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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. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things,

    June 29, 2013 at 2:13 pm |
    • der

      Although the Second Epistle of Peter claims in the first verse to have been written by Peter, scholars are unanimous that it was in fact written anonymously in the second quarter of the second century with its authorship merely attributed to Peter in order to lend it credibility. Likewise the apocryphal Gospel of Peter and the Apocalypse of Peter claim Petrine authorship but were in fact written in the second century, long after Peter's death.

      June 29, 2013 at 6:05 pm |
    • truth is

      scholars are not unanimous in that opinion and to make that claim shows an incredible weakness of argument. Second, Gnostic writings attributed to Peter are of course false but they do offer a proof that there was a Peter and that Peter had a known authority in the church.

      June 29, 2013 at 7:36 pm |
    • G to the T

      Truth is – ironic that you should dismiss his argument and then say in the same breadth that "of course" the gnostic writings attributed to Peter are false.

      History is written by the victor. That doesn't mean it's how it really happened...

      July 3, 2013 at 11:04 am |
  2. hellodollyllama

    Okay, girls, I've run out of patience with you. I tried to post a short list of Bible quotes, and you forced me to post it in several chunks under several screen names. All while everyone else is posting whatever they damn well please. Just goes to prove the old maxim - moderating the internet should be left to those who are competent. CNN really has gone downhill.

    June 29, 2013 at 11:10 am |
  3. Trying Again

    Perhaps CNN is okay with the lesser epistles...? Collossians 2, Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths…. If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations, “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch”? All these regulations refer to things that perish with use; they are simply human commands and teachings. Ephesians 2, Christ has abolished the law; chapter 3, we now know that the gentiles who don’t follow the law are fellow heirs. Hebrews, the death of Jesus erases the old covenant; chapter 8, in bringing a new covenant he has made the old one obsolete; chapter 10, it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

    June 29, 2013 at 11:03 am |
    • Reality

      The moderators of this blog have set up a secret forbidden word filter which unfortunately not only will delete or put your comment in the dreaded "waiting for moderation" category but also will do the same to words having fragments of these words. For example, "t-it" is in the set but the filter will also pick up words like Hitt-ite, t-itle, beati-tude, practi-tioner and const-tution. Then there are words like "an-al" thereby flagging words like an-alysis and "c-um" flagging acc-umulate or doc-ument. And there is also "r-a-pe", “a-pe” and “gra-pe”, "s-ex", and "hom-ose-xual". You would think that the moderators would have corrected this by now considering the number of times this has been commented on but they have not. To be safe, I typically add hyphens in any word that said filter might judge "of-fensive".

      • Make sure the web address does not have any forbidden word or fragment.

      Sum Dude routinely updates the list of forbidden words/fragments.

      Two of the most filtered words are those containing the fragments "t-it" and "c-um". To quickly check your comments for these fragments, click on "Edit" on the Tool Bar and then "Find" on the menu. Add a fragment (without hyphens) one at a time in the "Find" slot and the offending fragment will be highlighted in your comments before you hit the Post button. Hyphenate the fragment(s) and then hit Post. And remember more than one full web address will also gain a "Waiting for Moderation".
      Zeb’s alphabetical listing

      o “bad letter combinations / words to avoid if you want to get past the CNN "awaiting moderation" filter:
      Many, if not most, are buried within other words, so use your imagination.
      You can use dashes, spaces, or other characters to modify the "offending" letter combinations.
      --–
      ar-se.....as in Car-se, etc.
      ba-stard
      co-ck.....as in co-ckatiel, co-ckatrice, co-ckleshell, co-ckles, lubco-ck, etc.
      co-on.....as in rac-oon, coc-oon, etc.
      cu-m......as in doc-ument, accu-mulate, circu-mnavigate, circu-mstances, cu-mbersome, cuc-umber, etc.
      cu-nt.....as in Scu-ntthorpe, a city in the UK famous for having problems with filters...!
      do-uche
      ef-fing...as in ef-fing filter
      ft-w......as in soft-ware, delft-ware, swift-water, etc.
      fu-ck......!
      ho-mo.....as in ho-mo sapiens or ho-mose-xual, ho-mogenous, etc.
      ho-rny....as in tho-rny, etc.
      jacka-ss...yet "ass" is allowed by itself.....
      ja-p......as in j-apanese, ja-pan, j-ape, etc.
      ji-sm
      koo-ch....as in koo-chie koo..!
      nip-ple
      pi-s......as in pi-stol, lapi-s, pi-ssed, therapi-st, etc.
      pr-ick....as in pri-ckling, pri-ckles, etc.
      ra-pe.....as in scra-pe, tra-peze, gr-ape, thera-peutic, sara-pe, etc.
      se-x......as in Ess-ex, s-exual, etc.
      sh-@t.....but shat is okay – don't use the @ symbol there.
      sh-it
      sl-ut
      sn-atch
      sp-ic.....as in disp-icable, hosp-ice, consp-icuous, susp-icious, sp-icule, sp-ice, etc.
      ti-t......as in const-itution, att-itude, ent-ities, alt-itude, beat-itude, etc.
      tw-at.....as in wristw-atch, nightw-atchman, etc.
      va-g......as in extrava-gant, va-gina, va-grant, va-gue, sava-ge, etc.
      who-re....as in who're you kidding / don't forget to put in that apostrophe!
      wt-f....also!!!!!!!

