I’m trying to understand, I really am.
I hear what you’re saying—the deep confessions of your conservative brand of faith. You’re passionate, determined, and believe strongly in your way. I respect the veracity of your convictions—that, we have in common. Yet, if I’m honest, more so than not, I’m left scratching my head in utter confusion. I listen to your speaking and then take notice of your doing—finding it very hard to pull together much consistency between the two. I want to believe in the best, applaud your efforts, and grant you a fair shake, but the discrepancies I just can’t seem to ignore.
You say that conservative churches are warm and welcoming—I guess I’m wondering, to who? If I color outside conservative lines or commit a moral miscue, I’m quickly distanced, given the cold shoulder, or even sent to the curb. If I believe differently or entertain some serious doubts, I’m rushed to a Jesus-101 class or a small group for the spiritually lost and confused. You may allow a member of the LGBTQ community to sit in your velvet padded pews—certainly, your hands are open to receive their Sunday offering. Yet, all bets are off when it comes to teaching Sunday school or having equal footing in your community. Thousands of people from every walk of life have real stories of fierce condemnation, marginalization, and demonization at the hands of your organized conservatism. Yet, you gregariously claim a genuine desire for everyone to come and attend your church. I’m trying to give you the benefit of the doubt, but what am I suppose to believe? Putting two eyes on what’s in front of me—you’re telling me this is warm and welcoming?
You say you’re all about Jesus—I guess I’m wondering, which one? The Jesus who won’t accept anything less than multi-million dollar state-of-the-art buildings, slick branding, and the worshipping of His Glory with perfectly timed smoke machines, stage-lighting, and Anthropologie-fashioned leaders sporting tattoos and skinny jeans? Or is it the Jesus whose greatest delight is in seeing the franchising of His church and the endless consumerism of His Name? Maybe it’s the Jesus who pours out special anointing and favor upon celebrity pastors and applauds their book deals, conferences, private jets, and their ego-driven personal empire building? Or maybe you mean the Jesus who clearly states, “Above all else, carpet colors, stained glass windows, keeping current members happy, and holding strong to traditions is ultimately what really matters most.” I’m trying to see things through your eyes and makes sense of your perspective, but what am I supposed to believe? This is what it means to be all about Jesus?
You say the “least of these” matter—I guess I’m wondering, to what extent? I’ve been to plenty of your conferences, especially the ones bent on church growth and financial campaign success. The mantra I keep hearing repeated is deeply unsettling—giving to the poor and serving the community bottom lines on being good for the offering. The “least of these” are en vogue and good for big budgets, people get emotional and open their wallets. Taking every opportunity to show carefully crafted videos of all your do-gooding and generosity makes it look so spiritual and less self-serving—oh the privileges of being so privileged. Of course, people don’t contribute directly to the specific need. Rather, it all goes into the master budget fueling the master ego of the charismatic visionary master pastor. When ministry to the broken and outcast doesn’t empower the conservative Evangelical church machine, all of a sudden, taking care of the “least of these” isn’t quite so appealing. Just ask the Transgender community or your messiah Donald Trump—banishing whole groups of God-imaged people to undergo “reparative therapy” and cutting millions from receiving healthcare for the sake of the wealth of the wealthy. I know it may sound cynical and even a bit crass, but what am I supposed to believe? This is what it means and looks like when the “least of these” truly matter?
You say that you care about me as a God-created person—I guess I’m wondering, for what purpose? From the moment we meet, it feels like you’re overall intention is to change me into a person who increasingly looks less like me, and a lot more like you. While the Spirit is compelling me to cast off fear and enjoy the freedom to be fully myself, you’re whispering in my ear that being me isn’t good nor pleasing, and freedom is something to actually fear. Not long after I’ve visited your church a few times, I’m being pulled in every direction. From serving in the nursery to attending some class to become a member—ultimately, so I can learn where I should best plug into ministry. Nearly everything you say and do rapidly convinces me—to you, I’m mostly just a fresh piece of meat, not a person. I’m a cog in your ministry puzzle to set quickly into place, painting a picture of world domination with a mission to “make disciples of all people into people just like us.” I’m trying to see the silver lining in it all, but what am I supposed to believe? This is what it means to care about me as a person, a God-adored human being?
