Recently, one of my favorite Christian authors, Glennon Doyle Melton, announced that she had divorced her husband of 14 years and is now in a relationship with a woman. This, just a few months after another of my favorite authors made a similar confession after 10 years of marriage. My feelings about this have been mixed and Glennon’s news, in particular, hit me hard. Much harder than I would have expected it to, and I’ve spent the last few days trying to figure out why I feel so devastated by the choices and beliefs of those I don’t know personally but have looked up to so sincerely.
As I’ve examined my heart on this issue, I’ve come to the conclusion that much of my struggle comes from the fact that my Christian faith has been build on the pursuit of correct doctrine. I’ve spent all my life as a Christian re-evaluating my beliefs on everything from the clothing I wear to the observance of Old Testament commandments, and I’ve been taught since my baby-Christian years that I must do all I can to protect myself from “ungodly” influence. My Christian life, until relatively recently, has been built on the premise that I must avoid anything “secular,” “pagan” or “new age,” lest these things influence me in “ungodly” ways (Google “Should Christians do Yoga” for some interesting views on this subject.) I’ve needed to be sure of everyone’s stance on “important” issues so that I could identify the “false teachers” and keep away from those who don’t believe “correctly.” All this in an attempt to avoid what may be the very deepest of all christian-culture fears: being deceived. American Christianity has turned the act of following Jesus into the work of believing, saying and doing all the right things. In this view, “incorrect doctrine,” and those who teach it, must be avoided at all costs. In the 15 years I’ve been a Christian, I think I’ve been taught more on the subject of “avoid false teachers” (2 Peter 2:1-3) than “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31.)
In light of this, my Christian duty, as I’ve understood it for the past fifteen years, is to stop reading anything these authors write and stop listening to anything they have to say. I’m to close the doors on them and never allow them to “influence” me or my children–a path I’ve taken entirely too many times, before. But I won’t do it anymore. I refuse to oppress others because they believe differently than I do, and I refuse live in fear. I’ve survived false teachers before and I’ll survive them again, not because I’m smart enough to recognize deception, but because the Holy Spirit is my redeemer, my teacher, my guardian and my friend. How am I supposed to respond to those who believe differently? With love. Unconditional, unrestricted, unlimited, unmistakable love. Sometimes love calls for correction, “fighting the good fight” and even intolerance, such as Jesus with the Pharisees. At other times, it begs us to sit and simply hold the hands of our neighbors.
Jesus’s final prayer on earth was not that His followers live sinlessly, or that their doctrine be theologically sound. He prayed that we would be united as one (John 17:20-23.) I think unity begins when we stop being afraid so that we can begin the work of loving each other as God loves us.
“I think that prejudice and dislike are usually misunderstandings based upon ignorance of each other’s hearts. I really think that to truly know someone — to truly truly know someone — is to love her. Fear can’t survive proximity. Hate can’t survive a real conversation between two vulnerable, humble, honest human beings.”
– Glennon Doyle Melton