The Light That Is Dark

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If the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
— Jesus, The Gospel of Matthew

For the first half of my career as a pastor, I was a conservative Christian.

You name it. I believed it. I taught it and I lived it. But as the years went by, the longer that I pastored, immersing myself in my studies and in the lives of people, I found myself becoming more theologically liberal.

This transition wasn’t intentional. It’s just where my conscience led me, and privately, that worried me. I knew that going down that road would cost me dearly. In fact, when I finally decided to come out of the closet in my beliefs, many of my longtime colleagues and friends disappeared.

I understood why they needed to distance themselves from me publicly, and I certainly wasn’t expecting any special treatment. But distancing themselves from me on a personal level was something I was completely unprepared for.

As I continued making all the necessary shifts in my life and my career to begin pastoring in more liberal circles, I thought that I’d find more openness there. And in many ways, I did. However, even in these new circles where the boundaries of belief were much wider, I saw some of the same things at work there.

As eager as my former colleagues were to see theological liberalism eradicated, I was now seeing the same thing on the other end of the spectrum. Many of my new colleagues wanted to see theological conservatism eradicated.

The goal for each, it seemed, was the complete elimination of the other, and that’s what kept these two opposites in business.

All of that to say, there can be specks of darkness in the light. I’ve found for myself, that that darkness tries to take root in my thoughts, words, and actions when I consider myself the sole possessor of truth.

On an even darker level, I’ve seen it manifest in my life when I’ve (regretfully) succumbed to things like name calling or character assassination. I didn’t see that about myself for a long time because it’s sneaky, and it often masks itself as righteousness.

Having lived, worked, and believed on both sides of the fence, intimately aware of how they function, I sometimes wonder if we’ll ever learn to take the higher road as people of differing beliefs.

I’ve been duped into taking the lower road many times, and I probably will be again. I only pray for the wisdom to be able to recognize it as I’m approaching it.

If you’ve continued reading this far, I suppose my question to you, the reader, is, “What good are your beliefs about God if they only make you intolerant of the intolerant?”

Shouldn’t things like tolerance, kindness, humility, a willingness to listen, and if need be, disagreeing respectfully (what the scriptures call, ”The Fruit Of The Spirit”) be visible in your life as a person of faith?

I’m sorry if it sounds idealistic or ignorantly utopian to say, but I believe that a better way is possible. We stumble upon it in every instance where our allegiance to a particular doctrine urges us to treat someone else as the enemy. And even if we do consider them the enemy, we’re not off the hook. Jesus plainly told us how we are to treat our enemies.

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
— Matthew 5

Wherever you are on the wide spectrum of far-right-conservatism and far-left-liberalism, are you open to engaging with people who don’t think and believe like you do? Can you engage them with grace, empathy, and understanding?

Might there be something, not only for us to teach, but also to learn? Not least, about ourselves.

Selah.


 
Ryan Phipps is the Senior Minister at Church In Bethesda.  Raised in the church, becoming a pastor was the one thing Ryan vowed he would never do. After spending many years away from faith, he found that for all of its flaws, the church can still occupy a unique place of good in the world if it is willing to evolve with reason and empathy.  Ryan has a special place in his heart for those who have been damaged or disillusioned by the church, and longs to lead those within it toward a more just and generous expression of itself.  Ryan is an  INTJ  on the MBTI and a  5w4  on the Enneagram.

Ryan Phipps is the Senior Minister at Church In Bethesda.

Raised in the church, becoming a pastor was the one thing Ryan vowed he would never do. After spending many years away from faith, he found that for all of its flaws, the church can still occupy a unique place of good in the world if it is willing to evolve with reason and empathy.

Ryan has a special place in his heart for those who have been damaged or disillusioned by the church, and longs to lead those within it toward a more just and generous expression of itself.

Ryan is an INTJ on the MBTI and a 5w4 on the Enneagram.

Ryan Phipps