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CHARLTON: Sometimes the questions aren’t the answers

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By Dave Charlton

During the course of my ministry, I’ve experienced a lot of church interviews. Some of those interviews have taken place with search committees looking to fill a church staff position, but most of them were instigated by people who wanted to see if I held the “correct” theological opinions.

 The questions were generally predictable – Are you pro-life? Pro-choice? Republican? Democrat? Are you for or against the death penalty? Do you support or oppose marriage equality? What do you think of health care reform? Where do you stand on immigration? Do you believe in evolution or creationism? Are you liberal? Conservative? Libertarian? Who is your choice for president?

Many times I have wished to be asked a simple question, such as whether or not I like the Beatles, but I learned a long time ago that many questioners are not seeking answers as much as they are administering a test.

For some people, faith must always be attached to a litmus test. Armed with their questions – and the correct answers – these people desire to run others through a theological ringer, pressing them into the correct opinion and perspective. Sameness and uniformity are what they desire, while fearing diversity and free and open debate.

They seek to blanket us with a likeness that requires no thinking or questioning. Here are all the answers, they tell us, with every question and every issue wrapped up neatly and tied off with a nice theological bow. And if you dare to deviate from their approved theology, you're not just wrong, but likely a heretic.

In spite of what some may tell you, there is no uniform Christian “position” on the issues. Some of the more strident voices will, no doubt, beg to differ, but the faith community is, in fact, comprised of many different opinions and perspectives.

People of faith fill both of our major political parties; President Obama could not have been elected without them, and Mitt Romney lost the election in spite of their votes. They populate both sides of contentious social issues, including abortion, same-sex marriage, immigration, the death penalty and all other major issues of the day.

Aligning faith with only one perspective does a great disservice to its message. It robs faith of its rich tapestry of viewpoints and replaces that variety with a narrowness that results in exclusion rather than inclusion. It also gives an inaccurate portrayal of the Scriptures.

Reading the Bible, you will not find detailed answers about how to cast your vote or even what to believe about many issues. There are broad principles, certainly, but people of faith have a variety of interpretations about how those principles are to be applied.

During the New Testament era, there was robust discussion about belief, truth, ethics – and their applications – and the often-contentious discussion is actually the reason most of the epistles were written.

I’m certain there are some who will read this and vehemently disagree. The Scriptures, they will claim, are full of very detailed answers for every political and social issue confronting our world. What they won’t admit, however, is their rather selective reading of those very same Scriptures.

While holding staunchly to a rigid literalism in the way they read some passages – generally those that support their “pet” issues and points of view – they conveniently ignore others or set aside their literalism when it becomes convenient to do so.

When I’ve been subjected to those “tests” of belief, I have invariably failed in my answers, mostly because I wasn’t very interested in giving an answer. I don’t mind sharing my opinion, but when I sense someone is cross-examining me to gauge whether or not I believe “correctly,” I become more evasive in my answers.

I’m not interested in allowing another person to become my theological judge and jury, and neither should you.

 

Dave Charlton is pastor of First Christian Church. His column will appear every other week. You can reach him at davidpaulcharlton@gmail.com.