Thank you to everyone who responded in kind on the blog or on Facebook to my recent faith crisis post. Continuing with the topic of faith crises, I’ve been thinking a lot about how people of faith who don’t “fit the mold” are treated.
I was listening to the Liturgists podcast recently and Christian author Rachel Held Evans was talking about how so many people judge her based on what she does or does not believe instead of judging her on her acts. She talked about how frustrating it was to be attacked or rejected for simply having a different belief than the person who was attacking her. Rachel Held Evans has done so much good work, both through her writing and through personal advocacy. (For an example, read how she supports the Hope for Healing Hands organization.) Yet her opposers never consider those things. They write her off for simply not holding tightly to certain beliefs.
Now, let me be clear: I don’t feel like I’ve ever been personally attacked over my lack of beliefs.
What I have seen are blogs, articles, comments, and posts that suggest that people who don’t believe every Christian dogma are not Christians. I’ve seen blogs, articles, comments, and posts that suggest that Christians should be more judgmental and less merciful. In this age of the internet, it seems that we are willing to say things online that we wouldn’t say to a person’s face. I know I have to simply let go of some things or avoid reading them at all. But it disheartens me when I read such hurtful and unkind sentiments from Christians.
This summer Steven and I, along with our kids, participated in a kids’ theater camp. I did nothing impressive at all there – I was just an extra volunteer who did whatever they told me to (lots of backstage stuff and crowd control mostly). At the end of the week, one of the camp directors told us we were an example of a great Christian family. I teared up a little over that, mostly because I was thinking If she only knew the truth.
She said that to a woman who isn’t sure God exists. She said that to a wife who has had deep, hard conversations with her husband about faith. A wife whose beliefs once were 100% in line with her husband’s beliefs, but now have changed some. She said that to a mom who wonders how to talk to her kids about God and faith. A mom who has quit leading the family in evening prayers because she doesn’t feel like praying herself.
But she said that because I was a willing helper with a good attitude. So was Steven. Because we cared about those kids and tried to give them a good experience. Because no matter what I do or don’t believe, I still think it’s important to love others and seek a meaningful life. She judged me by my actions, not by my beliefs. She had no idea how much I struggle with my beliefs. Though I don’t think we are a “model Christian family,” I was actually very blessed by her kind words, especially given the fact that I hold some beliefs very loosely nowadays.
Over two years ago I wrote my only blog post that has ever gone semi “viral.” It was about guilt and seeking a deeper meaning of what it means to be a Christian. I was very afraid of posting it, wondering if I would hurt people in my life who had influenced my faith journey. But I posted it, and the first response I got was a message from one of my missionary “uncles” from my Thailand days. You know what he said? “You will never offend me. I am a recovering legalist who hates narrowness and loves wideness and compassion!”
That was the best message I could receive after that very vulnerable post. I needed compassion in that moment. I needed gentleness. And I received it. Guess what? That post did hurt some people, but I was able to have a wonderful healing conversation with someone in my life after that. And the kind and understanding responses helped me cope with the tough responses.
So if you know any Christian “doubters,” here is my request to you: Treat doubters with compassion, not legalism. See the person, not the beliefs or rules. Don’t judge doubters based on which dogmas they do or do not adhere to. Respect their faith journey, even if it doesn’t mirror yours. A little kindness and love go a long way.
As I read your post, I was thinking of Francis’s address to Congress this week in which he held up the example of Dorothy Day. During her lifetime, many in the Catholic church looked askance at her, but she lived an incredible life of service to the marginalized and is now named as a Servant of God. Actions show where your heart lies.