You say that you hold the keys to the best way of living—I guess I’m wondering, why does it seem so lifeless and unloving? For all your spiritual gymnastics, fanfare, and adoration, I can’t help but wonder what’s your motivation? It’s like you’re on an endless pursuit to convince God, yourself, and everybody else that you’re really a real-deal Christian. Every moment is deemed a test of your faithfulness—will your performance live up to God’s expectations? It seems like yours is a rigorous life of constant pre-qualifying—afraid to love too much, enjoy too much, and have too much fun—the terrible things that might become. Sin is always on your radar screen as you size-up other people—nearly everything and everyone is branded an enemy. It’s like a disorder of some kind where depravity becomes the lens through which you see everything. The spiritual treadmill upon which you live, always trying to measure up, leaves you exhausted and forced to put on a Jesus-face while deep down inside, the best you can do is fake it. The spiritual growth you say you inspire, feels more like a conspiracy of doctrinal conformity—if not, flat out brainwashing. I’m not trying to be cruel or critical, it’s just an observation I can’t un-see. I truly wish your way of living was an upgrade of the finest, but it feels quite like it would surely be the opposite. I know your heart is good and your intentions are even better, but what am I supposed to believe? Is this truly the best of the best way to live?
You say that the Bible is the ultimate rule and guide for your faith—I guess I’m wondering, why such idolatry, what’s really at stake? I’ve been around the block enough to know, Jesus is the Word, not a set of words and pages in even the most sacred of books. Which leaves me wondering, what’s the big deal? Why is your interpretation the only one that’s real—often pimped as the way, the truth, and the life. Isn’t that supposed be a designation exclusive to Jesus? More so than not, you fire off Scripture like it’s a weapon and your chief desire is mass destruction—always trying to prove a point. It feels like you use the Bible as a crutch out of a lack of personal connection and revelation from Jesus. I appreciate and respect your level of loyalty, but wonder if placing it in a book and your interpretations is what was intended by the Spirit. I haven’t seen one good thing, only evil religion, coming from the building of your faith upon the shifting sands of a book rather than the Person. “What are you afraid of?” is my ultimate question—loss of control, power, and coercion potential? I’m trying to put myself in your shoes and assume the best of your intentions, but what am I supposed to believe? Is this what the Bible is really all about?
You say that your Gospel reflects the true heart of Jesus and God’s plan for humanity—I guess I’m wondering, then why is it so brutal and your faith so blatantly insecure? To think that your conservative brand of believing is so weak that you have to politicize it, nationalize it, demand it, and sleep with the enemy in order to preserve it. To think that you would abandon all moral conviction and spiritual integrity, and vote Donald Trump to be our president—all for conservative Evangelical power and glory for sure. To think that you would resort to insisting on your own way in nearly every public arena. It all makes one truly consider that not only have you lost your bearings, but your faith understanding is cruel, selfish, and entirely bogus. What you declare as the Gospel for all nations seems like in reality, a spiritual veil to a hatred, arrogance, and people-damnation addiction deep within the religious soul. Why else would you insist on a hell for people who believe differently than you? Why else would you declare to be pro-life—until, of course, it applies to the lives that aren’t in step with your ideology, pursuits, and religious thrills? Why else would you have a clear and present history of being on the wrong side of nearly every important issue? I want to give you the benefit of the doubt and believe you hold the heart of Jesus in all that you are and do, but what am I supposed to believe? This is what you call the Gospel, the ultimate good news?
Why not just be honest?
We can handle it, we really can—in fact, we’ve been handling it for years. You might even get some respect, as twisted as that sounds. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to discern how you truly feel and the content of your aspirations. Just come clean with it—be real.
It’s o.k., we have a pretty good idea what you truly believe and think anyways—for actions always speak louder than words.
We may be welcome, but we aren’t wanted.
It’s not really all about Jesus, it’s really all about you.
We, the “least of these,” matter only as much as you can benefit.
To you, we’re a project, not a person.
Despite how it appears, you’re basically faking it.
Without the Bible and the lording of your interpretation, it would be hard to justify your hate and protect your privilege.
Your gospel leads to a life of spiritual imprisonment—for misery always loves a good bit of company.
No, not every conservative church or person is manifesting these messages, but there are large numbers of people who’ve been tractor-beamed into the Death Star of conservative Evangelicalism. Seduced by the dark side, they have bitten the lie. Many conservative churches and Christians can’t help but spread the same infection, luring people into an evil Empire—despite their best intentions.
