Last week I listened to an interview on Fresh Air in which Terry Gross interviewed the Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber, a Lutheran minister and author. Terry asked something about the people who attend Nadia’s church and their mix of belief and non-belief and Nadia replied bluntly, “I don’t care what they believe.”
If you go to a web site for a reformed tradition church, like a Presbyterian congregation, you will find a link prominently displayed on the home page that says something like, “What we believe.” In many protestant churches the communion (or membership in the community) is defined by a set of shared beliefs, and these are carefully articulated in a list of doctrinal statements. But does everyone who attends one of those churches believe all that?
If you go to most Episcopal Church web sites or diocesan web sites you won’t find a list of doctrinal statements, though a “what we believe” appeared a couple years ago on our own diocesan web site. Even there the link takes you to a list of very general statements, drawn largely from the creeds. Anglican Churches like the Episcopal Church define their communion by their worship. It is the Book of Common Prayer that defines our communion, and that comes closest to expressing our commonly held beliefs. There is an ancient saying, “Praying shapes believing.” You could argue that that is how we find our beliefs.
But I wonder if Nadia Bolz-Weber might be right. I wonder how much what we say we believe really matters. I have known people with some pretty wacky beliefs who were deeply loving and generous. I have also known people who claimed very orthodox beliefs who were selfish and hard hearted. Maybe what we do for and with one another is more important than what we believe. Maybe, as Nadia Bolz-Weber seemed to be saying, the community that cares for one another and for their neighbors can have any number of different and conflicting beliefs and still be a holy expression of God.
Yours in Christ,