I need to vent.
A few months ago, a mother, wife, and Christ-following author, Rachel Held Evans, died unexpectedly after she contracted what appeared to be a very curable virus. She died in a tragic turn of events and left behind a loving husband, a three-year-old son, and a one-year-old daughter. Those facts should be quite enough to put you on your knees in intense mourning for this family.
But for some, this tragedy became a chance to tell the world all that’s wrong about her beliefs. I was stunned to read the comments. As I read, my worst nightmare unfolded before my eyes: the church was taking their cues from the political playbook. If someone doesn’t see things your way, they’re wrong.
It seems at one time, the Wesleyans, Catholics, Nazarenes, Baptists, Charismatics, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Lutherans, and others could all kindly understand that we see some aspects of Scripture differently. And I’ll admit, very differently.
Growing up in Dayton, Ohio, our neighbors on one side of us were Catholic. On the other side was a very sweet retired couple who didn’t go to church. A Baptist family lived behind us, as did a Methodist family. We all enjoyed being neighbors.
In some ways, I envied our Catholic neighbors. They went to Mass on Sunday mornings and then they were done for the day. Every Sunday, our family and the Baptist family behind us spent most of the day in church. Our schedules were: Sunday School, worship, lunch, back for Sunday night service, and then out for pizza.
I remember wishing we could stay home and watch TV on Sunday nights. I may have faked not feeling good so I could stay home and watch Walt Disney. We had never heard of the concept of a DVR which records your favorite shows so you could watch them later. If you wanted to change the channel, you walked over to the TV and turned the dial. (I’m happy to explain that to those who cannot fathom the dark ages of the 60s and 70s.)
The greatest concern in my ministry leader life right now is helping my church know what they believe and learn to articulate it with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15). I may be holding onto the impossible, but it still seems doable to be clear about what you believe, but do it with kindness while remaining friends with those who see things differently than you do.
My doctrinal roots taught me God equips, calls, and uses women in ministry as preachers, teachers, and leaders. Every now and then, at the end of our newcomer class, I’m approached by a man who will attempt to “straighten out my theology” on this issue. I can see where other doctrinal tribes arrive at their conclusions; I just see it very, very differently. I use the same Bible they use to arrive at my conclusions. So, why can’t we kindly disagree while respecting each others convictions? What has happened to us?
Social media has created a world of cowards. Protected by the anonymity of computer screens, we say things we’d never say to a person face-to-face. We gossip, pass judgment, and criticize without the courage or context of a conversation with those on the receiving end of our self-proclaimed wisdom.
I’ve written things in the past that sounded far more harsh than I ever intended them to be. Once I’ve realized the mistake, it has always been my practice to have a face-to-face or voice-to-voice conversation where my passion on a subject does not come across as anger. I have written far too many emails in a tone that was not kind. A face-to-face conversation would have created a desired outcome much quicker than the fog of an email. This is a lesson I’ve finally learned, and it’s one I wish I’d learned a long time ago.
A few months ago, when Rachel died, you’d think the Christ-following types would immediately express sadness that these two young children had lost their mother and a young husband was now faced with being Mr. Mom. For some who claim to follow Christ, they showed zero compassion. Instead, they enjoyed the intellectual debate of whether or not she could have possibly gone to heaven due to her views on sexuality and authority of Scripture, to name a few issues discussed.
Whether we agreed or disagreed with her thoughts, this was not the time to open a debate where the subject of the debate could not respond. I’d be surprised if any of the folks criticizing her had engaged in a face-to-face discussion with her. Everything in me wanted to speak up, but that would only bring further attention, debate, and argument to the situation.
The unbelieving world watches how believers treat each other and quickly decides we’re not a group they want to join. As believers, we should take our cue from Colossians 4:6:
Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.