Like many people, I tend to grapple with the various factors in my life which have influenced my worldview. I may be heterosexual but am definitely LGBTIQ+ affirming (in both Christian and secular contexts) and I am a libertarian socialist (or at least I try to be – and no, they don’t have to be a paradox). I also see a society in the throes of sexual condemnation (still a taboo) which leads to all kinds of repressions and dysfunctions which become many peoples’ legal but embarrassing ‘dirty little secrets’.
I have been raised in a Conservative evangelical context as a pastor’s son, went to an independent Christian school (100 in primary and 100 in secondary) run by the same church. I am now a pastor’s husband, having met my wife on Christian Connection (a Christian dating website), and my theology, ecclesiology and ideology have shifted slightly from my upbringing.
Disclaimer: I love and respect my parents and older brother greatly and think they are wonderful, despite any debates we have on various topics where we don’t always agree.
At its most basic, my stance has swayed into a more liberal theological realm (believing evolution and creation are co-existent not contradictory concepts, supporting gay marriage, conceding that the Old Testament may be a series of thought experiments grappling with the nature of who God is, without necessarily being literal, historical events), and my politics errs to the left (there is no such thing as the undeserving poor, and more needs to be done to challenge hierarchical corruption).
Factors have included debates I had at university and up to present day, with a variety of people across different faiths and denominations, experiences I have gone through, involvement in music, literary and film contexts (must have seen nearly 10,000 films by now, for my sins) have all colored my perceptions and way of thinking. Conservative evangelicals I have spoken to about this would often say that these influences have led to compromises; that I am not walking the ‘narrow path’ and may have gained ‘wishy-washy thinking’ or ‘fuzzy logic’ as a result. This is usually where I get quite emotive and counter in a fairly stern manner.
Like many people, I have gained a fair amount of damage through church experience. Church tends to be for hurting people, and hurting people inevitably hurt people. Sometimes, this sense of ‘damage’ I have experienced has come from a false interpretation of what I think God is saying, and suffering as a result. Other times, this has arguably come from church politics and the implicit hierarchy that exists across even the most egalitarian and progressive of churches – whether real or imagined.
Fairly frequently, it has been through the judgmental intent of certain members and leaders, in the spirit of conviction, which actually stirs up a sense of controlling condemnation, and at its worst, repression, where subjective behaviour modification becomes the main focus rather than unconditionally meeting people where they’re at. Sometimes, it has just been my own insecurity through learned behaviour that accents my perception with negative interpretations. Through previous negative experiences of church, I expect the worst, and as a result, perceive it when it isn’t actually happening.
Throughout my life, the thing that has angered me most is ‘playing the game’; where human interaction becomes a chess game of agendas, power plays, clever meanness and conflict for conflict’s sake. I really don’t want to play the game. I don’t care about getting to the top. I don’t actually want to, because I know how greasy that symbolic ladder is. It is easy through this experience, to become cynical about how the world works and also how churches work. Bill Hybels (Willow Creek) once said, “the local church is the hope of the world” and that classic idiom still drums around my head when I get fed up with it all. I go through times of ‘wrestling’ with faith and ideology, when it is hard to stay positive of how systems operate.
I get maddened by the manufactured consent of media propaganda where ‘gaslighting’ guilt-by-association and defamatory smears are all part and parcel of how to make news and culture happen. I get maddened when I see the same tactics in church, as if the church should know better. And here is me whingeing about it, as Macbeth declared in classic Shakespearean soliloquy “all sound and fury, signifying nothing” where the ‘dry bones’ of Ezekiel 37 become the recurring metaphor for the state of church life, and my rants don’t help anyone.
Sometimes, when I pray, I pray angry. I start to challenge God – sometimes about his/her non-existence, sometimes that s/he is real but utterly horrible, sometimes that s/he is less omnipotent and omniscient than we think and that his/her power to change things is limited. I will always prefer to wrestle with God than fully reject God. It is the difference between arguing with your loved one or just going quiet with them. If my wife and I are upset about something, I would prefer to debate it than quietly resent her and get bitter, and that’s what I feel challenged about my faith at the moment. Not to just resent the way things are and get bitter. Instead, at least grapple and wrestle with it: because I still love the church and I still love God; that maybe my agnostic Christian ways are not in vain, but that this wrestling will actually lead to breakthrough.
Haruki Murakami says: ‘Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional’. So maybe accepting the pain that comes with the way the world works is part of life. Choosing how to respond to it is where things can change.
by Simon Cole