The other day I was having a conversation with someone I’d just met. She knew what my full-time gig was and because of that I could tell she was adjusting her words as we talked. She said something like, “…and I thought, what the fu….u…udge.” I was mostly just amused by her mid-air alterations. However I wasn’t amused by another phrase that kept coming up. “I hope it’s o.k. if I ask this…”
That phrase came up at least a dozen times in our short conversation and it was clear that she was much more concerned that her questions would upset me than whatever four letter words were on the tip of her tongue.
I have to admit I understand her concern. I’ve learned from experience that the 11th commandment for the Church is “Thou Shalt Not Ask.” It took me a long time to catch on and I still bump into it by accident. You would think if Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life that questions would be pretty safe. Truth rarely has an identity crisis.
My experience tells me that it’s not just a question that creates the problem though. Usually it’s that whoever hears our question jumps to assigning a motive to our question. It’s happened to me a lot in the Church. Sometimes outside of the Church but mostly just inside – in fairness, that’s where the majority of my life has been lived now so my results are skewed.
I’ve got a good friend who, in a crowd of people who share a non-denominational distinctive of “baptism by immersion so your sins will be forgiven and any other way for any other reason doesn’t count”, asked, “Can’t God forgive anyone he chooses to forgive? Are we sure that un-immersed people won’t go to heaven?” He created almost the same reaction among his ‘brothers and sisters’ as if he’d said, “Hey! How about we all get drunk and fornicate?!” I wish I was exaggerating. He was placed on an invisible, non-published list, the “keep your eye on that one” list. And with that one, simple question, he was determined to be dangerous and ‘not one of us’. A question.
(for interest’s sake: that friend has, I’m sure, gone on in the last few years to baptize by immersion more followers of Jesus than everyone else in the room who heard the question and wrote him off – combined.)
Here are some questions we’re not allowed to ask: What if God used evolution to bring about Creation? What if the Church was never meant to be about one a week meetings? What if all the miracles stories the speaker is telling aren’t true? What if the Bible was never meant to be taken the way we’ve taken it? Can you be a Christian and be in a same sex romantic relationship? What if we’re misleading people about the Kingdom by the structures we create and the style with which we meet? Why do we keep creating celebrities in the Church when that’s so antithetical to the Kingdom?
And there are even more personal questions. Why did God let my baby die? Why did my business go bankrupt even though I gave a tithe to the church? Why did my husband/brother/best friend/dad die in pain from a terrible disease when I know God could heal him? Why did God let my baby be born with this birth defect? Why don’t I have any friends at church? Why does God command me to stay married to this person who left everything else about our relationship but our address years ago? Why do people keep flocking to that mega-church with that mega-pastor and they don’t come to our wee-church with our wee-pastor?
And why are we, followers of Truth, afraid of questions?