My Emancipation From American Christianity

I used to think that it was just me, that it was my problem, my deficiency, my moral defect.

It had to be.

All those times when I felt like an outsider in this American Jesus thing; the ever-more frequent moments when my throat constricted and my heart raced and my stomach turned.

Maybe it came in the middle of a crowded worship service or during a small group conversation. Maybe while watching the news or when scanning a blog post, or while resting in a silent, solitary moment of prayer. Maybe it was all of these times and more, when something rose up from the deepest places within me and shouted, “I can’t do this anymore! I can’t be part of this!”

These moments once overwhelmed me with panic and filled me with guilt, but lately I am stepping mercifully clear of such things.

What I’ve come to realize is that it certainly is me, but not in the way I used to believe.

I am not losing my mind.
I’m not losing my faith.
I’m not failing or falling or backsliding.
I have simply outgrown much of American Christianity.

I’ve outgrown the furrowed-browed warnings of a sky that is perpetually falling.
I’ve outgrown the snarling brimstone preaching that brokers in damnation.
I’ve outgrown the vile war rhetoric that continually demands an encroaching enemy.
I’ve outgrown the expectation that my faith is the sole property of a political party.
I’ve outgrown violent bigotry and xenophobia disguised as Biblical obedience.
I’ve outgrown God wrapped in a flag and soaked in rabid nationalism.
I’ve outgrown the incessant attacks on the LGBTS, Muslim, immirgant, and Atheist communities.
I’ve outgrown theology as a hammer always looking for a nail.
I’ve outgrown the cramped, creaky, rusting box that God never belonged in anyway.

Most of all though, I’ve outgrown something that simply no longer feels like love, something I no longer see much of Jesus in.

If religion it is to be worth holding on to, it should be the place where the marginalized feel the most visible, where the hurting receive the most tender care, where the outsiders find the safest refuge.

It should be the place where diversity is fiercely pursued and equality loudly championed; where all of humanity finds a permanent home and where justice runs the show.

That is not what this thing is. This is FoxNews and red cup protests and persecution complexes. It’s opulent, big box megachurches and coddled, untouchable celebrity pastors. It’s pop culture boycotts and manufactured outrage. It’s just wars and justified shootings. It’s all manner of bullying and intolerance in the name of Jesus.

Feeling estrangement from these things is a good thing.

For the past two decades I’ve lived within the tension of trying to be in the thing and not be altered by the thing, but that tension has become too great. Ultimately it’s a spiritual compatibility issue.

It’s getting harder and harder to love all people and still fit into what has become organized Christianity, so rather than becoming less loving and staying—I’m leaving.

I’m breaking free from religion for the sake of my soul.

I’m not sure practically what that looks like, but I can feel myself consciously and forcefully pulling away; creating distance between me and a system that can no longer accommodate the scale of my God and the scope of my aspirations.

Jesus said that the Spirit moves where it pleases, and with it go those in its glorious grip. In my heart and in the hearts of so many like me, that Spirit is boldly declaring its emancipation from the small, heavily guarded space that wants to contain it, and taking us out into the wide, breathtaking expanses of unfettered faith.

Every day people tell me that this great releasing is happening within them too; that they are finding freedom beyond the building and the box, and rediscovering a God right sized.

I am a Christian and an American, but I refuse to settle for this American Christianity any longer or be defined by it.

I know that there is something much greater beyond it worth heading toward; something that looks more like God and feels more like love.

Maybe you see it in the distance too. Maybe we can go there together.

Fear is in the rear view, freedom in the windshield.


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1,068 thoughts on “My Emancipation From American Christianity

  1. Many of us are with you, John. As Frederick Douglass wrote, “Between the Christianity of this land and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference—so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure and holy is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt and wicked.” Also, this is why so many have been intrigued with Dietrich’s Bonhoeffer’s sparse remarks about a “religionless Christianity.” Perhaps he was seeing where the mix of religion, politics, and culture had led in Nazi Germany, and knew that if Christianity is going to survive and follow Jesus, we need a different direction.

  2. Growing up a preacher’s kid, I was in the church every time the door was opened. But, eventually, I found that my experience with God was more real and authentic outside the church. Thank you for putting words to my life. By the way, I think I was saved at least 10 times.

  3. What you describe as what you are leaving is NOT Christianity, but rather the Judaism infesting American Christianity.
    Get it straight Jew.

    • you truly must be a miserable human being. Hoping that the Jesus I know will help you change your heart.

    • Get it backwards much? Jesus was born, lived and died as a JEW. Everything he taught was Jewish thought. The hatred and brutality you seem to be espousing have nothing to Don with Jesus and prove the point. It’s ridiculously dark humor, but not funny in the least.

    • For starters—Christianity (and Islam for that matter) have their roots in Judaism. These are the three great mono myths. Jesus was never a Christian. He was a Jew. So the “infestation” is all in your deranged mind.

