Why Would Anyone Consider Christianity Today?

I’ve been a Christian most of my life; raised in the faith since before I could remember, and serving as a local church pastor for the past twenty years, much of that time here in the American Bible Belt.

Though it is a fairly tenuous connection these days, I am still tethered to my religious tradition by a combination of present personal conviction, along with the spiritual muscle memory of my past—and right now it honestly feels like more the latter than the former.

There is an attrition to my joy lately. I find it more and more difficult with each passing day to outwardly claim this faith because of what that declaration now immediately aligns me with in the eyes of the watching world. It now aligns me with transphobic politicians and Muslim-hating celebrity evangelists and perpetually oppressed Christmas warriors. It now aligns me with gun-toting preachers and damnation-wielding social media trolls and predatory Presidents. It now aligns me with the least-like-Jesus stuff I can imagine.

To some people, this is all Christianity is—which as a professed Christian now makes me a jackass by association. These people believe they know me. They believe that know my politics and my passions. They believe they know how I feel about gay marriage and immigrants and women’s rights. They don’t realize that I am sickened by this thing professing to be Christianity too. They don’t know that I am as burdened as they are to resist its damage. They don’t see that I totally get that this monstrosity claiming to be of Jesus would be unrecognizable to him—that he would be as horrified by it as they are. 

I know that I am primarily still a Christian primarily because I have always been a Christian; because I know what I know about Jesus, and I can see when people are stealing his identity and bastardizing his legacy. I know when they’re twisting the Scriptures to subjugate people, when they’re fashioning God in their own bigoted image, when they’re slapping a veneer of religiosity on something with no redemptive value. I’m able to see the frauds and the false prophets because I’m experienced the real and the beautiful of this faith—but not everyone has, and so I don’t blame them for rejecting it all. It is profoundly reject-able.

At this point, I don’t know why anyone would choose Christianity if they weren’t already a Christian. If all I had to go by was this homophobic, power-hungry, bullying, bitter thing I see running amok every day in America, I’d run from it to. If following Jesus meant signing-up for this, I’d have no interest either.

The American Bible Belt Evangelical Church has become the greatest argument for someone not becoming a Christian, for them rejecting organized religion and never looking back.

But there are other expressions of this faith here, though they may not have the megaphones and megachurches. There are loving, inclusive, beautiful communities filled with people of compassion and generosity and mercy. There are men and women of faith in every corner of this country who are striving to emulate Jesus and who are rightly embarrassed by the hatred perpetuated in his name.

We believe in loving our neighbor as ourselves.
We believe in welcoming the outsider and the outcast.
We believe the table is open to anyone who comes hungry.
We believe compassion is our highest aspiration.

They are millions of Christians who reject the bigotry that you reject, who are sickened by the hypocrisy you are sickened by, who condemn the violence you condemn, who deeply grieve over the hatred you grieve over.

Maybe these things aren’t enough for you to reconsider your aversion to organized religion, but hopefully it will be enough to let you know that people like us are standing with you; that many of us who claim faith in Jesus have no interest in this kind of Christianity either—because we know Jesus wouldn’t either.

Be encouraged.

 

Order John’s book, ‘A Bigger Table’ here.

  

 

37 thoughts on “Why Would Anyone Consider Christianity Today?

  1. I rejected the label because of its associations. I am a follower of jesus… being trans makes me a target. so be it.. may you who attack one day have to deal with something that makes you a target..

  2. I spent 4 days last week in prison with Kairos Prison Ministry. Our Prayer and Share program inside -run by the inmates – is spreading the kind of Christianity you and I are passionate about – “love one another” – without the hate, with Islam and other faiths, all friends, in their midst. Come down to Texas on a third Saturday and I’ll take you inside so you can see for yourself. These guys make me proud to be a Christian.

  3. This is precisely the reason why I rejected religion many years ago. Even that far back, christianity was an oppressive political movement, cobbled together by hardcore cherry-picking of verses. And while I am heartened that people such as you exist, it doesn’t cause me to rethink my beliefs. Unfortunately, the church is what it is, and those such as yourself are outliers.

  4. My first thought on this is one I hadn’t had before – that my faith is defined by the loudest and most obvious of its professed followers and that their practice does not define my faith as I see it and in that, I am just like my Muslim brothers and sisters whose faith is being defined by the loudest and most violent of its professed followers. Wow.