      There are more, some of them considered "racist", so do not assume that this list is complete.
      -–
      Allowed words / not blocked at all:
      anal
      anus
      ass
      boob
      crap
      damn
      execute
      hell
      kill
      masturbation
      murder
      penis
      pubic
      raping (ra-pe is not ok)
      shat (sh-@t is not ok)
      sphincter
      testes
      testicles

      The CNN / WordPress filter also filters your EMAIL address and NAME as well – so you might want to check those.

      June 30, 2013 at 7:24 am |
  4. One More Time

    Okay, so now I'm allowed to post from Romans, but not Corinthians?

    June 29, 2013 at 10:59 am |
  5. One More Time

    And Romans 2, Paul says that Christians don’t need to obey Torah law; Romans 4, blessedness is independent of the law; the acts of the patriarchs before Moses were independent of the law; Romans 7, we are now discharged from the law; Romans 8, we are set free from the law; both Jews and Gentiles who ignore the law will receive God’s glory; Romans 10, Christ is the end of the law; Romans 11, Israelites who keep the law but don’t embrace Jesus won’t be saved.

    June 29, 2013 at 10:58 am |
  6. One More Time

    Okay, so I'm not allowed to post quotes from the Bible, on a religion blog? But everyone else is?

    June 29, 2013 at 10:57 am |
  7. One More Time

    If you people would only tell us what the posting rules are, we could comply.

    June 29, 2013 at 10:56 am |
  8. One More Time

    Okay, girls, so when is my post going to be posted?

    June 29, 2013 at 10:54 am |
    • Candiano

      Maybe when you quit calling everyone "girls".

      June 30, 2013 at 12:35 pm |
  9. Henry Plantagenet

    Peter and Paul also mandated that Christians should ignore Torah law - which includes the Leviticus language on gays. So those Christians who insist that the Bible demands discrimination against gays....are directly contradicting the founders of their faith.

    June 29, 2013 at 10:44 am |
    • der

      Although the Second Epistle of Peter claims in the first verse to have been written by Peter, scholars are unanimous that it was in fact written anonymously in the second quarter of the second century with its authorship merely attributed to Peter in order to lend it credibility. Likewise the apocryphal Gospel of Peter and the Apocalypse of Peter claim Petrine authorship but were in fact written in the second century, long after Peter's death.

      June 29, 2013 at 6:06 pm |
    • G to the T

      Peter and Paul did not agree. Peter is even supposed to have written a letter asking how one who has never met Jesus can claim to know his word better than one who lived whith him. Unfortunately, most of the opinions of Peter have been lost in time/editing by the "winners" of christianities ealry history (ie the "proto-orthodox" church).

      July 3, 2013 at 11:10 am |
  10. Books of Creationism and Intelligent Design are banned from public schools

    Because children deserve genuine scientific knowledge not religious nonsense.

    June 29, 2013 at 9:38 am |
    • maximo

      Because evolution has gone from a theory in crisis to a theory seeking legal protection.

      Evolution is a "science" of the steam age. The more and more we discover of biology, the more patches, twists, and convolutions there are that have to be applied to evolutionary theory.

      Its on the way out. Many scientists are beginning to finally say in public what they have slowly begun to realize over time. Too many holes, too many shaky assumptions, too much wishful thinking, too much research grant funding in jeopardy.

      Macro evolution is a modern day version of the "Emporer With No Clothes".

      June 30, 2013 at 1:56 am |
    • maximo

      relevant news site
      http://www.evolutionnews.org/evolution/

      peer reviewed articles showing the dissent
      http://www.discovery.org/a/2640

      June 30, 2013 at 2:00 am |
    • G to the T

      Maximo – you seem to be confusing a supposed weakness in the details of evolutionary theory with evidence in favor of creationism (or ID to use the colloquial).

      Let me ask you this – how would you falsify ID theory? One fossil of a horse mixed in with velociraptors would be enough for Evolution, what would it take for ID?