  4. WORD. You know when it happened to me? When I moved from the U.S.A. to Canada, and started looking at my beloved country from the outside. It is then that I realized, American Christianity is not me. It is NOT Jesus. Unconditional love for all is what Jesus is about. Thank you for this article. It makes me feel SO MUCH BETTER as a believer! <3

    • When you sit back and you read and you listen to people speaking, writing words, hateful words, hurtful words everyone thinking they have the answers it is all so mind boggling and sad. Who is right who is wrong who is a christian who is not …well there are no words. I consider myself raised in a Christian home, my father a pastor who was the most honest trust worthy human I have ever known. He lived what he preached whether at home, at church or in public. While I may not follow the exact same footsteps as my parents I have incredible respect for them. They tried with all their hearts to live by example of what they truly believed was right as they knew and understood it.. I don’t speak hate and condemn them for what they believed just because I don’t feel the same. Why do we have to slander and condemn those before us and those who still choose a more conservative path. Also, is it fair to put all who call themselves Christian in one box and condemn them.We are all so caught up in being right and throwing insults. Perhaps all of us are wrong in how life should be.. And I say again what I have said so many times before. The more we think we are different the more we are the same. Don’t try to tell me you don’t judge, are not opinionated, and self righteous, regardless of which side you are on because we all are those things. I have never heard of or known anyone who is not all the above.
      After reading the article and a lot of the posts(responses) it seems we quote a verse here and a verse there to try to prove our point and if nothing fits we make something up or rewrite the new testament to accommodate our own agenda’s. I decided to post the actual definition of Christian faith. …
      Belief in God the Father, Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the Holy Spirit. (Trinity)
      The death, descent into hell, resurrection, and ascension of Christ
      The holiness of the Church and the communion of saints
      Christ’s second coming, the Day of Judgement and salvation of the faithful.
      The virgin birth of Jesus . The belief that Jesus was conceived in the womb of his mother Mary through the Holy Spirit without the agency of a human father and born while Mary was yet a virgin.
      The resurrection: Christ died for our sins, buried, and rose again the third day . This belief in both the death and resurrection of Christ being of central importance to the Christian faith and Christs resurrection celebrated on Easter Sunday.
      The Trinity is the belief that God is one God in three persons: the Father, the Son (Jesus), and the Holy Spirit.
      Forgiveness through the blood of Jesus and we are made new in him. Forgiveness is a gift to those who believe and accept Christ and we are reborn and covered by his blood,mercy and grace.
      If you don’t want to believe this that is your freedom of choice, but is it fair to call yourself a Christian and not believe the core of what it represents. Why not name your own religion rather then butcher what Christianity stands for.
      How you choose to live your life after you understand and accept Christ is your choice. There are many examples in the bible to guide you and love truly is the greatest of them but to simply say that all we have to do is love everybody seems awfully shallow. I simply end by saying, how would it be if we looked at ourselves rather then lashing out at others in hate and judgement because… if we want things to change we have to change ourselves.
      To John Pavlovitz, I truly hope the joyous freedom of making up your own beliefs as you go of no morals,and lack accountability continues for you for the rest of your life and through eternity.

      • Jesus said that we are to love the Lord God with all our heart, soul and mind, and our neighbors as ourselves. His parables show us how he expects us to live. The New Testament also declares that “faith without works is dead.” People who claim faith in Christ also need to love human beings through engaging in acts of kindness and care Christ preached and lived. When you and I say we are Christians and do not do this, we are not following Christ. In that situation, I can’t disagree when people point out that our faith in Christ should compel us to acts of love toward others.

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  6. Hey John, quit sitting and watching other people and start being like Jesus wherever you go. Jesus is calling us to walk with His Holy Spirit giving us the power to live the life He called us to. Start doing it and quit watching.

    • Reply to Anonymous. Today’s churches require us to sit and watch and JUDGE other people. Holy Spirit is acting and you can no longer do this in most “churches”. I am now an active Methodist in a social justice church. We will not quit loving.


  7. Not the Church, but particular, and particularly visible expressions of the American church in our time. And, to be honest, not a carefully nuanced apprehension of conservative American Evangelical Christianity, but a wanton, polarizing charicature of some of the worst expressions thereof.

    Giving no credit nor credence to the fact that such Evangelicals do share some of the same concerns but seek different approaches and solutions to those issues. By not recognising this, that roughly half of Americans are notogres nor Neanderthals, liberals and moderate progressives forfeit the opportunity for dialogue, understanding, and compromise resolutions to the issues.

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  9. I went through the same thing about 4 years ago. Couldn’t be happier with my faith walk which has nothing to do with “religion”. What a freedom!!

