Resisting the Logic of Heresy-Hunting: A Cautionary Tale

Recently an author whom I respect left a status update explaining why his theological schema wasn’t heretical, like certain fundamentalist heresy-hunters were accusing it of being. His schema was being tarnished,”guilt-by-association” style, with another theological schema that they deemed blasphemous, heretical, apostate – case-closed. The author, in defending himself, gave a couple of working definitions, etymologies, a history lesson and several links to show why his view, while easily mistaken for this other view, was, in fact, orthodox.

I understand why he wanted to play this game. I’ve been there myself:

When I’m afraid,

Not wanting to lose friends

Not wanting to lose peers and colleagues who are themselves afraid of guilt-by-association,

Not wanting to lose income from being lumped in with the “heretical” people – who might be nice folks, but who are walking liabilities to be associated with. Because even more scared people, without many scruples, wouldn’t think twice from firing you from a project, dis-inviting you from a conference, or dis-barring you from an association.

I get it.

But some time ago – I’m not sure when – I began to have a subtle-but-definite shift in my thinking. I still have my beliefs, I still have my integrity, I still have my scruples; I still have the grammar of faith and cosmology that comprises my orthodoxy…as do we all…

…but still…

…isn’t ‘guilt-by-association,’ in the end, a beautiful thing?

Didn’t Jesus get caught with his hand stuck

in the cookie jar of humanity

enjoying each misshapen morsel?

The real issue, though, is not tolerating demonizing people no matter what, by sheer virtue of their being humans made in the Imago Dei. Calvinists, Arminians, Trinitarians, Universalists, Sufis, Five Percenters, Hindus, atheists – we’re part of one human family; we’re all learning and growing.

Heresy-hunters will never be satisfied by our saying “WE’RE not like THEM” – they’ll keep echoing the fearful voices in our own heads, whittling us down to nothing:

First they came for the charismatics,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a charismatic.
Then they came for the emergents,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t emergent.
Then they came for the universalists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a universalist.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

(With thanks to Martin Niemöller)

We can still believe our perspectives; still walk in the truth as we conceive and receive it. We can even discuss and debate, passionately, with those of alternative viewpoints. But let’s not throw anyone of these alternative viewpoints under the bus while doing so. They deserve more compassion than that, and we never know when we’ll be next.

15 Responses to Resisting the Logic of Heresy-Hunting: A Cautionary Tale

  1. ron cole February 16, 2012 at 12:29 pm #

    Absolutely, beautiful Mike…thanks! You can not believe the pain, the hurt…and isolation I’ve endured just because of my musings. I’m passionate about Jesus…and sadly he’s about all I have.

    • Lynelle February 16, 2012 at 12:37 pm #

      Ron, I pray for a true friend to walk by your side and share your passion.

      • ron cole February 16, 2012 at 12:51 pm #

        I lucky, I have ” 1 ” really good friend Al who helps me process and understands me…or he keeps me on a leash so I don’t stray to far.

  2. J-Rod February 16, 2012 at 12:33 pm #

    well-said, dude.

  3. Lynelle February 16, 2012 at 12:36 pm #

    It comes down to truly trusting that Love/God/Spirit/Creator is continually working within each person . . . in each person’s life . . . to guide them in their journey. Fear comes from a desire to control. a desire to know and understand everything. A ridiculous and impossible goal, but we’ve all been there.

    If one trusts God, one is able to trust that each person is where they belong on their journey. We needn’t understand, we needn’t agree, we need only love and respect.

    It’s not my job to judge. Not my job to get everyone in line. Or worry about being misunderstood (and possibly lead some astray, oh my!)
    God knows all. He has everything under control.

    We can smile and recognize parts of ourselves in everyone we meet.

  4. bette braden February 16, 2012 at 12:47 pm #

    I have not found a church where my soul can soar. I believe that God is so great that He reveals Himself in many different ways. I also believe Jesus’s words, “I am the way the truth and the light, no one comes to the father except through me.” This is how God revealed Himself to my culture. If we really look at different religions or denomination we will find more similarities thanip differences.

  5. Tana February 16, 2012 at 2:10 pm #

    This topic is in the air today! Beautiful, Mike, thank you for shining a light on Love.

  6. Mike February 16, 2012 at 3:57 pm #

    A great word, Mike. Finding the place where we can maintain and be passionate about what we believe but still engage others and stay in a learning mode. It’s quite attractive actually and stimulating. Thanks for posting-from an emerging charismatic

  7. John W. Morehead February 16, 2012 at 5:20 pm #

    Thanks for addressing this topic. I used to be a part of the American counter-cult community, and later shifted to a cross-cultural missions approach. Our Lausanne issue group addressed the strengths, and serious weaknesses of this methodology in regards to the new religious movements in a paper that readers may find of interest: http://www.lausanne.org/docs/2004forum/LOP45_IG16.pdf.

  8. Benjamin K. February 17, 2012 at 9:06 am #

    I would like to like this article, but something is holding me back. Niemöller’s poem was in context of the Nazi regime and their persecution of Jews, Sinti and Roma, Communists, LGBTQ people and anyone standing in solidarity with any of these groups. People actually got killed in Nazi Germany and not just a few, but Millions.

    I understand why you’d use the poem, but it seems incredibly hyperbolic to use it, when modern controversies about heresy at least in the West rarely lead to murder…

    Greetings,Benjamin

  9. Michael Camp February 26, 2012 at 9:15 pm #

    Mike, Great points! Jesus was bold in challenging conventional wisdom of his day with his own subversive, alternate wisdom, that got him called a lot of names.

    I’ve been on the receiving end of heresy hunters and most of them are not open enough to even consider what I believe just might not be heresy. Frankly, I think it’s better to focus on why what you believe is reasoned, historical, and biblical (meaning the historial, cultural context and original language supports your view), rather than trying to defend “this isn’t heresy because…” In other words, don’t focus on “Why this isn’t heresy,” but “Why the Bible and early church history teaches x,y,z.”

    Thanks for bringing this up. I referenced your post on my blog: http://deepthoughtpub.blogspot.com/2012/02/confessions-of-bible-thumper-book.html

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