One of my former students once wrote on his Facebook page that I was one of the most courageous people he had ever known. I was flattered and humbled, but I also knew that I didn’t feel very courageous most of the time, especially by comparison with so many whose acts of courage cost them dearly.
That friend might also be surprised to hear me say that the reason I lie about what I really believe is mainly fear. More than I want to admit, I’m afraid of the consequences that would likely result if I shared publicly what has really been going on in the deep recesses of my mind over the past six or eight years.
Now, before I go further with that idea, I should probably say a bit more about what I mean by the word “lie” in the title of this post. First of all, I used the word because I believed it would spark interest in the post and generate more “views” of my blog. (Yes, I’ve learned a thing or two about the importance of catchy titles after writing this blog for nearly three years.)
Second, I used the word in the sense of being less than totally forthcoming, not in the sense of an intentional desire to deceive. We all know that a witness in a court of law is asked to swear that his or her testimony will be “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” In that context, failure to state the whole truth is reckoned to be deceptive and dishonest.
It is in that sense, then, that I have been less than absolutely honest about some of the ways my thinking has changed. I have told the truth about what I believe. I just haven’t always told the whole truth. I have avoided addressing a number of subjects—theological, ethical, sociological, scientific, spiritual, and political—because, I’ve told myself, it would take too much time and effort to explain how and why my thinking has changed in those areas. The real reason I haven’t addressed those matters, however, is that I’m afraid to. I fear the consequences.
Six years ago, I lost my job as a Bible college instructor and was forced to vacate the office I had occupied for eight years. In the process, I took the opportunity to sort through the contents of a four-drawer file cabinet loaded with hanging files and manila folders that I had accumulated over the years. When I finished discarding material I regarded as out of date or no longer pertinent, I found that I had reduced those four file drawers to barely half of one.
Now, it’s true that many of those physical files had been replaced by digital files on my computer’s hard drive, but that was not merely a transfer of data from one storage method to another. The material in the digital files was new, fresh, more timely, the product of deeper thought and increased experience.
The process of sorting through all those files provoked me to consider a wide array of topics I had not thought about, at least not carefully and analytically, for some time. As a result, I began to read more broadly than I had been able to do when I was teaching full-time. Free from the limitations imposed by the expectations of an employer or a governing board, I let my thought processes follow whatever course they found intriguing and enlightening. As the scientists like to say, I simply followed the trail of evidence wherever it led.
In all of this, I was guided and motivated and energized by a consuming passion to understand truth in relation to the values of the kingdom of God. Over the past six years I have reexamined virtually every category of belief and conviction I have ever embraced. I have been ruthless in requiring everything I believe to pass the test of consistency with the values of the kingdom. (The values of the kingdom, by the way, are essentially the qualities and characteristics of Jesus, the King.) If I can’t see Jesus teaching or modeling or advocating some truth claim, I toss it. And if I think that a truth or a concept or a course of action does reflect the values of the kingdom and the character of the King, I endorse it. In some cases, however, I don’t talk about it very much.
And that’s what I mean when I say I “lie” about what I really believe. I keep a lot of it to myself, because I’m afraid of the consequences. If I were to put a really melodramatic spin on it, I might say something like, “I don’t talk about how my thinking has changed in a lot of areas because I don’t want to die alone.” Here’s what I mean.
For most of my life (I’m sixty-four), I was a conservative—theologically, socially, politically, fiscally. Conservatives eschew change. It threatens their sense of security. They can be gracious, generous people, but they often interpret even innocent and well-meaning questions about the verities they hold dear as challenges to both their intelligence and their integrity and an assault on orthodoxy.
I know this is true because for many years I felt that way myself. I tried not to be caustic or unkind in my rebuttal of those whose perspectives I considered corrosive to biblical faith. But I made it clear that views inconsistent with my conservative assumptions were more than just misguided or in error. They were, at least potentially, evil.
I don’t believe that anymore. I still consider myself an orthodox Christian, but my views of orthodoxy—both its content and its application—have changed. An example? Consider this parable.
A man went to lunch with some friends. One of the friends, accompanied by his wife, was a stickler for “right doctrine” and required all his associates to endorse the tenets of the Nicene Creed. At lunch, he ordered one beverage, which he and his wife shared, then requested several free refills rather than pay for a drink for each of them. He offered to provide everyone at the table with a free bootlegged copy of some popular, but expensive, computer software. And he left a paltry tip.
Another friend announced he was soon traveling to west Africa to assist in the efforts to control the spread of an Ebola epidemic. Knowing that the restaurant wait staff depends on tips to supplement a meager hourly wage, he lagged behind as the party left so that he could leave a larger tip to make up for the other man’s parsimony. In addition, he announced at lunch that, while he still considered himself an orthodox believer, he could no longer make a strong case for the virgin birth of Jesus.
Which of the man’s two friends more consistently reflected the character of Jesus the King?
My own experience with honesty and integrity in sharing what I believe has not always yielded positive results. I have lost jobs and friends because of it. And so far, those networks and that fellowship which I once enjoyed have not been duplicated among those whose convictions I now embrace. I think I may have scared them in my earlier role as a “defender of the true faith,” and they are not sure I have really recovered from that. They can’t fully trust me.
So, as my British friends say, I keep myself to myself. There is so much I would like to say because I believe I can see the kingdom far more clearly now. But to say some of these things would alienate me further from the remnant of a network which I still try to maintain. I am sixty-four, and retirement already looks pretty bleak. I do want to be faithful and honest, but I don’t want to die alone.