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2021 Challenge: Throw Out Bad Theology

Halfway through 2020, I found myself laying on my bedroom floor, staring at the ceiling and wondering when the pain was going to stop.

I was wondering whether my dad would receive a heart transplant in time before his heart failed forever, whether my mother’s surgery would have any complications, whether I’d ever get to see my friends again and whether I’d be stuck in quarantine for the rest of my life.

And I was told your 20’s were supposed to be the best time of your life. 

Staring at the ceiling, letting the pain sink into my bones, I couldn’t help but look up at the ceiling and all but scream, “But I’m a good person!” and pout about the way my 23rd year of life turned out. 

I was taught, growing up, that things happen for a reason. I was taught that if we just have enough faith, God will provide. 

But looking around me, neither of those statements seemed to be true.

In 2020, frontline workers put their lives at risk to serve a population of which nearly one third failed to wear a mask on a regular or consistent basis. 11% of individuals lost their jobs due to budget cuts and lack of funding. Black individuals such as Breonna Taylor and George Floyd were unjustly murdered while their killers were let go unpunished.

And I was taught to believe everything happens for a reason? 

2020 took my faith and shook it like a snowglobe, toppling all of the so-called truths I clung to – those warm, fuzzy placations I told myself that made me feel safe and secure. But with my world falling apart, the theology I previously clung to no longer worked – leaving me entering 2021 with a perturbed heart and a faith in need of rebuilding. 

And now, as 2021 gives us the opportunity to turn a figurative leaf, I have only one resolution for the year to let go of bad theology. 

I’m part of a generation fracturing from the church. It’s not because the church isn’t “hip” enough or edgy. It’s because American Christianity has veered away from true Biblical principles of love and community and toward a more exclusivist tradition of dualistic thinking.

I’m convinced this black and white mentality is why toxic beliefs such as the prosperity gospel paradigm are so deeply rooted in the Evangelical church of today. With both prosperity gospel and dualistic thinking, faith becomes simple and formulaic. Good things happen to good people. Bad things happen to bad people. 

And that type of thinking is fine, of course, when everything is going well. It’s easy to look at your life and pat yourself on the back for all your hard work and diligence, not recognizing the intrinsic privilege you were granted by your race, gender, sexual identity or even your religion.

That thinking is less fine, however, when bad things start to happen seemingly for no reason. 

I am convinced that the devastation of 2020 is not just the result of climate change, a hyper-polarized political climate and the lack of trust in scientific truth, but the result of years and years of Christians settling for the kind of bad theology that eases our anxiety and makes us feel better about ourselves, rather than speaking up on ways we as the church should and could be better.

We’ve divided ourselves into factions: those who believed in faith alone and those who believed in faith and science. Those who believed in masks and those who believed in misinformation. Those who believed in vaccines and those who believed in conspiracy theories. We’ve turned apolitical issues into divisions and schisms, creating a hyper-polarized church where brothers, sisters and siblings of the same faith can no longer agree on even core faith tenets.

And when the Church wonders why my generation is abandoning religion, all I can do is point to the theology and the history of religious gaslighting, colonization, white privilege and gender discrimination that got us to this point.

In 2021, it’s time we as the church make drastic changes. COVID-19 has already changed our society in so many regards. Companies are going virtual. Long-standing business models are fracturing. City development has shifted and pivoted. And now it’s time for the church to change as well.

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It’s time for us to change our rhetoric from “bad things happen for a reason” to “bad things happen” period.  

It’s time for us to change our belief in the health and wealth gospel to our belief in the gospel of suffering and solidarity. 

It’s time for us to change our pride to love — as we follow the example that Jesus lay before us.  

When we as a church move beyond bad theology, we allow ourselves to see the person in need and recognize their humanity and dignity. We can take ourselves off the pedestal of privilege and see the hungry, the poor and the sick for who they really are – loved and beloved by God. 

In these chaotic times, the church has an opportunity here. Throughout all of this grief, chaos and sadness we can offer comfort to our neighbors, providing a faith of solidarity, justice and truth rather than false platitudes and harsh judgments. 

We have the chance to embrace the change, rather than shirk from it. 

That’s why my resolution is simple, yet complex: to throw out bad theology.

Bad things happen.

And that’s why we have the church. 

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