When Leaving Religion Costs You Everything…

When I read the words in the source article below they rang very true to me. Even though I was not a minister like he was I too felt the cost of being forced  out of a church community for having  different/unacceptable beliefs. I dared, among other things to say the earth was more than 6,000 years old.

After 36 years in the Evangelical Charismatic movement in Tennessee, Dave left his faith. “For me,” he says, “it all started with a critical examination of the Bible and how it came to be…when I quit making excuses for the inconsistencies and contradictions, it started to have some gaping holes in it.”….

After enough time in rigorous study, he says he saw the Bible as a collection of books written by very human individuals. Now he’s a stranger and pilgrim in a foreign land. “I feel like an alien here in the south. It’s all about where you go to church here,” he says.

Dave is not alone.

Source: When Leaving Religion Costs You Everything – The Daily Beast

No, Dave is not alone. There are probably millions of us who dared to critically examine their bible and came to the conclusion that it is very similar to Dave’s. When I quit letting the religious leaders tell me how homogeneous the bible was and discovered many places such as the paragraph that Lutherans base their religion on that works are irreverent, faith is all that matters an then read St James, the brother of Jesus, who said faith without works is worthless. Let’s face it when different men (and I do mean men, no women authors to be found) put out their opinions of religion/faith/morality there are bound to be conflicts. And they are relatively easy to discover if you really look at the Bible in the least bit critically.

I always found it strange that so many in the evangelical circles quote St. Paul much more than they do Jesus especially given the fact that Paul was the only apostle who never sat at Jesus’ feet to learn the lessons first hand. In fact the only direct encounter with Jesus was that  quick flash on the road to Damascus. If you read his words, and he has more words in the Bible than any other author, it becomes pretty obvious that he made up his own rules for what to believe in order to be called a Christian. I’m not sure he ever mentioned any of the words of Jesus in his epistles and that is probably because he had no first-hand knowledge of them.

No, Dave is not alone with his feelings and observations. While the Bible is made up of opinions of different author, that does not take away from its value to those who concentrate on the words of Jesus. It is a great history book and is, along with other writing not chosen to be included, the source of most of our information about Christ.

2016-07-09_17-58-37.pngBut there is also the shunning to goes on when one leaves a faith community. I always thought I made very good friends there but once I left only one couple even attempted to stay in contact. The two we considered ” best friends” never said a word to us after that day! Everyone just dropped us from their contact lists. That devastatingly changed everything in my wife’s social world and that is perhaps the biggest sorrow of all for me…

Everyone Needs A Clubhouse….

I want to bring over a slightly edited archive post from one of my other blogs at RedLetterLiving.net for this Sunday’s post. It is from March 13.

I’m not sure who brought up the concept but it is about how churches are actually more like clubhouses than anything else. They are buildings that are built almost exclusively for their members comfort. Yes that comfort does bring in some to hear the message but that seems to be very secondary at best.

I had a recent round of comments on this topic and it stirred up some heated words. It seems that calling a church a country club strikes the nerve of many Christians.  I think the ounce of truth in it is the reason.  Everyone wants to think that their church is somehow different from the others. They want to think that  what they give in weekly donations is for the greater good of God. But, facts simply don’t bear that belief out.

The majority of what they give stays within the church’s hierarchy. When I was giving regularly to the small church I once belonged to I never deemed that the money I gave actually went to God’s work here or earth.  Being a regular member on the church board I realized that 99+% of what I gave ended up paying the mortgage, utilities and the pastor’s salary.  Did I feel guilty about that? No, not really. I know that this small church was struggling, and still struggles after almost ten years, to keep the doors open.

There is nothing wrong with needing a clubhouse. But what is wrong is when we fail to recognize the fact that we are really not doing much in the community besides holding down a property.  We try to rationalize that giving a few families a turkey and canned goods during the Thanksgiving/Christmas holidays somehow meets our community obligations.  Being a church is supposed to be about showing God’s blessing throughout our communities. It is supposed to be about others and not ourselves.

When we finally acknowledge that fact and diligently plan on making  community support happen is when we turn the corner from clubhouse to church.  Sadly too many small churches fail to ever reach that point in their congregation’s life. I am often accused of painting with too broad a brush in these types of posts so I want to  recognize that there are many churches out there that are very much valuable contributors to their communities. They run soup kitchens and food banks in the areas.  They open their doors on cold and windy nights for those who are homeless. In other words they act like they are followers of Jesus Christ.