  5. They would not :
    As the Bible , Gods Holy word to all who believe
    says: All have been Called ( given a choice) and Few were chosen.
    Not everyone who hears of the Goodness of God will accept it.
    and that is the Truth
    God has and is telling all about his way, his good news, his direction in life .
    Some will hear his voice , accept his word, follow his commands, bow down in humility to the almighty one who is and always will have the only , one and only key to eternal Life , thru Jesus the sacrifice for sin, my sin, your sin, all sin
    Yes , some choose lust, pleasure, money, friends, false ways of life.
    But Make no mistake , it is their choice
    Judas is in every church, false prophets are all around, there will always be OUR LORD , JESUS CHRIST at the door waiting for Us, YOU , the true believers to let Him in.
    That is why God give s freely to all a choice
    We , you and me all fail, let others down, dont measure up, cannot do enough to make up for our mistakes , but a :
    Loving , Forgiving , Gracious , God who loves His own is there to pick up the pieces.
    God is at the Door , it is up to YOU to let or not let Him in and be LORD of YOUR life.
    STill YOUR choice

  6. One of the saddest things I can say in response to this essay is something I’ve been saying repeatedly on my Facebook group, Gloriamarie’s Progressive Stuff (https://www.facebook.com/groups/gloriamariesprogressivepetitions/) where many people are repulsed by what they see of the news-making Christians. I say it to you also, John P, and anyone who feels the despair you write about.

    If we base our faith on the actions of others, then we are not basing our faith in the eternal Godhead. If we judge Christianity by the actions of those in the news, we are not using our critical thinking skills to learn about historic Christianity.

    Without making any bones about it and speaking the truth as baldly as possible, those types of Christians who are in the news, and the types of Christians who embrace the teaching of those in the news, are heretics and many of them are apostate because they have turned their backs on Jesus’actual teachings to embrace the lies of the prosperity Gospel or the lie that the Bible is to be read literally. Neither of these have been taught by the Church historically and neither were they taught by the Reformers. Those are doctrines taught by greedy and self-serving people who want to hold onto their wealth and ignore the hard sayings of Jesus.

    It is a tremendous shame that so many people allow their definition of the Christian faith to be defined by certain teachings which appeared around 1850, with no basis in the Gospels or the prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures.

    If there are those who would like exposure to the teachings of the historic Church in its many flavors and varieties, then they are welcome to Celebrate What Christians Have in Common, also on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/groups/1409874399270377/

    Our faith needs to be based on the Gospel, the words and actions of the Living Word of God, Jesus. Every single day there are billions of Christians all over the world quietly living into their vocations, never making it into the news but working with the angles to see to it that the hungry are fed, the naked clothed, the sick cared for and needs met by those who don’t have resources.

    Every single day there are billions of Christians all over the world acting out of compassion, empathy, generosity, gentleness, kindness, and sympathy in a kneejerk reaction to the abuse, brutality, bullying, greed, and selfishness with which are all surrounded.

    Christians are out there, working on the side of the angels. But because they are poor in spirit, pay attention to the Beatitudes, we don’t hear about them. It is that kind of people who draw people to investigate Jesus.
    Take heart, all who despair. The Gospel of Jesus prevails now as it always has despite apostates and heretics.

  7. Across the nation from you to Rev. Barber to councils of churches and their advocacy sister organizations, Christians are standing openly for justice, for inclusion, for courage in the face of hate. We go largely unnoticed or, in too many case, are dismissed as either “phony” Christians (by the religious right) or “deluded believers in sky fairies” by the secular left.

    At no time in American history did justice prevail without us. From abolition to labor movement, from women’s rights to full inclusion of LGBT people, from civil rights to anti war – open-hearted and loving Christians have been in the forefront.

    We must keep on keeping on. We must confront the evils of a secular society seeking to divide us yet again, and we must proclaim our commitment to the justice teachings of Jesus Christ. No movement has created positive and passionate change without our engagement. The challenge to us individually is actually small – name calling – so that we can withstand those slings and arrows if we will.

    It is quite possible to proclaim this view and remind media and the world that we have always been there, and we are not going away now.

  8. John,

    You are preaching to the choir. WE (your readers) know you are not a hater. WE know you have a good heart. But it is so wearying to constantly fight them. In my home town we are battling the Family Policy Council of WV. They are a subsidiary of the hate group Family Research Council. The FPCWV seems to exist SOLELY to hate on LGBT folks. They make up lies seemingly hourly. Terrible lies. And there seems to be way more of them than there are of Christians who actually follow Christ. Why is that?

    I am reminded of the famous Gandhi quote: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” I doubt Gandhi would like the current “Christians” any better .

  9. Thanks for writing this. I’m a transgender woman. I deal with people of Christian faith quite a lot, but I’m unlikely to ever fully trust them. (Some are, like yourself, very well meaning and kind.)

    The best way I can illustrate how I feel is this – I have a very large picture of Satan on my wall. It’s a picture by Dore, from an illustration for Paradise Lost, of Satan being cast out of heaven, down to earth. It’s a really dramatic picture! And it represents exactly how Christianity has made me feel over the course of my lifetime – evil, outcast, enemy, alone, angry, full of despair. “Me miserable! Which way shall I fly, Infinite wrath, and infinite despair?”

    Nothing any of you can say to me now about your faith inspires any feelings in me other than a sense of dread and a terrible sense of alienation. I do appreciate those of you who are trying to be better. Your efforts aren’t lost on me, and I sincerely appreciate them.

