Change of Mind, Change of Heart: Moving Away from Fundamentalism

“If I change my mind, then I’d have to admit I’ve been wrong.”

He was a good man: humble and kind. He had lived for more than 80 years and had a gentle wisdom about him. So when my friend made this statement, my jaw dropped. How on earth can anyone think that way? I marveled.

But then I remembered – that used to be me.

I used to believe that “Right” and “Wrong” were Black and White; that if I was right, and you disagreed with me, then you must be wrong.

Now I believe all of us are probably mostly a little bit right and a whole lot wrong – about a whole lot of things.

I used to believe truth was a small fragile thing that needed to be defended.

Now I believe Truth is a rainbow with infinite colors and facets that takes a lifetime to explore. Truth doesn’t need to be defended; it needs to be discovered.

I used to believe being wrong would have dire (even eternal) consequences.

Now I believe being wrong is just one more way to learn; one more way to realize that – of course – we mortals will have incomplete, inadequate understanding. It’s one more way to keep me humble.

I used to believe women couldn’t/shouldn’t/better not be preachers.

Now (I do believe!) I am one.

dorothy-oz-technicolorI’m a bit like Dorothy, stepping out of her small Black and White existence into a bright Technicolor world. And like Dorothy, it took a tornado to get me here.

Change is a fact of life. They say our cells die off and regenerate at an astonishing rate. Scientists suggest that almost all the cells in our body are completely replaced about every 7-10 years. We go about our business and don’t even recognize how radically, how quickly our body is changing every day of our lives.

But in other ways, change is disorienting, intimidating, frightening. Changing deeply held beliefs; changing long entrenched habits; changing fundamental assumptions … sometimes we choose this path of intentional growth. Or sometimes life forces us into it.

For me, Dorothy’s tornado was seminary. I never imagined such a wide rainbow world existed and I was challenged to explore ideas that made me absolutely uncomfortable. I was challenged to uncover my embedded, unexamined assumptions and expose them to the light of critical thinking. I was challenged to test my theories of understanding according to standards of coherence: if I say I believe A and B, then those different things still must be in relationship with each other. Even paradoxical thinking has a core consistency about it.

It was hard, exhausting work.I felt like the kid in the Far Side cartoon sitting in a classroom, raising his hand and asking permission to go. “May I be excused? My brain is full.” Coffee Mug - Far Side My Brain is Full

But it was this hard work of changing my mind that led me to a change of heart as well. In order to be consistent in my beliefs, I had to pay attention to how I lived out the convictions of my life. I had to be intentional about how I acted in real time and real space with real people.

I used to believe people are responsible for their own actions.

Now I believe – in addition to personal responsibility – all of us in this society are responsible for one another.

I used to believe Jesus’ call to “love our neighbor” and to “do unto others” applied only to individuals.

Now I believe – in addition to private charity – all of us in this society must create public policies that cultivate an environment that is just and equitable; where all people can thrive.

I used to believe everyone has free will, complete freedom to choose their own way.

Now I believe many people, maybe most people on the planet are born into circumstances and raised in situations that severely limit their choices. Free will often exists within very small parameters.

I used to believe our civil governments had the right to impose morality on its citizens – for the “common good.”

Now I believe the core ethics that should under gird our civil laws must be the moral foundation originally set forth in our Constitution: unity, justice, safety, well being and liberty. It is these values – for the common good – that should shape our laws, not the private morality of any religion or any special group of people.

Changing my mind brought about a change of heart which in turn led to a change in my political, cultural and social values.

It started with a tornado which turned my thinking upside down and right side up. It has continued slowly and persistently as I have grown. Like an acorn with a hard shell, I needed to let go of my rigid limits and my hardened certainties before I could push through the dark soil and reach for the sun. I am not the same person I was a year ago. A year from now, I hope I will not be the same person I am today.

If-you-do-not-change__quotes-by-Lao-Tzu-60My friend had trouble admitting he could be wrong. I know many good, kind-hearted people who live in that Black and White world with him. But that doesn’t work for me anymore. For me, these days, it feels pretty good to admit I’m wrong, that I don’t know everything, that I have a lot to learn. It keeps me humble. And it feels very good to live in this wide, rainbow, Technicolor world.

I could never go back.


Charlotte Vaughan Coyle is an ordained minister within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) pursuing a Doctorate of Ministry at Brite Divinity School (TCU) in Ft. Worth TX. She is a volunteer at Coffee Party USA and contributes articles regularly to the Coffee Party Facebook page.




