I had a woman leave my church earlier this year. It was my fault.
The first complaint came on the Sunday I suggested in my sermon that Christians do not have to love their neighbor alone. That is, because the golden rule crosses the boundaries of traditions we can work together for the common good. I believe she expected me to repudiate the implicit message that human beings can reach the divine through many different paths.
I did not.
I told her that there are multiple ways to interpret her beloved John 14:6 in which Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6 NRSV) Explanations of the historical context in which it exists didn’t soften her stance. Discussing the overall inclusive message of John didn’t change her view. Encouraging her to pray and reflect didn’t help.
In the end, I appealed to her own restoration movement church background, in which interpretive agreement is not required for fellowship. In short I said, we don’t have to agree on this point to live and love others together. That didn’t help much either.
Her tactics to convince me of my misguided ways included drive-by attacks on Facebook when I posted quotes or other items that were, frankly, innocuous by most standards. A Thomas Merton quote, for example, could degenerate into accusations that caused me to finally shut off the thread.
Over time her concern became more and more about me. She called me a “false prophet” or one who leads people away from the truth. The final straw that led to her resignation from membership was that the Central Pacific Conference of the UCC and I took public stances in support of marriage equality in Oregon. But let me be clear: her departure was about how we interpret the Bible.
I read the Bible as the expanding story and theologies of people of faith over centuries. To me, the Bible’s truths are not in the precise words on the page but in the loving God who inspired — and continues to inspire — people to grow into the image of God in which we are all created. She reads our shared sacred writings in a more constrictive manner.
I had a woman leave my church earlier this year. Come to think of it, it was her choice.
Watch the Golden Rules video I created and showed on the Sunday that prompted the first complaint:
For a good discussion of John’s “I am the way,” read this blog by Crystal St. Marie Lewis. http://crystalstmarielewis.com/2014/05/18/what-theologians-wish-everyone-knew-about-john-14s-i-am-the-way-proclamation/