Dolive: What have I become?
June 17, 2017 at 4 a.m.
I am a Texan and proud of it. To many of its millions of residents, Texas is the greatest state in the nation. We like things big, and we like them to be bigger than every other state. Texans are proud of their state.
But being in Texas, especially East Texas, means we are sitting squarely and firmly in the buckle of the Bible Belt. The Bible Belt is a term used to describe the area where conservative Christianity is the prominent player in the state's religiosity. Generally, this term refers to a high level of conservative, evangelical Christians. This does not mean you can't find conservative, evangelical Christians outside of this arbitrary boundary, but for some reason, they seem to cluster in these areas in high concentrations.
I didn't grow up in a church that beat people over the head or judged people for they way they acted. I felt loved and welcomed in a place where people were friendly and they loved serving God. I learned about Christ and God's love for humanity. It wasn't until I was older that I began to hear more Christians speak on the necessity of evangelizing to people or even being "saved correctly."
As I have grown and matured, this "I know more than you" mentality of Christianity has been something I cannot stand, especially when it flies in the face of my theology. Theology is a deeply personal thing. Hopefully people have grown, honed and crafted their theology over time, adjusting and modifying it as time progresses and as contexts and situations change.
I know some people will be turned off by the previous statement. Please don't read it to say that I believe the message of God and/or Christ changes. The message of God's love, acceptance, forgiveness and reconciliation never changes, but how we find and understand it does. People's life experiences influence their interpretation; as we grow and mature in faith, we must recognize these changes. It is when people are unwilling to see another side of the theological coin that Christianity turns into a stalemate.
As I have grown and changed, so has my level of disdain for pushy, in your face, "turn away from sin, you sinning sinners" rhetoric. I have come to the realization that maybe I am just like those Christians that I dislike. Maybe I believe my way is the highway.
The denomination I serve and am ordained in has freedom of belief as a main tenet of faith. We believe that all people have a relationship with God and through the movement of the Spirit and the interaction of a Christian faith community we can discuss, learn and grow together. Maybe this is why I get so upset. Many people are becoming disillusioned with church or Christianity because they have been told their theology is too "out there" or that Christianity is one strict way. There's no hurt like church hurt.
As one of my professors in seminary said, just because we have freedom of belief doesn't mean there is no such thing as a bad theology. So maybe in some ways I am like those Christians I can't stand. But still I want to foster an environment that welcomes differing thoughts to the table. If in the light of a civil discussion or Bible study we can come to a different conclusion, then that's OK with me.
Sadly, this is not taking place in many of our churches. We have all been in churches where people of like-mindedness get together and espouse the same doctrine and belief structure they have always done. Why are we going to the Bible to only reinforce what we already know?
I have to be aware of my own prejudices and faults. I know that I am not perfect nor is my picture of who God is complete. I will continue to strive to live out the Gospel message as faithfully as possible, and along the way I hope to bring others to know the same God of love and acceptance that I do.
I know too many people who have been "burned" by a "well-intentioned, God-fearing Christian," and that saddens me deeply. If the church is to survive another 2,000 years, we will have to start somewhere. We have to start with Christ and the acceptance found in him. We must proclaim Christ first, not a church doctrine or slogan.
As a collective society we have forgotten how to take part in a dialogue instead of debating and yelling. Let's come to the table under the banner of Christ in all its many forms. Just as Christ humbled himself, we must put aside anxieties, stereotypes and preconceived notions about others. Just as Christ did not think too highly of himself, neither should we think we are more than fallible human beings. Thinking that we have it all figured out is a rejection of the grace of God and the teaching of Christ.
— The Rev. Evan M. Dolive is associate minister for family life at First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Longview. He is an author and blogger. More information can be found online at evandolive.com or on social media. On Twitter, he's @RevEvanDolive and on Facebook, fb.com/evandoliveauthor.