The Conservative Christianity That Is Killing You

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Sometimes in life, we don’t realize the things silently destroying us from within—false beliefs we have long held to be true, misplaced values we have long embraced as being invaluable. As humans, we can be so attracted to the path of least resistance that we become willing to reject the kind of positive change that would free us from our prisons. To think that we could be wrong, misled, or have wasted our lives on things found to be untrue or uncertain is a daunting proposition of regret we’d just as soon put to death, even if it means resigning ourselves to a life holding fast to the lies.

For years, as an Evangelical pastor, conservative Christianity was gutting me from the inside out, stealing the very life it promised to give. I thought I was breathing the ultimate way of living only to realize I wasn’t breathing at all. Sadly, nothing would have changed had I not been confronted by the pure Gospel of God’s Grace and awakened to the heights from which I had fallen.

In fact, if you hold to the beliefs I once did, you are determined that outside of your conservative, Evangelical way of thinking and believing, there is no other way, no other truth, and no other life. For some, even as you watch your marriage erode, your children suffer the rejection and abandonment of your condemnation, your faith-performance fall short, your hypocrisy grow, and your hate and intolerance overtake you, nothing will loosen the grip you have upon your conservative faith understanding. Even as we speak, your fingers are twitching and your mind is rushing ahead to the bullets you’ll fire in the comment section of this post. You have it all lined up and justified in your mind and heart, along with the biblical passages and interpretations to build your defense.

Yet, little do you know, the conservative Christianity that is killing you. Perhaps you would do best to ask your spouse—even better, to question your children. Ask your enemies, those you deem to be sinning, or with whom you disagree. Ask the females, the minorities, the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, or transgender people among you, or perhaps just ask the less fortunate.

If they are honest and objective, they will tell you the dark, diabolical tale of what conservative Christianity has truly done to you.

But if not them, maybe, just maybe, your conscience has been speaking, crying out to be heard. Deep down you sense something isn’t quite adding up, there are pieces all together missing. You quickly subdue the tensions in your soul, the questions that tremble below, and cue the rationalizations. Yet, now is as good a time as any to give way to honesty and awaken to the truth that is so desperately trying to set your free—conservative Christianity is killing you.

It’s Killing Your Inner Peace and Joy– For how can you have any peace when so many things in your conservative faith-understanding are deemed to be unresolved? Your eternity, your closeness with God, your divine acceptance, your faith status—unresolved, unresolved, unresolved. One day you’re close with God, the next you aren’t. One day you’re eternally secure, the next day you’re not. One day your life enjoys the gleam of God’s favor, approval, and acceptance, the next day, it doesn’t. How can there be any peace when so much of your faith and spiritual life hinges upon you, your capacity to believe, believe correctly, and spiritually perform? Nothing is ever settled or certain even if you are convinced you’ve measured up. For it’s impossible to know for sure when your good has been good enough. Maybe there is something God sees that you’ve tragically missed.

In front of the mirror of conservative Christianity, all one can do is pretend, medicate their fears and doubts with self-righteousness, and live a life of angst with one eye open, as even our best days will always fall short of a God who suspiciously gazes upon us through the eyes of an incomplete score card.

And so I ask, with all due respect—where is the joy in pretending? Where is the peace in always having an endless, ever growing list of things one must do, become, and overcome that are in fact impossible to ever satisfy? The spiritual gymnastics required to fool yourself and others into believing you are truly happy and fulfilled are daunting in number and surely a hell-on-earth way of living.

In my experience, if there is one word that could truly describe the real faith-life of conservative Christianity, it wouldn’t be “peace” nor “joy,” it would be—never ending, unresolved PRESSURE.

It’s Killing Your Relationships- For how many miles of emotional and spiritual distance have you carved into your relationships with people because your conservative faith-understanding requires you to do so? You can’t just love for the sake of loving, connect for the sake of connecting, or enjoy people for the sake of enjoying people—that would be preposterous. Rather, every person you meet becomes a kind of spiritual project, a potential convert into your faith-understanding, or a shiny new visitor for your church. You measure people spiritually by what you believe is a God-given specialized capacity to have “discernment,” lest you become unclean, dirty, or condone evil. In order to gauge what kind of relational approach your conservative faith prescribes at any given moment, people and relationships have to be rigorously sifted, sized up, and labeled—lost or found, friend or foe, faithful or unfaithful, real Christian or wolf in sheep’s clothing. More so than not, unless they believe and act like you, people are largely designated as a problem to be fixed—and you, the perfect one to do the fixing. If they resist or even refuse—eventually disagreement becomes disappointment, disappointment becomes disapproval, disapproval becomes distance, distance becomes disconnection, and disconnection becomes damnation. Why? Because the one thing that’s largely missing for your conservative faith-understanding is true, unconditional Love. For love is never love if, based on what another person is or does, it can ever grow into hate, conditions, or condemnation.

