We invoked God as “You who are beyond the capacity of any one name,” to quote both Donna and Micah, in yesterday’s service, and it’s gotten me thinking about ideological purity in a lot of ways. Those of us who pride ourselves on not being one of those Christians, e.g. fundamentalists, like to think that we don’t give purity tests, but I suspect that we do. Just ask yourself or one of your friends about which candidate looks to be strongest for 2020 and examine the criteria you’ve (perhaps unwittingly) set for “strongest,” and see which boxes you’d feel good about unchecking. (Maybe none of them! Maybe you are the strongest of us all. Maybe you should be running for President. [Wink.])
Anyway. Since I’m not ready to make my own endorsement, let me consider instead how we fight fundamentalism. Fundamentalists are often at least partially right on the basics, the big rocks; the problem with fundamentalism is that this rightness often exists alongside, as Donna put it, “not being able to deal with evidence,” as well as, as our former minister Rev. Michael Ellick once put it, an “intolerance for mystery.” What are you willing to be wrong about? Not much, if you can’t handle either evidence or mystery.
I don’t want to become a fundamentalist, and I don’t want to think I’m immune to such a tendency. I want to reserve the right to be wrong. At the same time, I recognize, as Donna did, that the openness to both evidence and mystery can at least make me sound wishy-washy. Sometimes I long, as I think most of us must at least occasionally, for the certainty of the fundamentalist, the security of believing that belief is so simple. We’d like to think it would make our (to use some words that many of us think of as very fundamentalist these days) testimony, our witness, so clear, so seductive. “My faith is enormously challenging, I wrestle with it every day, I have a shelf full of books and a Twitter feed full of progressive Christians and I still don’t have all the answers” does not fit on a poster board you can hold up at a football game.
What Donna offered to us instead, what I’m going to examine in the coming days, is to make sure that my fundamentals, such as they are, are beautiful and strong. I will always believe that Jesus goes looking for us, and waits for us, in the margins, at the same time that marginalization and oppression are absolutely unacceptable to God. (Yet another Lenten paradox?) That seems like a fundamental worth holding on to. Just about everything else is something about which I am willing to be wrong.