When Believers Don't Believe | Sojourners

When Believers Don't Believe

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I have come to think that people of faith are the most unbelieving bunch.

In everyday parenting, I'll sometimes have to question my children on what they have done or said (or not done or not said). If they sense that I have any trace of disbelief in their answer, their plea for me to believe them quickly becomes urgent. “I did, mom, I did, you have to believe me!” they cry, their whole body postured to compel me to believe. All of a sudden, it is no longer about the issue at hand — it is about my affirmation of their personhood, whether or not I love and embrace them unconditionally.

There’s something about being believed in that brings wholeness to our identity.

When I look at much of the injustice that plagues our world today, it often comes down to a question of unbelief. Consider this: Experts estimate only about 15-20 percent of victims of sexual assault report to law enforcement. Often, this is because of the stigma and shame of reporting and the fear of not being believed or even blamed for the rape. Due to rampant sexism, the women’s testimony is often dismissed over the man’s.

Then there are the many folks who deny Black Lives Matter, and retort with "All Lives Matter." When those in the black community report to living in fear of being pulled over by cops and the myriad of ways they experience racism, they aren’t believed. Messaging from the status quo — "It’s not a problem anymore, we are post-racial" — rings louder and truer than actual stories of black people. LGBTQ Christians have been explaining, over and over again, how saying, “Love the sinner, hate the sin,” perpetuates homophobia and it erases identity. They tell us they feel hurt, hated, excluded, but they are not believed.

I know it isn’t just the religious who marginalize women and racial and sexual minorities, but oftentimes it is. Why is it so difficult for people of faith, who manage to structure their community and life around the belief of an unseen God, to not able to believe the very visible, tangible words and cries of their flesh-and-blood neighbors? Who forget that the very image of God is imprinted into these bodies?

O you of little faith, why don’t you believe?

It is as if they have blinders on their eyes and thick earwax blocking their hearing.

Which is funny, because these people of so little faith are often the ones who accuse others of turning away from God, of ignoring “clearly biblical” commands, and of bowing to the cultural pressures of the evil modern age. They think their faith is strong as a bulwark, unbudging and steadfast.

But I tell you that a faith that has lost the ability to imagine the other’s existence is stale and loses the capacity to stir the spirit of love. A faith in a God for the suffering that ignores the suffering of the marginalized is living a lie. A faith that doesn’t believe is an oxymoron. Paradoxical. Self-contradictory.

A good parent will always believe their child. She believes her baby is distressed. She believes her child is scared of monsters under the bed and in the closet. She believes her teenager is doing the best they can even when they make grave mistakes. When you love someone, you default to belief — you listen first to their experiences before pronouncing judgment. You accept, affirm, and embrace them. And it is from this position of unconditional engagement that you hear their story. When you are postured like this, you will believe. You will trust. You will love. And you will be changed.

How desperately we need people of faith in this time. People who, before being presented with reasonable evidence, will jump to belief. People who will hold the hand of the convict and say, "I love you, tell me your story." People who will tenderly pick up a rape or domestic violence victim and before they speak a word will look them in the eyes and promise, “I will always be on your side.” People who have no experience of other cultures and religions and yet can imagine their divergent worldview, and affirm what is meaningful to the other.

This is faith, that we face tumultuous cultural pressures but we are not afraid to step out and talk to those who bear the image of God.

This is faith, that we believe in the faces unseen, voices unheard, and stories untold.

This is faith, by which we shall be saved.

"I see faith in the irreverent, miracles in the ordinary, and beauty in the margins.”

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