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June 27th, 2013
01:32 PM ET

Not all religious convictions are written in stone

Editor's Note: Rachel Held Evans is the author of "Evolving in Monkey Town" and "A Year of Biblical Womanhood." She blogs at rachelheldevans.com

By Rachel Held Evans, Special to CNN

(CNN) – There’s a misconception among many faithful folks that religious convictions, by their very nature, are set in stone.

People who change their minds are called flip-floppers or backsliders, accused of capitulating to culture and “conforming to the world.”

But some of the most recognizable names in the Christian story experienced changes of heart: Paul, Augustine, Martin Luther, C.S. Lewis and Madeleine L'Engle.

In my own life, questions and doubts have served as refining fires that keep my faith hot and alive and bubbling where certainty would only freeze it on the spot.

I’ve changed my mind about a lot of things—the age of the Earth, the reality of climate change, the value of women in church leadership, the equal failings of both the Republican and Democratic platforms to embody the teachings of Jesus.

Like a lot of evangelicals, I grew up in a religious environment that vilified LGBT people.

I remember attending a Christian conference in which liberals were derisively referred to as FOGS (friends-of-gays). I laughed along with the speaker, albeit nervously, dismissing the voice in my head reminding me that Jesus was ridiculed for his choice of friends, too.

Today, I am honored to be the friend of many LGBT people, and I celebrated along with them as Exodus International closed its doors and as the Supreme Court ruled the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional.

I know sometimes it seems like evangelical Christians are unyielding and unwilling to change, but as I scrolled through my Facebook feed this week, I saw a mixture of responses from my Christian friends — some joyful and some dismayed.

I noticed that several friends who had been at that very same conference so many years ago boasted red equal signs as their profile pictures.

In his book “Velvet Elvis,” Rob Bell writes:

“Times change. God doesn’t, but times do. We learn and grow, and the world around us shifts, and the Christian faith is alive only when it is listening, morphing, innovating, letting go of whatever has gotten in the way of Jesus and embracing whatever will help us be more and more the people God wants us to be.”

A person of conviction is not one who is unyielding to change, but one whose beliefs evolve based on new information, new movements of the Spirit, new biblical insights and, yes, new friends.

There’s a story in the New Testament about a Roman centurion named Cornelius, whose fear of God and care for the poor was widely known among the people.

After receiving a vision from God, Cornelius sends for the apostle Peter, who agrees to meet with him, even though it was forbidden for a Jew to associate with a Gentile.

Peter, an observant Jew, had been wrestling with the idea of including Gentiles in the church. But when he encounters the sincere faith of Cornelius, he is moved to declare, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right!”

He tells the skeptical people who have gathered outside, “God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean.”

Peter changed his mind, and the church would never be the same.

Despite deeply held religious convictions regarding circumcision and dietary restrictions, he led the way in opening the doors of the church to all who would enter, regardless of ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status or religious background.

We can learn a lot from Peter — not only from his inclusiveness, but also from his willingness to change his mind.

Like Peter, God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean. And that I should not think so highly of myself as to assume I’ve got this faith thing all figured out.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Rachel Held Evans.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Bible • Christianity • Church • Culture wars • Faith • Gay marriage • Gay rights • Opinion • Politics

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soundoff (706 Responses)
  1. hharri

    the expression, "stanky weed patch" posted many times by that deranged twerp, should remain for all to see. that's great editing for polite courteous discussion. any attempts to realign your motives will fail before a jury

    September 5, 2013 at 12:33 am |
  2. mike

    How can you have faith, when each time it changed to conform to the modern world? How many preachers still preach that women are beneath men? Not all that many. Thus, a faith that has to move is proof that it is just there to suck your money. Meaning god is a lie!

    July 15, 2013 at 11:21 pm |
  3. tony

    If beliefs evolve, they destroy the illusion of the foundation of faith.

    July 4, 2013 at 12:11 pm |
    • David

      What if one of your beliefs is wrong? Do you hang on to it? Or do you change your belief to the right thing? For example, do you still believe that the sun revolves around the earth?

      July 8, 2013 at 12:19 pm |
    • Ideology

      In a belief there is no right or wrong. In a belief it's what you think is probably true, a fact is what is proven to be true. Once you have some evidence you don't need a belief.

      July 13, 2013 at 6:17 pm |
      • Aggie Henley

        No,there is definitely right and wrong when it comes to faith. Faith is not based on proof- otherwise it would not be faith. The Holy Word of God- the Bible- tells us what is truth, and what is a lie. It's the standard that we, as believes, adhere to. If there's no standard, no ultimate guide, then we're just all circling the bowl, waiting to get flushed. There isn't unity if we don't adhere to the same rules and laws. How else do we hold one another accountable for our actions?
        Accepting one another regardless of what and how we believe, regardless of the presence or lack of integrity simply doesn't work. Faith is not an "anything goes" proposition, but a discipline applies to one's mind and heart. It sounds as though you are referring to opinion rather than faith.