I celebrate every one of those churches.  But at the same time even those churches must be constantly tracking their allocations of funds.  It is impossible to give too much to your community instead of yourself. Everyone needs a clubhouse that you can go to weekly. Where everyone know your name as the old Cheers TV show used to say. That is a valuable part of Christian fellowship but we must constantly remind ourselves that is supposed to be very much secondary to being our brother’s keeper and helping God’s kingdom come to earth as it is in heaven.

The Gospel In Thirty Words…

2014-04-03_13-58-04Here’s one person’s attempt to summarize the Gospel in a single sentence. It’s by Bruxy Cavey, the teaching pastor at The Meeting House. He says “The Gospel is the good news that God comes to us through Jesus to show us his love, save us from sin, set up his kingdom and shut down religion.” Just thirty words, but I think he does a great job of getting to the heart of what Jesus’ message is all about.

SOURCE:  The Gospel According To Who? | Stephen Jarnick | Red Letter Christians.

If you are interesting in the things behind these words check out his book entitled: The End of Religion

Not That Much Different….

Rachel EvansWe want an end to the culture wars. We want a truce between science and faith. We want to be known for what we stand for, not what we are against.

We want to ask questions that don’t have predetermined answers.

We want churches that emphasize an allegiance to the kingdom of God over an allegiance to a single political party or a single nation. We want to be challenged to live lives of holiness, not only when it comes to sex, but also when it comes to living simply, caring for the poor and oppressed, pursuing reconciliation, engaging in creation care and becoming peacemakers.

SOURCE:  Why millennials are leaving the church – CNN Belief Blog – CNN.com Blogs.

The above quote is from one of the bloggers in my Feedly stream. Rachel is a young religious blogger and author with a pretty large following of which I am one. The list above is part of a longer one about why so many young people  leave the church once they get out on their own.

I am definitely not a millennial as Rachel dubiously claims to be but I am certainly attuned to her list as many of the reasons I no longer attend a denominational service.

But this post is really intended to be about a mini-epiphany I had when I read this article. Almost everything on her list also could be said about the Republican party.  I’m not sure if this is a chicken/egg thing or an egg/chicken. Either way it means lost membership to the associated organization. I really mourn the continuing growing insignificance of both the church and the Republican party. I really want both to stay relevant in world today so I am hoping that eventually they will give up their stubbornness and destructive thinking and start listening to all the Rachel Held Evan’s out there.

God Knows More Than I Do…….

Morf Morford considers himself a free-range Christian who is convinced that God expects far more of us than we can ever imagine, but somehow thinks God knows more than we do…..

As he’s getting older, he finds himself less tolerant of pettiness and dairy products.

SOURCE:  Morf Morford: It’s NOT the economy, stupid | Red Letter Christians.

I am going to do a rare cross post here between two of my blogs. I am doing so because I think this post has a spiritual as well as general message.

While the referenced source above is about life being more than just money, this post is actually just about the description of the author.  Besides having a very interesting name the author of this post over at Red Letter Christians has very interesting look on life. I am proud to say I share his views of God and getting older. But I guess I am luckier than hs is in one regard. I still drink lots of milk. They tell me it is good for my osteoporosis. 🙂

I too am currently a free-range Christian and have been for a few years now.  I am no longer instructed weekly in what I am supposed to believe. I no longer feel I need to jump through all the denominational belief hoops in order to be a Christian. I can now believe that God loves all of us and not just those who believe as I do.  Instead I now tend to look at the Lord’s word from a more personal, some might say naive, view. From what I can glean from the Christian Bible I also agree that God expects more from us than almost any of us can imagine or at least willing to put forward.

One of the things that pushed me out of the last church I was in (that is besides being nudged out the door because I did not tow the denominational line closely enough and was probably asking too many question in adult bible classes) was their stubborn insistence  that they have it all figured out and everyone else is just wrong in one thing or another.  In that regard, I also proudly share the belief that  God knows more than they do, or everyone else for that matter.

One of the things that prompted me to start my blog over at RedLetterLiving more than five years ago was that I just grew less tolerant to pettiness of some mainstream beliefs about the current version of church. In these five years I have learned that I am by no means alone in those feelings.

Thanks Morf for reminding me what it is all about….

Hunt Out The Good….

“Hunt out and talk about the good that is in the other fellow’s church, not the bad, and you will do away with all this religious hatred you hear so much nowadays.” – Will Rogers, 11 March 1923

This quote from Will definitely applies to the churches in the U.S. but it equally applies to many other things that are problematic in our country today.  As I commonly state on my other blog over at RedLetterLiving.net there are currently more than 39,000 different versions of the Christian church in the world. Most are the result of splits around different beliefs about this or that. We seem to always be looking at why we should be different and split rather than what we have in common. If we only took Will’s words to heart I think the number would be vastly different.