And so I ask, with all due respect—how is that religious, relational radar working for you? How about with your family, work, community, or even church? How much true connection, community, and influence do you have with people who look, believe, act, and live differently than you? Jesus had so much that it got Him killed. It wasn’t a conservative faith within Him that nailed him to a tree—far from it. It was the conservative faith around Him that crucified Him and sought to put to death the love-life He came to bring.

In my experience, if there is one word that could truly describe the true relational-life of conservative Christianity, it wouldn’t be “humble,” “transformative,” nor “gracious,” it would be—pretentiously, selfishly STRESSED.

It’s Killing Your Capacity To Love- For how many conditions must you write into the fine print of the love you give? What’s it like always having to pump the brakes, filter compassion, prequalify affirmation, and love half-heartedly? The greatest fear of your conservative faith-understanding is to give too much love, Grace, and acceptance—convinced of the terrible things people would do. Yet ironically, the greatest fear of Jesus was for people to believe in a God who would restrict love and that people could ever give too much—that’s why He came. For either God’s Grace is fully sufficient, or it’s fully not. Wouldn’t you agree?

Yet, your conservative faith-understanding believes that expressing love in its highest form requires one to boldly confront sin, convinced that withholding or limiting love is at times both helpful and necessary in fostering God’s plan. In your mind, love, by itself, is much too soft, impotent, and permissive. In fact, the centrality of your conservative creed rests upon a fear of hell, the wrath of God, and His holiness in sending un-repenting sinners to an eternity of torture. In your mind, it would seem these dark potential realities justify and even demand your conditional love-giving.

However, have you ever considered that because Jesus confronted all sin, once and for all—there is, in actuality, no more confronting to do? In fact, to confront sin with a prescribed fear of any form of divine retribution is to confess the belief that Jesus didn’t confront sin, or do so sufficiently. That’s why Grace, the only power Jesus ever employed in His sin confronting and ultimate defeating, is the only power that awakens people to a change of mind and a heart of faith.

In fact, when people awaken to the scandalous, divine freedom they have in Christ to choose sin without fear of divine retribution, it is then and only then, that sin loses its power and appeal to be a good choice. Sin is disarmed of its capacity to serve as a form of punishment, guilt, and condemnation, and is instead correctly internalized as that which steals, kills, and destroys the good things in our living.

In the end, because your conservative faith-understanding refuses to surrender to Love and love alone, you can’t imagine how Love alone could possibly win over another. Rather, in your mind, they too, like you, must first become religiously imprisoned.

And so I ask, with all due respect—how does it feel to be shackled to a restricted life of giving love with conditions, believing that’s the height and sum of God’s love for you, sadly convinced that love doesn’t win?

In my experience, if there is one word that could truly describe the real love-life of conservative Christianity, it wouldn’t be “compassion,” “passion,” or “mercy,” it would be—fine print filled CONDITIONS.

It’s Killing Your Freedom- For when, by your conservative faith-understanding, the Christian life is seen as little more than a test, how can you ever know the freedom of what it’s like to find spiritual rest? When faithfulness is seen as life of sin-management, how can you ever know the freedom of what it’s like to truly be alive, live, breathe, and be burden free? When Church is seen as a building with a cross on top filled with a club of like-minded people, how can you ever know the freedom of what it’s like to actually be the church—anyplace, anytime, anyhow? When love is seen as requiring conditions, limits, and restrictions, how you can ever know the divine freedom of what it’s like to love unconditionally? When hell hangs over your head, wielded by a bi-polar God who draws close to you one minute but turns his back the next, how can you ever know the effortless freedom of what it’s like to love, worship, and adore Him without fear nor obligation?