17 thoughts on “Change of Mind, Change of Heart: Moving Away from Fundamentalism

  1. The idea that there is a “rainbow” of truth out there is something only those who have been wrong most of their lives need to discover. If your “truth” harms innocent others, either through action or inaction, then it is fundamentally wrong and that is where this author is coming from. The author reminds me of the “Promise Keepers.” These are men who have been very wrong most of their lives and now decide that they will be decent and good fathers and husbands and think that there is something special in it.
    Charlotte Vaughan Coyle apparently is just discovering things that liberals start with so now she presumes to lecture us about it. She has decided to join the ranks of those who understand that life is shaped by forces we barely recognize and by accidents, such as birth, that we have no control over so we need to help each other and we need to create institutions that help the community survive and then prosper. She is not to be commended for this discovery, but rather welcomed to the fold as the returned prodigal.

  2. Five years ago I left the institutional church altogether. I was only going to take six weeks off to clear my heart and my head, but I could not go back. People think that if I am not connected to a church then I am not connected to Jesus. I think this is the most egregious idolatry of fundamentalism. If the institution vanished, the church would still be here. I like it out here in all the colors.

    1. Darrell – I would say “some people” make “church” and “Jesus” synonyms. Many Many Christians are with you on the journey. I hope you are finding some of them and creating nurturing, serving community somehow somewhere. Grace and Peace…

  3. And I say to you as I mentioned to my wife in the midst of a valentine card, “You have added color to my world”. with Peace and Love, Phil

  4. I had nearly the same experience with the small exception of being gay and deciding suicide was the only way out. Instead I left bible college and came out. Suddenly I found myself a villain and demonized by the very people I trusted. I had to walk through “God hates fags” pickets to bury my best friend and that was the least of it. Spat on, abused, my guests stopped in front of my home because “those are fags going to hell and you don’t want to go in there”, windows broken; weren’t nearly as hard to stand as the “well meaning” Christians I’ve had to endure.
    This article is what I wished I could have written but the hurt and anger are still too much for me at times.

    1. Oh Randy! This breaks my heart. But yes, knowing Christians as I do, I can see how your story is terribly true. I’m so sorry – for your hurt, for the wickedness that masquerades as piety, for the blasphemed Name of the Holy, for the Church’s loss because of your understandable withdrawal. On behalf of many, many Christians who would welcome you with open arms and thoroughly enjoy your company, please accept this apology. If you want to email and talk further, I would be honored to have your trust. Grace and Peace….

  5. How brave you are (probably after the turmoil) to welcome the tornado. I love the metaphor. To take it further, you needed courage, a brain and a heart to go on the journey, and you now have grounding to bring you home, which, as T.S. Eliot said, is coming back and seeing it for the first time.

    1. I love your reply! You have a wonderful way with words. And your perspective is wise and helpful. Thank you!

  6. My despair always is that those who most need to hear voices like yours are the ones least likely listen. Thanks for trying on the behalf of those who hope everyone will hear you.

    1. From my perspective as a Christian, I figure my work is not to convince anyone of anything; I will trust that task to Spirit. My work is to encourage and affirm people who are already on the journey (even if they are still in the tornado). We never know when someone will start questioning their old paradigms. That’s when they are ready to hear our voices. Grace and Peace…

  7. I fully relate to the journey you describe. For me, a Southern boy, it began in the ’60s in the midst of the Vietnam War when I was at UTS (in NYC) for an MA in religious studies.

    1. You are ahead of me, Jym! I cringe at my goody-two-shoes judgmentalism during the Civil Rights movement and Vietnam. I am so grateful for for this bigger world that has given me such a truer perspective about myself and about my world. Grace and Peace…

  8. Thank you for your grand encouragement! I continue hoping that all people will begin to truly understand each other’s circumstances, and then they will respond with compassion rather than rules and judgment. I respect folks who believe as you did, because that is what their lives have given them. But, I enthusiastically celebrate each person who steps into a Technicolor equivalent. Each life is utterly complicated and deserves the best understanding and support that we have to give. If you’re interested, I posted on “People with problems have problems” that illustrates your point about the limiting parameters of free will. Best wishes to you and your amazing work.

    1. Thanks Lauren. Great wisdom: “each life is utterly complicated” and “people with problems have problems;” vicious cycles are very real and compassion does much more to help than judgment ever could. Grace and Peace…

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