  10. John,
    Just in case you still monitor this post, I want to share 2 thoughts.

    (1) There is much that is wrong with “American Christianity”. (Not sure anyone of us can define “American Christianity” (AC), but that is for a separate thread.) I have lost much of my respect for the local evangelical Christian bodies. But, the problem is not AC, but the slow, eroding encroachment of culture and social forces. If you believe that the Bible is true, then, THAT should be our standard. Not what is written in articles and books, not what is spoken from pulpits. AC is trying to appease everyone, conservative and progressive, and the blunt truth is the real victim. It appears that you do not share the opinions and values expressed and demonstrated in the churches you have attended. Did YOU share your concerns with any of the leaders? Are you confident that they are wrong and you are right? Can you point to scripture that RATIONALLY supports your values?

    (2) Some of the issues you raised suggest that you have been going to the wrong AC churches!
    Let me refer to your own words:
    “furrowed-browed warnings of a sky that is perpetually falling.”
    Most any message, from a conservative or liberal perspective, can be labelled as such. Any time anyone is passionate about what they are saying. Based on what I am witnessing, it is the liberals whoa re more hysterical and warning of a falling sky!!

    “snarling brimstone preaching that brokers in damnation.”
    I have not heard any of this since the 1970s.

    “war rhetoric that continually demands an encroaching enemy.”
    It was the liberals who launched the War on Poverty in the 1960s.
    The conservatives advocate the War on Drugs. War rhetoric is all around us. Me thinks thou protest too much! At least against AC.

    “my faith is the sole property of a political party.”
    As a Democrat, I have experienced more diversity and tolerance in the conservative churches than the liberal churches.

    “bigotry and xenophobia disguised as Biblical obedience.”
    By definition, much of God’s Word Bible is “bigoted”. He does not tolerate sin. Seems your beef is with God Almighty, not AC.

    “God wrapped in a flag and soaked in rabid nationalism.”
    Agree with you here.

    “incessant attacks on the Gay, Muslim, and Atheist communities.”
    What koolaid have you been drinking? AC has shown far more tolerance to these groups that these groups have sown towards AC.

    “hammer always looking for a nail.”
    Cheap shot. Can be said about any value system. No points for you here.

    Again, it appears that you were in the wrong churches to begin with.

  11. Is that American Christianity or Bible Belt Christianity? I grew up a practicing Christian in NY. Went to Sunday school studied to be a Catechist, taught Sunday school for a couple years, even suffered through some Catholic school education from grades 7-10. At the age of 27, I headed down to the South and HOT DAMN is it a different version of Christianity here.

    In NY, “go to Hell” was something you heard out the car window in traffic, or barked as a final declaration from a patron or store clerk at the tail end of a dispute. In the South, it seems there are Christians that find it appropriate to tell people they are going to Hell for their beliefs, gender, political stance, etc. Thee former being akin to “F you” as a phrase shouted in anger but not really meant. Down here, it really seems like when that is said, they really mean it, and that’s kind of jarring. At best, ignorant and arrogant.

    And I don’t remember a single time in mass or in my religious education where it was stated that God disliked any one particular group other than pharisees and others that were dicks for the the sake of being dicks. I don’t know what He smoked, snorted, meditated on, or got mental help for after the Old Testament, but – as far as I was taught – He was more about everyone making an effort to get along.

    In the South, I’ve heard a lot of this God hates gays stuff, which seemed pretty weird to me. Actually, it seems rather wrong and perverse. If there is a God, and both a gay-bashing devout Christian and an atheist lesbian who has been a good person her whole life showed up at his door/cloud/gate/etc, my money is on the lesbian getting the warm welcome and the Christian getting a much warmer welcome than they expected.

    Liquor laws? That was strange, too. Why should the Jewish guy, the Muslim, the atheist, or even a fellow Christian be prevented BY LAW from buying liquor on Sunday? How did that even get allowed as a law down here?

    As an Italian Roman Catholic, I’m no stranger to our religion’s governance through guilt, but damn the South takes it an extra mile with the fire and brimstone. I’ve been to dozens of churches in GA and FL over the past two decades, and there’s a whole lot more shouting down than raising up in many of them.

    “That is not what this thing is. This is FoxNews and red cup protests and persecution complexes. … It’s all manner of bullying and intolerance in the name of Jesus.”

    When it comes to the South, that’s been my experience, as well. I just never saw that in any of the Northeast churches or in my schooling up there. It seems a bit of an unfair misnomer to call that sect “American Christianity”.

    I’m proud to be an American and a Christian, but I am ashamed of the perversion of the religion that I see in the South; more so when I see that it is perceived by others as the norm/standard for Christianity.

    • Not only in the South. That particular brand of Christianity is prevalent everywhere in American society. To call it American Christianity is correct. Everyone knows what it means when one says it.