The political parties in this country have now devolved into hatred for each other over our differences. We can no longer seem to come together for what we find good in ourselves. We no longer seem to be able to compromise. Much of this division is totally unnecessary if only we would swallow a little of our pride in believing that we are the only ones who have it right about  this or that.

I have found that sometimes it is better to just say “I know this is not the way I would have done (fill in the subject) but that’s ok. Not everything in life has to go totally our way in order for us to be happy. When we insist on that happening then we most assuredly doom ourselves to frustration and constant bickering. That is not a way to live during our brief time on this earth.

Pope — CEO Or Spiritual Leader???

Banner -Off The Top

Pope1I spent my first fourteen years in the Catholic church but really haven’t kept up with the details except for an occasional theology study.  I know the picture here is a once in an era event. It has been centuries since a pope has resigned from office. The first thought that came to mind when I saw the picture here is that of two very old men embracing each other. I wish the new Pope Francis a successful reign, or whatever his term is called, no matter how many years it is. He was a Jesuit and I know they embraced simplicity and empathy as their worldview. I hope he carries out that theme in his time at the head of the Catholic church.

I think almost everyone knows that the Catholic church is one of the biggest bureaucracies in the world. If they were a corporation they would definitely be in the top ten or maybe even number one.  They have accumulated vast wealth beyond most comprehension. I also know that their structure is very vertical in nature.  That is the Pope/CEO has the ultimate authority and can veto almost anything that he wants.

I don’t know whether the Pope is like a monarch who is more of a ceremonial thing or like a CEO?  I am thinking maybe a little of both. But I do know that the previous pope has had a rough time of it while he was in office and can understand why he would want to resign and let someone else take over.  I’m sure he is exhausted from all the battles the church has faced during his reign.

I am surprised that the cardinals chose a South American as their next leader. Admittedly South America and Africa are where the most potential growth comes from. But those two continents are also known for bucking the edicts of Rome on occasion.  They just don’t always align with papal authority. Now that one of their own is in charge that may change but probably not.

Ending this post I really wonder just what went on in selecting the new pope. Rome as usual tries to keep this sort of thing hidden. Maybe that is to make it seem more mysterious or spiritual. I don’t know.  I know that most of my years in the church were spent hearing Latin; I didn’t really  know why that was either.  I guess I am just too American in that I want things to happen in the light of day and not behind closed doors or behind hunched shoulders.

I enjoyed all the cartoons about speculation of what went one in the pope selection process.  The funniest one was that the first cardinal to make a basket from half court was the new pope. 🙂  I don’t hate the pope as I think many of my Protestants brothers and sisters are taught so I wish him well in his duties whatever they are.  I don’t want to insult my Catholic friends here but I really don’t think Pope Francis has any different of the track to God than any of the rest of us.  God is just not into hierarchy stuff as the Roman Catholic church is. He is, to continue the basketball theme,  more one-on-one.

About The Church & Politics…

Banner - Will Rogers

The church is in Politics more than the Politicians.  
February 17, 1929  — Will Rogers

As I have mentioned a few times already in our study of Thomas Jefferson, his principle of the separation of church and State was more to protect the State than the church.  It seems that Will understood this also. Unfortunately not much has changed since even Will’s day.  The bible says we are not of this world but you couldn’t tell it by the words of some of my conservative Christian friends. They literally hate our president, especially since he has been re-elected. I am told they even voice that hatred when they are studying the Bible together! They should take the message of Buddha from one of my recent posts to heart. The hate they have punishes them much more than anything it could possibly accomplish.  Why can’t they drive their hate out of themselves and replace it with the love of Jesus.

But then again these times are nothing compared to the post-Constantine period and far beyond that period where the church leaders were literally the politicians and that included judge, jury, and executioner for thousands they deemed as “heretics”. Church history, even including recent history, is messy…. but the messages of Jesus Christ are quite clear if only we listen and actually do what he said. I have hopes that that is actually happening today in the emergent church movement.  If you want to learn more about that see today’s post at RedLetterLiving.

But I’m just a simple guy, so what do I know…

The Slippery Slope…..

 


Slippery
I am totally sick of the “slippery slope” that my conservative friends so often cling to!!

If I hear another person give me a slippery slope story I just might punch them. The idea of the slippery slope consumes so much of their lives. It is the center point for their current stands against gun regulation. It is the center point for their current stands of excluding anyone from their religious circles who don’t totally align with them.  It is the center point of their current stands on taxes.

Read more

Separation of Church and State — Taxes

Source: Churches and Taxes – ProCon.org.

