Written by Heather Mitton
There is a delicate dance that Christians engage in called the Theological Two-Step—which may be real, or possibly invented for this article. Stick with me.
The Two-Step goes something like this:
Christian-A meets Christian-B.
Christian-A, not knowing what ‘kind’ of Christian Christian-B is, cautiously floats a theological insight into conversation.
Christian-A quickly discerns that their ‘kind’ is welcomed by Christian-B and shares a little more, or makes a mental note that Christian-B is not a safe person to engage with and changes topics. And maybe seats.
We are in a tricky season of faith.
I’m not sure exactly where it comes from (endless op-eds? echo chambers?) but it seems that conversations about faith are either enthusiastic agreements or swift denouncements, with not much space between.
Our ability to listen generously and genuinely seek to understand the other side of the table seems to be quietly shrinking, while Twitter threads and denominational battles and academic debates bang their chests, louder.
For a religion that is so interested in being ‘in the world and not of it’ we can sound eerily similar.
The idea of creating gentle spaces for conversation has become important to me as I reflect on my own journey with Jesus.
When I was younger I had a keen desire to be loved and agreed with, by all. I was a young adult in a church that, like many, had lost the majority of its young adults. As a result, I felt like a beacon of light; a hope for the future of the local church. And I loved that. I volunteered for all of the committees, and signed up for all the initiatives and only disagreed when it didn’t ruffle any feathers.
It made me uncomfortable to be in a different ‘camp’ than others.
It bothered me to think people might question my level of faithfulness.
Which is why my mid-twenties, full-scale rebellion came as a surprise.
It began with a Masters of Divinity, a three-year revelation that not only did everyone not believe the same thing (about heaven, hell, Jesus, the church) but that I could be released from some of the beliefs that made me increasingly uncomfortable.
I simply hadn’t known there were any other options.
And I was mad.
Mad about clichés that diminished pain.
Mad about the black and white approach to grey issues.
Mad about the ‘such a shame they lost their way’ shutdown play.
So I asked questions. I read. I asked harder questions. I experimented with concepts and theologies. I began to enjoy problems that had no apparent answers.
It made some people uncomfortable. In fairness, at times it made me uncomfortable.
In that season, I quickly learned that not everyone is a safe sounding board for talking things out. While I was the most engaged and invested I had ever been in my relationship with Jesus, I was also lonely, understanding that it was easier to keep much of it to myself.
Then I found a group of people. A small group, if you like, though it seems a noble term for church friends who like nachos and talking. These people were interested in theology and doubt and faith and church. They were committed to Jesus, but curious about—and inspired by—His great mysteries.
Each of us had come from a place of ‘do it because you’re supposed to’ and together grew into a philosophy of ‘Why do we do this? Why does it matter? How does it fit into our understanding of Jesus?’
These were the people I could ‘lay it all out there’ for. The doubts. The questions. The frustrations. The joys.
I hope you have those people, too.
People, it turns out, are important.
People can make or break an unfolding faith journey.
People can encourage honest conversation or shut down anything that seems different.
People can patiently wait as someone takes slow steps forward, or scold them to hurry up and get there.
People can demolish someone in a debate or become genuinely curious about what has brought them to that place.
And you are someone’s ‘people’.
Whether we are the closest of friends, another body on a committee or a voice on a blog, we all have a hand in creating gentle spaces for conversation and authenticity.
So let us be people who approach this big, confusing, fantastic faith with humility and an open hand. Who evaluate beliefs, not people; who never consider banishing anyone from the conversation; who make space at the table.
Christianity should never be a Theological Two-Step to determine who belongs to whom, but a gracious exchange to honour those who belong to Him.