By Terra Allgaier – Washington, DC
I recently went home for a long weekend and my mom and I went to church. We are friendly feminist progressives who are also Christian and care about our relationship with God (yes, we exist!). We had been church-shopping for a while and finally seemed to find a community that felt welcoming and diverse with sermons that didn’t boil our blood. Until this particular weekend.
The service focused on the culture of God vs. the culture of modern day America, and generational changes and values. A guest pastor started his speech by saying he wanted to challenge our worldviews, no matter what they were. I thought this could be very powerful and important if it challenged a sampling of hot button perspectives across the spectrum, but instead he laid the groundwork for a very doomsday timeline of how the US has changed since the 50s, filling the room with tension and fear – fear that it was no longer possible to straddle both worlds, that you had to choose between God and a modern world perceived to be out of alignment with God.
In one breath he was enthusiastic about feminism, and in the next hanging his head because Roe v. Wade made abortion legal (although restrictions on abortion, like the Hyde Amendment, have made it only available to those who can afford it – often the wealthy and the white ) and 98 percent of women have taken birth control at some point.
He then proceeded to rank three values according to the supposed culture of the millennial generation vs. the culture of God: Love, Freedom and Truth. For millennials he ranked Freedom first, then Love followed by Truth. His explanation made us sound like self-obsessed, demanding, ignorant children.
I wanted to run up on stage and grab the mic.
This generation – our generation – is a reaction, a pendulum swing away from the hypocrisy, misogyny, abuse and exclusivity of our parents’ and grandparents’ generations. That’s a good thing. We value the freedom to do what we love and to love who we want because we’ve grown up watching people around us be miserable.
We value freedoms that are actualized and accessible because, while theories are great and all, we are well overdue for some real-life application. And we love the truth- the truth about the state of our planet, the truth about money contributed to elections, the truth about sexual assault and rape culture, the truth about systemic oppression and inequalities, the truth about health and healthcare, the truth about healthy relationships and self-care, the truth about violence, the truth about the quality of our country and the truth about God.
For the culture of God, the values were ranked Truth, then Love, then Freedom. That order makes total sense to me, but here lies the hang-up: community-based human life makes truth relative and contextual. We are people with fears and experiences and opinions that filter what truths we hold. No two people or two groups have the exact same beliefs, yet we all want to be right.
Does being part of a spiritual community to learn about the Bible help align and standardize some of the beliefs of communities? Yes, absolutely. But there is no one way to interpret and apply the Bible. If there were, there would not be so many different sects within Christianity. I think of the Bible like I think of the constitution – they are both sacred and supposedly straightforward documents with clear dos and don’ts. It seems two main approaches have developed to decipher these written works. You either see them as precise blueprints to be interpreted within the span of their origin, or you see them as roadmaps that are versatile enough to meet us where we are. Boiled down, it is the belief that either we adjust to fit it, or it evolves to fit our times.
I believe the Bible is an inherently long-lasting and durable sacred text with many stories and themes that will remain unchanging truths and always apply to our society; like faith, service, kindness and forgiveness. But I also believe some pieces only make sense under the context of the times they were written in, like women being considered as spiritually unclean and then ostracized for having periods, and not eating shrimp. Can you say out of touch? There has been a push in some Christian identities to get back to basics and stick to the letter of the law, but even those who adhere to that philosophy seem to agree that it’s best to exclude shrimp bans and menstrual lock-ups from the agenda.
Millennials are the most educated generation thus far, and we’ve grown up watching contradictions and injustices run rampant in a country we’ve been told is the best, most powerful and most free. So expecting an increasingly critical and observant generation to not question the way things have been done and the thoughts that have been thought while so many harms and problems were developing isn’t realistic.
I love this country, that’s why I want it to be amazing, but you can’t fix a problem you refuse to face. We have a strong desire to be right because we are humans with egos who are afraid of consequences, so of course we honestly want to be in alignment with God. We are earnestly trying to do and be the right thing to the best of our ability, but our idea of what’s right and what’s true change over time, even though the Bible doesn’t. We grow and have different experiences that change our filters, but the closest thing we have to the word of God stays the same. Sometimes in trying to be right and to know more truths it has to be alright to be wrong.
More than being wrong about facts and loved ones, we fear being wrong about God the most. In wanting to make God proud we become rigid in protecting our beliefs about what God wants so our egos feel confident that our margin of error is practically nonexistent.
But we can get in our own way. We can try so hard that we forget about humility- something I was taught since I was six that God cares about. Many of us have grown up believing strongly that adhering to the Bible is the surest way to create a one-size-fits-most roadmap for the most truthful beliefs and way of life. So if we start to think we know everything, then we stop asking for help, we stop asking for new information and reflecting, and we stop inviting God.
My point is this: truth and circumstances are always evolving. We believe certain things for a time, then our views expand and our questions and problems grow with them. Modern-day culture is not out of alignment with God because religion is our map, with culture as our road. They need each other to stay relevant and useful.