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Questions from the Outside: What If I Don't Believe?

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ANSWER: We need to look into ourselves first to answer that question.

  • Pilate deserves a bit of rehabilitation in our commentaries and in our minds.
  • When we reread this text, Pilate is another character we pass by between the garden and the cross.
  • But, in one way, I feel bad for him, because he's having to referee what looks like an internal struggle that has overflowed into the Roman bureaucracy.
    • Here is has Jesus, who from Pilate's point of view seems to have any reason to be punished in the ways that the crowds and priests have demanded.
    • Yet when he hears Jesus, he doesn't quite fully understand what he's saying either: Pilate isn't a Jew, after all. He doesn't have all cultural translation ready at hand.
    • As the conversation continues, the people who rebel against the apparent king hook Pilate into a political (and existential) bind - if you let Jesus free, you are no friend of the emperor! You aren't doing your job well, you are a bad person, in other words. This lack of friendship has its implications, as Pilate's boss was known for his paranoia and the very violent way he puts end to it.
    • So, Pilate does what most of us would do - to keep his job and life, he doesn't investigate too much further. He washes his hands of the whole thing.
  • But even still, in the midst of this pressure, he does ask a profound question - what is truth?
    • This is a question that scholars argue is somewhere between skepticism, mocking, or indulgent pity in tone.
    • To that response comes a silence from Jesus.
    • It motivates Pilate to a new direction - he turns again to the crowds afterward. And that crowd presses in on Pilate.
  • What if Pilate's question was not one of mocking or pity, but one of honest curiosity - what is truth?
    • I think this a question that many who sit on the outside are asking, especially if they are in a phase of deconstruction - tearing apart their faith because the previous answers don't make sense anymore.
    • This has come into sharp relief for me in the last week, especially after I was on the radio with other pastors talking about the Dobbs decision.
      • While we were civil, I could hear some underlying warring words from some of my colleagues
      • There were churches that had "celebrated" - to the point of changing their worship services - the decision. To hear some of my fellow clergy, to believe anything other than what they did was to cede into wickedness. This was a battle to those folks, and they had won.
      • What bothered me was less the perspective on abortion - good people can have varying opinions on abortion - but the voracity in which lines were drawn. And the fact that if you disagreed with their perspective, then not only did you not understand Jesus (someone had said that any "common sense" reading of Scripture would lead someone to a their outcome), but you were giving into wickedness and victimizing women and children.
      • It got to the point where I felt I needed to - as someone who felt the most important thing was to allow avenues for love, grace, and avoid criminalizing some of the toughest decisions a woman may make - say out loud on the radio that I was a Christian myself - and an ordained pastor - even if I didn't see things the same way that some of my colleagues did. Never mind the fact that changing a service to celebrate a Supreme Court decision moves far too closely to a political service than a worship service than any church should find itself going.
  • If we wonder why folks struggle to believe, then, we might only need to think about what we are doing as churches to create situations where the we put people on the outside into such untenable positions that they have to wash their hands of the whole enterprise altogether. In my limited experience as a human being and as a pastor, I've found that accusing varying opinions about complicated topics as "wicked" tends to limit meaningful discussion. And that includes people who have committed to the church and Jesus Christ! With those who aren't in the pews, what other option do they have but to wash their hands and walk away, especially if they don't want to conform exactly to the crowd yelling.
  • So what could be different? How could we do better for those on the outside who are asking "what is truth?"
    • Untangling the political and the theological: when Pilate pushes on Jesus on being a King and Jesus speaks that he is not a King of this world, he's letting Pilate know that his avenues aren't political, but are something deeper.
      • When we speak into issues, we would do well to speak not into the political moment, but the deeper issues at play.
        • If you listen to the radio spot, what you'll hear from a couple of us is not "well, abortion is x, y, or z" but instead that God loves everyone. That there's no judgement for people's stories. That God loves people who have had abortions, just as God loves who choose not to have one.
        • If we can start with the deeper themes, we can build a foundation of mutual love and appreciation. We understand complexity and nuance better than "this is bad, and if you disagree, you're no friend of the emperor."
        • If we are creating a church that emphasizes the political over the gospel, then we're not worshipping Jesus Christ. We're worshipping whatever government places us and our beliefs into the greatest power.
    • What is the truth that we know?
      • In the midst of many directions, many roads, there are some truths we can hold to... even here: that Jesus Christ will always be resurrected. That love will always prevail. That the gospel was always a gospel of redemption over power.
      • Moreover, there is a truth of our own brokenness and need to have humility. We are finite. We cannot presume everything.

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