      July 3, 2013 at 11:13 am |
  11. Austin

    John Stemberger
    "You do not have authority to speak for a god. Also please produce the writings of Jesus"

    John, I have the authority to speak OF God who I do not know. Because He did something. Some of us know this as a fact. this carries authority. You do not have the authority to change this.

    June 29, 2013 at 8:40 am |
    • rick

      "John, I have the authority to speak OF God who I do not know. "

      If you do not know god, what makes you think you have this authority?

      "Some of us know this as a fact. this carries authority"

      Delusion carries no authority

      June 29, 2013 at 8:48 am |
    • G to the T

      Possessing a certainty in your own opinion does not make it a fact. It is still only your opinion...

      July 3, 2013 at 11:14 am |
  12. Austin

    1450 BC
    Nisan 14 Passover-–Lambs blood that clarifies God's people. Flee from bondage
    Nisan 15 Unleavened Bread Sin/Leaven
    Nisan 16 First Fruits

    33AD
    Nisan14 Crucifixion, The Blood of the Lamb of God
    Nisan 15 IN the Tomb , out of the tomb Freedom from sin
    Nisan 16 Resurrection, First fruit of the Spirit

    PROPHETIC WORD

    June 29, 2013 at 8:35 am |
    • G to the T

      OR

      Writers working backwards from a known premise. Which is more likely?

      July 3, 2013 at 11:15 am |
  13. Austin

    Exodus 14 “This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord—a lasting ordinance. 15 For seven days you are to eat bread made without yeast. On the first day remove the yeast from your houses, for whoever eats anything with yeast in it from the first day through the seventh must be cut off from Israel. 16 On the first day hold a sacred assembly, and another one on the seventh day. Do no work at all on these days, except to prepare food for everyone to eat; that is all you may do.

    17 “Celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread, because it was on this very day that I brought your divisions out of Egypt. Celebrate this day as a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. 18 In the first month you are to eat bread made without yeast, from the evening of the fourteenth day until the evening of the twenty-first day. 19 For seven days no yeast is to be found in your houses. And anyone, whether foreigner or native-born, who eats anything with yeast in it must be cut off from the community of Israel. 20 Eat nothing made with yeast. Wherever you live, you must eat unleavened bread.”

    June 29, 2013 at 8:31 am |
  14. Dale

    Hey I just wanted everyone to know that we love arguing. We all actually nurture each other with loving attention. We are a family.

    June 29, 2013 at 8:27 am |
    • HeavenSent

      Is that the reason you ensure that Paula Dean is trashed?

      June 29, 2013 at 8:38 am |
    • Akira

      Paula Deen is Paula Deen's worst enemy.

      June 29, 2013 at 9:37 pm |
  15. HeavenSent

    All unbelievers live in denial of Jesus Christ's truth so they can live the lie of satan. All spiritually dead because satan enslaves you with his lies. Notice the filth that spews from their lips onto the keyboard to post. A little soap does a filthy mouth good.

    June 29, 2013 at 6:44 am |
  16. LiarPrefails :-}

    Everyone thinks I'm a wit and ever so smart, well at least I do and as you can plainly see I am my own authority. Please notice me, no one in my own country does. Surely you all can see how important I am... can't you?

    June 29, 2013 at 6:27 am |
  17. Truth Prevails :-)

    CA: Are you enjoying the weekend pass ffrom the rubber room?? Such a pleasure to see your hateful rants again. Enjoy the weekend. 🙂

    June 29, 2013 at 6:22 am |
  18. LiarPrefails :-}

    Look at me I'm ever so smart and I'm butting in to other peoples business because no one pays any attention to me in my own country. See how important I am.

    June 29, 2013 at 6:00 am |
  19. Truth Prevails :-)

    Oh wow, did your Daddy teach you to treat women like that?? I think using the word 'cunt is a little extreme.

    June 29, 2013 at 5:55 am |
  20. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things

    June 29, 2013 at 5:46 am |
    • Science

      From article above asshat..........get over it..................the bible/fear of hell is not good to teach to children.

      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 unconsti-tutional.

      June 29, 2013 at 6:26 am |
    • HeavenSent

      All unbelievers live in denial of Jesus Christ's truth so they can live the lie of satan. All spiritually dead because satan enslaves you with his lies.

      June 29, 2013 at 6:41 am |
    • Science

      HS is a sock puppet too .

      June 29, 2013 at 6:49 am |
    • HeavenSent

      science, stalking me so early? That's what you get for not having a life filled with Jesus' truth.

      June 29, 2013 at 7:03 am |
    • Austin

      Hey you two!

      June 29, 2013 at 8:28 am |
    • Austin

      Science? What? YOu perverted the word Exodus?

      June 29, 2013 at 8:29 am |
    • Austin

      What a mockery!

      June 29, 2013 at 8:30 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.