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.