To the Well-Intentioned Lady Who Called Me a False Teacher
To the Well-Intentioned Lady Who Called Me a False Teacher -
Hi. I think we got off on the wrong foot on Sunday. I'm not even sure if we got to exchange names to each other when we met. You were upset when you approached me after church. I was tired from preaching two sermons about being vulnerable and transparent with our emotional health. I knew you were upset, not because you explicitly expressed that to me [which you did], but because you were physically shaking when talking to me. It was an equal mix of anger and frustration and concern. I'll again apologize like I did then. While I never try to shy away from discomfort from within our community, your disposition moved far beyond discomfort into anger. My hope is that I didn't cause it. My fear is that I did.
After all, you had just sat through a sermon [I'm still not completely sure you 'heard' it] that didn't use the King James Bible and saw women in the sanctuary not wearing long skirts. You were puzzled why people were using their phones/tablets [or nothing at all] when I was making biblical references. You were embarrassed for us that we allow [and encourage] men to work in our children's ministry space and thought it shameful that we would allow our children workers to use video clips for teaching strategies. You weren't sure how you were going to explain the chaos around you to your five year old son, who had taken to asking women about their lack of skirt-wearing. It was a tough day for you. Again, I'm sorry.
Though you said that my sermon "made absolutely no sense" [my thought: if you thought THAT sermon didn't make sense, stick around for a while and you'll really hear a doozy]
AND thought it was a ridiculous assertion that true Christians could suffer from anxiety or depression
AND believed that the King James Bible is the inspired English version and had never heard of the deceptive and dubious New Revised Standard Bible
AND threatened to have your pastor in Michigan call me to straighten me out
I THINK it's important to say: I ain't mad at ya [as unwise as it may be to quote TuPac currently, I can't help myself.] Seriously, though. When you left, I wasn't mad at you. Instead of anger, I felt empathetic. It has to be tough to live within your theological constraints. It has to be even more difficult to encounter a place that State Street that is an affront on those constraints.
Unsurprisingly to you, it's not the first time I have been called a false teacher. One gentle soul once called me a heretic and didn't think it too funny when it was suggested there should probably be a formal council to decide such a fate. After all, if we're going to formally make someone an iconoclast, we might as well make a party of it! Why let the Carthaginians have all the fun?
I'd like to explain myself as I didn't have the time or clarity to navigate a coherent self-defense on Sunday. My wife can attest that I lose sleep when I believe people don't like me. I tend to internalize these types of problems and feel they reflect my interpersonal failures. It's a problem I'm working on. I think if you give me the chance I can help you understand some of my persuasions.
The goal of my life is to imitate the way of Jesus within the locations I inhabit and the people I encounter. It motivates all that I do. State Street and the Pax Center are birthed out of these beliefs that the best life is found in the imitation of Christ. So much of the Christian faith makes little sense to me, but following the way of Jesus makes sense to me.
You told me that your goal is to do what the Bible says to do. You quoted a few verses from Deuteronomy when pressed about your conviction for not watching television (side note: a completely honorable conviction, but no need to bathe it in a false hermeneutic.) You said that you follow every dot and tittle within the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. But, as I told you then, I find that hard to believe. Do you advocate the stoning of people that break the Sabbath? What about children you repeatedly rebel against their parents? What about apostates? All should be stoned within the context of a plain reading of the Old Testament.
I also noticed, conspicuously, that you were not wearing a head covering. Yet in 1st Corinthians, the Apostle Paul exhorts the early church women to wear head coverings. The importance of head coverings was echoed by many of the early Church Fathers. Is there a reason why that particular part of the biblical narrative is disregarded? Of course there is! We all adopt the Biblical witness and adapt it to our culture. At some point in time, your tradition decided it was no longer important for women to wear head-coverings [I make no judgment, I don't advocate for the essential wearing of head-coverings either...] The Baptist tradition you adhere is one that has adapted their theology from other older Christian movements. John the Baptist wasn't a Independent Fundamental Baptist. Nor was Tertullian. Nor was Augustine. Your denominational and tradition ancestors read their Bibles, made sense of what they could, and adapted it to the culture that surrounded them. It came at odds with other traditions and put a wedge between them and other Christians. But, they were doing what they thought was best to live an honest faith.
Most Christians I know are trying to live an honest faith in a changing world. Sure, we disagree on many things, but I think my denominational brethren and sistren are wanting many of the same things that I do: a coherent theology that makes sense of God and the world around them. We Christians need to do a better job at living within theological tension. I'm grateful for the love shown to me by my Lutheran friends, though they may disagree with my Anabaptist leanings. I've learned so much from astute Catholic theologians, though I'm thoroughly (and at times obnoxiously) Protestant. My Methodist friends remind me of what attracted me to Wesleyan theology and justice in my early Christian years. Even locally, I've had enriching conversations with Reverend Sally Wicks the Presbyterian, Pastor Mike Sutton the Evangelical, Father Thomas Kincaid the Episcopal, and Pastor Dennis Meyer the Lutheran. They come from different theological backgrounds but want the same thing: to follow Jesus. We may disagree on creationism/evolution, LGBTQ issues, covenantal theology, and nonviolence [and many other things.] But, they are my brothers and sisters in the faith and I'm incredibly grateful for them. As am I grateful for you. My friend Dr. Jim Stump once taught about the intersection of faith and evolution at State Street and reminded us that it's not that we all have to believe all of the same things on these secondary issues [and we have the historic Creeds to remind us of the primary issues], it's that we should demonstrate a willingness to allow others around our theological table to hold these divergent views. I agree completely with him.
This is my point: as much as you had a hard time with State Street on Sunday and I'm guessing you will never return, I want to remind you that you do have a place with us. Everyone does. It's not a place of easy answers or an easier faith. Being peculiarly Christian is difficult. We wrestle with complex theological quandaries and learn to live out our faith with an amazing amount of grace and love. It's not a perfect place. But, it's a place for people like you who have all the answers and for people like me who struggle to find all the right questions. I do hope to see you again. I promise next time I'll remember your name!
Grace and peace to you!
Nate the False Teacher