In middle school, my best friend revealed to me that he didn’t believe Adam and Eve were literal people. I was shocked. I feared that he would not be in heaven with me. My thirteen-year-old brain had already worked through the fact that he was still a Christian even though he was Catholic (his crucifix made me feel more secure). However, his question on origins made me think that he had taken a step too far.
At the time, I had subconsciously assumed that a literal reading of Genesis was part of the core beliefs of Christianity. I could deal with his views on Mary and the Eucharist, but questioning a literal Adam and Eve was a different matter. For me, belief in a literal Adam and Eve was in the same order of importance as saying the “sinner’s prayer,” refraining from swearing, and marrying a Christian girl.
So, I went to my father, a Presbyterian minister, to ask what he thought about my friend’s eternal salvation. He responded with this: “Do you really think God is going to keep him out of heaven for not believing in Adam and Eve?”
My father was not helpful in maintaining my fundamentalist worldview! In fact, my conversation with my father left me doubting his salvation, in addition to my friend’s.
However, that simple question shook my middle school worldview to the core. At this point, I had a choice; I could keep my paradigm of belief and exclude my best friend and father, or I could trust the loving God I knew and allow flexibility in my core beliefs.
If we want people to accept that evangelical Christianity and evolution can co-exist, then it will only happen in the context of relationships. It must begin with our friends and colleagues, family, and fellow church members. We will only move forward if we bring others with us. We must genuinely try to keep relationships, despite differing convictions. Sometimes it is more important to be loving than it is to be right.
During the summer of 2011, my colleague Diane Sweeney invited me to join her in a grant proposal for the Evolution and Christian Faith project. She needed to partner with a pastor. We both worked at the same school, but we had never worked together. Honestly, I was ignorant when it came to the topic of evolution.
While I had no problem accepting the basics of the evolutionary process, I was still skeptical on certain points, especially on the evolution of humans. I had a vague notion that God created humans somehow separate from the rest of creation. Despite this, we applied for and received the ECF grant.
So, over the course of the next three years, we spent hours together working on our project. Numerous instances of storytelling and discussions on science, church, faith, and theology set up a friendship based on mutual respect and trust. Diane allowed me to ask questions that I thought were stupid and basic. She passed me articles and videos on the subject and patiently corrected my ignorance on evolution. She was able to articulate and explain to me God’s role in theistic evolution.
Most of all, I am so thankful that I got to see evolutionary creation through her eyes. Her life and our friendship was the perfect “argument” that changed my perspective. I got to watch her interact with students and colleagues, and I saw how much she loved connecting our students with Jesus.
Simply put, my own beliefs changed in the context of Christian friends. I did not need hours of debate, or twenty different books, or even an airtight argument. I needed a friend to talk to.
Friendship confers no honorary degree, nor does it give the appearance of brilliance. It is quiet and caring, patient and humble. It allows for mistakes and seemingly silly questions. It forgives easily and often. But most of all, it gives room for God to change a heart.