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…
…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.