I thought salvation [meant] having the right opinions about God and that fighting the good fight of faith [required] defending those opinions at all costs. I was a fundamentalist because my security and self-worth and sense of purpose in life were all wrapped up in getting God right – in believing the right things about him, saying the right things about him, and convincing others to embrace the right things about him, too.
– Rachel Held Evans, Faith Unraveled
I’ve dedicated my entire Christian life to the pursuit of correct doctrine. I’ve made unimaginable sacrifices and mistakes in my search for what’s “right” and I’ve held myself apart from all I believed was “wrong.” Christianity – at least the particular fundamentalist/right wing/evangelical flavor I was marinated in for almost 20 years – is a religion based on fear and avoidance, its guiding principle: “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch.” Months ago, after reading a book by Anne Lamott (a self-described “bad Christian,”) I told a friend that I felt I was standing at the edge of a precipice and the slightest step forward could result in the destruction of everything I’d ever known or believed to be true. I backed away from that ledge but couldn’t deny the pull of my spirit toward it and so I turned and walked alongside it for a while. Now, almost exactly one year later, I find myself staring into the void again. This time, I will allow myself to fall. I will leave that which has been most important in my life. I will leave my christian faith.*
Christianity taught me to do everything within my power to interpret the passages of the bible correctly. Now I must dismantle everything I’ve ever known, tearing it all down in order to build, as a friend recently put it, “an authentic faith.”
Christianity taught me to fear experiences that were central to other religions as “portals” to the demonic. Now, I must open myself to instruction outside my own faith in order to discover a God without borders and limitations.
Christianity formed my identity as the lens through which I see the world and also the narrative through which I define myself. Now, I must remove this raiment, although I’m not sure who I am without it, in order to discover the truth of my identity.
Christianity taught me that its particular brand of salvation could be lost. Now, I must be willing to lose it in order to walk an exceptional path.
Stripped of everything except the very core of my beliefs, this is what I’m left with:
- I believe that God loves me and every one of the fallible, messed-up human beings who has ever walked this planet unconditionally. No matter who we are or what we’ve done, His love for us – all of us – is infinite and irrevocable.
- I believe that Jesus died on a cross for the forgiveness of all my sin and that true salvation is a gift. While I do not fully understand what salvation is or how it works, I do believe that it is NOT contingent upon my behavior or my knowledge of correct doctrine.
- I believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God and that none of us interpret it 100% correctly.
- I believe that the Trinity is made up of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, (not “Holy Bible”) and it is the Spirit who gives direct revelation. This means that if I experience God in a way that isn’t mentioned in the bible or get revelation from Him that seems to contradict the bible, my interpretation of the bible must be subject to change.
- I believe that God’s love compels Him to fellowship with us and that He does not limit His fellowship to one small population of the world (ie the Jews and Christians.) While I believe that God made Himself known most comprehensively through Jesus, I believe He also makes Himself known in other ways and through other spiritual practices. I believe that members of other religions can know God just as well as – and in some cases better than – those who claim Christianity.
- I believe that there are religions outside of Christianity that have done a better job practicing and defining certain principles present in Christianity (ie. meditation) and wisdom can and should be gleaned from these religions.
- I believe in God’s ability to protect more than Satan’s ability to destroy and that I must proceed without fear if I am to receive all that God wants to give. (I suppose “belief in Satan/Darkness/Yin” can also be added to this list)
- I believe that God has made provision for the salvation of those who do not know Jesus. As CS Lewis wrote: “We know that no man can be saved except through Christ. What we do not know is that only those who know Him can be saved through Him.” I believe there is far more about salvation that we don’t know than what we do.
- I believe that if all these beliefs are correct, true salvation cannot be “lost.” Even if I walk away from the Christian faith and even if this journey leads to a place of disbelief in Jesus (a possibility I see as remote but must – if I’m to continue this journey in truth and freedom – allow for,) I can still be saved. Not by doctrine, but by the love of Him who knows me and has set me on this path.
- I believe that must take this journey seeking nothing but love. I don’t feel that I can move forward seeking “God” because there’s too much baggage associated with that word. But I believe that “God is love” and I believe that if I seek love – the love of a “Being” without boundaries and interpretations, the love of others and the love of myself – I will be drawn deeper toward the truth. I believe that in seeking to know and experience “holy” love (if I may be forgiven for throwing out a term I know entirely too little about,) I will come to know God more as He is than who we’ve made Him to be.
It is from this place that I must move forward. It’s an exciting but vulnerable place to be and I will share as often as I feel ready and able to. Although I plan to be more private and protective and gentle with myself during this journey than I’ve ever been, I also know that transparency is a necessary part of this process. I must let go of my desire to be “right” and faithful and consistent. Oliver Wendell Holmes writes:
Don’t be consistent, but be simply true.
*Please note that I have written I will leave “MY christian faith” and not “THE christian faith.” Although I must allow that as a possibility, I don’t see it as a probability. My Christianity is being reformed into something new, but I think the essentials will remain. Or then again, maybe they wont. I don’t know where this journey will lead, only that I am compelled to take it.