I had another one of those conversations recently. You know, the sort where I ask a christian friend (as gently as I know how) a question about the implications of a statement they've made. And the response leaves me feeling like I've crossed some invisible line that reads, "Heretics and other outcasts stand here." My question remains unanswered...
This type of interaction seems to happen all too frequently. I question something, or I say I see it differently, or I simply raise the possibility of an alternative viewpoint, and the wagons circle in polite silence until I find myself on the outside looking in, counting the cost of wanting authentic relationship.
It makes me think. (Sorry, I'm still unrepentant over that particular "sin".) And it seems to me that the institutional church sets us up for this dysfunction. It fails us when it silences our questions. It stunts our growth and sets us up to founder in the real world.
Too many christians have been trained in an atmosphere where the leader speaks, and the sheep bleat in unquestioning acceptance. "My pastor says x, so that's the end of the discussion." And then they tend to repeat their favourite leader's statements, expecting to meet with the same response they've seen those leaders receive in the church.
The only trouble is that outside the walls of that culture bubble live people who have either woken up and shaken off their stupor, or who never fell down the rabbit-hole in the first place.
So when it happens that christians speak their 'truth' and are met with questioning (or worse still, disagreement!) they are totally unprepared for the shock, and unequipped to deal.
I'm not talking about ad hominem attacks here. I mean genuine questions asked by people who are seeking to engage in actual dialogue in the hope that maybe both parties will learn something.
But so many of us were taught that we had 'the truth' and if we just presented it in a manner that was authoritative enough, 'the world' would "see the light". 'The church' failed us like a parent who hides their child away in a darkened room to keep them 'safe'. Such a child might look normal, but they will be incapable of healthy or mature social interaction with the wider world.
Sadly, many well-meaning christians who have been taught their church's version of "the Truth" simply regurgitate it and expect people to accept it as gospel. And when they are met with anything but absolute endorsement, they don't seem to know what to do.
Some go into attack mode, angrily fighting back against an unseen enemy. Some pull the heretic card, outraged because "the bible clearly says..." Some go off on a tangent, piling up enough red herrings to stock a fishmonger's shop. And some play the conspiracy game in which said christian assumes the position of 'persecuted christian'.
Whatever their reaction, what they all fail to do is engage in rational, reasoned, grace-filled conversation. But I guess people can't do what they've never been taught or seen modelled. And for multitudes of otherwise intelligent people, the church has not only failed to provide a safe place to practice diversity of thought, it has actively discouraged it.