Do Individuals Progress?

A question came up on Twitter that I started out not interested in but I guess my spirit was interested, because I kept checking this thread to see if I could understand why this question was being asked. It finally named something I have been trying to say based on experience–not further education. This author/pastor said: I don’t understand how people who take the Bible seriously expect progress. This sounds a bit hopeless, but it is true. Individuals do not progress to become more good or rational over time. This is why scripture still reads us today.

Do not read this post and think I am saying: Thank God I am good. I am not. I have just seen something and experienced something that has changed me forever. I have known the church has been wrong about women for quite some time. My voice is not coming from a place of just realizing something new academically and I must talk about it. I have experienced the rotten fruit of complementarian theology, and I have experienced the liberation of egalitarian theology. Both are empowering my voice to speak in a moment that needs a voice of emotion, not just knowledge. This is not a put down to knowledge because I knew nothing when I went to seminary, and the education I am receiving is sharpening my voice and writing. I was ready for this education because my spirit was crying out for it. It is feeding me and making me feel alive. I was hungry for this education. Big fan of education and knowledge. Education is pro-life. Hear me clearly on this, please.

It is important to note, though, that my knowledge of the church being wrong about women is not what led me to leave. I stayed for several years knowing it was wrong and believing change would eventually come because individuals eventually progress and change, right? Once truth is revealed? My experience tells me no. 2016 revealed that is a big negative. I did not leave until I experienced how dangerous that incorrect theology was to the bodies of women and children. The apathy and disbelief about sexual assault did me in. And an ignorant and vile man being elected over a smart and well-informed woman while hearing too many friends’ cheer. This is not due to a bad education, although it is part of the problem, there is something in human nature that has always been terrible to women and children. This is why we cannot figure out when male over female theology began. It has been in the air long before the Bible came into existence. The Bible is not the first book written. So why am I expecting progress now for women knowing all of this? I don’t.

I think women can be liberated, though. Maybe I can expect material progress as we work towards a more just life together. Dorothy Day, a rare church mother I got to study in church history, says giving away materially is an important spiritual practice. The United States is a place of massive inequality. It is a choice, not a spiritual reality that we cannot do anything about because Jesus said “the poor you will always have with you.” Poor hermeneutics on that passage. Education and critical thinking matters. The reason women are held back is because equality will not allow men to be as rich as they want and hold all of the positions of power. Their influence will decrease in their minds. Experience has shown me influence increases the more voices we add to our theology, but until people learn to trust, the resistance will remain fierce. Learning women are human and important in the Bible is helpful and necessary work but it is likely not going to change people who are comfortable where they are, or scared to change a long-held narrative that gave them security for far too long. If they are wrong about one thing, what else could be wrong. This idea we cannot be wrong is literally killing our spirits. Church history and United States history, both.

This is why I fall under liberationist theology versus any other type of theology. I do not read the Bible to figure out what the rules are. I can love people and do what I know is right by my neighbor without it. Example, I would have gotten my vaccine with or without scripture. The spirit of scripture does tell me it is a pro-life act, by the way. I value my life and my friend’s lives without scripture. What scripture helps me do in this moment with the vaccine is learn to trust people who have done the work and are telling me it is safe. I trust science and people who know way more about it than me. Do I think scientists can err and be wrong about some things? Or change their minds when they know more? Yes. But I cannot live my life not trusting people because some people might be wrong or corrupt. I would never step in a church again if I lived by that theology. Scripture helps me learn to trust even though the world is not trustworthy and is not likely to ever be trustworthy. Trusting anyway is liberation.

I have been used and abused in my life. I see/hear/experience the judgements people make about people sharing their experiences, and the judgements cast doubt on the trustworthiness of the person. I do not care anymore. My faith tells me to tell the truth. The truth will set me free and anyone else who wants to join in and tell the truth. Jesus is the way the truth and the life. I do not see that as a winning statement over other religions or an religious-escapist statement to be made in the Christian faith that fails to be embodied. Jesus is saying, I believe, that going by the way of truth, which is what he did, it will cost you physically/materially, but your life will never be so full. You will be spiritually/mentally alive. And that is the life that cannot be taken from you. I am feeling this liberation as the women of the Olympics speak truth. Women, children, and BIPOC are saying that they are tired. It is time to tend to our mental health living in a world that has demanded our bodies be used for other’s gain and entertainment.

My liberation theology leads me to believe in a world that can learn to trust. Like Thomas, we often need to feel and see the wounds–including our own! Without trust there is no life. I will live learning how to trust more and more every day knowing I will get hurt again but I am a different person now. We can be trustworthy in an untrustworthy world. The world might not get better but we can still live fully and in a trustworthy manner. One of my sermons in my preaching class had that focus. I am proud of it.

2 thoughts on “Do Individuals Progress?

  1. This is so interesting, Lindsay. I read the tweet you’re referring to too, and it really struck me. Christians have contrasting views on this, I think (and I’m not talking about the person who posted this originally at all, just more generally). On one hand they don’t want to believe that humanity as a whole is progressing because that contradicts the idea that “there’s nothing new under the sun” and we’re still as hell-bound as we ever were — and considering climate change and all the other human-made problems on this earth it is pretty hard to believe we’re getting better. But on the other, they want to believe that when you’re saved you just become this progressively more Christlike person — and to be honest I’m not sure I believe THAT either, having seen a lot of Christian people still stuck in the same patterns for years and decades. I wonder if “progress” (in that popular sense of “Every day, in every way, we’re getting better and better” is even is a Christian concept at all.

    BUT as you say, we can learn and be freed. We can learn to trust and practice being trustworthy people. We can pursue truth and life. Maybe we just need to drop the idea of progress and focus more on growth and freedom.

    Thanks for writing this!

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    1. Jeannie, Thank you for this insightful response. Yes, you got the spirit of what I am trying to say. I think focusing on growth with the people we have and not trying to convince ourselves we can make anyone better would go a long way in actually making “progress” LOL! I love sharing this journey with you. This is helping me become more free myself. Maybe I should care about that more instead of focusing on what I cannot change and may not be able to expect to change.

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