It comes as no surprise that people dig into their faith resources (prayer, church attendance, reading scriptures, etc.) during difficult times. Events like mass shootings, marathon bombings, destructive weather events, and personal tragedies bring out the big questions of faith: “Why did God allow that to happen?”
What will surprise you is that people turn more frequently to Google for answers. They ask other questions of faith that are more personal. The writer Seth Stephens-Davidowitz identified the following as common amongst Google searches: “Why did God make me black?” or “Why did God make me gay?” These questions make my soul weep and break my heart. These are questions of faith and personal identity.
My heart breaks because I want these seekers to find peace with their personal identity as gay and/or black or any other identity that results in despair or distress, say, single, sick, depressed, etc. But, how do you make peace with yourself and world under these circumstances?
Acceptance. Once we begin to accept who we are and accept that who we are might involve consequences that are difficult, being who we are becomes less difficult.
Awareness. With awareness you are capable of implementing great change in your life. Indeed, with increased awareness, inactivity becomes a source of great pain. You become complicit in your own pain and unfulfilled faith identity.
This sounds like pie-in-the-sky on some level, but let me explain. Much of the pain that we experience in the world is related to our conditioning that says life ought to be a certain way: usually happy. We’ve been conditioned since birth to believe that life ought to be a certain way. We usually build our lives around these beliefs. When life doesn’t go that way, we are then filled with distress.
Our faith often encourages similar beliefs. Yet, it is not our faith in its pure form that tells us our lives should be a certain way. Our interpretation of our faith content does. Let me repeat that. How we interpret our faith leads to despair.
We don’t have to look very far for interpretations: TV preachers, NY Times bestsellers, your own pastor, friends, and of course, your family. All of these sources convey an interpretation, an individual meaning about what the original sacred words are supposed to convey. It’s difficult to determine who to believe, follow, and trust.
This is where exemplary faith comes into play. Exemplary faith refers to a quality of faith that people grow into that allows them to navigate the world and deal with life’s troubles confidently. Any faith message that communicates a message that oppresses people cannot be exemplary.
If you feel unable to express yourself authentically and your faith, or your interpretations of your faith, is adding to your inability, try this: consider challenge your faith tradition or church, as many do, to change its ways. That is an uphill battle, but often a fight that deserves to be waged.
When you decide that you really want to exercise your courage and liberate yourself in the face of an unsupportive faith or denomination, find a new faith. If your faith doesn’t support your blackness, sexual orientation, convictions about social justice, etc., it is time to consider choosing another faith identity.
That’s right. I encourage you to find a faith that is a better fit for you. The emphasis here is on the choosing. Your willingness to choose supports the African American scholar Homer U. Ashby, Jr.’s claim that “God is most truly present in the ongoing struggle for freedom, dignity, and full humanity.” You owe it to yourself and your quest for spiritual freedom to bear witness to this truth claim.
I’ve been through several faith traditions on my route to my present location: Unitarian Universalist Association, also known as UU. I was reared by a Methodist mother and an atheist father. Since then, I’ve worshiped with Baptists, African Methodist Episcopal (AMEs), United Methodists, Catholics, Presbyterians, in synagogues, with Buddhists, humanists, and others. All of these are good fits for their people…until individual people need more liberation.
For me, there were many bumps and bruises along the way. The more I was able to accept truths and abandon false/irrational beliefs, the less burdened I became. As I became wiser about what I held as my core convictions and determined to live them out, more freedom came my way. Often, I had to leave behind people I loved and cared for.
It takes a lot of living to become a faith exemplar. It won’t happen overnight. First, you must accept who you really are as a person of faith. You may have to determine that you are not a believer! Then, you’ll need to determine a plan of action for finding a faith community. Finally, you’ll need to commence your search and dedicate yourself to finding your truth.
This is the path to freedom. Welcome to a new identity, my friends. Now you can approach the bad times and the good with exemplary faith, not Google!
 Homer U. Ashby, Jr., Our Home is Over Jordan, St. Louis: Chalice, 2003, 29.