And so I ask, with all due respect—why is it that the life your conservative faith-understanding wants me to believe is filled with such immeasurable freedom, feels so much more like a life of unimaginable imprisonment?

In my experience, if there is one word that could truly describe the life-trajectory of conservative Christianity it wouldn’t be “limitless” or “free,” it would be—rule-driven, fear-driven RESTRICTION.

It’s true, conservative Christianity IS killing you—taking what God intended to be a life of peace, joy, human community, unconditional love, and life-giving freedom and raping it into a death sentence of religious pressure, relational stress, conditional love, and fearful restriction.

Sounds a lot more like hell to me.

Grace is brave. Be brave.

31 Comments

  1. phyllisbrowne45

    April 30, 2017 at 11:17 pm

    Thank You! These are thoughts I have had since I was a teenager-never have I heard them so beautifully articulated. Chris, you could have filled this article with loads of wise-ass cracks and withering scorn but instead you allowed compassion to speak. Namaste, my friend, Namaste.

    • ckratzer

      May 1, 2017 at 10:42 am

      Phyllis, thank you for seeing the heart behind this article and your willingness to share your comments!

  2. Thank you from me as well, for your words of validation to us who live in communities monopolized by conservative Christians. What I have experienced is the pain that these well-intentioned folks spread to us (who have not met their rules and conditions). It is a type of gentle ostracism that walls off all those who aren’t members of their interpretations of God’s Word. They have a superiority because they believe that they are the elect, and only they. They are busy judging all the other people and placing them into hell. They do work many good works for others, but their judgments allow them to select who can receive their gifts. I pray that they would unbind God, take him out of their box, and let God be God. Then their is no need for rules, and judging, and condescending of the nonmembers because God is placed in authority and HIS GRACE REIGNS.

    • ckratzer

      May 1, 2017 at 10:41 am

      Nancy, thank you for your wise and astute comments, I truly appreciate your willingness to read and share your thoughts! Grace wins!

  3. Oh…my..God……I think you have just spelled out in great detail, much of what the hell (no pun intended) my problem is or has been. Although in the last three or so years I’ve been moving towards a more moderate to liberal/progressive Protestant Christianity, I still have many vestiges and holdovers remaining from the Southern Baptist-ism I grew up with, the conservative Roman Catholicism I tried my best to adhere to as a YOUNGER young adult, and the guilt that I got even from an Independent Christian Churches megachurch in Louisville (coupled with a crazed ex-fiancé who guilt tripped me because I wasn’t as into it as she was).
    I still, regretfully, have a fear of hell, though I believe it’s slowly but surely beginning to go away. I have worried and doubted constantly about whether I’m going to “be saved” or not. I have felt like (in the past anyway) that I had to essentially wage holy war or at least oppose the LGBTQ community and same-sex marriage, and those who were pro-choice and abortion. Very recently I felt like I needed to be in something church wise that was a little more orthodox (but not TOO conservative), and something that was bigger and with more of an evangelistic zeal, but I’ve realized now (especially in light of certain events surrounding a judicial council against a bishop in its church’s western jurisdiction) that this was probably a mistake. Bigger is not always better. Having more of an evangelistic zeal is not always necessarily a good thing, or always right.

    Short of me trying to convert everyone specifically to Roman Catholicism when I was in it, a bunch of if not most of this article describes me (especially four and more years ago), and the fear, the conditional love, the hang ups, the anxieties, and the restrictions I’ve felt and had. I’m not saying “anything goes” in regards to how one lives one’s life, or that it doesn’t matter if one is atheistic, but I am saying that in the past and even quite recently, I’ve been too conservative in some ways, too rigid, and definitely too hung up on and worried about this and that doctrinal or eternity issue, and so are countless other Christians out there. I thank you kindly for writing this, Chris.

    • ckratzer

      May 1, 2017 at 10:39 am

      Ryan, thank you so much for reading the article and taking the time to share such a powerful comment. It’s a great honor to journey along this road of faith with people like you. Keep on discovering what it means to be captured and convinced by Grace! Let me know of any way I can serve you.

    • Hey Chris, I’m coming from a less orthodox-conservative stance, but after reading your reply, I would like to recommend a book to you. It’s called “Can’t You Talk Louder, God?” by Steve Shultz. I think you’ll appreciate his journey he shares in it. Bless you, brother

  4. You write beautifully

  5. Happiness is NEVER going to be something given by someone else we give it to ourselves. I left a conservative faith-walk for this reason. I have to reconcile the things God is telling me or asking of me rather than listening only to the interpretations of the “words of God” as others see them.

