It’s not a secret in my circle that I am a prodigal daughter. I bolted from the religion of my youth over 30 years ago and rejected any idea of a little g god or Big G God. It was mostly intellectual anger (Biblical inconsistencies, parables taught as science, a loving God who sends people to eternal hell for not getting religion right, Christian hypocrisy, misogyny . . . ) and so I found other spiritual paths to walk. The story of my return a few years ago is long, complex, and not easy. Not easy at all.
“I do not understand at all the mystery of grace– only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.” -Anne Lamott
Upon my return, however, I decided to find a church. I knew that it had to be different –very different– from the last brand of Christianity that I was most familiar with: the fundamentalist evangelical. In fact, call me a judgmental jerk because maybe I am, I put self-identifying Christians into three buckets, if you will:
(1) Disciples. Those who are serious about and devoted to true discipleship, i.e., following Christ’s teaching and example. They may or may not attend Sunday morning church services, but if they do, they likely also attend Bible or other small group studies; they acknowledge an active, daily prayer practice; they aspire to service and compassion; their values are informed by the 1st Century Jewish Teacher. They fail every day but they keep aspiring.
(2) Fundamentalist, evangelical, Bible-worshippers (FEBs). The ones who insist every word in the Bible is literal, straight from the Almighty’s mouth, including 6-day creation, homosexuality as an abomination, second marriages are adulterous, stoning non-virgins to death, eternal hell and torture if one does not pray “the born again prayer,” to name a few. (Wait. That last one is not in the Bible but since they think it is, we’ll leave it.) They quote the parts of the Old Testament that align with their narrow view of God and ignore the parts that they’ve decided don’t apply to Christians. For example, trading cows for wives, wearing linen and wool at the same time, eating shrimp. None of that. It’s remarkable how they can easily decide between Those That Apply to “us” and Those That Do Not Apply to “us.” Although there are variations among the different evangelical denominations, they are dogmatic about their denomination. There is no wiggle room for these folks. Maybe I should rename this bucket the No Wiggles?
(3) The non-practicing or non-observant. I call them NPOs. We’ve heard of non-practicing Catholics and non-observant Jews, but there is clearly a Protestant equivalent and we all know them. They may occasionally or never attend Sunday morning church service, but even if they do, there is no other Christian context for the remaining 167 hours in the week. Zero. Zip. Nada. (But you might not want to actually use that Spanish word “nada” around them. Hahaha -Just kidding. Or maybe not.) Sometimes the NPOs dip a toe in the FEB water but they don’t submerge. They don’t know the Bible well enough to even misinterpret it and they think Jesus said, “God helps those who help themselves.”
Religion is one of the safest places to hide from God. -Fr. Richard Rohr
On a personal note, if I may, among my own circle of self-identifying Christians there is an observable difference between the Disciples and the NPOs. Now, this is not a scientific study but it is nonetheless true at least in my circle. Maybe I need a better circle.
Nah. I don’t think my friends are outside the norm for a big chunk of self-identified Christians. I really don’t. All I have to do is look around and see that our country has a large number of non-practicing/non-observant Christians. In fact, we wouldn’t call them “Christian” except for the fact that they themselves say they are.
Since I had the most jerk-like stuff to say about Bucket 2, you can guess which bucket I kicked over, thirty-some years ago. Today, that bucket still gets under my skin. However, the number one reason for my distaste of the American FEBs today is that too many of them have become Trump Christians. Yes. Trump Christians. It’s a thing.
At the urging of so-called religious leaders and evangelists, false prophets really, 81% percent of white evangelicals supported Donald J. Trump. At a time when it’s hard enough to attract people to the Church, they flat out deny Jesus and are bad PR for Disciples. If you think I’m being too harsh remember, Jesus called the phony religious “show offs,” “snakes,” “whitewashed tombs,” “blind fools,” full of “greed and selfishness” who “neglect the more important matters like justice, mercy, and faithfulness.”
John Pavolitz calls Trump Christians “spiritually disoriented.”
There is hope, though. Polls show that some are jumping off the Trump Train. Pew Research Center determined that decline to be from 78% support two years ago to 69% as of January 2019. Even VP Pence who was meant to give Trump some Christian credibility is losing favor. At least one Christian university is divided over Pence’s invitation to give its commencement address in June. (Faculty voted a symbolic “non-binding disagreement” with the decision and nearly 13,000 students, parents, and alumni have signed a petition demanding the school to rescind that invitation.) Of course, Liberty University is unflappable in its embrace of this administration, so his scheduled address there is bound to be safe.
