Jesus said to Thomas, “Stop doubting and believe.” (John 20:27) The term “doubting Thomas” is almost used synonymously with a skeptic. But not all skepticism is equal. Inquiring mind and critical thinking gave rise to progress in philosophy and sciences. In homiletics, preachers are trained ‘hermeneutics of suspicion,’ the practice of reading Biblical texts against the grain to expose otherwise hidden meanings and repressed interpretations. And what we hope for, through approaching the Bible from different angles, is a fuller understanding of the heart and will of God. When I chaired District Committee on Ordained Ministry back in the 1990s, I always told committee members that we must test our own assumptions while interviewing the ministry candidates. Without becoming more conscious about one’s common judgment trap and biases, it’s easy to make an unfair conclusion about someone coming from different cultures and backgrounds. I would say such are examples of healthy skepticism, as opposed to blind and unhealthy skepticism that is destructive in nature.
To prevent the dangers of unhealthy skepticism, societies that uphold the rule of law keep legislative due processes and protocols for fact-finding before drawing any legal conclusion. So we have the principle of the “presumption of innocence” as a Constitutional doctrine, and a prosecutor must provide the jury a “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” in a criminal trial. The same principles are respected within the church community too, so as to prevent wrongful accusations which may have detrimental consequences for the health of the community. But nowadays, both in the political arena as well as in the church, we see rash gestures that ignore due processes and protocols. It is becoming increasingly commonplace that people raise their opinions as objective and absolute claims while denouncing those who differ from them. It happened at a recent meeting led by the supporters of LGBTQ clergy ordination, where it was decided to make a written request for resident bishops to clarify their intentions whether to leave or stay in the denomination. I vocally disagreed with the decision. It’s coercion, I said, and a violation of personal boundaries. On the next day, I witnessed a similar stir at another meeting dominated by traditionalists. Once again I simply maintained my stance that our approaches must be prudent and discerning if we want to aim for a higher purpose.
The hidden side of the evil of racism or any other form of discrimination is self-righteousness and self-idolatry. At times people mistake their own agenda for the will of God, and exhibit their destructive bias and discriminatory behavior believing they’re doing the right thing. That’s what Pharisees did in essence. And Jesus deliberately did the exact opposite: He gladly healed the sick on Sabbath and did not hesitate to hold a conversation with a Samaritan woman. “The Sabbath was created for humans” Jesus explained (Mk. 2:27), and after telling the Parable of the Good Samaritan he instructed, “Go and do likewise” (Lk. 10:37). What Jesus taught, by word and example, is that our interests must be in extending the saving love of God, not destroying one another by self-serving religious convictions.
Jesus came back to meet doubting Thomas so that he could confess, “My Lord and my God” (Jn. 20:28) – the phrase that served as a creed in the Early Church. There, in that confession of faith, is our purpose of existence as the church. And all due processes and procedures are helpful tools to keep our purpose alive.
Many arguments and disagreements pervade our denomination today. But when looked up-close, churches are not so easily shaken in places with leaders solidly grounded on the purpose, process, and protocol. But in places without, many churches and clergy are challenged by disruptions.
While times are tough, may we focus all the more on our purpose of confessing “My Lord and my God” to the Risen Christ.