First a disclaimer: I've never heard unpalatables from the pulpit, though I'm sure it happens. Mostly the heresies rear their heads behind closed Sunday school doors, in small groups, at Tuesday morning Bible studies. They're said with a wink and a nod, like we should all be on the same page.
But we're not.
I don't fit: uber conservatives think I'm edgy, my more liberal-leaning friends (all two of them) find me a stick-in-the-mud. It would be easier -- it was easier -- to sign on unswervingly to the brand of faith that surrounds me in Southern suburbia-land. But try as I may, I am not a believer-bot. Instead, I'm a spiritual mutt -- no pedigree, no perfect church fit.
It gets lonely out here on Apostate Island.
At the risk of generalizing, there are sureties in (some) evangelical circles that chafe like ill-fitting undergarments. I don't claim to know the percentage of people who buy this stuff -- it's probably low. (God, I hope it's low.) But, Lord love 'em, a loud, proud few spout some doozies. Here are my top four, in order of levels of irritation, from ultra-punishing thong to slightly bothersome underwire bra:
1. Catholics Aren't Real Christians. Methinks some Protestants protest too much. They love to make digs at the mother faith, citing Mary-worship, papal authority, praying to saints and for the dead. There's also the accusation of a works-based (as opposed to faith-based) theology and, last but not least, objections to church décor (idolatry).
I'm not going to make arguments here about the points at hand, though it's tempting, except to say Catholic-bashing smacks of superiority -- and ingratitude to (all) church roots.
Who's to say what someone's heart faith looks like on the inside? And who are we to call a pared-down style of worship more pure? Our Catholic brothers' and sisters' penchant for beauty and tradition and mystery are lovely, in my book. And who's to say evangelicals don't have our own idiosyncrasies and foibles and, yes, even forms of idol-adoration? (The sparseness of a sanctuary or a service can become an idol. So can Monday Night Football, our careers, our kids.)
It's all so small-minded, really. Which I say with love.
We'd do well to stop the suspicion and snark and at least strive for a more ecumenical attitude.
2. We're All Going to Hell in a Handbasket. Ah, especially during an election year. That's when some folks are certain The End Is Near, that these are the worst of times and the worst of times. We point to the candidates we don't favor, The Walking Dead, the evil interweb, the general decline of the culture. We forget that our parents pointed the same fingers, and their parents and so on. We forget about the Dark Ages and World Wars and slavery and genocide and, for Pete's sake, Roman rule.
Yep, there are things unique to today (like Donald Trump) that singularly suck. But railing against it all -- and railing all the time -- sounds smug. And what, exactly, is the point? Not only is it off-putting, it smells to me like cynicism in disguise as good sense.
3. Thou Shalt Perform or Perish. We don't say this out loud. In fact, we proclaim the opposite -- that JC alone makes us right with heaven. But then we talk little legalisms, to-dos that will cause God to bless us, our days, our witness.
For example: all laud and honor to Quiet Time! Generations have been taught that 30 minutes in the Word each morning is the Holy Grail of a relationship with God. Without daily quiet time, we're a fail.
This has made for a lot of discouraged, defeated stray sheep.
Shame is such a stumbler.
Take into account a number of other thou shalts -- belonging to a Bible study group, especially if you're a stay-at-home mom; set prayer sessions; and family devotion time, preferably led by Papa -- and we have handed ourselves some pretty tall orders. What were given as graces have been turned into rules, a la pharisees. We picture the Father frowning down on our flawed faith, and, naturally, we cower.
At best, Try Harder theology is unbiblical; at worst, it can be spiritual pillage.
4. I Don't Know How Anyone Gets By Without God. There's a sense of wonder concerning the works of secular servants, from doctors working for free in developing countries to inner city educators. Surely, it's surmised, their deeds amount only to filthy rags -- these godless do-gooders must be motivated by an exaggerated need to be nice, a craving for self-worth, to them be the glory. (Speck in eye: theirs. Log in eye: ours.)
In addition, when personal trials strike, evangelicals tend to ask how anyone can endure without faith. I'm glad for mine. But I believe that though we're all, in a sense, helpless and depraved, we also bear the thumbprint of our maker, "saved" or no. I see evidence that shows the human spirit can triumph, at least for a time.
In the same vein, whispers of gospel messages can be found in work by non-Christian artists, writers, R-rated filmmakers. Crosses to crowns stories are everywhere. Bottom line: who are we to say who God gets behind? He's an equal opportunity user for his purposes. That's one of the things I fancy about him.
P.S. Geez, I hope my great aunt doesn't read this. A like-minded friend suggested that, to avoid fallout, instead of having this post published, she and I go on a fun outing sticking my top four to church doors, Luther-style. "We could use washi tape," she said, "and make it cute." So before we get all hopped up on dogmatism in the comments section, do know that my top-four list comes from a place of: it's better to be kind than right. I know it sounds wishy-washy, but God is love. That's the hill I'm willing to die on.