Nobody likes to be wrong. Being wrong means we have put our faith in the wrong things, believed the wrong information, maybe even been intentionally misled. Being proved wrong is no fun, and makes us question our intelligence, and makes us less trusting of future information. Being right is always better. It makes us feel good, strong and powerful. Proving others wrong is even better. It means we have the power to show others their error. Proving others wrong can be addictive. It can lead you to believe you are always right, about everything. Even when you are wrong you continue to try to prove others wrong, knowing you are right, no matter what.
This is the attitude I am confronted with constantly by fundamentalist, often self described, “evangelical Bible-believing Christians.” They are bent on proving me wrong. They are convinced their form of belief in God is the only right form. How do they know? Well, the Bible says, of course. The Bible, to them, is the inerrant, infallible, WORD OF GOD. They seem to think God dictated every word in the Bible, and it is the end all and be all for everyone everywhere.
They are not concerned with any manner of loving correction, though. They forget that gentle words turn away wrath. They are often insolent in their writing. They are rude, disrespectful, contemptuous, an often brutal in their language and behavior. They must prove they are right, and I am wrong, at all costs. They use their Bible as a weapon, quoting scriptures, throwing the words of Jesus like rocks. They are convinced they have found the complete truth .. Jesus said he was the truth, after all.
In their zeal to convert everyone to their right thinking, they have lost the message of love. They have lost the message that Jesus came to die for. In their zeal they forget that Jesus, that God, is bigger than any book, bigger than any creed, bigger than any religion, bigger than any belief, bigger than any doubt, bigger than any opinion.
In their zeal they believe they have captured the truth. They believe the truth works only for them, all others are wrong, deceived, or living under a strong delusion. This thinking quickly leads to disrespect, intolerance and hatred for those who don’t believe as they do. You see it daily, in the rantings of the far right … you also see it in the rantings of the extreme left. They both believe they have a corner on the truth. They both believe they must prove the other side wrong.
In their zeal, they shut the gates of heaven on their fellow humans. Jesus has a warning for them. In Matthew 23: 13-14 he says “because you shut the kingdom of heaven against [humanity]; for you neither enter yourselves, nor allow those who would enter to go in.” Their efforts at conversion only make the convert, “twice a child of hell” as those who converted them.
I believe their need to be right, while all others are wrong, points to a strong insecurity. My beliefs make them uncomfortable, so they seek to quash them. These “evangelical Bible-believing Christians” want to convince us that their way is right … all others are wrong, including gay Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, or other religious believers and seekers.
R. Kirby Godsey writes in When We Talk About God… Let’s Be Honest:
“Our need to establish beyond all doubt that Jesus supersedes all other religious seers should astonish us. We become frightfully preoccupied with assuring that Jesus is the “only” name by which the “Father” can be known. It reveals more doubt than conviction. Our security does not rest in assuring that Jesus is the “only” name. Our hope rests in the belief in the name. For me, Jesus is the only name that stands at the center of my faith. My responsibility is to confess my faith. I have no responsibility to undermine the faith of others. If is a destructive and immoral turn of events when the source of our passion becomes principally from defending the exclusiveness of our witness.”
They have the unmitigated gall to question my faith, my beliefs and my salvation. They write things to me like, “you can’t be a Christian” … “the God you believe in can’t be my God.” Often they tell me how hot hell will be for me. It must be nice to be so sure of salvation. It must be nice to be so sure of right and wrong. I believe their cockiness is evidence of sin.
I quote from Shirley Guthrie’s book Christian Doctrine:
“The desire to know good and evil is rebellion against God. God alone is good, and he alone knows what is good and not good. To want to know and be good by ourselves (to “establish our own righteousness,” as Romans 10:2 puts it) means that we do not want to depend on God, to learn afresh every new day, in every new decision and situation, what is good and what is not good. And as soon as we think we do know, then we begin to feel competent not only to dictate to other people but to dictate to God himself what he must be and do and say if he is really good. Nor do we want day by day constantly to receive from him the ability to do what is good and avoid evil. We want to have the ability in ourselves. And as soon as we think we do have it, then we become certain that “good” is by definition what I, and those who are like me, want and do. We no longer need to be judged and corrected by God; we ourselves have become the infallible judges of good and evil-in place of God. An that is sin-the sin of good people! … The desire to be like God, knowing good and evil, is self-destructive. The man who is sure he has arrived in knowing being good is just the man who has cut himself off from the very relationship with God and fellowman in which his own humanity consists. In his independence from needing to learn and be helped by God and by fellowman, he does not really become free. He becomes the slave of his own self-deception, arrogance and inhumanity. He does not become like God, he becomes like Satan.”
