Susan Ortman Goering
April 6, 2015
Yesterday as I drove home from the gym, I heard an NPR interview with a pastor from Muncie, Indiana. Pastor Tim had testified before the legislature in Indiana in favor of the now famous Religious Freedom Restoration Act. He said the RFRA is a law to protect free speech. He said several times that he was a Christian, and he read the Bible, which was the source of his beliefs.
Sorry, Pastor Tim. I read the Bible, too. I just read it differently. The Bible does not affirm the kind of discrimination inherent in the RFRA. That is bad theology.
For me and those at Sojourn Mennonite Church, and multiple other churches in Fort Collins, to “Follow Jesus” means exactly the opposite. Jesus’ most important teachings encourage reaching out in relationship to people on the margins: the poor, those with disabilities, those of different races, and yes, persons who are gay and lesbian. Jesus emphasized relationships and love, not legalisms, rules, and dogma.
People have left and are leaving the Christian church in droves. A theologian friend, Linda Mercadante, interviewed thousands of people across the US for her book Belief without Borders. She reports that the primary reason for people leaving church is not that they were wounded somehow in a church. Rather, it is that they think that all Christians believe the same thing, and they require everyone else to believe the same. People do not want to be forced to sign on the dotted line to a prescribed, rigid, restrictive set of beliefs, and they fear that is what a church connection would require of them.
Nothing could be further from the truth, at least in our church and many others. Not all Christians think alike. We don’t act alike. Regardless of what the media portrays, we don’t have rigid, restrictive sets of beliefs, and we don’t force you to sign on any dotted line.
In fact, I’d say the best churches aren’t homogenous. They include diversity of thought. They welcome questions and doubts and intellectual thinking. They are inclusive in all ways, welcoming people regardless of age, gender, marital status, economic or social circumstances, race or ethnic background, sexual orientation, physical ability, faith tradition, or life situation. Our church does that and so do other churches in Fort Collins.
People in such churches are encouraged to think for themselves; they process together what it means to be faithful in their context. In Christian community, we support, challenge, and hold each other accountable, and we work for justice and peace in the world around us. We demonstrate our beliefs as we live them out.
That, it seems to me, is what Christianity is all about. It isn’t about signing on to some set of prescribed, restrictive beliefs at all. It is about how beliefs are lived.
I am certainly not the only Christian in Fort Collins to hold this point of view, and ours is not the only church where you would find this emphasis. We welcome you to join one of these good churches in the coming weeks and experience a different kind of Christianity.
As I said, we read the Bible too, and we read it differently.