I know you disagree, I’m actually glad you do. Now, prove that I’m wrong through a conservative Evangelical revolution of changed behavior and tradition.
Dear conservative Christian, what am I supposed to believe?
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? 17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Therefore by their fruits you will know them. Matthew 7:15-20 (NKJV)
“Be wary of false preachers who smile a lot, dripping with practiced sincerity. Chances are they are out to rip you off some way or other. Don’t be impressed with charisma; look for character. Who preachers are is the main thing, not what they say. A genuine leader will never exploit your emotions or your pocketbook. These diseased trees with their bad apples are going to be chopped down and burned. Matthew 7:15-20 (The Message)
Grace is brave. Be brave.
Whoo-ha!! Preach it, brother. Wow. You know, for so long I’ve thought “if every church in my town took care of just one homeless person or family, we wouldn’t have any anymore. OR of all the pro–life people/churches- – has one, ever, any where, ever taken on the care of a single mother giving birth to a child because you talked her out of an abortion??” If Christians truly put their money where their mouth is, we wouldn’t have so many social ‘problems.’ But, bunch a baloney!! Just condemn what they don’t like, and don’t bother to lift a finger to help those they condemn.
Methinks it be time for a revolution!!
Gale, thanks for reading and sharing some great insights!
This makes sense to me. Not anyone in my family would help me, little less the “ministry” I work at with my vehicle problems. My sweet gay friend offered to let me use his car for this week since mine is needing repairs. The others think I should pull myself up by my boot straps, even though I make 15.00 an hour as an RN nurse manger here, I could make 40.00 an hour in the “world”. I am so disillusioned with “Christianity” I could run screaming. I haven’t been to church in months(I could get fired for this actually) but I can’t stomach it. A coffee date I had with my twenty year old gay friend was more spiritual than a church service or the ministry I work at(I am trying to find another job) they would tell me my bad luck was a result of not going to church. smh. Keep it up Chris, I gotcha.
Debbie, all I can say in response to your comment is, AMEN! You are not alone and I stand with you as one who finds Jesus outside the walls of church more than I ever did within.
Debbie, you just met Jesus…..
This really hit my heart , I needed this , it was like an affermation of what I´ve found living abroad and away from the U.S. . There is a difference between what I call American Christianity and the Christianity I´ve come to realize , living outside of the U.S. ! Evangical support of trump was the final straw . Overseas I´ve learned it´s alright to love my Gay Relatives and my Muslim Neighbors are Great People ! I don´t judge and hope the best for my Friends who I constantly pray for ! You don´t cram testifying down the throats of people who do not want to listen that so turns people off to Jesus . Listen and let them know you love them that you honestly care . That´s the best to testify , listening .
Gonzalez, thanks so much for reading and commenting. I am so glad this article was a blessing for you. You are not alone, so many share in the observations you make and the unique monster that is American right-wing conservative Christianity.
I am overwhelmed by the talibaptists here in TN.
Every time I read one of your articles, it’s like you’ve articulated what has been frustrating me for years! For years I struggled in church and eventually left, thinking I was a bad one as I didn’t fit the brand. Thank you. Keep them coming.
Suz, thank you so much, it’s such an encouragement to me that you are empowered and affirmed by what I write!
For every characteristic you describe here, there are others who work in the light, keep their faith precious and close, pray continuously, serve selflessly, quietly, out of gratitude. There are followers who love, lead, encourage and bloom under our savior’s loving guidance. What you see is often what you get if you look out at others instead of to Him. There are indeed many who claim to know Him, use Him, abuse His holy name. They make the news. For every hypocrisy you describe there is a quiet, sincere act of faith done without any thought of gain. They are out there, seek, and you will find them and hopefully join them.
Deb, thanks for your comments to my article. I have a question(s). What would you have me do? The article acknowledges and emphasizes that not all Christians exude the points I make. Should I simply not write and give voice to those whose lives have been abused and devastated simply because there are some who are benign from wielding such destructive behaviors and beliefs. Have you been marginalized, condemned, and discriminated by conservative Christians? Do you even know what that’s like? You suggest that I write simply because these folks “make the news.” Sadly, they are doing far worse than just making the news. Even more, you suggest that because I write in solidarity with the religiously oppressed and speak to the evils of conservative Christianity that I am not a part of the force for good. Really? So when Jesus spoke much more aggressively than I against the religious evils of His day, that too put Him as part of the problem and not the solution? Thanks again for reading and commenting, I look forward to your response.
