April 2022

Honest Thomas and a Genuine Faith Community

When a member of Philip Gulley’s church died, her husband began attending services more regularly and was honest with the rest of the Quaker congregation about his faith.

“Now, you should know, I don’t believe in God anymore,” the man would say, before sharing his struggles with the rest of the church.

His faith community embraced him. One longtime church member would respond with, “I can understand how you would feel that way.”

Gulley was curious why the man would continue coming to church if he didn’t believe in God.

“Because when I leave here,” the man said, “I feel better than when I arrived. These people love me.”

They loved him through his grief, his challenges, his time of not knowing what to make of things. They’d been through these same things themselves in different ways. They knew what he really needed at that moment — love, support and understanding — and they gave it to him.

Isn’t this a wonderful example of what faith community is meant to be?

Last Sunday, many of us revisited the “Doubting Thomas” story. In many churches, the story is used as a cautionary tale against questioning anything, an approach that does a great disservice to church and the actual story.

All of Jesus’ disciples had lots of questions and doubts and confusion that lingered for a long time. They struggled to wrap their heads around something profound, unexpected, and challenging. In the story, Thomas is the one who has the courage and honesty and genuineness to put those shared questions and doubts into words.

Call him “Honest Thomas” or “Genuine Thomas” instead.

In the story, Jesus doesn’t take the disciples to task for abandoning him or denying him or being confused. Repeatedly, he greets them by saying: “Peace!” And Thomas gets the help he needs to understand resurrection a little better. He asks and receives. He seeks and finds.

What’s especially instructive is how Thomas’ faith community reacts to his questions and doubts. They don’t threaten him with excommunication from the group. They don’t ostracize him. Instead, they continue to accept him, the same way the Quaker church accepted and loved the struggling man grieving a great loss in his life.

Honest Thomas and his genuine faith community are good examples for us today.

All too often, churches become places where questions and doubts are discouraged, punished, or simply forbidden. Instead of leading people into a deeper relationship with God, such places become impediments to it.

Real relationship is about creating spaces where people are safe sharing their real selves without fear of rejection. Places where we’re invited to come as we are and share who we are so that we may know and be known.

Relationship begins with the recognition that we all struggle with many things in our lives, and we all come up short in this sacred work of loving and accepting love. Relationship helps us learn the ways of love and accompanies us down the path of growing through our struggles and concerns and confusion.

Sacred relationship is built upon honesty and genuineness, the same honesty and genuineness we see in Thomas and his faith community.

Let us build faith communities that are honest and genuine and open, places where people can come and be known and get to know the One who wants to be known — Love always wants to be known!

Let us create places that lead people more deeply into the vast mystery of the One who loves us through our doubts and offers us peace in our confusion.

Places where people love each other so they can get what they need. Places where struggling people – and that’s all of us — feel better when they leave than when they arrived.

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