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‘Traitors’: Towards a Self-Critical Church

I must confess, I've become embarrassingly addicted to the BBC show "Traitors". In this psychological game, contestants attempt to discern who among them are the "faithful" and who are the titular traitors undermining the group. It's fascinating to watch people confidently declare, "I would bet my life this person is faithful!"

Apart from the mix of humour and tension of watching these scenes unfold from the viewer's perspective (we know who the murderous traitors really are!), these accusations and declarations of certainty got me thinking about what this reveals about the human spirit...

I believe these dramatic scenes expose our human inclination to craft narratives that offer a sense of certainty amid ambiguity. We find comfort in clinging to assuredness and certainty rather than embracing and accepting the complexities of the unknown. 

Uncertainty feels uncomfortable. 

Certainty feels safe.

These internal narratives (or mental maps), however, often diverge from reality. They reflect our limited perspectives more than objective truth. 

This raises provocative questions for the church: How can we be so sure our beliefs and theology align with God's perspective? Might our most deeply-held convictions actually blind us to Truth? Just as "Traitors" contestants misjudge enemies as allies, could we be functionally betraying the radical way of Jesus without realising it?

The fear of being wrong can breed arrogance and resistance to change. Regrettably, throughout history, Christians have found themselves aligned with practices that we now, in hindsight, recognise as incompatible with following Jesus – such as condoning slavery, suppressing women, and supporting colonisation. Despite the certainty and unwarranted confidence with which these views were held, from today's perspective we see those views as emerging not from clear scriptural endorsement, but from unhelpful interpretations of scripture shaped by the milieu of those cultural moments. Their certainty didn't make them right.

And if we accept we're just as human as those who have walked this earth before us, perhaps we can also acknowledge, also regrettably, we hold today various theologies, beliefs and ideas with confidence and assuredness that future generations may rightly baulk at.

What if we embraced a posture of self-critical faith? Not crippling self-doubt, not depressing negativity, but humble openness to re-examining assumptions through new lenses. Like the first century Jewish Christians re-evaluating ethnocentrism, we too must continually ask: Where are we still influenced by cultural norms that don't embody Christ's upside-down kingdom? Doubt, approached with humility, allows our faith to evolve, preventing it from becoming stagnant in authoritarian certainties while also recognising the inevitable influence of our cultural context.

A self-critical posture aligns with the stories of Jesus. In the parable of the prodigal son, we see the older brother struggling with pride and assumptions that prevented him from joyfully embracing his returning brother. Jesus exposed how entrenched beliefs blinded him to the reality of radical grace unfolding. Similarly on the Emmaus road, the disciples journeyed alongside the risen Christ yet were unable to perceive the new reality in front of them due to long-held expectations.

Such self-critique bears rich gifts. For me there have been a few noteworthy times when I’ve changed my mind on beliefs that I had previously held (and taught!) fervently. It was quite an unsettling and humbling process but I'm so pleased I changed my mind on those things, and am so grateful for how the experience has made me somewhat more gentle and open in how I hold my convictions.

A posture of self-critique also opens us to the beautiful gift of diversity, learning from others' perspectives what our limited vantage points might miss. We become a bit more dependent on those around us with distinctly different backgrounds, experiences and personalities to be able to shine light into our blindspots. 

Might a more self-critical mindset have helped prevent the kind of abusive leader behaviour that has erupted into disturbing scandals within church circles in recent years? Too often, unhealthy power dynamics develop, in part, through a lack of thoughtful, well meaning scrutiny.

The next time your emotions rise as your beliefs or personal narratives get challenged, what would it look like to respond with greater curiosity and openness to possibly being wrong?

May we walk humbly yet boldly, holding our beliefs with conviction yet an open curiosity about our inevitable blindspots. May we be passionate about living out our theology while remaining circumspect that human finitude distorts understandings of the Infinite. With self-critical faith, may we resist being traitors to Jesus' way, and may we align ourselves ever more closely with Liberating Truth.


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