I used to think the highest value in my life with God was to know enough of the right things so that I wouldn’t become like the rest of “the world.” Now there are very few hills that I will die on in the name of truth.
Growing up in a conservative Baptist church, I learned that there was one way to understand “the truth” — the Bible. However, the Bible in and of itself was confusing, which inherently created challenges for having a “ready defense” for people who asked about my faith. So, like a good Bible believer, I devoted my time to apologetics and learning from every available source on what God meant by what God said.
But there was a problem.
The people writing, preaching, and claiming to know how to interpret the truth were almost entirely cisgender heterosexual white men in positions of authority in religious communities.
It wasn’t, and isn’t, as though women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community weren’t theologizing or writing — I just didn’t have access to their resources nor people around me who believed that those communities had a God-given calling to lead and teach. I was, as many are, embedded in Christianized patriarchal white supremacy that elevates white values, resources, hermeneutics, and approaches to God to the position of truth.
These men that I was reading collectively had one focus — the soul. They believed that truth initiated belief in Jesus that bought you a ticket out of hell and into a heaven where the God you just appeased lives. Everything was about the future, and truth was fundamentally about an ethereal reality that no one could imagine but apparently wanted to go to.
Truth was inherently abstract, it was inside of you, and its primary purpose was to save your soul while only acknowledging your body (and all of the politics and power associated with it) in so far as it prayed a prayer or helped you avoid sinning.
So, while my theology of the Trinity, heaven and hell, the incarnation, and resurrection was hardy, it fully lacked a robust theology of the physical person. I had become more interested in defending ideas than defending the dignity, life, and well-being of people I so wanted to “save.” People saying #blacklivesmatter or advocating for the poor seemed like a deviation from the true goal of Jesus — to save souls.
The problem with my apologetics was that it made life with Jesus about being right, and not about having genuine care for the people around me. Truth was never abstract and distantly theological for Jesus. Truth had hands, feet, and a voice that proclaimed the centrality of justice for the most marginalized.
The model of Jesus prioritizes doing good over believing rightly and it is in doing good that we have our thinking transformed to God’s truth, one that is much more good, inclusive, kind, caring, and gentle than we expect.
For Jesus, theological truth without empathy is an empty spiritual exercise that he rejects over and over again throughout the Gospels. As a church, we must constantly put a thermometer to our expression of truth — what we believe, yes, but also how what we believe carries forward the justice of God and renewal of all things.
Evangelicals, and leaders in particular, must know the story with which we associate: the one of the God who shows up and doesn’t say “believe,” but invites us to repentance. Repentance isn’t just in our minds or hearts — it’s a full turning of our life and values to follow Jesus to the margins and to unlearn our ethnocentrism, pride, and theological nonsense on the way to participate in others liberation.
It is a story that requires us to change our focus from believing rightly to developing deep empathy for the suffering and marginalized and “get our people” in whatever places we have power to come along as Jesus uses us to participate in the renewal of all things.
People in power (religious leaders) have never historically tended toward giving power away for the sake of other people, but Jesus does. He gives his power and authority away without a quality control button or theological test. He instead restores and renews people and tells people to follow him into this new truth and renewal that he was bringing.
Truth was never a matter of healing for me, but for Jesus it always is. May we be people who, in pursuing the greater dignity and liberation of those around us, find that God’s truth heals our communities as we give up our power, pulpits, and authority to elevate the voices on the margins to help us understand the truth that we have white-knuckled for so long as evangelicals that we have lost it.
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