US churches received an official federal income tax exemption in 1894, and they have been unofficially tax-exempt since the country’s founding. All 50 US states and the District of Columbia exempt churches from paying property tax. Donations to churches are tax-deductible. The debate continues over whether or not these tax benefits should be retained.

Proponents argue that a tax exemption keeps the government out of church finances and thus upholds the separation of church and state. They say that churches deserve a tax break because they provide crucial social services, and that church tax exemptions have been in place for over 200 years without turning America into a theocracy.

Opponents argue that giving churches special tax exemptions violates the separation of church and state, and that tax exemptions are a privilege, not a right guaranteed by the US Constitution. They say that in tough economic times the government cannot afford what amounts to a subsidy worth billions of dollars every year.

Read more

The Separation of Church and State — The Founders Views…

I am going to do a couple of posts here on a pretty controversial topic and that is church and State. I just finished three months worth of political posts so I thought I might as well tackle another difficult issue before my blood pressure  finally goes down to normal.

Being a U.S. history buff I have read quite a bit on Jefferson and his views of the separation of church and State. The primary information about this topic comes from his writing called “An Act For Establishing Religious Freedom” written in 1786.  Another writing prominently mentioned in this area is his response to Danbury Baptist Association letter written in 1801 when he was president.

Let’s take a look at some of the words from these letters:

Be it therefore enacted by the General Assembly, that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place or ministry whatever, nor shall he be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or beliefs….

I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.”

One of my heroes James Madison who is widely recognized as the Father of the Constitution said this about church and state:

 “practical distinction between Religion and Civil Government is essential to the purity of both, and as guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States.”

It is quite clear to me that these two great leaders in the separation of church and state had two things in mind. One was that people should not suffer any consequences in civil society because of their religious belief or the lack thereof. The second thing was their fear that some future religious body would attempt to establish itself as the “official” religion of the country.

  • Does this mean that neither the federal nor state governments can give preferences to one religion over another?
  • Does this mean that office holder cannot be required to have certain religious convictions?
  • Does this mean that the state is prevented from requiring religious institutions to believe certain things?

I believe that answer to all three of these questions is yes.

  • Does this mean that the State cannot make laws that are applicable to the church as included in the general population?
  • Does this mean that the church is exempt from paying taxes?
  • Does this mean that personal contributions to the church are automatically tax exempt?

I belive the answer to all three of these questions is no. None of these things are related to the original separation intent.

Religious institutions must abide by U.S. laws like all persons or institutions. The current practice of excluding from taxes money paid to support religious institutions is not by nature something endemic to our constitutional principle of church/state separation.  It is something that can be changed and I believe it should be changed. More on that next time

If God Is Love… (Part1)

I am going to start a series of posts around quotes from some of the many books I have read. One of the favorites is the book “If God is Love” by Philip Gulley. Here is the quote for today:

The theology of love begins with the assumption that all people are God’s cherished children and deserving of love. “We love because he first loved us. Those who say ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers and sisters, are liars, for they do not love a brother or sister who they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen”  (1 John 4:19-20). Jesus demonstrated his lover for outcasts, those many considered unlovable. Regrettably, many Christians have been unwilling to adopt the ethic of Jesus — a theology of inclusion, acceptance, and love, We’ve been unwilling to love and accept our enemies. We haven’t even be excited about loving our neighbors.When Jesus redefined kinship, he was challenging their exclusive circle by declaring that anyone in any place who did the will of God regardless of social standing or religious affiliation, was his brother or sister.  Kinship is not a matter of racial, religious, or cultural conformity. It was the by-product of a commitment of the will of God — to love and care for all.

We should all be getting out of our church pews and into the community to re-affirm that we do indeed love our neighbor. We must show the Lord’s love in our lives if we are true followers of Jesus Christ. To hunker down in our church building  against the big bad world and wait for the second coming is not what Jesus preached. Jesus was a lover of the unlovable and we should at least attempt to do the same. If we are only willing to allocate those two hours a week on Sunday mornings to God then maybe we should occasionally skip the pews and get out in the community and get our hands dirty!

I must admit that I feel closer to God when I do community service than when I am sitting in a church pew.  And according to Jesus that is how it should be.

RLL Blog Announcement

I am just posting a quick “aside” here to let you know that starting today I am posting again over at RedLetterLiving.net. The posts will primarily be about a study I am currently engaged in on how the Christian church got from its beginnings to where it is today and what the future might be.  If you are interested in that sort of thing pay me a visit there. I will be posting at least a couple of times a week for a few months.  This study will be historical in nature and I will try as much as possible to avoid theological discussions  and “church-speak”.