I live in Texas. To many of its millions of residents, it is the greatest state in the union. We like things big and we like them to be bigger than every other state blessed to be in the Union. Texans are proud of their state; chalk it up to early indoctrination of Texas history throughout the life cycle of Texas Public Education.
But being in Texas, especially East Texas, means that we are sitting squarely and firmly in the buckle of the Bible Belt. The Bible Belt is a term used to describe the area where conservative Christianity is the prominent player in the state’s religiosity; generally this term refers to a high level of conservative, evangelical Christians. This does not mean that you can’t find conservative, evangelical Christians outside of this arbitrary boundary, but for some reason they seem to cluster in these areas in high concentrations.
I didn’t grow up in a church that beat people over the head in church or judged people for they way they acted. I felt loved and welcomed in a place where people were friendly and they loved serving God. I learned about Christ and God’s love for humanity. It wasn’t until I was older that I began to hear more Christians speak more and more on the necessity of evangelizing to people or even being “saved correctly.” I can remember on several occasions a certain church in the town I grew up in going door to door and asking people if they were to die tonight would they go to Heaven. I can remember thinking that it was an odd tactic to get people to come to church. It seemed so stand offish and so self-righteous that it left a bad taste in my mouth.
As I have grown and matured, this “I know more than you” mentality of Christianity has been something that I cannot stand, especially when it flies in the face of my theology. Theology is a deeply personal thing. Hopefully, people have grown, honed, and crafted their theology over time, adjusting and modifying it as time progresses and as contexts and situations change. I know some people will be turned off by the previous statement; please don't read it to say that I believe the message of God and/or Christ changes. The message of God's love, acceptance, forgiveness, and reconciliation never changes but how we find and understand it does. People's life experiences influence their interpretation, but as we grow and hopefully mature in faith we must recognize these changes. It is when people are unwilling to see another side of the theological coin when Christianity turns into a stalemate. (Don't believe me? It is happening in churches all over this country.)
But as I have grown and changed and my level of disdain for pushy, in your face, literalistic, anti-homosexual, "turn away from sin, you sinning sinners" rhetoric has also grown, I have come to the realization that maybe I am just like those Christians that I dislike. Maybe I believe my way is the highway we should travel, disregarding others along the way.
The denomination that I serve and I am ordained in has freedom of belief as main tenet of faith. Maybe this is why I get so upset — many people are becoming disillusioned with church or Christianity because they believe or feel that Christianity is whatever is shown on TBN or the “700 Club.” It's hard not to react when I hear people speaking of the president as the anti-Christ (P.S.: the word "anti-Christ" is never mentioned in the Bible) or how one day we will have to have the mark of the Beast to buy produce at the store or how things were better back in the good ole’ days when "everyone" went to church.
As one of my professors in seminary said just because we have freedom of belief doesn't mean that there is no such thing as a bad theology. I guess at the core of Christianity we are all called to follow Christ but many Christians claim to be Christ's followers in name only. Their actions do not match the Gospel professed on Sunday mornings.
So maybe I am like those Christians I can't stand, but still I want to foster an environment that welcomes differing thoughts to the table. If in the light of a civil discussion or Bible study we can come to a different conclusion, then that's OK with me. However, sadly, this is not taking place in many of our churches. We have all been in churches where people of like-mindedness get together and espouse the same doctrine and belief structure they have always done. Why are we going to the Bible to only reinforce what we already know? (I’m asking myself this question as well.)
Being aware of my faults, I will continue to strive to live out the Gospel message as faithfully as possible, and along the way I hope to bring others to know the same God of love and acceptance that I do. I know too many people that have been "burned" by a "well-intentioned, God-fearing Christian." If the church is to survive another 2,000 years, we will have to start somewhere.
Let’s come to the table under the banner of Christ in all its many forms. Just as Christ humbled himself so we must put aside anxieties, stereotypes, and preconceived notions about others; just as Christ did not think too highly of himself (even though he was divine), neither should we think that we are more than fallible human beings. We have no secret knowledge — just an understanding that God manifests Godself on this rock to show humanity a new vision — giving and serving others. Thinking that we have it all figured out or our ticket is punched is a rejection of the grace of God and the teaching of Christ.
Rev. Evan M. Dolive is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). He is married to his high school sweetheart and has two children ages 3 and 1. He currently serves in Beaumont, Texas. He also blogs for Houston Belief, Good Men Project, and Radical Parents. For more information about Evan visit www.evandolive.com or find him on Twitter or Facebook.
Image: Young girl with annoyed expression, Aaron Amat / Shutterstock.com