Julie Ferwerda, author of Raising Hell, is ruffling some feathers and catching some heat on Facebook today for sharing this “Letter to Rejecting Christian Family Members,” with the intent of providing constructive words for people who are facing similar circumstances to copy/paste/edit/share as they see fit.
There’s an interesting dynamic between her approach to conflict and the approach recommended by Frank Viola in his recent blog post, What To Do When Other Christians Hurt You — 8 Responses. The most operative line in that post, in my opinion, is “In cases of repeated abuse, which I’m not addressing in this post, getting others involved is often wise and necessary.”
Many believers seem to have a problem distinguishing Jesus’ teaching to privately deal with personal conflict and Jesus example of publicly dealing with conflicts that arise from religious hypocrisy, specifically, hypocrisy involving shunning and persecuting people who believe differently. In my opinion, conflicts that arise from religious hypocrisy will inevitably produce personal conflicts. Airing those kinds of personal conflicts publicly is a form of shining light in the darkness. Keeping those kinds of conflicts private is like whitewashing tombs and pretending there are no “bones of the dead and everything unclean” inside.
If you attend a church with leaders who encourage you to disassociate yourself from another believer over doctrinal differences, woe to you — and those are Christ’s words, not mine. His harshest rebukes were reserved for the religious leaders who practiced and taught emotionally abusive behavior like pretending someone no longer exists and expecting everyone around you to do the same. The salt in the wound is that they also expect you to keep what they are doing a SECRET.
Guess what, believers… the system that has protected and sustained the shameful protocols governing the way believers interact with one another and with not-yet-believers is being turned upside down and inside out. All kind of stuff is falling out, where everyone can see.
Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.
Here’s Julie’s letter:
Dear Family Member,
Since you took the liberty to say things to me that you’re thinking, I’d like to do the same. Please don’t “hear” an angry tone in this letter, I’m just matter-of-factly letting you know a few of my responses to yours. I would sincerely love to hear your thoughts in response to this letter, because I would like to see things from your perspective.
1. I still find it interesting that you are rejecting my beliefs, yet you don’t even know what they are. You reject my beliefs based on assumptions and misinformation. I can understand how it seems impossible to counter 1500 years the making of one’s beliefs (held by the majority of Christians today) but the 1500-2000 years of people making theology is precisely why we should be willing to question how those beliefs morphed over time.
As I told you, the first 500 years after Christ held the orthodox position of universalism, which the Eastern Church maintains to this day (which was the church of the apostles); the Western Church (Rome) is the one that deviated from that position in the 5th century after Christ. You can read a bit more about the early church position on Universalism on wikipedia (FB won’t let me post the link).
Also, in my book I offer many universalism quotes and sources from early Church Fathers, which can be located from books and papers scanned online.
I will also say this..when you look honestly into this topic…there is not a shred of evidence for a place of eternal torment as a destiny for most of mankind. I can’t imagine for an instant why anyone would not be incredibly interested to know why and how this radical idea can possibly be suggested. Why wouldn’t every Christian be interested in hearing a case for God’s love and plan for mankind being big enough to include everyone, and why wouldn’t they want to know how it actually or supposedly lines up with the true Bible teachings?
Anyhow, I find it very unfair to close me down and reject me before you are even willing to see what I have to say or how I came to my beliefs. I took the time to painstakingly record my journey in my book so that people could see that Christian Universalism is not at all contrary to Scripture or what Jesus or Paul or other writers of the Bible actually taught, but is completely in line with what they taught. The world could have never moved forward in any kind of capacity (i.e. science, technology, medicine) without the willingness to listen to other perspectives.
2. I think it’s strange that you accuse me of “influencing your children,” yet they are all basically adults. How can you desire to have that much control over your adult children’s thoughts, beliefs, or the outcome of their lives? They are out in the world every day being influenced by every kind of belief and doctrine, so what about that? Is your God so uninvolved or impotent, or your lifetime of influence so ineffective that your children are that unsafe in this world?