    • ckratzer

      May 1, 2017 at 3:06 pm

      Thomas, thanks for sharing those thoughts and experiences. I appreciate your insight!

    • One of the greatest lessons I ever learned. Allowed me to feel the love of God and to follow Jesus’s way more closely than I ever thought possible. What a glorious feeling! God bless you on your journey!

  6. As a recovering fundamentalist myself, I found that the biblical admonition to fear God carried the same consequence as an admonition for the shipwrecked sailor to drink plenty of ocean -water to quench his thirst and prevent dehydration. Fear of God was nearly fatal for me before I realized that fear was the basis of all my sinful disease of the Spirit. Only then did II Timothy 1:7 and I John 4:18 finally echo the repetitive biblical admonition to “be not afraid” that my fellow fundamentalists were, well, afraid to tell me about. The whole of Scripture is, or so I now believe as a progressive evangelical, a prescription for love as the life-giving antidote for a scared-to-death-humanity. The Bible may indeed be inerrant bug our understanding and interpretation of it is too often fatally flawed!!!!

  7. As an atheist, I see far too many conservative Christians go unchallenged. My wife is a progressive, liberal Christian and we have a wonderful relationship. Thanks for sharing your views.

    • ckratzer

      May 2, 2017 at 7:39 pm

      Mark, thanks so much for the mutual respect and willingness to hear my perspective. I am thankful for you and your comment!

  8. Thank you! I am so happy to have found your blog.. finally, a Christian who speaks what I feel so often! I have been over exposed recently to the “hating” side of Christianity and it has threatened to turn me away for good. It’s Christians like yourself that have helped me keep my faith and just move on..

    • ckratzer

      May 2, 2017 at 7:40 pm

      I am so happy you found my blog too and we now can be friends! Let’s stay connected Stephanie. Look forward to reading your stuff.

  9. Chris, your humility moves me greatly! To be so honest takes much courage. At 17, I was rejected by my Baptist church, because where I had once been “saved” and baptized only a few years earlier, I then started questioning God for allowing my parents (who did not attend the church, any church) to continue to abuse me. This had been going on since early childhood and they finally kicked me out of the family and home at 17. To my church, my refuge, and all my friends there, it didn’t matter my suffering and pain, how dare I blame God. Blasphemy! No offers of support or even comfort for finally being honest about what had been going on for most of my life. My best friend’s parents told her she couldn’t be friends with me any longer, “surely I must have done something to contribute to my parents actions, I was a sinner, a bad influence, someone to stay away from”.

    To say the rejection was devastating (the churches, not my parents; that was a relief to finally be away from all the emotional, mental and physical pain) is an understatement. While I tried to find another church, my doubts based on the conservative views continued to eat away at whatever faith I had left and soon I stopped attending altogether. But I never stopped feeling God in my life. I guess once you ask Him into your life, you may leave Him, but He never leaves you. Eventually, through a “miracle”, I found Him again but in a more real and truly loving way. I guess they call it Progressive Christianity now. All I know, it’s about love. Pure love. For everyone. Pretty simple.

    Thank you for sharing this with us Chris. So many others need to hear it. It is healing, I’m sure for you, but also very much for those out there like me. God bless on your continued journey.

    • ckratzer

      May 2, 2017 at 10:41 pm

      Julie, what a beautiful comment and sharing of your heart and story, I am so blessed by your words. You and your expression of faith give me a fresh wind of courage and inspiration so desperately needed. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  10. While Conservative Christianity is arguably the worst form of Christianity, isn’t it also true that they are trying the hardest to adhere and obey? If you think these Christians’ acts are making them miserable are you so sure that your less-conservative Christianity isn’t? I became an atheist many years ago to escape this pressure. I’ve never looked back and the freedom is always a breath of fresh air, the only consternation in my life being others who can’t escape these myths and superstitions from long ago continue to force their ideas on others. To quote another, “You can believe in unicorns that live in your footwear if you want to, but I take issue with you telling me how to wear my shoes so as not to offend your unicorns.”

