Yesterday, someone asked me when I had “gone off the rails” of the fundamental faith of the evangelical churches I grew up in. I did not have the opportunity to reply because the angry vitriol between he and another was removed by him (which is just as well — I would have removed it anyway). But today, as I hear my heart beating with sorrow over the angry responses I have received thanks to my freedom in Christ, I wanted to give answer. Not to him, but to the people who have observed and seen changes in me and the people who don’t look and believe exactly as I do.
I left the fundamental, violent, angry dogmatism that I grew up with (not in my family home but in the churches I attended) when I saw how harmful this angry, resentful need to be right all the time was. I was angry myself and broken and hurting, though I didn’t always recognize that. I was legalistic and judged people for having different beliefs than I — including many within the faith who had differing views on violence (I’ve always been nonviolent), racism (I thought it wasn’t “that big” of a problem), gay marriage, abortion, and many, many other things.
I was taught by my parents to think for myself and study the Scripture within the body of Christ (church) and on my own to understand what I truly believe, why I believe it, and how those beliefs affect my life and the lives of those around me. When I started LISTENING to that “seek for yourself” understanding of God, who He is, and why I put my entire life’s plans in His hands, I discovered some very painful things about myself and the view of God I had created in my own image.
When the church I was attending became toxic — condemning me as a bad Christian for a small mistake but asking me to still serve there — and when people surrounding me tried to control my decisions (where I live and work, who I married, who I could speak to about Jesus), I left that congregation and region of the country. There is no evidence in the Bible that God condones or celebrates that kind of treatment of His children or anyone else. In fact, throughout the Scriptures, God demonstrates His love, compassion, and mercy to immigrants (and guess what! Jesus himself was an immigrant!), people of other faiths, people of all skin colors, people who made mistakes, people who have been marginalized, women, children, and, yes, even Bible-thumper types known as Pharisees.
Since leaving that congregation, I have grown in my understanding of the world. I am no longer living in the bubble of conservatism and fundamental “Christianity.” I talk and listen to people who don’t believe exactly as I do. I hang out with people who don’t look just like me. I have close friends who do not have “traditional” sexual orientations. I have friends who have had abortions and do not regret them. I do not understand the viewpoints of all my friends — some of us have widely varied views and beliefs. I do not agree with everyone that I consider a dear, close friend.
Instead, I seek to care for them and know that they care for me. I do my best to help those that I may help and listen to those who are hurting. I aim to respectfully disagree without anger, judgement or lashing out at someone for not seeing totally eye-to-eye with me. Sometimes that means I have to go have a cry alone in the shower because I am tender-hearted and do not have tough skin. But that’s okay with me.
I know people more honestly and love them more deeply every day because of these talks, because of these varied backgrounds and I feel ever-closer to them and to God because of them. I also know myself better, love God more, trust God more, and praise God more highly for His beautiful creativity, compassion, mercy, grace, justice, holiness, and glory BECAUSE OF the people that so many angry white people from my former churches condemn, scream at online, and judge me for agreeing with.
When did I go “off the rails” of my faith? Never. I’ve gotten on the rails that the Bible indicates is directly driving me straight into love. His love. Love for others. Love for myself.