Is it necessary that everyone they are around has to agree with them or their faith will crumble? If that is true, why do you let your kids go on mission trips where they encounter people without God? Or why do you let them go to a secular college where they are surrounded by atheists and agnotics in their classes and on campus daily? Part of the answer to that is that they are now adults and you cannot control their lives, their thoughts, or their beliefs. Yet will you try to keep them from being around me, someone who loves them dearly, even though you cannot (or do not try to) stop them from being around people every day who don’t care about them? Is it fair to single me out as unworthy of your children or your family?
Also, I doubt you would have a problem talking about your faith beliefs in front of my children (and you have) because you are convinced you are right and you sincerely believe you should share that faith with everyone as much as possible, right? Why is it okay for you to talk about your faith with others, but not for others to talk about their faith with you?
I’m at the age where I am not going to pretend to be something or someone I’m not, and I also don’t feel that I should try to pretend when I am around your adult children, who now have their own lives and thoughts independent from others. If they are not “safe from corruption” around me, they will not be safe anywhere else either.
As an aside, I feel sad that you are worried about your children being so easily influenced by someone like me. I think your children are all strong, independent, wonderful children who will make up their own minds about whatever is true by the authenticity and love they witness (or not) in everything.
3. I find it also very sad that you are the one who has continually rejected me over my beliefs, but I have fully accepted you and loved you with open arms and total tolerance/grace, even though I have suffered incredible rejection and loss from you at times. You have often treated me like an untrustworthy person, even though I have never manipulated, rejected or shunned you for anything or been the one to leave. There has been no reciprocity of love and grace in this relationship. You say you love me, but you do not accept me or allow me to be in my own process of becoming. I don’t know how you see this as lining up with the Bible. It feels to me that you have always picked the parts you want to believe and ignored the parts that don’t line up with your personal feelings.
4. You have demonstrated an air of being completely right and sure of your beliefs over the years, even though those beliefs have changed considerably. Does this not ever make you feel more humble that you may not be right about everything? There are 30,000+ Christian denominations that all interpret the Bible differently (many, QUITE differently), all SURE that they are right. Whose interpretation are we going to decide is correct? The point is, we all need a lot more humility, openness, and tolerance in each other’s beliefs because nobody is 100% right or there would be more consensus. It seems to me that Jesus never criticized anyone for differences in doctrine, but he did a lot of criticizing over people not being loving and fair to others. He cared a lot more about how people acted than what they believed.
6. You said something like, if you are wrong, there is no consequence, but if I am wrong, there are drastic consequences. I beg to differ on the point that there is no consequence if you are wrong. If you are wrong, you are guilty of profoundly misinterpreting the character of God, and then misrepresenting His character to others, which to me is also very serious (and warrants further, thoughtful investigation of the matter).
Not only that, if you are right, the universe is not safe and you end up doing things like living in fear for your kids and having to try to control their life choices (and keep people with any differing theology away from them) because God truly isn’t big enough or loving enough to overcome their false beliefs or defiant wills with love. You end up spending inordinate amounts of time and energy trying to keep yourself and your kids safe in an otherwise out of control universe. I know, because that was my old belief system and it caused untold psychological suffering, and it was not the true representation of the God who says that “love does not fail” and that “nothing can separate us from God’s love, not even principalities or powers, nor anything in all creation…” If anything can separate us from God’s love, or if God’s love fails for most of mankind, then God has not told us the truth. Not only that, why would we ever trust a God who made a universe in which he would fail most of his creation? How could this be possible that a God could not find a way to remediate (and overcome) any “problems” or insufficiencies brought about by his own creative design?
Anyhow, I don’t know that you will be open to seeing my side from this letter, but I wanted to say these things. I guess the ball is in your court to decide if we are to have a relationship. Just to be clear, I have not and will not be the one to reject you or your beliefs. I have always accepted you and will continue to do so, if you are willing to be in my life and accept me for the person I am.