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Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Maybe Christians Actually Can't Support Each Other

"Now you are the body of Christ and each one of you is a part of it. 1 Corinthians 12:27" Image source.
A while ago, a read a blog post by a Catholic mother about how hard it was for her to not use birth control. She had a bunch of young children and was overwhelmed by the stress of taking care of them, and was so afraid of becoming pregnant again. She fully believed that God said it was wrong to use birth control. She was trying so hard to trust God, but it was tough for her, and she wrote all about how she felt.

From my point of view, there's an obvious answer: No, God doesn't believe it's wrong to use birth control. In fact, it's harmful to teach people that birth control is a sin- as evidenced by how much unnecessary stress was put on this woman in the name of God.

Basically, she's all worried over nothing.

But oh dear goodness, DO NOT say that to her.

I kind of cringed when I read her blog post, because it was so vulnerable, and there it was, on the internet, open to comments from random strangers. Of course there are going to be people who come by and say "this is ridiculous, just use birth control." Which is SO TOTALLY the wrong thing to say.

This woman needs empathy. She needs support from people. She needs to hear someone say "I know how you feel, and it is really hard." She doesn't need someone to challenge her beliefs- to force her into a position where she has to defend the belief that is causing her so much pain.

I'm a Christian, and she's a Christian, but (supposing I actually knew her) is there any way I could support her through this problem? I guess just be there, be a friend, and don't say a word about whether using birth control is a sin.

But really she needs more than that, right? She needs someone who actually agrees.

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Or, to give another example, maybe someone at church asks for you to pray for her kid who decided to become an atheist. (Pray for them to become a Christian again, obviously.) Well, wait a minute. People have reasons for believing the things they believe, and I think we should respect that. What's the whole story here? Maybe this kid has already had a series of people- sent by their parents- come around to explain why the kid is clearly wrong, and not listen at all. I feel a lot of sympathy for someone who has to put up with that.

I am SO not on board with any attempts to force them to become a Christian.

But at the same time, you have to acknowledge the mother's feelings. She's really worried. Maybe she believes her kid is gonna go to hell. Aren't her brothers/sisters/siblings in Christ supposed to help and support her? But I can't.

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There was one time in college when I, with a very serious tone, sat down with my best friend and confessed my sin of lust. How I had seen a hot guy in the robotics lab... and oh, what a struggle. And she was like "... so... what's wrong with that? It sounds totally normal." I had to explain to her why it was a sin. She seemed unconvinced. (And yes, she is a Christian.)

I don't know, maybe it was good for me to be reassured that my feelings were normal and not sinful at all. Maybe it was good that she didn't agree with my premise. At the time, though, I felt super-unsatisfied with our conversation.

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I'm now living with my boyfriend, which is obviously one of the worst sins a person can commit. Last year, I was really depressed, overwhelmed with shame because of how dirty and bad I am- you know, according to purity culture, which I don't believe anymore.

I don't believe it anymore, but is there anyone who can tell me "No, God is not a God of shame. No, you are not dirty. No, God loves you." Is there anyone?

I'm certainly not going to go looking in a church. People would respond by explaining to me why God says it's wrong to have premarital sex- which, you may notice, has absolutely nothing to do with my situation or the kind of support and empathy I need from other Christians.

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I'm starting to think Christians actually can't support each other. We don't have enough in common. Being a Christian just means you believe Jesus is Lord (or maybe you have a slightly different definition of Christian, that's fine) and for everything else, different Christians may have completely different views.

I don't want to say people have to agree on everything in order to love and support each other. But at least if you have some kind of problem along the lines of "I believe XYZ, therefore I am doing ABC, but it's so tough," you probably need a friend who also believes XYZ, or at least won't tell you "well of course you're having problems, you're completely wrong about XYZ."

(Certainly there's a place and time for that- helping people get out of beliefs that are harmful to them- but you don't want to push someone into a situation where they have to argue and defend the ideas that are hurting them, when what they really need is compassion. And it's DEFINITELY not okay to use their problems against them, as evidence that XYZ isn't true. NOT OKAY.)

I used to believe in a set of doctrines that were "the Christian view" on various issues, and I could assume all Christians agreed, or else they weren't real Christians (or maybe they just needed someone to correct them about the proper Christian beliefs). It was so easy- we all agree that these things are right, and we help each other live them out and fight for them.

But that's not true, and what can we even do? Divide Christians up into various groups- conservative, progressive, etc- and assume you'll only be able to get support from those in your own group? What about the body of Christ? The eye cannot say to the hand, I don't need you.

Right?

But what can we even do?

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