For nearly four years, despite my seminary studies and perceived ministry call, my family has been unchurched. I could go into a long explanation as to why, but the short version is that it wasn’t high enough on my priority list, we had a lot going on, and our family (which included our two very young sons) wasn’t ready yet. Eventually, “the stars aligned” and we found a faith community that both fit us and where we fit. This community has accepted my entire family with open arms and welcoming hearts. I’ve had the honor to preach my first two sermons there despite not having completed seminary yet. It can’t be merely coincidence that this community we’ve found is called Faith UCC.
If you’ve been following this blog or me, personally, for the last several years, you’ve noted my progressive evolution. If you’re paying attention, you should also have seen that my progressive views have only shifted my focus toward following Jesus, but have not, in any way, compromised my faith. In fact, I spend more time studying scripture, praying, and examining spirituality than I ever have even at the height of my seminary course schedule. Becoming an open, progressive Christian has only drawn me closer to God, not pushed me further away. Doubts? Yes, I have them. Everyone does. It’s a part of faith. I can’t speak for everyone’s experience, of course, but this has been mine.
People like me are often accused of watering down the gospel, capitulating to culture, or not taking the bible seriously because we don’t read it literally. I knew I had found the right denomination when I read my own thoughts echoed on the UCC website: it is precisely because I take the bible seriously that I cannot possibly take it literally (but, more on my problem with biblical inerrancy in future blog posts).
When I look at the bible, I try to interpret it through my Jesus-Kingdom-Love lenses. This is also how I try to conduct myself in my daily life. Because I believe that Jesus is God (and The Word) made flesh, I take his own words as my living imperative: Love God and love your neighbor as myself. If, as we read in Romans, love is the fulfillment of the law, then whether I get the minutia of doctrine correct is not the measure of my faith or my love of God, is it? If doctrine is the measure of one’s faith in God–determining whether one “goes to heaven” or doesn’t–and there’s only one proper way to interpret scripture, yet there are tens of thousands of denominations (yes, you read that right, more than 41,000) that differ on various doctrinal positions, then there’s going to be a whole lot of people left out, isn’t there? Put simply: I will not put the words of Paul and other authors of scripture before God. I will not elevate the bible to a position equal to that of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. I refuse to lift the bible up as a fourth member of the Godhead. It doesn’t belong there. I take it seriously, I use it to help me understand God, it informs my faith, but it is not flawless and meant to be taken wholly literally. The bible is a holy book, but it is a book; not God.
I could be wrong. I don’t really know much of anything.
I don’t know, but I do have faith. I have faith that God is a loving God and that God is always good. I have faith that God has given us brains capable of interpreting scripture, our surroundings, and our experiences, and that God wants us to use those brains.
And yet, I understand that I can only see any of that through the prism of my own experience. If someday I stand before God and God says to me, “Jessica, you’ve loved too much, you’ve accepted too many,” I think I’ll be okay. If my greatest sin is that I refused to condemn others for their differences, well all right then. The plank in my eye is not small, so I’ll refrain from picking at the specks in my neighbors’.
The sin management of others is not my job. Neither am I a member of the Christian police. I will admit that it is difficult, as a flawed human being, not to judge others. I tried not to do that when I sat on the Christian right, but I failed sometimes. I try not to do that as a member of the “Christian left,” but I still fail sometimes.
Most importantly, know this: wherever a debate rages over faith issues with both sides bolstering their argument by proof-texting the other (civil rights, LGBT issues, hell, women’s roles, etc.), I will always be on the side of love. Where my own reading of the bible causes me to wrestle over conflicting views within scripture, I will always be on the side of love.
What does love look like? I don’t know precisely, but I do know what love looked like in the example of Jesus. Paul tells us what he thinks love looks like and what love does not look like in 1 Corinthians 13. And so I will choose love. I will choose to show my best version of love to everyone I meet. It’s been said so much over the last few weeks, but it’s true: Love wins. Ultimately, love wins because God wins. In my mind, it’s as simple and as complicated as that.
You’re free to disagree, of course, and I’m still going to love you.