask what the origins of The Holy Bible are.  As I researched more, I realized that I was reading the Bible as if it were word for word from God.  That’s what I had been taught.  The Bible affirms the church’s position on women.  When I read these passages I simply thought they were remnants of an ancient culture.  “Surely we don’t believe that women shouldn’t be able to teach men?!”  That’s what would come to mind. Unfortunately, the same thing didn’t come to mind when I saw passages that deemed homosexuality a sin.  People have harmed themselves and committed suicide over this issue in the Church.  I can’t imagine what it would be like to be told that my own heterosexual desire is an abomination to God that I must be suppressed or corrected.  It’s amazing what we are willing to accept when it doesn’t impact us directly.  As I see it, I have blood on my hands.  As a willing party in the proclamation of the Bible as Ultimate Infallible Truth, I have taken part in the damage that this idea has caused others.  For this, I am ashamed and deeply remorseful.

If you’ve been following me for any significant amount of time then you know how big I am on ownership and personal responsibility.  In the last year I’ve had the honor and privilege to get to know many people who are gay and lesbian.  Many of their stories include encounters with the Christian Faith Community.  A consistent theme is that of struggling to be straight or struggling to resign themselves to a life of singleness and celibacy.  This often leads to depression followed by suicidal ideation.  I’ve heard that story line over and over again.  Suicide is not what God wants.  Just like I didn’t want to be put in a box, I’m sure my brothers and sisters don’t want to be put in a box because their sexual orientation or gender identity aren’t the majority as we know it.  This made me begin to question the origins of the Bible.  I researched more.  Long story short, the writing comes through human hands.  Traditional doctrine would assert that the human writing is divinely inspired and is therefore the perfect word of God.  I don’t see how we can be so certain of this.  In my opinion, there’s no historical event or evidence that points to that.  Does that make the Bible insignificant?  No.  Absolutely not.  It’s certainly a profound collection of literature that documents the ancient world’s experience and understanding of God.  However, it’s got subjective interpretations of reality and cultural context, all over it.

Normally, if i’m trying to solve a problem, the first thing I do is begin to learn about it.  I wanted to know how to get healthier.  I began to read, experiment, and learn.  I wanted to understand financial freedom.  I began to learn.  I do this with everything.  But with my own spirituality I chose to acquiesce to the dominant theology of the group.  I suppose it was out of trust.  After all, they are seminary trained clergy.  They know the Bible in and out.  Therefore, they know God and can tell me how I should think about God.  There was my mistake.  Assuming that someone else could take responsibility for how I perceive and know God.  Faith is inherently a subjective thing.  It’s highly experiential and varies from person to person.  We all believe in something, even if that something is nothing or remains undefined.  That belief is heavily informed by our own journey in life.  It’s also informed by cultural paradigms.  I didn’t grow up in church but church is a staple of Southern Culture.  Even if you never crack the book, set foot in a church, or talk to a pastor, you understand the Bible to be God’s Word and you respect that.  I can remember being a kid and lying to my classmates about going to church on Sunday because I didn’t want to be told that I was going to Hell for being an unbeliever.  I was already dealing with enough stress from constant teasing.  I didn’t need eternal damnation on my plate.  Long before I ever went to church I had a developed and embedded reverence for the Bible as God’s Word.  Cultural normality became absolute reality, when I did step into the church.  An unwillingness to challenge this, effectively marginalizes whole people groups.  Many a slave holder used the Bible to justify the atrocity of humans as property.  Fortunately, people got to a point where their conscious began to override this notion.  I think the same thing is happening with women and the LGBTQ community in church.  In good conscious, I won’t support a theological position of God that places people into boxes they don’t want to be in.

Some of my Christian friends have proposed to me the question, “If the Bible isn’t The Perfect Word of God,  how do we know what’s useful in it and what’s not?”  My answer: You put forth the effort to understand and wrestle with the issues.  You engage in hefty critical thinking.  You pray for the wisdom to discern truth from opinion.  You understand that you may come to an ‘I don’t know‘ in the end.  You pay attention to the practical outcomes of of certain beliefs. You understand that human life is far more complex and grey, than it is simple and black/white.  You don’t apply ancient context to current reality.  You understand that no matter how right you try to be, you’ll still get something wrong. You have the courage to speak out against something that you get a deep sense is wrong, even when it means being ostracized from people you love.  That seems just to me.  If there is an Ultimate Creator (I believe there is), then I have to believe that’s what He, She, or It, would want.

We have to be willing to scrutinize our beliefs about anything for actual validity.  Are they paradigms that we have just inherited?  Are they actually helpful to ourselves and others?

Until next time…

-Travis

2 thoughts on “Wrestling with Religion…

  1. Very well expressed Travis.

    Like

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