I believe in believing responsibly.
I was about fourteen when my Baptist Sunday school teacher told me that my mother was not living according to the Bible. She was and is a Presbyterian minister, and my Sunday school teacher thought this unchristian because of a verse in the New Testament, which says that women should be silent in the church. In hindsight, the obvious response on my part should have been to side with my mom. After all, I had long observed the goodness of my mother’s ministry and how fulfilling she found it.
I couldn’t deny the existence of the Bible verse in question, but I sensed there was something wrong with what my Sunday school teacher had said to me. To be sure, he had good intentions and spoke to me with sincerity. Even so, I felt betrayed in some way. I felt my mother had been betrayed in some way. A line had been crossed.
I was about sixteen when I evangelized a Muslim student at my high school. He did not invite me to do so; I did it because it was my duty. I could see on his face that he just wanted me to go away, but I was persistent. He said that he believed his religion with the same conviction that I believed mine, so I had to use the ace up my sleeve: John 14:6, where Jesus said “no man comes to the father but by me.”
“You see,” I told him, “the Koran and Muhammad will not get you to heaven. Only faith in Jesus can do that.” I didn’t even make a dent. As I walked away from the encounter, I had the same feeling in my stomach as when my Sunday school teacher delivered his message about my mother’s ministry, only it was I who had crossed the line.
I don’t remember when I connected the dots between these two stories, almost certainly sometime in college, but at some point I realized that I, like my Sunday school teacher, had completely disregarded someone else. I claimed to be acting out of concern for my Muslim friend, but in reality I was concerned only with my own sense of righteousness. I hid behind my religious beliefs. They became a scapegoat for my actions.
I believe I am always accountable for the effects that my beliefs have on others. To hide behind my religion or a Bible verse is not only a disingenuous expression of my faith, but possibly hurtful to people I encounter. And so I believe that belief—religious or otherwise—only finds its authenticity in the communities to which we are accountable. This, to me, is what it means to believe responsibly.