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May 27, 2018

“The Evolution of Faith”

By Rev. Katrina Pekich-Bundy

Genesis 19.1-7

1 Timothy 2.8-15

May 27, 2018

God is the same all the time, but our faith and our relationship with God changes. In the first Sunday of this sermon series we discussed the evolution of how we view God, which implies that our relationship with God changes over time. The second Sunday we discussed faith and science, more specifically about evolution and creation. Today we will explore evolution of our faith. As I have done for the past two sermons of this series, I took scripture and questions to the Sunday school class and for an hour they talk and ask more questions. Then, I bring together all that information and preach it the following Sunday. The class discussed how sometimes their faith journeys have seemed to go in a line, sometimes a circle, a spiral, or a roller coaster. All have experienced some kind of change in their faith life. That change might come from experience that shifts their perspectives or understanding of scripture. Or, perhaps they have a revelation over time.

First, we must define faith. Last Sunday in class I heard words like “confidence” and “belief” and “hope.” The best metaphorical description I heard was of a chair – and I used this throughout the class. Faith is like a chair. Very often when we see a chair, we sit in it. We don’t check it over and make sure it is sturdy. We don’t ask someone else to sit in the chair first. We see the chair, and – because others have convinced us it is safe – we sit in the chair. Our faith is similar. We don’t usually go examining it because others have taught us that belief in God is solid, and we continue on our journey.

Our faith is based on our foundation and community. What we believe often depends on where we live. If you grew up in the Bible belt, you probably attended a charismatic or evangelical church at some point. If you grew up in India, most likely you were raised Hindu. If you were raised in Iran, you probably were Muslim. The basis of our faith sticks with us, even when we stray from faith. I think there are pieces of our faith that we keep. When I was in college I had a professor who asked us what faith we practiced when we were age ten. He couldn’t legally ask us what religion we were in that moment, so he found a way around it by asking how we were raised – which, often, was similar to what we expressed in college, we found out.

So, let’s back to that chair analogy. What happens when that chair breaks? Do you inspect every chair? Do you question those who told you chairs were safe? Do you sit on the floor? You see where I’m going with this. Eventually, our faith is challenged. What happens when our faith is destroyed or shaken? If it already has been shaken before, what did you do? Some options are to find another place to sit, or in faith language, find another religion. You might fight it out – try to put that chair back together. Or, you might give up and stand rather than sit. You might walk away from chairs forever.

Netflix has a new movie called Come Sunday. This is the true story of a pastor named Carlton Pearson. This pastor is evangelical and preaches about saving people from the fiery flames of hell. He was good friends with Oral Roberts and was preaching in a mega church. Pearson began to have a crisis of faith as he struggled with watching television and seeing children in Africa who were starving to death and never had the opportunity to hear about Jesus Christ. He had an epiphany that it wasn’t the job of humans but God to save people from hell, and that, in fact, perhaps there wasn’t even a hell at all.

As you can probably guess, the congregation left, one person at a time. His staff left and Oral Roberts tried to change his mind and make him retract his statements about heaven and hell. Pearson works through this crisis of faith rather publicly and lost his friends, his job, and his financial security. Rather than walking with him and hearing out his theology, so many people left him to figure it out on his own. I think this actually happens often in our world. People begin questioning their faith, and they become isolated. Pearson was strong enough that he fought through it and now he is the pastor at a growing congregation. Yet, so many people feel betrayed by the church or don’t have others to ask questions and seek answers, and they give up on the church.

What beliefs are the base of your faith? If those beliefs crumbled, would your faith crash? Perhaps the resurrection is most important to you, or love, or peace. You might call these your essential tenets – the parts of faith that are non-negotiable. When ordained, people are asked if they believe in the essential tenets of the church, which sort of sounds like there is a secret list somewhere that defines non-negotiable beliefs in the church. Yet, there isn’t an “official” list. Some people have tried to create one, but none are agreed upon. The essential tenets to one person is different to another.

I chose these two scripture passages because they are often used as “weapons” in Christianity. The 1 Timothy passage is wielded against women in ministry and the Genesis passage of Sodom and Gomorrah is often used against people who are LGBTQ. These passages are taken out of context when used as defense, but many people don’t realize that. When taught to use scripture as a means to exclude people, some Christians are utterly shocked when they realize the context of the passages, and it can crumble their faith, or strengthen it.

Some of you have heard the story before about when I was in college and struggled with whether or not I was called to ministry. A friend of mine who belonged to a Christian group, of which we were both members, wrote an article in the college newspaper stating that the college chapel was a “cesspool of sin and blasphemy” because the chaplain was a woman, and because she had allowed a gay black man speak in chapel on Martin Luther King, Jr. day. The author of this article cited the 1 Timothy passage and scripture that he used as anti-LGBTQ. He only cited specific passages, not leaving room for context or discussion.

He didn’t include that other women were preachers in those days – Phoebe and Thecla, and others who went unnamed. He didn’t mention that this was very specific to the Roman churches, who were having conflict at the time with people speaking out inappropriately in worship, not with women in general.[1] He didn’t include how the passage in Genesis is not about gay men, but about hospitality. The problem wasn’t men sleeping with men, it was that these two angels came into the town to rest, and the men in the town have no respect for them and demand to have their way with them.

When I read these passages I am always taken back to the times I heard them misquoted and misinterpreted. I always think about the political issues tied to them. I found it interesting that when I asked the Sunday school class about them, they did not think of these issues. Instead, they tried to see how faith was being played out in these passages – which I think is commendable. I believe that is how we should be looking at scripture: asking how faith is exhibited, and not how we can judge people.

Our faith and our politics are tied together, though, I believe. I met with a political science class a week ago to discuss the intersection of religion and politics. They were reading Alexis de Tocqueville’s book Democracy in America and trying to find how religion and politics have changed since the writing of this book. They asked me many questions, including whether faith informed my politics, or if politics informed my faith. I wondered if we can truly separate those two at times. Even when we support separation of church and state, how much of our actions are tied to our belief system? How much of our actions are based off of our politics? Where does one end and the other begin? So, sometimes I think when there is a crisis of faith, there also is a crisis of politics, and when there is a crisis of politics, it can seem as if everything else starts collapsing, too.

We need not be afraid that our world will collapse. Sometimes that chair beneath us does give out, but we have to stand back up and try again. God is always there. If your faith is challenged, bring community closer – ask questions. Be strengthened that God is with us in our questions, our answers, and everything in between. Amen.

 

[1] Claire Drury, in The Oxford Bible Commentary, eds. John Barton and John Muddiman (Oxford: University Press, 2001), 1224.