|It wasn't long ago I was the person in this drawing.|
I spent the first 25 years of my life as an independent, fundamentalist, King James Bible believing Baptist. I knew Baptist theology inside out and believed what I was supposed to believe—that is until the answers I had been taught no longer seemed sufficient for the questions that life was throwing at me. Life began to reshape my theology.
I’ve spent lots of time in conservative churches since I “left the faith,” and in that time I’ve heard a lot of theology that I didn’t agree with. I’ve heard things that made me want to jump out of my pew and leave the auditorium had it not been for the people sitting on either side of me. More often than not, my “coexist” bumper sticker and I have been extremely out of place.
Yet, being a former fundamentalist Baptist, I seem to have a soft spot in my heart for religious conservatives. During my time at a “liberal” seminary I have often found myself defending fundamentalists during discussions rather than criticizing (trust me; I have plenty of negative things I could say). Similarly, I also tend to not like when others ridicule the faith and beliefs of conservatives; perhaps because I still have so many friends and family members who still align themselves with those views. One critique in specific I tend to see over and over again is regarding the “bad theology” of fundamentalists/ conservatives.
Please understand, I’m not admitting to a mea culpa or wishing I could go back to the way things were—no, not at all. Fundamentalist theology has serious problems in my opinion. It is inconsistent, illogical, anti-intellectual, and downright heartless at times. An excellent blogger I’ve recently started following, Rachel Held Evans, recently wrote a good piece to this point. Yet, as much as I completely agree with what she and others say, that soft spot still remains (and I’d bet Held Evans would admit the same).
I think it’s the loyal, devoted faith of these people that I respect. I’m reminded of a time I saw Christian musician Stephen Curtis Chapman in concert. Performing after the tragic death of his 5 year old daughter, he shared that in the aftermath he went through a time where he questioned his faith. He had to decide whether or not he was going to be true to what he believed in spite of the tragedy that had befallen his family. Chapman shared that in the face of the pain and suffering, he still believed.
How can you call this “bad theology?” This is a man who has suffered more than most can comprehend, for what can be worse than for a parent than to bury their own child? I think also of my own faith journey, how in the face of circumstances that seem trivial to this man’s suffering, my theology began to change drastically—but “suffering” isn’t something to be compared amongst individuals (“my scar is worse than yours”) and neither do I regret my own religious choices—but the respect still remains.
This is what I think. Theology is only bad if it doesn’t work for you. The theology I heard for so long growing up doesn’t work for me anymore. Yet I imagine that the vast majority of those who have sat in the pews with me have been comforted by these beliefs. But I offer this word of caution, for just because certain beliefs or theology works for you doesn’t mean it will work for everyone else. Some might say theology is about believing the right things (I would disagree), but you’ve got to be able to sleep at night. So, as simplistic and shallow as this might sound, I mean it from the bottom of my heart—believe whatever you need to believe. I’ll respect you’re theology, all I ask is the same in return.