I know …. we did post them on the same day …. but go read part 1 first ok?
I think the single most dangerous story that we can tell is “God is on my side”. It’s a really easy story to fall back on because it’s like pulling trump in Euchre: it beats everything. If God is on my side, then I don’t have to listen to others, or question myself. If God is on my side, then everything is justifiable.
Ten years ago, I was sure that God was on my side. I was well into Bible college and I thought I had all the answers. I had a narrative that was obviously true, and I didn’t even have to think about it any more. The story I told fit my experience, and fit what I read in scripture. It was SO simple.
The problem with the “God is on my side” story is that it has a nature corollary: “God is NOT on your side.” And when the story is followed to a logical conclusion it ends up with the question “If God is on my side, then why are other people on the other side?” The natural answer became “Because they are bad!” I think at first my internal story went something like this “This who would disagree with me on what the Bible teaches about homosexuality are obviously either unregenerate or just twisting what they know Scripture to say deep down because they just want to be in relationship so bad.”
All of these assumptions shattered when I met a Pastor I will call “Ben”. He was a professor at a conservative Bible College, who I got to know through a mutual friend. He firmly believed that Scripture taught that homosexual unions were blessed by God. He was also as straight as the day was long. By teaching his views he faced the real possibility of losing his job. But his conscience compelled him to speak up because of the hateful homophobia he saw perpetuated around him. He also believed deeply that this understanding was truth, and that he must speak the truth. Ben and I do not see eye to eye on a lot of things when it comes to interpretation of Scripture, but I admire his faith and integrity deeply.
For a time I switched to a kinder but no less arrogant story: “You are deceived!” I could tell myself that he was a good person, but that the devil, or society, or something else had simply blinded him to the obvious truth. I would pray that God would lift the blinders from his eyes so he would see. But a gay friend of mine, once asked me a question when we were discussing this one day. “How do you know that you aren’t the one that is deceived?” I laughed it off at first, but the longer I pondered it the more it sunk in, there was no way that I could prove that I wasn’t. And if I couldn’t prove that I wasn’t deceived then how could I be so sure that he was?
This realization left me in a place of paralyzing epistemological angst. I felt as if surrendering the “God is on my side” story would leave me unable to know anything at all. If I couldn’t be sure, then why believe anything, or do anything? I think one of the reasons why some Christians clamp onto the issue of homosexuality like a pit bull and refuse to let go is because for them it has become the symbol for certainty and belief. It can feel like, “If I let go of “God is on my side” then I will know nothing at all!” Homosexuality seems to have become like the bottom block that their faith is teetering on in a game of Jenga, and if they try to move it everything else will fall down.
For me the answer to this dilemma came through a deeper understanding of the basic Christian doctrine of the Fall. I had to believe there was Truth, and that God’s word was true. But I came to see that I always access that truth through my own falleness. I could have absolute faith in God, but I should not have absolute faith in myself because I am not perfect, and God is still working in me.
That allowed me to construct a new story that shapes my life today. I call it “I am following God as best I know how!” I don’t have to pretend that I am infallible and I have all knowledge, but I am doing the best with what resources I have at my disposal. The best thing about this story is that it is one that I can apply to others as well. When others disagree with me on this topic or any other I do not have to assume they are evil or deceived, I can instead believe good about them.
I believe that starting from this place of believing good about others is a key component to bridging the gap. It assumes that there is something worth building towards, and it requires personal humility. It allows dialog and opens questions. If the other person is good, then why are they acting the way they are? What do we have in common that we can build from? This does not minimize the areas that we do disagree, but does keep me honest and respectful in our disagreement.
I should point out to be fair that this story of “I am following God the best I know how” is just as important in dealing with individuals who are more “conservative” than me as well as those who are more “liberal”. I recently had an encounter with an individual who after reading my testimony wanted to meet with me to pray to cast out the demons oppressing my life as evidenced by the fact that I openly and honestly admit to continuing to have a homosexual orientation. My immediate first reaction was to label the guy a “wingnut” and refuse to meet with him. I joked about him to my friends, and even made a snide comment about it on another blog, and felt justified in doing so.
But then I got a surprise: I received an email from the gentleman several days later profoundly apologizing to me, admitting he had acted rashly and arrogantly, and in a way that was disrespectful and potentially harmful to me. And then he asked to meet with me again, in a coffee shop nearby. My first inclination was to say no, but I felt the promptings of the Spirit, and finally decided to agree to meet with him. We had coffee together and talked for half and hour. He prayed for me. It was his contention that he could sense the oppression of many spirits on me. It is my contention that I sensed no such thing, and that several of the things he interpreted as spiritual signs were better explained by awkwardness and gas. I disagree with his theology on almost every point. But as we met I prayed that God would help me to understand him, and him to understand me. I think that our meeting was productive. Our time has made him begin to reconsider some things given what he experienced in getting to know me. I won’t claim to have changed my views on much, but I can say that I was honestly open to what he said. Our dialog continues, but it does so because both of us are willing to start with the story describing the other as “Following God the best we know how”.
The journey to the point of first recognizing, and then changing the stories that had kept me from building bridges was a long one, and I don’t claim to have everything figured out yet. But then one of the best things about my new story is that I don’t have to have it all figured out yet. But by owning my own falleness instead of just making pronouncements about others, and by extending grace to others even as I ask for it myself, I can be part of creating an environment where the Holy Spirit can most effectively work. And I hope I am helping to set a foundation that is most conducive to the building of bridges. I can’t guarantee or assume that others will want to build a bridge towards me, but by changing the stories I tell myself, I know I have torn down a significant obstacle that used to get in the way.