Can I forgive hurtful theology?

The other night I had the strangest dream.

I was standing in a cafeteria line, surrounded by a crowd of loud, rude pastors. Obviously most pastors are neither loud nor rude, but the group in my dream was. As I waited among them, listening to their jabs and growing more irritated by the second, I decided to respond. I grabbed the loudest, rudest face in the line. “Peace of Christ to you,” I declared over the noise, and then I planted a kiss right on his mouth. It was comical, even in the dream.

Then I moved on to the next pastor. Though he wouldn’t look at me, I again blurted, “Peace of Christ!” and kissed him, too, on the mouth. Even in the dream I knew it was contrived. I didn’t feel much peace, but I did it anyway. One by one I grabbed each pastor, said, “Peace of Christ!” and passed the peace to each of them.

I woke up thinking about reconciliation. Not long ago, my family was harmed by damaging theology. We bought into the lie of a fearful, angry God who could not possibly love us the way we were. Of a God who saw us primarily as sinners, not his children. We believed we could never repent enough to please him, and our lives reflected the image of his wrath. Our once-healthy marriage became defined by authority and submission, and we saw our toddlers as tiny little sinners in desperate need of repentance.

It nearly cost us everything.

Our marriage fell apart, our relationships with our children became punitive and controlling. In time we walked away, first from our ministry positions, then from the denomination altogether. We’ve spent the past year rebuilding our marriage and reconnecting with our kids.

Before my dream, I thought I’d made peace with the experience.

All along I had known that people never intentionally harmed us. The people in our lives at that time loved us, and we loved them. I did not hold the teachings against them. They simply passed on what they believed, just as we had taught and shared what we were convinced was the truth at that time. People never hurt us – it was a theology that damaged our hearts and lives. Did I really need to forgive a theology? Was it possible to make peace with a damaging point of view?

The answer was yes. It was time to stop fighting.

Time to let go of the need to be right, to stop highlighting where others are wrong. To extend love to the philosophies I resented, to pray for good things for the leaders profiting from harming others. Until I did, I was just another loud voice in the room, no different from any other. Christ calls us to peace, to compassion and gentleness. As long as I was still arguing, I could not follow Christ’s call in my life.

Could I uncross my arms long enough to embrace them? The idea was as absurd in real life as it was in my dream. Could I be willing to stop making my point, and to redirect my energy toward God’s call to love and serve?

I could, if I was willing. But I couldn’t do it on my own.

On my own, I didn’t feel any peace toward them, and if I was completely honest, I wasn’t that interested in compassion and gentleness either. But just as one theology nearly destroyed my life, another theology heals it. I couldn’t extend grace on my own, but I didn’t have to. I had the liturgy. Liturgy gives language to the love and truth I don’t have within myself. It gave me a language for forgiveness.

It felt ridiculous and contrived, but I did it. I stepped over the lines in the sand, and in my heart, I offered peace to the ideas and Scriptures once used to hurt me. And I offer it now to you. If you have ever railed against the other side — peace to you.  If your heart wells with frustration and fervor — peace to you.

When I offered Christ’s peace to others, it began to grow in my own heart. Only then was I ever really free from the destruction of hateful theology.

I had the strangest dream the other night, but maybe it wasn’t a dream. Maybe it is the reality Christ calls us all to live. In a culture where the loudest voice is the most revered, maybe we are called to stop yelling, let go of the need to be right, and simply offer peace.


Flickr photo (cc) by Alex Motrenko