So I've been working through some things this week--and anyone who knows me knows that my "working through" usually involves writing. Where better to compose my thoughts, then, than for you all, right? ;-)
I think the kernel of what's been bothering me is assumptions.
Now, again, anyone who knows me knows that not only am I an optimist, I'm a "give them the benefit of the doubt" sort of person. My husband is regularly amused at how I'll bend over backward to try to find a logical reason why that driver might have cut us off--"It's a minivan, maybe she's got six kids in there and one of them just threw a toy at her head!"--or why someone is totally rude in a store--"I guess we don't know what bad news they may have just gotten."
Then there are the times when humanity just disappoints or frustrates me, when I can't explain away bigotry or cynicism or prejudice or . . .
It's especially upsetting to me when it happens within the church. When people who are supposed to be my brothers and sisters in Christ dismiss other brothers and sisters in Christ as heretics and condemn them to hell just because they don't believe exactly the same as they do on a few matters. When they try to claim they understand the other side and proceed to state the opposition's beliefs as if with authority . . . and when they've got those beliefs wrong. When they're clearly just parroting what they've been told without ever actually talking to someone of those beliefs and asking for an explanation. Oh, they talk to them--to try to convert them to their way of thinking. But when you start a conversation with the assumption that the other person is wrong, what are the chances that you'll see any truth they have to share?
Why is it easier to condemn than to wonder if maybe we don't understand something correctly?
Maybe it's just me. Maybe it's part of my rather unique education. Maybe it's because I've been taught to ask questions rather than assume answers . . . but why do people behave this way? It hurts my soul when I see someone who's supposed to be representing my faith snarling at other Christians like that. When I realize that this is why so many people today think Christianity is a joke. Because some people can't fathom that God is bigger than our finite understanding. They are so convinced that they have every detail right that they'll condemn or dismiss anyone who doesn't agree on every point.
It hurts me when the people of God act like the world--no, worse, when they act like the very hypocrites Jesus argued with in His day.
This isn't the way we're supposed to be. We're supposed to be united with other believers, no matter if they're Baptist or Methodist, Lutheran or Episcopalian, Catholic or Greek Orthodox. There are differences, yes--but if perhaps we stop coming at those differences from the assumption that "I'm right and they're wrong," we might actually learn something from one another. And we might actually learn something about God. We might realize that they believe what they do for reasons, and that we were taught it's wrong belief because our ancestors rejected either the verses or interpretation; reasons for them to think we're wrong. We might actually read something through new eyes and realize that we're not as far apart on an issue as some people on both sides want us to think we are.
I told my husband the other day that I'd come to a rather odd conclusion: that I could live out my faith in any number of church congregations. I could live out my faith in a Catholic church, or a Greek Orthodox, or a Methodist, or a Lutheran. I could live out my faith pretty much anywhere. But I couldn't live out my faith in that church that ought to be similar to my own, under the direction of someone who would label me a heretic because I don't label other people such.
But you can't learn if you start from the assumption that you are right.
You can't teach if you start from the assumption that the other person has nothing to teach you, or is a lost cause.
You can't reach the lost if you start from the assumption that they're worse than you.
I'd rather assume people are better than they are, that they're capable of goodness and learning and fairness and love, and be taken advantage of or disappointed, than to live my life waiting for people to fail, expecting them to sin, searching for reasons to dismiss them or sneer at them or condemn them. I'd rather turn the other cheek and give my shirt as well when someone demands my coat than be combative and victimized and capable of seeing only my own cause.
I'd rather eat with sinners than with religious hypocrites. And I think I'm in good company there.