You are dead on with this. I have worked in “Ministry” for decades and have recently been pushed out because of a divorce. I have always felt that the church is missing the mark. The focus on keeping the flock happy has overstepped the directives of scripture. On any given Sunday you will hear nearly every church speak about being the Body of Christ, yet they rarely ever work together to improve their own community. Don’t get me wrong here, most churches reach out to their community in some way, but they do it alone. It is stupid. How effective would it be if your foot decided it wanted to go jogging but the rest of your body wanted to sit on the couch.
We see more anti-abortion rallies then pregnancy help clinics ran by the church. We see fat people shaming couples who live together. Both mind you are equally “sin” in scripture. Sitting in church makes you just as much a Christian as sitting in my garage makes me a car.
There are 14 churches in my city. All of them wanting to reach the same community with the same message for the same purpose. None of them will work together because of ego. This is why i have very a limited amount of interaction with church now days.
Thank you for writing this article. I hope lots of people read it and get inspired to change.
JD, thanks so much for adding to the conversation. I appreciate your sharing your experiences and adding yet another different perspective on the issues. Well said!
WOW! Chris, I really feel sorry for you. I wonder just what you are looking for. You discredit the Bible. You obviously have a negative attitude towards the term Conservative. You say that if you attend a Conservative Christian, within a few attendances you feel ostracized. I can’t understand why with your open minded approach.
I am an Orthodox believer. I believe that the Bible, I know, WHICH one, is sufficient to determine what is true and which isn’t, but it takes serious study and an honest search for truth.
I read your article as a serious litany of general negativity. Some of what you wrote and have written could have some justification, but the majority is just baseless negativity.
I would seriously be interested to hear what you think what is the truthful answer. What form of Christianity would make you feel warm and fuzzy?
Chris, thanks so much for trying to wake up those who are stuck in their blind adherence to conservative religion. I so appreciate the heart and passion in your writing. You sound to me like a man who loves the bible, loves God, loves the church, but you can no longer be silent about what you’re seeing.
It’s like you’re yelling “The emperor has no clothes on” but there are still those who insist that because the book says the emperor has clothes on, and because the emperor says he has clothes on and because everyone else says the emperor has clothes on, he MUST have clothes on. Why when you state the bleeding obvious are you said to be negative? You are simply saying what so many of us can see. Good for you!
Thanks for your understanding and empathy. I feel like at least someone knows how I can feel as a Christian “gay” man. Your words are comforting assuring. Keep up the good work. ❤️✝️✌️…
I’m a pastor in a “progressive” denomination, and your words make my heart cry even as I acknowledge their truth. So many of us in “the Church” are working endlessly to proclaim the true Gospel of Jesus Christ, a gospel of love and inclusivity, and service to “the least of these.” We speak against the idolatry you name here, and to try to be faithful to the Way of Jesus, not just as a ticket to heaven, but to participate in the in-breaking of the Reign of God here, now.
And yet, our people hear a different message 6 days a week, from media both public and social, from others in their lives who have sipped the kool-aid of conservative Christianity. They see those other churches nearly bursting out of their walls with their rock-band worship, and cults of personality, and ask why we are struggling to keep our doors open. I have few answers, except that Jesus himself said it wasn’t going to be easy and that those who follow him are sure to experience rejection, even peril, because of their relationship with him.
It’s hard, but it is our calling, and I will persist in preaching the grace, love, mercy and reconciliation that is God’s way, as seen in Jesus the Incarnate One. As Luther once said, “Here I stand, I can do no other.”
But I would like to invite anyone who has been burned by a church to seek out another way besides leaving altogether. There are many small-ish mainline, progressive congregations who would welcome you. There won’t be so many bells and whistles, and probably no slick perfomance-level rock bands, but you will probably find people who will love you and welcome you to be part of their community, participate in worship through liturgy (work of the people) steeped in scripture and tradition, and invite you to serve beside them as they seek out “the least of these” in their neighborhoods.
Blessings on your work, Chris. And thank you for speaking truth so clearly and compellingly.
“You may allow a member of the LGBTQ community to sit in your velvet padded pews—certainly, your hands are open to receive their Sunday offering.”
– This is golden.