    One word strikes me hard in this article, hypocrisy. When your arguments come from truth you will never be a hypocrite, and it’s the lies in the Bible that bring out the worst hypocrisy in the most devout. They need to believe everything in the Bible at all costs, but within are so many lies.

  11. Chris,
    I enjoy your perspective so much!
    There are many of us out there who do not fit into the keyhole that Evangelical Christianity demands. I just could not buy into a wrathful, vengeful God who favored some and not others. It just didn’t make sense. I am saddened by the direction the country is going in and have great difficulty understanding how some my friends and family could continue to follow the path this country appears to be on. (That’s another subject though.)
    I am a senior citizen who is active in a mainstream Christian Church in a rural community. My mother took us to church every Sunday and was the best role model for being a Christian that I ever met. She loved everyone unconditionally! Still, even that did example did not meet all of my spiritual needs.
    So, I have been on a my own spiritual path for over 50 years. I have read much over the years; Theosophy, Buddhism, Unity and Science of Mind among others. I’ve read several of Bart Ehrman’s books and found his research on the historical Jesus and the way changes to the Bible were made quite eye opening. I’ve read Eckhart Tolle and many of the writers of “A Course in Miracles” as well as other writers along this vein and will continue to do so, as my spiritual life is very important to me.
    I have a few friends who are like minded and we have some no holds barred spiritual discussions. It is very freeing to be able to share how you think and feel without someone judging you or mocking you.
    I therefore choose to live my life the best way I can with Love in my heart with whatever time I have remaining.
    Thank you and keep writing such important things we all need to hear.

    • ckratzer

      May 3, 2017 at 12:54 am

      B.J., thanks so much for opening the window a bit into your spiritual journey. I am thankful for you, you mother, and the willingness you have had to seek out truth. I hope we can stay connected. Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

  12. Patrick Wilson

    May 3, 2017 at 12:33 am

    I am a conservative Christian and my life is NOTHING like you describe.
    I can’t think,of any friends or acquaintances who fit the bill.
    You were obviously messed up.
    Sorry, that must have been difficult for you. Sounds like you were religious, not a true Christian.

    • ckratzer

      May 3, 2017 at 12:51 am

      Patrick, where I appreciate your perspective and appreciate you taking the time to comment, I find your comment filled with irony as in one moment you declare that you are nothing like the conservative brand of Christianity I describe in the article, and then in another you declare that I must not have been a “true Christian.” Just that statement alone leaves me wondering.

  13. Thank you, Chris. I come from a strong background of progressive Christianity and so appreciate comments (like yours) from someone who’s been on that “other side”. You’ve pretty well said what I’ve thought for many years, but in a much more articulate way. I do have one question… I may be a bit dense, but wonder if you’d expand a bit on your wording when you write of people awakening to “the freedom they have in Christ to choose sin”. In the larger context, I believe I get your meaning, but that choice of words throws me a bit.

  14. Chris,
    I am a little confused by the need to use labels e.g. “conservative Christian” or any attempt to put individuals into a group. Isn’t labeling, grouping people together one of the cornerstone of building prejudices. I only see individuals as individuals. All part of God’s human family.
    As a sinner and a brother in Christ I love you.
    Respectfully,
    Ricky

    • ckratzer

      May 6, 2017 at 11:08 am

      Ricky, thanks for your comments and taking the time to share them. I understand your concern, yet in the context of a blog, I trust my readers to have the common sense to know that not all conservative Christians are the same nor fit every description I might use. Furthermore, I trust they will read my actual words and take note of the many times I specifically say that not all conservative Christians are the same and use adjectives like “some,” “many,” “a few.” Thanks again for reading and commenting.

  15. I’m the conservative Christian that you rail against so often. I love Jesus with all my heart, treasure His word (the Bible) as Truth, and love people of all kinds. What you are describing in this article is religion. It’s legalism. That’s not God’s will for us. Yes, it benefits us to stay within the boundaries set in God’s word. Sin is destructive to not only us, but to those around us. However, there is such freedom and joy within those boundaries. My relationship with the One who created me gives me peace beyond understanding and joy beyond words. And it frees me to give generously and show love to others.

    I understand your need to justify what you now believe. (In fact, you might ask yourself why you feel so compelled to do that.) But please stop judging and condemning others who want nothing more than to follow God with all their hearts.

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