We must constantly seek God’s guidance on what is good and what is evil. Arrogantly believing that only we know right and wrong is an affront to God. You’re saying you don’t need his direction anymore. You cut yourself off from God.
If God is captured in the Bible, and he doesn’t speak outside those pages, then God is dead. He died 3,000 years ago and hasn’t said a word since. It completely kills the Holy Spirit .. the Spirit Jesus promised would stay with us when he was physically gone. The Holy Spirit still speaks today, and it says things that are not in the Bible … like slavery is bad!
Believing the Bible to be inerrant to me is idol worship. You worship the Bible more than you worship God. I am guided by the Holy Spirit .. I am in love with the living God that is bigger than any Bible, any creed, any church, any ceremony.
In his book Being Peace, Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahn lays out the 14 precepts of Buddhism. The first precept is one we all could learn from, fundamentalist, and liberal Christians alike:
“Do not be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory, or ideology, even Buddhist ones [I would add ‘even Christian ones.’] All systems of thought are guiding means; they are not absolute truth.
This precept is the roar of the lion. Its spirit is characteristic of Buddhism. It is often said that the Buddha’s teaching is only a raft to help you cross the river, a finger pointing to the moon. Don’t mistake the finger for the moon. The raft is not the shore. If we cling to the raft, if we cling to the finger, we miss everything. We cannot, in the name of the finger or the raft, kill each other. Human life is more precious than any ideology, any doctrine.”
The Bible, and Jesus are like a raft taking us across a river. If we cling to the raft and see it as the final goal, we’ll never get to the shore. The raft, the Bible, is a tool to get to the shore … to get to God … the raft is not the shore … the Bible is not God.
But those who write to me, telling me I am wrong, have no intention of changing their beliefs. They do not see their worship of the Bible … their worship of the raft … as idolotry, but the absolute, God-given truth. Hahn has more advice here.
“Do not think that the knowledge you presently possess is changeless, absolute truth. Avoid being narrow-minded and bound to present views. Learn and practice non-attachment from views in order to be open to receive others viewpoints. Truth is found in life and not merely in conceptual knowledge. Be ready to learn throughout your entire life and to observe reality in yourself and in the world at all times.”
Certainly you don’t still believe everything you did even five years ago. Beliefs are always changing, always evolving as new information becomes available. We must be open to new revelations even in our spiritual life. The Holy Spirit is alive and moving daily, bringing new revelations, not found in scriptures. The Holy Spirit is not bound in a book, it’s alive in all of us!
Hahn’s third precept is the one I’d like us all to take to heart, though I doubt the fundamentalists of either side will:
“Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education. However, through compassionate dialogue, help others renounce fanaticism and narrowness.”
I will respect the views of the fundamentalist. I do not agree, and I will express my opposing view. But I will not force my view upon them. I will not ridicule their belief, I will not disrespect the journey they have taken to arrive at that belief. Any challenge I give them will be respectful, loving and gentle. I can tell you, the same respect has not been returned. I have received threats, propaganda and been offered education.
I only seek a compassionate dialogue with fundamentalists to help them renounce their fanaticism and narrowness … so they can learn respect for others … respect for the journeys that others have been on. I am called to respect the very real experiences of God we all have in our own way, either through Jesus Christ, the Buddha, nature, Muhammed or humanism.
The fundamentalists exclude me from their brand of Christianity. My respect for others belief systems [including theirs] is seen not as sincere understanding, but as “sincerely wrong” beliefs about God. So be it. Their opinions, their beliefs, mean nothing. They cannot separate me from God.
Indeed, we are assured in Romans:
“Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Nothing. Not homosexuality, not disbelief in certain creeds, Bible passages, litanies or opinions of other believers. Not sin, not death, not anything, not even being wrong. [I suspect that’s good news for all of us!] My fundamentalist friends, do you realize the freeing beauty of those words??? Nothing!! NOTHING! Will you take those words to heart? Will you believe the Holy Word Of God when it says NOTHING separates you from God??? Or will you continue to thump your Bible and point out all those who *you* believe have been separated from God?
The choice is yours.
Founder of Motley Mystic and the Jubilee! Circle interfaith spiritual community In Columbia, S.C., Candace Chellew (she/her) is the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians (Jossey-Bass, 2008). Founder and Editor Emeritus of Whosoever, she earned her masters of theological studies at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, was ordained by Gentle Spirit Christian Church in December 2003, and trained as a spiritual director through the Omega Point program of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. She is also a musician and animal lover.