Reconciliation vs Retribution, Part 3

Reconciliation vs Retribution, Part 3

The term “heresy” is used with derogatory connotations by evangelicals & their apologists, yet all it means is belief contrary to orthodoxy. The religious elite of western Christianity have rarely been on the right side of history, so finding myself out of alignment with what they have determined to be “truth” is more an encouragement than a warning sign. Never take something as truth simply because the larger institution has said it to be so. Stay heretical, my friends. @descontruct_everything[1]

The militant-like manner in which some churches, church leaders, and members today defend their doctrines and specific interpretations of biblical texts is a hallmark of churchianity. Any challenge to what they hold as sacred and true is met with strong resistance. Being strong in our faith is one thing; being closed-minded against what might expand and clarify our understanding about God and our world is quite another. The first enlivens our Christian faith and helps us live a more Christ-like life; the second makes us legalistic bigots. When the particulars of our understanding of God and scripture begin to crumble, as they inevitably will, we must either allow new possibilities and understandings to flow into our consciousness or we must stubbornly hold to our old beliefs, twisting them beyond all logic in order to hold them together. Earthly understandings, like everything else of the earth, are temporary and specific to a limited time and space. God and God’s kingdom may be eternal, but our physical and mental experience and understanding of them is not.

One area where churchianity often seeks to hold together that which was never intended to be held together has to do with arguments over the internal consistency of the Bible. Many believe that the Bible, as the Word of God, must be inerrant and non-contradictory or it cannot be God’s Word. A considerable amount of mental gymnastics and intentional blindness are required to make the inerrancy case, at least in my opinion. Regardless, many attempt to make the case, and many others accept and defend it as truth. Any challenge to biblical inerrancy or inconsistency is met with accusations of being unchristian, heretical, or some other title of unworthiness or lack of seriousness in one’s religious seeking. Such judging, labeling, and threats of hell are implied forms of retribution against those who dare to challenge tightly held doctrine. The need for such retributive responses comes from the threat of toppling the unstable platform holding up beliefs that cannot stand against reason. Some fear that if what they believed in the past turns out not to be “true,” then their faith’s foundations will collapse with it. They confuse temporal understandings with truths we are constantly called to grow into.

It is interesting to me that Jews have argued about the meaning and application of scripture for thousands of years, not as a way of dividing or condemning one another of a lack of faithfulness, but as a way to better understand and explore the scriptures and their application. It is in the Jewish DNA to debate scripture in a process called midrash, and the debates continue unabated today. Why some Christians believe they have uncovered the “true and eternal” answers to long-running scriptural debates in their short life-times is beyond me. Debates about scripture should not bring retribution but should be experienced as mind-expanding, learning opportunities. No one is required to change their mind, only to open it so they can hear new possibilities and better understand and accept viewpoints different from their own. That is how we can bring reconciliation to interpretive differences in scripture – that we can argue and debate without dividing, accusing, and punishing. Perhaps we could set a reconciling example for our politicians in the process.

If we can accept that the same creating, unifying force – God, for Christians – inspired sacred writings and actors through various ages and cultures to record their individual experiences in what has been retained as scripture, then we can read the Bible and other sacred texts in their appropriate context. That appropriate context includes different people with different views living in different space-and-time realities writing about God’s existence in and influence on their world. The “truth,” to the severely limited extent we are able to grasp it, can only be approached in the consciousness-expanding processes of open-minded reconciliation.

Unfortunately, we spread the message of a retributive God by attributing to God our tendencies toward retribution. It is one of the many ways we portray the image of God as a reflection of our image, instead of seeking to remake ourselves into the image of God. Making God in our own image is, in my opinion, the true heresy.

This is the 30th in the series of Life Notes titled Churchianity vs Christianity. I invite your thoughts, insights, and feedback via email at ghildenbrand@sunflower.com, or through my website, www.ContemplatingGrace.com. At the website, you can also sign up to have these reflections delivered to your Inbox every Thursday morning and browse the archives of my Life Notes, Podcasts, music, books, and other musings.


[1] @deconstruct_everything, Instagram post on August 4, 2021.

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