I’ve been thinking a lot this year about what it means to live out my beliefs and convictions. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about what it looks like to speak up for what is right and to speak out against what is wrong. At the bare minimum, I think it looks like having difficult conversations with people in our families and social circles, pushing ourselves and others to really consider why we think and act and speak and vote the way we do.
But, I will admit that I often find myself shying away from these conversations. I know people who have thought deeply about different issues and still have different opinions or convictions than I do. For the most part, I can respect that. But I also know many people who operate on a system of “inherited beliefs.” They have absorbed and adopted beliefs from their families, churches, or communities without ever really examining them. Yet they hold these inherited beliefs in a vice grip. They are unwilling or unable to consider that just because something has been done a certain way for a long time doesn’t make it right.
To be honest, I tend to think of those people as hopeless cases who aren’t worth my energy. But lately I’ve been reminded of how much my own beliefs and convictions have changed in the past 15 years. When I think of who I was 15 years ago, and who I am now, I am so very grateful for the many, many people who were willing not to write me off, but who challenged me to consider other perspectives and who modeled for me different examples of what a faith-filled life could look like. It is the memory of these people and the impact they’ve had on my life that make me want to share some of my own journey.
I grew up in a world that was black and white. You were saved or you were not. You were righteous or you were evil. You were pure or you were tainted. Everyone and everything could be easily categorized.
I was taught how to defend my faith in a debate, but not how to empathize or engage with people who were different from me. I was taught to judge people’s hearts based on my interpretation of their actions rather than to reserve judgment and extend compassion.
I left home when I was 18 years old believing that I was a light in a dark, dark world. I believed unquestioningly that my convictions came from God himself.
Fifteen years later, my beliefs about many things are wildly different from what they were at 18. I am deeply grateful for my upbringing – for my parents devoting themselves to my spiritual formation from a young age. And I am equally grateful that as I have grown and matured, they have seen my beliefs change and seen those beliefs shape my life, and had the grace to do nothing but encourage me.
This post is a celebration of the ways I have grown closer to being the person I was made to be. It is also a reminder to myself to remain open to people who challenge my beliefs. I have not arrived. I am still becoming.
Things I Used to Believe:
I used to believe that Catholicism was something people needed to be “saved” out of and that liturgical, traditional churches were dry and “spiritually dead.” Now I believe there are many authentic expressions of faith and that we all have a lot to learn from each other.
I used to believe that (American) Christians could only be Republican. Growing up, I didn’t know a single person who voted Democrat – at least no one who was vocal about it. Now I believe there are Christians represented in every party and in no party. But mostly I believe that no Christian should identify so strongly with a political party that that identity becomes synonymous with their faith.
I used to believe that the United States was the greatest country on Earth. Now I believe that the United States has many qualities that make it desirable and unique among the nations of the world. But I do not believe it is “the best” country in the world. Nor do I believe it should strive to be.
I used to believe that racism was a condition of the heart. That it was limited to a few individuals who were overtly hateful to people of color. Now I believe that racism is also embedded in our country’s policies and systems and that you do not have to be hateful towards any particular group to be complicit in racism.
I used to believe that all of our resources should go towards criminalizing abortion in order to prevent it. Now I believe the best way to reduce the abortion rate is to provide affordable comprehensive healthcare for women including access to contraception and maternal care, as well as comprehensive postnatal support including paid maternity leave and affordable childcare once a child is born.
I used to believe in the war on drugs. Now I believe it is responsible for the United States having the largest industrial prison complex in the world and that it is the modern equivalent to Jim Crow laws – criminalizing for (mostly black) people of color what is excused in white people.
I used to believe that affirmative action and diversity quotas were ways of handing out university spots and jobs to people who didn’t necessarily deserve them, robbing more deserving candidates who happened to be white. Now I believe that the only way to begin to equal the playing field after generations of inequality and make amends is to give people of color equal access to opportunities afforded to the white and the wealthy. And it’s not equal access if some people start from behind.
I used to believe that homeless people and beggars were to be pitied, but mostly because of their own bad choices. I also believed there were many people choosing homelessness and poverty in order to take advantage of government assistance. Now I believe that addiction is an illness, prostitution is often a choice that does not feel like a choice at all, and that there are more people suffering from a Welfare system that provides too little than there are people taking advantage of it.
I used to believe that women were responsible for men’s inability to control their lust. If a woman was dressed provocatively or acting promiscuously, she was at least partly to blame for anything that happened to her. Now I believe that men should be held responsible for their own thoughts and actions. Period.
I used to believe that illegal immigrants were getting what they bargained for. They knew the risks and they still decided to enter the country illegally. Now I think, “They knew the risks, and they still decided to enter illegally. How unspeakably terrible must their situation in their homeland have been? What would be horrible enough for me to risk my family that way?”
For those of you who are grappling with changes in your own beliefs, I hope this can be empowering to you. For those who are set in your beliefs, I hope this can be challenging for you. For those who are trying to engage with others who have different beliefs, I hope this can be encouraging for you.
For Christians and non-Christians alike, I hope this reminds you that not all Christians have the same views.
For myself, it is a reminder of who I have been, who I am now, and who I still hope to become.