        August 8, 2013 at 11:06 am |
  4. whataboutlove?

    I could give two craps about whether or not your beliefs are different than mine. Every one of ya' all are still human beings. It doesn't matter if you are gay or straight. It doesn't matter if you are atheist or believer. Why do any of us wish to harm another because they are different from us? When will we stop all the hateful words? When will we accept one another as we are?

    We are not beyond capable of being humanly decent to one another. Not beyond capable of expressing compassion for our fellow man. Opposition doesn't need to mean exclusion. I am not like you. You are not like me. Why continue to hurt each other based on a difference of belief?

    July 4, 2013 at 1:03 am |
    • Left brain vs right brain

      It's a good point, but humanity is still humanity. Not everyone will like everyone else, it is more common with humans to resort to tribalism and then combat eachother for dominance. It's been going on since time began. I too hope it will change.

      July 7, 2013 at 6:59 am |
  5. GOOD NEWS

    The LGBT people are NOT impure or unclean, what they do is.
    They are welcome in the House of the LORD, if they see this.

    http://www.holy-19-harvest.com
    UNIVERSAL MAGNIFICENT MIRACLES

    July 1, 2013 at 8:22 pm |
    • aldewacs2

      "Christians are not stupid, what they THINK is.
      They are welcome in our midst, if they see this."

      See now how ridiculous you sound?

      September 20, 2013 at 11:06 am |
  6. The real Tom

    Since Daniel is not allowing my posts to appear in other threads, it's pretty silly to imagine that I'm "Scotty", don't you think?

    June 30, 2013 at 9:04 pm |
    • Saraswati

      Who is Scotty?

      June 30, 2013 at 9:06 pm |
    • The real Tom

      Who knows? LL and HS have accused me of being "him" on the other thread. Funny!

      June 30, 2013 at 9:07 pm |
    • Saraswati

      Weird...maybe a replacement for Dorothy.

      June 30, 2013 at 9:09 pm |
    • The real Tom

      I hope you will illuminate the masses.

      June 30, 2013 at 9:12 pm |
    • Akira

      I have tried to set LL straight. And are you serious, Tom? You can't post on the first story?

      June 30, 2013 at 9:39 pm |
    • laststonecarver

      @TrT and others,
      I am pretty sure that Dorothy is Dorothy Gale – as in the traveller to Oz –
      With the inference, that if u r called Dorothy – u b trippin' –
      Not sure on Scotty – maybe the engine room/transporter officer – as in Beam me up Scotty – make me real/whole –
      The verses which LL and HS portend, are actually a cry for help, to their supreme overlord – not so much to prove their belief, or change those not of their belief, but instead to request assistance , because their devotion is being interrupted, by the noise of their environment – their environment, which is creating them –
      Its all so confusing, and you are making it more confusing, and confusion is the work of the devil – therefore that is why they continue to blog verses, comparing your responses to the devil –
      One day they will awaken to find, that they ultimately decide the direction their lives will take -

      July 1, 2013 at 7:19 am |
  7. Zion

    If a man lays with a male as he does with a woman, thet have both created an obamanation.

    June 30, 2013 at 5:44 pm |
    • Akira

      Well, golly. Someone brought up Obama. Unless you meant "abomination." Which is soley opinion. But that's all right...rock on.

      June 30, 2013 at 9:04 pm |
    • Observer

      Zion,

      You're in an Obama Nation. You've graduated from the Bush League.

      July 1, 2013 at 11:41 pm |
    • My Dog is a Jealous Dog

      If a man talks on a cell phone as he drives a car, then he should be pulled over and ticketed.

      July 3, 2013 at 11:23 am |
    • My Dog is a Jealous Dog

      Now think about that verse from Lev.

      The "abomination" is that the child from this union cannot be certain of who his father is. Why isn't there a law about women laying with women? Very simple – you know who the parents of the child are regardless of how many women you have in your bed.

      July 3, 2013 at 11:30 am |
  8. Real Wisdom

    There is only one truth. And you can either stick with that truth, or depart from it. And that is the problem with the world today, many have departed from the truth and have given heed to "seducing spirits" and "doctrines of devils". Doctrines of devils are false beliefs and teachings which comes from the devil designed to lure you and to send your soul to hell…

    1 Timothy 4:1 – Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith (ie, depart from the truth), giving heed to seducing spirits (ie, things which sound good to them), and doctrines of devils (ie, false teachings and false beliefs); 2 Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron…

    June 30, 2013 at 2:23 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      Those who are truly deceived believe that they are not deceived and that they have the truth within them. Christians are deceived and do not have the truth.

