(Vinoth Chandar – Creative Commons)
It’s no secret that there are deep divisions in the church today.
The war over homosexuality gets a lot of attention, but battles rage over a whole host of other issues from abortion and healthcare to evolution and women in ministry.
While there are certainly a plethora of factors at play in our skirmishes, I wonder if one of the root causes of our divisiveness is the myth of a simple faith.
I say “myth” because the truth is no matter what we may say or want to believe, there’s nothing simple about faith and to claim otherwise is both disingenuous and potentially dangerous.
It’s disingenuous because it’s never quite as simple as “I just believe” or “I just believe in Jesus.” More than just the cornucopia of theological claims that accompany those obstensively simply declarations of faith, those deceptively simple claims are used to justify an ever evolving array of actions and decisions and votes and ways of treating people.
You see, an “it’s simple” mentality leads to the sort of attitude in which the answer is so obvious and absolute that we can’t comprehend why the other side can’t see it. So, we begin to assume that people who disagree with us must be stupid or worse – evil. And so what supposedly started as a simple faith eventually transforms into a multi-faceted and never-ending crusade against anyone and everyone who doesn’t agree with what we know beyond a doubt to be the absolute and obvious truth.
Now, it’s easy to write off the divisions a simple faith causes to the epidemic of fundamentalism that plagues the church today. But while simplicity is certainly a driving force behind the application without interpretation that undergirds biblical fundamentalism, fundamentalists are not the only ones who succumb to the temptation of simplicity.
Conservative Christians of the non-fundamentalist stripe may allow for some interpretation of scripture but the claim to be “under the authority of scripture” more often than not leads to the same simplicity of faith found in fundamentalism which results in a weaponizing of scripture and theology that leaves not room for disagreement or the diversity necessary for a healthy body of believers.
And liberal Christians can be guilty of reductionism in their often myopic emphasis on love. While love is without question the foundation of the Christian faith, love makes certain demands on our lives, demands that complicate the notion that all we need is love.
In other words, it doesn’t matter where we fall on the theological spectrum, we all the tendency to suffer from the delusion of simplicity.
But even if we’re earnest in our claims of having a simple faith and are genuinely oblivious to the inherent disingenuousness, our ignorance nonetheless creates difficult, heartbreaking, and even dangerous situations when our lack of reflection and preparation comes head to head with the complexities and challenges of real life.
For example, it’s easy to demonize homosexuality…until your child tells you that they’re gay.
It’s easy to talk about how much God loves us and is always watching over our lives….until you learn that your best friend was the victim of sexual abuse at the hands of a religious leader.
It’s easy to denounce abortion out of hand….until the life of your wife is at stake.
It’s easy to denounce violence….until your family is staring down the barrel of an intruder’s gun.
It’s easy to talk about an all powerful God….until you have to explain to a victim of cancer or exploitation or war why that God allows so much evil.
It’s easy to claim to have a simple faith, but life rarely allows for simplicity.
This doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t hold to our convictions when life gets complicated. We can and sometimes we should.
But when we stubbornly cling to the false simplicity of faith, the result will always be the same. Not only will the people around us suffer, but we will too. Because whether intentionally or not, a simple faith inevitably leads to absolute claims that leave no space for flexibility, claims that when confronted with the complexity of real life only ever lead to division, heartbreak, suffering, and tragically even death.
While admitting the deep complexities of faith may not resolve all of the current conflicts in church, it’s a desperately needed olive branch that could begin the slow but necessary process of beating out swords into plough shares.
It certainly won’t be easy. There is, after all, a certain amount of control we have to relinquish when we admit that life isn’t so simple and we don’t actually have everything figured out.
But if we can find the courage to embrace the complexity of faith with humility, then maybe just maybe we can begin to bridge the chasms that divide us, offer healing to those we have wounded, and restore integrity to the message we preach.