Every so often you run across a quote that stops and makes you think, like this one from Rev. Molly Phinney Baskette:
“Our faith, frail as it is sometimes, is also flexible. It is self-correcting as we have profound encounters with people who are different from us and are exposed to new experiences and ideas.” — (from her How to Begin When Your World Is Ending: A Spiritual Field Guide to Joy Despite Everything)
Serendipitously, while pondering her words, I encountered an article(*) about Bishop Steven Croft, of Oxford. He’s stirred up a bit of controversy in the Church of England by writing a booklet, “Together in Faith and Love.” In it he describes how his faith self-corrected by encountering a priest who wanted to get married. This cleric was already in a civil relationship with his male partner of almost forty years, and now wanted to be able to marry his beloved.
Bishop Croft had not met many gay couples before he came to Oxford. And now this priest was opening his eyes. The bishop noted that the man was about his own age. Additionally, he had been married to his wife for about the same number of years as this priest had been with his partner. Where is the justice and compassion when one couple is denied marriage while it is sanctioned for another, when both couples share the same faith, profess the same love, and commit to the same promises?
This experience was influential in changing the bishop’s views. He came “to recognise the good things that are there in so many same-sex relationships. I don’t know why I had been so slow to hear that.”
Perhaps Christians who don’t feel they have or need a self-correcting faith haven’t yet met the people, or had the experiences, that can correct it. Encounters make the difference. Martin Luther met Paul in Romans and Galatians. White moderates met Martin Luther King, Jr, in Birmingham. Southern Christians today meet Mexican migrant families at the border.
I heard an Irish comedian tell his American audience, “What you people call rules, we call guidelines.” While this was tongue-in-cheek, he’s spot on in one sense. We can have all the creeds, dogma, doctrines, and social principles we want. They’re important. But if we treat them as unquestionable dictates around which we must skew and skewer our minds and hearts, then they are prison bars.
Broadening our experiences broadens our understanding of Jesus’ mission and message. We might not all reach the same conclusions. But simply taking other people seriously, entering their world, and listening to them is vital for discipleship. It moves us from the security of a black-and-white world and into the challenge and freedom of a colorful one. And Jesus, who directed us down the path of passionately loving God and fervently loving our neighbors, came to set us free.
If Christmas teaches us anything, it is that we have a self-correcting faith. Just when we expect a king-messiah, God gives us a child-savior. That changed everything. Who else does God give us today?
(*) “The Bishop of Oxford: ‘The Church is seen as unjust because of its treatment of LGBTQ+ people.'” By Peter Stanford, in The Telegraph. December 10, 2022.