      July 1, 2013 at 11:44 pm |
  9. allenwoll

    .
    Conviction = Opinion, period ! ! !
    .

    June 30, 2013 at 10:49 am |
    • Saraswati

      Well, strong opinion...but, yeah.

      June 30, 2013 at 5:46 pm |
  10. EdL

    Beliefs can evolve, and beliefs can devolve.

    June 30, 2013 at 10:08 am |
    • Real Wisdom

      But there is only one truth. Either you have it or you don't. All else is only a lie....

      June 30, 2013 at 2:26 pm |
    • An old analogy

      Reality = What stays even if you quit believing in it.

      June 30, 2013 at 5:40 pm |
  11. Reality

    Rachel, Rachel, Rachel,

    And still more information to bring you into the 21st century:

    Jesus was an illiterate Jewish peasant/carpenter/simple preacher man who suffered from hallucinations (or “mythicizing” from P, M, M, L and J) and who has been characterized anywhere from the Messiah from Nazareth to a mythical character from mythical Nazareth to a ma-mzer from Nazareth (Professor Bruce Chilton, in his book Rabbi Jesus). An-alyses of Jesus’ life by many contemporary NT scholars (e.g. Professors Ludemann, Crossan, Borg and Fredriksen, ) via the NT and related doc-uments have concluded that only about 30% of Jesus' sayings and ways noted in the NT were authentic. The rest being embellishments (e.g. miracles)/hallucinations made/had by the NT authors to impress various Christian, Jewish and Pagan sects.

    The 30% of the NT that is "authentic Jesus" like everything in life was borrowed/plagiarized and/or improved from those who came before. In Jesus' case, it was the ways and sayings of the Babylonians, Greeks, Persians, Egyptians, Hitt-ites, Canaanites, OT, John the Baptizer and possibly the ways and sayings of traveling Greek Cynics.

    earlychristianwritings.com/

    For added "pizzazz", Catholic theologians divided god the singularity into three persons and invented atonement as an added guilt trip for the "pew people" to go along with this trinity of overseers. By doing so, they made god the padre into god the "filicider".

    Current RCC problems:

    Pedophiliac priests, an all-male, mostly white hierarchy, atonement theology and original sin!!!!

    Luther, Calvin, Joe Smith, Henry VIII, Wesley, Roger Williams, the Great “Babs” et al, founders of Christian-based religions or combination religions also suffered from the belief in/hallucinations of "pretty wingie thingie" visits and "prophecies" for profits analogous to the myths of Catholicism (resurrections, apparitions, ascensions and immacu-late co-nceptions).

    Current problems:
    Adulterous preachers, pedophiliac clerics, "propheteering/ profiteering" evangelicals and atonement theology,

    June 30, 2013 at 7:22 am |
    • Rob

      Well stated, but this is speaking to the things apart from an individuals belief and conviction. Agreed individuals of Very questionable intent have used religion throughout history and even this very minute to control and manipulate people to their own selfish, criminal, disgusting, homicidal et al desires.
      I am a christian, sure enough, that faith is not debateable. I see that many people today have adopted government as their religion. Make no mistake it is in fact their religion and they are just as commited to their faith as anyone could possibly be. Do you know how many priests, preachers, rabbis, bishops, ect. that are all over the planet doing great works giving every day of themselves every thing they can to help those around them? Thousands possibly tens of thousands. A couple dozen a few dozen maybe a hundred commiting foul and criminal deeds.
      Still as compared to the rampant criminal corruption of our political officials worldwide this is but a very small drop in an ocean. So in summary all whom fall to their knees at the temple of government may scour all manner of media every day looking feverishly for a bad preacher to validate thier faith in their own priests/officials. Please take a look at what your real motivation is, what is it that you are really after?

      June 30, 2013 at 10:37 am |
    • Real Wisdom

      Reality... So you believe the writings of "earlychristianwritings.com" that was written by a bunch of atheists who are being entirely controlled by Lucifer? Here's a suggestion. If you choose to believe them and to put your faith in them, then you should at least make sure they are able to come and get you out of hell should you wind up there. Which I'm pretty sure is where you're going if you keep believing such nonsense...

      June 30, 2013 at 2:31 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      Before I worry about avoiding hell or having people with special powers who can retrieve me from it, I would need to be convinced that it actually exists. I remain unconvinced because there is no good evidence that hell exists. And if hell does exist, I will probably wind up there anyway because I could not, would not, worship the azzhole who could destroy such a place of eternal torture and yet chooses to allow its existence and takes delight in its purpose.

      July 1, 2013 at 11:42 pm |
  12. GOOD NEWS

    GOD is the Best Judge.

    http://www.holy-19-harvest.com
    UNIVERSAL MAGNIFICENT MIRACLES

    June 30, 2013 at 6:12 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.