Organized Religion? Who Needs It?!

Today’s question comes from Yvette. She wrote these words after watching a loved one be attacked for supporting transgender persons in a posting on social media.

“I do not know if I have a question or just a statement on how religion makes me HATE religion. Of course, social media does NOT help the situation, it just pushes me farther away from religion and those who practice organized religion. I read stories of these overzealous who preach the Bible (which was written by man in his own words to gain power and control). They are stories to teach a lesson, and – face it – control others whom are different. They call themselves Christian, but they are the farthest from what Christ was. What Jesus was. If he set foot in their church. Jesus would hang out with the outcast. He wanted nothing to do with organized religion, and when a Pastor goes on social media preaching hate and exclusion because of one thing or another– and my friends back this preacher up, I have to wonder what kind of cool aid my friends have been drinking. Maybe my question is, why after so many years of this fear and control, does it still go on?”

There are many things to address in your post. Let me chew on just a couple of them, and then invite others into the conversation as well.

In terms of your comment about the Bible, there are different views of what the Bible is in Christian community. Some Christians relate to it as if it were full of literal, inerrant words given directly by God. Other Christians relate to it as if the Bible contains words that were stimulated by God – but communicated through human beings in ways that reflect their social and historical context. Most Christians would agree, however, that the Bible has meaning – and provides us with critical lessons about how we can conduct our lives.

Unfortunately, the Bible is much like a knife. A knife can be used to do tremendous good (i.e. prepare a meal or cut a cord that binds you); or a knife can be sued to do tremendous harm (i.e. stab or kill someone). Likewise, the Bible can be used in radically different ways. It can be used primarily as a tool to declare God’s love and grace; or it can be used primarily as a tool to judge and condemn. The question each person must ask her or himself is, “How shall I use it?”

This takes me to a second point you raise about those who call themselves Christian but don’t conduct themselves in ways that reflect the love and teachings of Jesus. It reminds me of the old saying, “You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.”

Anyone can claim to be a follower of Jesus (or put on her or his lipstick by spouting isolated verses from the Bible). Eventually, however, their true nature (their piggy-ness in the form of their self-righteousness and conceit) will shine through.

So how do you know if someone is truly following in the ways of Jesus?

Jesus gave me a good sense of that in the seventh chapter of Matthew when he warned individuals about the dangers of false prophets when he said, “You will know them by their fruit” (Matthew 7:20 – Common English Bible).

So when folks claim to be a follower of Jesus, I look at the fruits of their lives. Are they spreading love, grace, and peace; or are they spreading hatred and dissension? That tells me who – or what – they are following.

One thing I would challenge from your comments was your statement that Jesus wanted nothing to do with organized religion. Actually, Jesus was involved in organized religion. He was an observant Jew and regularly participated in the spiritual life of his tradition. He did, however, have a passion for confronting those that tried to portray the tradition in ways that were not consistent with his understanding of what the tradition was all about. In other words, Jesus was a reformer. Someone who cared enough about organized religion to call it to be its best self. That’s why I – as a follower of Jesus – try to follow his example and stay involved in organized religion and challenge it when it strays from its mission.

Which takes me to both the beginning and ending of your post. Your frustration about how some preachers – and their followers – say incredibly hateful things about those who are different from them (most recently, about transgender people).

Sadly, some followers of Jesus have become like those Jesus challenged. They have become self-righteous literalists who are more concerned about the perception of being right than living in right relationship with God and with neighbor.

While it’s easy to meet their rigidity and intolerance with rigidity and intolerance of our own, I don’t think that accomplishes anything.
What does move things forward?

Claiming the essence of our faith.

One of my favorite summaries of the nature of the Christian faith is found in The Beatitudes. Jesus closes the Beatitudes with these powerful words: “Happy are you when people insult you and harass you and speak all kinds of bad and false things about you, all because of me. Be full of joy and be glad, because you have a great reward in heaven. In the same way, people harassed the prophets who came before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12 – Common English Bible).

When I have engaged some followers of Jesus who spew verbal violence and hatred in debates over topics ranging from homosexuality and gender identity issues to gun control to reproductive rights, I have often been dismissed by my opponents as not being a “real” Christian – because I don’t agree with them on their positions.

Instead of being filled with anger and judgment, I try to allow my heart to be filled with joy and gladness – at having the opportunity to witness to another understanding of who Jesus was and what he stood for. That is one of my greatest joys in life!

So what about you? What is raised within you by Yvette’s comments.

About Pastor Craig

I'm a 54-year-old who lives in Los Angeles, CA with his black Labrador Retriever named Max. I'm an ordained clergy person in the United Church of Christ. My passions include spirituality, politics, and sports (Go Houston teams, go!). I use my blog to start conversations rather than merely spout my perspectives and opinions. I hope you'll post a question, comment, or observation for me to respond - so we can get the conversation started!
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2 Responses to Organized Religion? Who Needs It?!

  1. Cheri A. Moore says:

    Yvette as Craig can attest my family includes Transgender grandchildren. I struggled with this as a Christian, still do a bit, but I have been met with love and compassion by my pastors and church family (a fairly conservative Church too) as has my grandchild. I think that true Christians are learning that we are not God and we are not here to judge but to love. God is the judge of all of us in the end. I hope this helps.

  2. Stevie says:

    It bothers me, too, to see someone spew hate in the name of God. But here’s what helps me. All my life, I’ve been surrounded by Christians. 99 % of them have been good people, doing their best, believing what they’ve been taught because they think it’s right. I just can’t waste energy on the others. I try to remember what Craig always says. We live as Jesus taught by showing love to each other. Now, have I come far enough to pray for enlightenment for the Westborogh Baptist members? No, I have not.

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