I am one of those church kids. You know the kind—I sang “Father Abraham,” complete with enthusiastic actions, put my dollar into the offering bucket every Sunday and could tell you the details of David and Bathsheba’s illicit affair by age seven.
I was taught in most Sunday school classes to have a good, healthy abhorrence of relative truth. We like things to be black and white, right and wrong. It’s so much more comfortable when we know that thinking this way or doing it that way means we are in the right and everyone else is in the wrong.
But one day it occurred to me—what if there are some gray issues? What if there are things in life that are entirely dependent on perspective?
Before you start outlining your next letter to the editor, hear me out on this. I am not trying to call into question ultimate Truth. However, it’s an undeniable fact that who you are colors your perspective on life. Whether that is your cultural background or simply your personal history, it does change the way you see things. Does that make you right and everyone else wrong? I say, “Not necessarily either way.” (Is it obvious yet that I love being vague and ambivalent?)
I am thinking of the person you met that believes in infant baptism, much to your chagrin, or that church down the road with the marquee signs (“God only answers knee-mail”), or even the Christians who hurt you so terribly that one time. It’s far too easy to slap a label on someone and decide who they are and what they think, and, even more importantly in your mind, how you will prove them wrong.
I have a girlfriend that came from an Independent Fundamental Baptist background and married an Englishman 16 years her senior. She already has two kids, with one more on the way. I grew up in a nondenominational charismatic church and married a Nebraska boy. The closest I have come to maternal instincts are Winston and Eleanor—our two cats. The only thing we have in common is that we both married pastors. We are different on pretty much everything else. But for some reason, we have absolutely fallen in love with each other. We read the same books, love to talk about movies, poke sly fun at each other’s denominations and ourselves. It would have been very easy for her or me to enter this friendship determined to help “set her free from the bondage” we were in. But we have chosen to accept our differences, talk about them, laugh about them, argue about them and love each other as we are. I’m sad to say that the old me would have dismissed Gina as a staid, stuck-up Baptist. A no-dancing, no-drinking, no-women-preachers, submit-to-your-husband kind of gal. But instead I found an intelligent, witty, thinking woman with a biting sense of humor.
My point is this: It’s impossible for you to have anything resembling a legitimate opinion about someone until you have, in the words of Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird, “crawled into his skin and walked around in it for a while.”
There are issues that we know to be defined by the beginning and end of truth (Jesus is the only way to salvation, etc.). But then there are others that are all about personal conviction. A “hunch” from the Holy Spirit is not a license to force your opinion as Gospel Truth. Your judgment must be relative to the individual in question, whether that is another or even yourself.
As J. Nehru said, “It is far better to know our own weaknesses and failings than to point out those of others.” We are to have a sense of unconditional love for those who surround us, so that it doesn’t matter if we agree with every theological issue like old earth versus young earth, sanctification and baptism, or even whether you should kiss her before you put a ring on her finger.
It’s so much more than “There, but for the grace of God, am I.” It’s the understanding that your perception of a situation isn’t necessarily the only one. One of the first rules of journalism is that there are never just two sides to a story—a real story (like a life) is a messy thing. This needs to be true in our understanding of each other. There are opinions, methods and even theologies that are subjective to personal perspective. Where you grew up, whom you grew up with, the choices that you made and even the ones that were made for you will always influence the way that you see life.
Shall I dare to make a statement? Not all Christians have to be Republican. We don’t all have to go to the same church. All the moms don’t have to stay home. If you want, you can kiss dating good-bye or you can hang onto it for dear life. It’s your decision.
Christianity is rarely black and white. There are times in life when what is right for me may not be right for you. What you think is (more than likely) not what I think. If you are ever presented with a situation in which someone has a differing opinion from yourself (and you will, I promise), the objective is not always to make sure that everyone knows your opinion. It’s not always about proving yourself right and the rest of the world wrong. There are, of course, times when a strong “fight of faith” is necessary. I would make the suggestion that you wait for an open door when it comes to individual relationships. Your opinion will matter so much more when it’s asked for. There’s a distinct difference between respecting your brothers and sisters in the faith and compromising yourself. Offer them the same respect that you wish from them for your opinions.
There will always be people who cause you to question your opinions, people that will shatter the rigid rules you prepared and cause you to really explore why you believe what you do.
True faith can handle questions. We are not to blindly follow simply because everyone else does. Explore your faith and opinions. Do it in love for your God and for those around you. Individual perspective does invoke relativity, but its relevance does not negate ultimate Truth.
[Sarah Styles Bessey is a displaced Canadian now living in South Texas. She works in marketing and is married to a youth and college and career pastor—which is the reason the closest they have come to parental instincts are their two cats.]