Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of Christian religious expression in America today. The first kind of religion aims to provide all the answers in black and white. It is the kind that says “We are going to tell you what to think about everything. We are going to tell you exactly how to think about God, about life, about yourself, about heaven and hell.” This kind of religion is thriving today, and there is much to be grateful for. Any time a church or pastor or layperson helps someone develop a more vital relationship with God, that is a good thing.
There is a second kind of religion that says, “We are going to encourage you to thinkdeeply about God, about life, about our common humanity.” It is a form of religious expression that acknowledges there might not be black and white answers for every question and every situation. It affirms that, within the community of faithful believers, there can be a diversity of understanding about the many existential questions with which life confronts us. It affirms that the Bible reveals mysteries we can’t fully comprehend, and it is honest about how our biblical interpretations and understandings have evolved over the years. Because of Galileo, we think differently about how our universe was created. Because of biological science, our anthropology has changed. We have been willing to reinterpret many biblical passages on the role of women, the sin of slavery, the reality of marriages that end in divorce. We are currently struggling with the meaning of biblical passages on the issue of human sexuality.
I unapologetically espouse the second kind of religion because I believe it leads to a deeper and more resilient faith. The presence of real suffering in life challenges any simplistic understanding of God’s will. There are times when we face moral or ethical choices that defy easy black-and-white answers. As we grow older, and hopefully wiser, we look back on our journeys and acknowledge the many times we thought we were right but, in fact, we were wrong. The mysteries of the universe and the challenges of everyday life have moved us in the direction of humility rather than certainty.
As a Wesleyan and a Methodist, I believe that diversity makes us stronger. Regardless of which form of religious expression you lean toward, I believe that the love of God and the mystery of God’s grace is large enough to embrace us all. I joyfully affirm St. Paul’s organic understanding of the church as found in I Corinthians 12 – his belief that all the parts of the body need one another. As did Paul, I pray that the body of Christ does not dismember itself and its witness in a world that needs the church more than ever before.
Rev. Don Underwood