In my experience, we as post-Reformation church people want to support freedom of conscience while at the same time we value holding beliefs in common. Here’s the thing about that: it’s not smooth and tidy. I suspect one of the fundamental mistakes we make is thinking that it will be.
Although it’s tempting to think of these conflicting desires as a pendulum, to me the image that comes to mind is monkey bars: you swing forward to grab the next bar while still holding on to the last one, and eventually you let go. Only in the church’s case, we swing on the monkey bars by committee, one part saying, “Don’t let go! You don't have a good grip! That bar's not secure!” and another saying, “I’ve got a hold of the next bar! Move on!”
If we believe that independence and freedom of conscience is worth preserving, then this conflict we keep experiencing is a feature, not a bug. Perhaps one of the things we need to let go of as people of faith is the belief that we’re all going to go swinging along together in complete harmony -- and that we're never going to fall off the bars.
Easier said than done, I know. But the only way not to have that kind of conflict would be either to let everyone just do their own thing, or to insist on one right way of thinking and believing and to suppress any deviance.
One of the things we’re trying to do with Confirm not Conform is to find that middle way: to represent as fairly as possible the basic tenets of our Christian faith while recognizing there is a wide array of beliefs within that. We think it’s crucial to allow people to be at different places in their beliefs and not be quashed or quash each other.
I’m reminded of Jesus asking his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And the answer was varied: Some say this, some say that. Then Jesus asks, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter gives the answer from deep in his soul: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” Jesus calls him blessed. And so do I – for his courage in sharing what he truly believed, out loud, in front of his friends.
And how much easier would it have been if Jesus had just announced: "Here’s who I am. Here’s what you should believe about me. If you don’t, then don’t even bother. Just go home." But he didn't. Instead, he led them through a couple of questions that allowed them the chance to explore what they truly believed.
It is hard to share with others what you honestly believe. It is hard to make that be safe. But it’s something we can practice. And it’s in that safety and that practice that we can allow ourselves to work together by faith without fear.