I was raised as a fundamentalist Christian. People who don’t live in this bubble have no idea how much power such an ideology carries. In this way of thinking, there is this deep conviction that we must be RIGHT. Being wrong meant judgment, shame and a hell of a lot worse consequences. We Fundamentalists had to be right and that meant anyone who disagreed with us must be wrong.
Again – if you haven’t been there, you have no idea and I get that so, please keep reading and hear me out. I’m mostly writing this for my Christian Right friends but I’m hoping my Secular Left friends might also find some new insights. And even my Christian Left friends. And maybe some renewed compassion for- and from – all of us
Right and Wrong are interesting categories. They are appropriate descriptions in some fields, but even mathematics reminds us how broad truth can be. 2+2=4 but also 3+1 and 12-8. Right can be right in a variety of ways.
When we function within more subjective categories like philosophy or theology, right and wrong almost lose their meaning. Beliefs, doctrines and dogmas express something about our human experience rather than naming any sort of empirical reality.
Throughout history, humans have misused these subjective constructions as foundations, as eternal truths true for all people in all times. Ideology then becomes a basis for relationship and our beliefs define who is in and who is out, who is right and who is wrong.
If I am right, you must be wrong.
If my beliefs are orthodox, your beliefs must be heresy.
This black and white, dualistic thinking has plagued us since our human beginnings and has been a source of many of our human conflicts.
Of course such thinking did not originate with the modern American Fundamentalist and Evangelical community, but I think today’s Evangelicals have been infected with a particular kind of feverish black and white purity. The topic of abortion, for example, cannot consist of any grey areas; there can only be one narrow right perspective for some of these people. Their passion blinds them to the equal passion other people feel about the health and welfare of women and families.
Because we are complex human beings, our human issues are ever complex and multifaceted. Labels of right and wrong are unhelpful and even unhealthy. Instead of “if I’m right, you must be wrong” thinking, let’s venture more “I truly believe I’m right but I admit I could also be a little bit wrong. Tell me why you believe you are right. I’m curious.”
“Ortho-doxy” means “right thinking, right doctrine, right belief.” Since I grew up with an obligation to orthodoxy, I understand its powerful pull. But as I have learned more and grown on my spiritual journey, I have come to understand that ortho-praxis carries more weight in all my various human relationships. AND (I will argue) in my relationship with God.
Right practice matters more than right belief.
Throughout our Christian Scripture, the overwhelming call is to DO and to BE, not to think or simply believe.
To act like Christ, to become more and more like Christ.
To live lives marked by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Like Jesus.
To feed the hungry and clothe the naked and welcome the stranger and protect widows and orphans. Like Jesus.
Right practice matters more than right belief.
Therefore this is my plea to my Evangelical friends: when you look at the rest of us Christians, please measure us according to the life of Jesus, not according to your own particular orthodoxy. “Heretic” (as some would label us) smacks of judgment and does not invite relationship.
When you evaluate the practice and policies of politicians, consider how they measure up to the divine call to lead with wisdom and to practice justice for “the least of these.”
And when you judge your own faithfulness, please step outside your bubble and try to see yourselves as others see you. This is hard and even painful but it is also painfully true that many people reject Christ because of the Christianity so many of us practice so poorly.
We all need to ask ourselves: What do our lives say about the One we claim to follow? What do others see in us: authenticity or self-deception? Welcome or rejection? Love or judgment?
The power of the gospel is that we do not need to be right; we only need to be true. True to the call to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Our “Samaritan” neighbors. Our gay and trans neighbors. Our “Red and Yellow, Black and White” neighbors. The neighbors to the left of us or to the right of us or to the south of us. The neighbors who read the Bible differently or don’t read the Bible at all. Even our “enemy” neighbors.
To love others as God loves us – generously, lavishly, unconditionally.
To love others as God loves us – with practical, physical acts of goodness, kindness and compassion.
To love all others, not just some others.
The “fundamentals” of faith are not beliefs or creeds or propositions. The fundamental life of faith is what Jesus says it is: Love God with heart, soul, mind and strength. And the other “like unto it” – love the neighbor as we love ourselves. Every fundamental law, rule and commandment is summed up right here: in the core fundamental of love.
This is the only “right” that matters.
See Charlotte’s companion blog: When the Right is Always Wrong and the Left is Always Right.