Posted by: AJ the Irish Lass | September 24, 2021

Believing, Making a Difference: Yes, It DOES Matter

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When a friend, the Rev. Elizabeth Kaeton+ shared her thoughts on the passing of +Bishop Spong, her Facebook post made me think a lot about why we need to challenge ourselves on why we believe as we do. Despite the number of voices that essentially tell us it’s not important what we believe as long as we believe, I think the why is just as important, maybe even more so.

Disagreement: No, It’s Not the End of the World

Elizabeth+, in her Facebook post, wrote of how she disagreed with a lot of what +Bishop Spong wrote, and pointed out that it seemed to please him. Disagreement with +Bishop Spong’s beliefs was and is not unusual. His books and other writings have been the subject of spirited debate on more than one Episcopal/Anglican group I’ve participated in over the years.

Many of us may be inclined to treat his acceptance of other peoples’ disagreement with his beliefs as unremarkable. However, I think this highlights an important reality that shows why disagreeing with a leader and freely being able to do so are important.

Many Episcopalians seem to take our community’s largely free-thinking nature for granted. Disagreements have serious, far-reaching effects in some cases, and we’ve seen evidence of this in areas such as what was once Fort Worth’s Episcopal diocese.

However, we would do well to remember that not all members of the Body of Christ are free to disagree with their leadership on even small matters without severe social shunning. In some cases, authoritarian-leaning leaders inflict severe emotional, psychological and other forms of abuse on dissenting members.

As much as none of us want to be like the proverbial Pharisee thanking God for not being like the others (Luke 18:9-14), I think there is a lot for us to think about when we contemplate what makes our way different. Three questions that Bishop Spong+ posed in a discussion with Elizabeth, I think, give us a lot to think about.

What Do You Believe?

I think this is a question that should veer away simplistic answers. Episcopalians and other members of the liturgical tradition can point to the Apostles’ or Nicene creeds, or beliefs that are in line with them.

Others may cite “Jesus loves us”, “salvation by grace alone”, “John 3:16” as creeds of a sort. However, there is a problem in sticking by creeds and even more simplified faith statements without any nuance: they are statements, but often devoid of context or a call to action.

Everybody has beliefs of some type that they hold dear, and personally I think those who claim not to have religious/spiritual beliefs are being just a little intellectually dishonest. Everybody believes in something about the existence or absence of something greater than themselves.

The challenge for us, I think, is deciding what we will do with these beliefs. The next two questions are ones that I think need to be in the equation for all deeply-held beliefs, religious or not.

Why Do You Believe What You Believe?

When some questions a person about their beliefs, how often do you hear the following:

  • Because the Bible says so
  • That’s what the Church has always taught
  • This was how my parents taught us to believe
  • Pastor Whats-It said it and that settles it

I think these could be examples of reasons for believing certain things that require just a little more thought. There is nothing wrong with the Bible, tradition, or the examples of righteous parents or religious leaders in and of themselves. However, when we allow logic and reason to go out the window, then there’s a problem.

Many people have a list of beliefs about almost everything, it seems. However, from the person who twists John 3:16 to justify thinking they will never face consequences for their actions to the one who cites “an eye for an eye” as an excuse for vigilantism, there are harmful beliefs we should avoid.

Are our beliefs actually about our views of God, or are they about something else? Do these views impact us for better, or for worse? There is a lot to be said about learning to write at an academic level. If you can’t justify your argument – no credit.

Maybe this is something good to keep in mind about belief. If you couldn’t justify it from a well-thought-out, rational perspective, is it worth it? From there, let’s move on to the final question.

How Does What You Believe Make a Difference in How You Live Your Life?

Although the idea of people behaving one way on Sunday morning and another the rest of the week may seem like a tired cliché, there is a lot of truth to it. Sometimes, it’s the ones who project an image of being the most upstanding Church members who have the most baggage they inflict on others.

There is a lot more to living in the power of the Resurrection than just checking off all the boxes for the right beliefs. What, if anything, are we doing with these beliefs? Are we making the world around us any better because of those beliefs?

Too many Christians have seen their deeds that they perform in too much of a rewards/punishment context. Do this or don’t do that – avoid hell. We can do a lot better than this as a faith, and should do better.

Regardless of what we do or don’t believe, how are we carrying on Christ’s work? Being the Body is about a lot more than coming together as a worshiping community, as important as it is. Are we a people whose beliefs prompt us to do the right action, or not?

Just a few takeaways on my part of reading about this discussion. Please consider reading and following Elizabeth+’s blog, too.


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