I went through a period of time when I would get really, really angry thinking about ways faith has been misrepresented to me. I had a hard time holding my tongue when someone slipped in a trite Christian-y phrase or used a verse completely out of context to justify their own stances or actions. I went on several sharp and unforgiving rants about media-hungry Christians coming out in full force over to display their support in some silly, pointless squabble–especially when these same Christians’ voices were conspicuously absent regarding issues of significant consequence.
I still get angry about it sometimes, but I’m practicing not letting my anger distract me from how I’m trying to live my own life. It doesn’t help anyone (including myself) if I become part of the problem. Plus, I know there’s plenty of ways I have misrepresented and continue to misrepresent my faith, and there always will be. And, for lack of better terminology, I believe most people who perpetuate dubious claims are well-intentioned, and, at some level, believe what they are saying is true.
Once, over the course of many conversations discussing my anger and frustration with Christianity (and/or Christians), I told my counselor how the usage of certain verses in particular bother me. At the risk of opening myself up to theological arguments, I’ll tell you which ones I’m talking about. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 reads:
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
In many Christian settings, I was told that these verses referred to the Bible I knew, read, and memorized. These verses were “proof” that everything in the Bible was inerrant and straight from God. I am no historical or theological scholar, but it did not take much education for me to realize that Paul penned these verses a few hundred years before the biblical canon we know and use today was formed. 2 Timothy can’t be referring to what we call “Scripture” in our context.
I’m not disputing the validity of the canon or Biblical inerrancy here (or attempting to address the many, many different perspectives/theories regarding them), but it certainly didn’t help me hold on to belief in either one when I connected the inescapable fact that the “Timothy” rationale just didn’t make sense. It didn’t help me believe a whole lot of other things in Christian teaching, either. I felt like I’d been lied to. I cannot stand being lied to.
When I explained this to my counselor, he gently suggested, “Maybe it’s not that those people using those verses were deceitful, but misled.” Point taken.
Recently, a friend mentioned the importance of sincerity, and it’s giving me a new way to consider people with whom I disagree or who say things I believe to be inherently flawed. There’s just something about recognizing that someone truly believes what they are saying–and truly believes that what they are saying will do good–that helps me be less angry. Does that make any difference in my efforts to challenge and sift through my faith understanding, and to connect with and encourage others who are doing the same? No. But when I can see sincerity in those who choose not to challenge what they have been told, it helps me be more loving, more compassionate, and even a little less arrogant. That can’t be a bad thing.
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