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Are you a person that has an answer for everything? Jemar Tisby, an American historian, wrote a meditation entitled “The People Who Don’t Have Any Questions.”
The food was forgettable, but the conversation was stimulating. I was there with two other people. We talked about relationships, films, and white evangelicals.
In the midst of the dialogue, one of my companions threw in a casual remark about his evaluation of white evangelicals after extensive personal experience.
“They are the people who don’t have any questions,” he said.
My memory for quotes isn’t great. I remember a few Bible verses and some lines from Martin Luther King, Jr., but that sentence I just heard instantly cemented in my brain.
I knew on a gut level precisely what he meant by “the people who don’t have any questions.”
I became a Christian in a white evangelical church twenty-five years ago. For most of that time my religious life has been among white evangelicals–their youth groups, churches, denominations, conferences, books, and sermons.
As individuals, I have encountered numerous white evangelicals who exhibit curiosity and openness to God and those made in God’s image.
But group dynamics are different.
Institutional and aggregate expressions of religion often distort the everyday faith of believers. That is partly why describing white evangelicals as “the people who don’t have any questions” makes so much sense.
How can a group of people be so certain about topics that are so complicated? How can they say with so much certainty, “The Bible says…” when so often their interpretations have led to injustice and oppression?
Whatever the question–whether it concerns politics, law, economics, relationships, science, the Bible, or whatever–white evangelicals have been discipled to always have a ready response that requires no further questions.
The only areas where white evangelicals consistently demonstrated a willingness to concede to divine mystery is when trying to explain precisely why they could be so sure about so many things.
The way I understood the phrase “the people who don’t have any questions” is not that white evangelicals never ask any questions or have any doubts. Rather they, or their leaders, have an indisputable conclusion to every query.
Go ahead and ask the question. But you need only ask once because there is an answer to every question, often with a Bible verse to back it up.
Once you have asked all the questions and gotten all the answers, what’s left? You have become one of “the people who don’t have any questions.”
Part of me craved this kind of certainty. It made a boundless, disorienting world seem smaller and safer.
But particular kinds of surety aren’t the keys to freedom, they are cages.
They lock you into narrow ways of thinking and being. They close you off from relationships with people who can introduce you to new perspectives. They shrink your world so small that you can touch the walls without moving your feet, and they make anything beyond that area seem so threatening that you never venture forth.
I posted my friend’s statement in a tweet. Many others seemed to resonate.
Jemar Tisby, PhD @JemarTisby
Someone who is not Christian described their general experience with white evangelicals as “people who don’t have any questions.” I immediately knew what they meant, and I’m going to thinking about that statement a long time.
September 13th 2022
6,972 Retweets62,249 Likes
One person who commented on the original post offered a synonym for “the people who don’t have any questions.” They are “incurious.”
What often skulks behind an incurious mindset is fear. The terror that sliding one block of certainty from the stack will make the entire Jenga tower of faith tumble down.
“If I’m wrong in this area,” so the thinking goes, “maybe I’m wrong in other areas, too. Areas that would dismantle my entire sense of self and perspective on reality if I’m wrong.”
Another fear of the incurious is the fear of betraying the ideological solidarity of the group. There are consequences for questioning the established order. You could be expelled from the community–whether it’s a family or a Facebook group. The desire to create and preserve a sense of belonging has muted many questions.
A few days later I followed up with my friend. He elaborated on his perspective.
He said, “I think I also told you that I often felt jealous about the dogma of inerrant certainty. I do, but I also recognize – for me – the fallacy in that thinking. I think it’s lazy. I think that practicing a faith in the divine requires dirt under your fingernails – always. You have to engage and discover.”
What if white evangelicals were not known as “the people who don’t have any questions?” What if they earned a reputation as “the people who engaged and discovered?”
Indeed. Thanks, Jemar.
Thank you Rebecca! You and Scott Hozee are on the same wave length this morning. I admit to bring a white evangelical for many years until I had an “If I’m wrong in this area,” so the thinking goes, “maybe I’m wrong in other areas, too.” experience—life and soul changing.
It all reminds me of a Paul Tillich quote:”The opposite of faith isn’t doubt, it’s certainty.”