Democrat presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg wondered aloud how Pence could become the “cheerleader of a porn star presidency. . . Is it that he stopped believing in scripture when he started believing in Donald Trump?”
“Pence represents one part of Christianity, which has been in the spotlight in America a lot in the last couple years,” Emily Russell, a 2018 Taylor graduate, told IndyStar. “But that is not the only side of Christianity.”
Meanwhile, conservative evangelicals spread the lie that they are being persecuted by the evil, liberal Left that wants to silence their voice and take away their religious freedom. Persecution of American Christians? Right. Sell that to those in the world who truly do face persecution.
I’m not impressed by those FEBs and NPOs who try to use the Bible to defend the indefensible, either. FEBs, especially, worship the Bible rather than follow Christ. Even though the Bible itself says that Jesus is the living word, which in my mind, makes what he said superior to what people (some with an agenda) wrote down decades later.
Again, there is hope. According to a 2017 survey by the Pew Research Center, younger, white, conservative evangelicals are more socially liberal than their older counterparts. Nearly 60% of political and religious conservatives between 18 and 34 accept homosexuality, compared to only 35% of the white evangelical conservatives over 65 who share the same view.
Note: Jesus never spoke about homosexuality. I think that matters. It certainly mattered enough to those who decided that what he did talk about was important enough to write down. And they didn’t write about that. If we’re keeping score about what Jesus talked about: love-13; the kingdom of God-86; forgive/forgiveness-81; foreigners/immigrants-97; homosexuality-0.
Daniel Cox, a researcher at the American Enterprise Institute noted that young evangelicals are comfortable with a more pluralistic, diverse world.
This future that Trump is warning conservative Christians about is one that younger evangelicals are kind of living,” Cox said. “They have friends who are gay or lesbian. They have friends who are immigrants and people of color.
Here’s another very interesting observation, this one of David Barker, political science professor and director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University, (as reported by USA Today): “Evangelicals are becoming a smaller part of the GOP as the party has become more nativist under Trump.” The Christian Post also mentioned Baker’s opinion on the report that “support for Trump is weaker among evangelicals who are more actively involved in their church, he said, “and they are also more moderate than other Republicans on immigration issues.”
If you are somebody who reads her Bible daily and prays multiple times a day and goes to church all the time and professes to get a lot of guidance in your daily life from your Christian faith,” he said, “then that Christian faith, in a lot of ways, is going to lead you to be sympathetic to the immigrant and sympathetic to the refugee. (David Barker, in USA Today)
Well. It should! I’m no theologian but I think it’s because daily pray, scripture, Christian fellowship and growth are the mechanisms through which God transforms us.
Here’s the problem
When the No Wiggles and the NPOs are the loudest voices in the room they make everyone else think that their opinions are the Christian majority. But they really are not.
If trusting Jesus is not your thing then ok, don’t be a Christian. Follow the Buddhist way or the Ba’hai or the Muslim or the Hindi or the Jewish or the Jainist or Shinto or New Age Pagan . . . . invent your own, if you want. To be honest, if you can’t fully get on the Jesus Train then cool. Just don’t self-identify as Christian, ok?
I’m also not trying to convince the No Wiggles and NPOs otherwise. If I become dogmatic about being anti-dogma then I’m sort of missing my own point. I’m happy to discuss the difference between Jesus and Not Jesus, but I’m not into arguing and pulpit pounding.
What I am interested in is letting non-Christians know that Jesus wasn’t a jerk, did not start a new religion (he remained an observant Jew), and Jesus, as the living word of God, the “Word made flesh,” is the final word. That’s right, the final word. If any church anywhere contradicts what Jesus taught, Jesus wins the argument. If any prophet anywhere contradicts what Jesus taught, Jesus wins the argument. And here’s the kicker:
If anything anywhere in the Bible contradicts what Jesus taught, you guessed it, Jesus wins the argument.
It absolutely, positively, unequivocally is that way, otherwise you follow a church, a prophet, or a collection of ancient writings, not Christ.
If so, congratulations, you started yet another religion.
And….. what do you think?