      • “Everyone knows what it means when one says it.” If by “everyone” you mean “hate-fueled modern liberals” then I agree whole-heartedly. 😀

    • It’s very hateful in the Midwest, too, John. Rural Ohio, Illinois, Iowa, and Indiana are some states that come to mind. Fox News fans the flames, feeds the hate and perpetuates fear. So, although I agree with your opinion of the South, I think a large percentage of rural America is part of this , too. Oh, and they despise the East and West coasters.

  12. I’ve said it elsewhere and I’ll probably say it again somewhere: so far as I’m concerned, the only value religion has is stated it what we’ve come to call the Golden Rule. I read somewhere that it’s a tenet of every known religion. Wikipedia says it’s a ” concept [that] occurs in some form in nearly every religion.” Regardless, it is a necessary rule of society whether religious or not, and when religious people work at finding exceptions, their religion ceases to have value for the people and becomes nothing more than a bludgeon of control and domination.

  13. I agree with him 100% and found his opinion to be most refreshing. I completely understand why some of you reading this may give it a “Sad Face” if you could. Many will be confused by his remarks because as I have been you likewise have been religiously brainwashed probably since youth. Sad thing is religion has accomplished our indoctrination to such a controlled degree we can’t, won’t, or don’t realize or believe we have been manipulated. Waking up from this dream is nearly impossible. It often requires self-realization with a grand effort to know truth. Religious legalism and judgment has bound us in seemingly unbreakable iron chains. If we don’t follow the particular set of rules we were taught we are called backsliders and failures in constant need of a wrathful God’s forgiveness. An eternal fiery Hell is used to threaten us into submission. Enigmatically these rules are different from church to church across the world; not many can agree on how to get to Heaven.
    I grew up in a church teaching the Pentecostal religion; breaking free from it’s grasp was not easy. Doing such a thing judges me fallen by my Christian brethren. They weep for my conceived ruination as they proceed to pour their contempt on anyone different from their standard.
    I have come to realize their God is not my God. Their God is one of judgment, fear, and exclusion. My God is the one Jesus introduced us to; the One of Grace, undiluted love, and compassion. The God that said to love one another, to be kind to everyone.
    It’s so easy to continue believing what we were taught religiously. It’s feels safe, comfortable, and cozy to be part of the congregation. When those teachings get in the way of loving people something is drastically wrong. Should we continue our hate to be loved by our peers, or should we choose Christ like love?

  14. As I went through the same questioning and spiritual growth period, I transitioned from fundamentalism, thankfully, to disbelief and total rejection, to a return to my Christian faith with a progressive and deeper spiritual perspective. Quite a journey. I don’t want to abandon the church altogether. I want to do my part to change it from within. I’m not alone, and I found an inclusive, affirming and activist church. They’re out there, and they’re advocating for change. I think it’s inaccurate to label what some of us disdain as “American” Christianity. That’s suggesting that there is a homogeneous American version of Christianity and painting with too broad a brush. But I totally relate to where you’re coming from.

  15. John, as long as you still think ‘American Christianity’ and ‘religion’ are synonyms, you haven’t left it at all. Go back and re-read: look at all the times you used the word ‘religion’ when you meant ‘my old church.’

  16. As a member of an unprogrammed Quaker Meeting, our message and mission is, in William Penn’s words, “Let us then try what love can do”, or as stated by George Fox, our founder, “walk cheerfully over the earth answering that of God in everyone you meet.” It is both a simple and radical way of living with roots in Christianity.

  17. John,

    There are so many of us with you on this. I truly believe there is a church growing within Christianity that looks much different. We need to stay together to preserve our sanity and I appreciate your voice reaching out to us.

  18. I’ve thought for a long time that American Christianity™ – i.e. the religious right – is the closest thing we have to the Pharisees of the Bible. Judgmental, slavish to the letter of the old covenant while ignoring the new, boastful, judgmental, performative and convinced of their own innate superiority.

    I cannot see how anyone can square the religious right’s agenda of misogyny, homophobic bigotry, contempt for the poor, avarice and resistance to providing health care to the vulnerable, with the New Testament. The answer to “WWJD?” in virtualy everythign they say and do is: not that.

  19. Hi John, not sure if you are in the habit of responding to comments – but I’d love to know where you landed in your pursuit of God following this article.

    As a pastor at a baptist church I certainly recognize, as I’m sure you’ve seen, that not all churches are created equal even within the same denomination and that it is much more dependent on the people in positions of leadership in those churches. There are many baptist churches and evangelical churches I don’t want to be associated with, and there are many that I do. I can say that from 2015 to now your comments about big box church and celebrity pastors is as true and unfortunate as ever.

    I’m mostly curious if you have been able to find a community of believers to fellowship and grow alongside of in your pursuit, whether that be in the context of a local church or something different. If you have, what does it look like?

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