  10. Isn’t it a relief though, that you can see it for what it is. Be encouraged, Jesus never said it would be any different. Thank you, bro’

  11. I literally was in church three days after I was born. My parents had graduated from SW Seminary in Ft Worth. Daddy had small churches in Oklahoma. He was a fiery Bible-thumping preacher in his early years. He actually began preaching in the jail in Fairfield when he was fifteen and was ordained at nineteen. He met my mother at Howard College (now Samford U). He never had much of a salary and the first parsonage I remember was sad, not good for four children. After he retired, my parents went on the SBC mission field to South American and then to Africa. I can no longer accept anything SBC mega churches preach. I am an Episcopalian and we accept everyone. Lowell Grishsham has been our Rector for over twenty years. He is retiring now because of medical reasons. I believe in what Jesus taught. Thank you for giving Liberals some hope.

  12. Thank you John, for saying what I want to say, but saying it so much better than I could.
    I too have been a Christian since I was a child, and know my faith to be real because of my own personal experiences with Jesus.

    I believe the best thing we can do is be the person Jesus allows us to be – show the compassion and love he gives us and give it to all.
    God can and will work through us.

  13. I have always been impressed with the writings of John Shelby Spong, Marcus Borg and Richard Rohr, all of whom help the lay person contemplate a broader path in their Christianity. The Progressive Christianity organization is also providing some good leadership in this area.

  14. All I can say is “AMEN!” Even in conservative west Michigan, the home of the despicable Sect. of Education Betsy DeVos, Dave Agema,
    Fred Upton, and Peter Hoekstra, there are those who subscribe to liberal theology. I’m grateful to the U.C.C. denomination congregation and there are some others as well. We RESIST at every opportunity!

  15. I know you did not ask me, but if you had, I would say that historical, authentic, orthodox Christianity still exists in a number of Christian denominations—those being the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Greek Orthodox Church, the Russian Orthodox Church, and in most of the American Mainline Churches to varying degrees (give or take a little).

    The Christian fundamentalist and conservative evangelical churches are whitewashed (and brainwashed) tombs full of dead men’s bones. They pretend that no Christianity existed before the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s—in many respects—and they are sold out to John Calvin, 19th century American Frontier Revivalism (seeking constantly to recapitulate the tent revival enthusiasm of ignorant backwoods farmers living in log houses). They reject scientific and historical facts as a matter of faith, and they have been ruined by saturation in the unChrist-like politics of the Republican Party. They have replaced the love of Jesus with an emphasis on law as a matter of daily practice. Best I can tell, they have little caring for those Jesus called “the least of these” (the ones Jesus most cared about and tried to help), It is just the biggest mess you ever saw—and Donald Trump is its final fruit—a fruit that is nasty, bad, and inedible. I have to agree with John Pavlovitz to the extent that Jesus, the 12 disciples, and the Apostle Paul would not be pleased with theses fundie churches. They talk Jesus a lot, but their hearts seem to be far from him. If there is any such creature as an Old Testament Christian-Jew, that is what I would have to call them.

  16. Thanks, John. I really appreciate your columns. I’m a retired pastor – after 40 years serving in churches, which followed Jesus in welcoming all who welcome all. What I see of much of the church – daily on the news- is a segregated group of moralists placing 20th century evangelical/fundamentlist views about morality in the mouths of the prophets and apostles – and selectively condemning people they don’t think would fit in their churches – and claiming Jesus wouldn’t want them.
    There was a day when I would be vacationing that I made it my business to attend the nearest church to the house in which I was staying. No More! Now our family goes online to find a church in that neighborhood that sounds like the Jesus we find in Scripture, who was most often in trouble with religious people who found Jesus too easy on people – associating with – and even eating with sinners. We remember his statement that Not everyone who says “Lord, Lord” is my disciple – but the one who does God’s will. Jesus says that can be reduced to two laws. Love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength. Love your neighbor as yourself. – And that all the Bible (the law and the prophets) depends upon those two laws.
    So we look for a church which as Jesus’ body is clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, visiting the prisoner, healing the sick, raising the dead, and happily associating with all the other sinners in their church – eating the same bread, drinking the same cup – loving God, and loving one another and all those outside as much as they love themselves.
    If it isn’t about that all-inclusive love, then it isn’t about Jesus or the God he re-presents or the Spirit that propels him. The only people who are outsiders to Jesus, are the people who set up stumbling blocks in front of those considered by themselves to be little ones – less than themselves. Those people especially need a church where they can be safe: a church that welcomes all who welcome all.

  17. Thank you for this, John. It very much describes how I feel as well. By the way, I have just started reading “A Bigger Table.” Impressive thus far. Thanks for that as well.

  18. This is exactly why I don’t feel like I can call myself a christian anymore. The world is not interested in seeing that kind of christianity. What they need to see is Jesus. So I prefer to refer to myself as a follower of Jesus, if anyone asks.

  19. For me, there are two options. Avoid labels altogether is one of those options. The other option is to think to myself, ‘Why should I let all these bigots hijack the name I choose for part of my identity?’. In most ways, I don’t care what others think, should I choose that ‘label’.

    And if you change your ‘abel’ to something else? Christ-follower? Grace-love-nice God believer? It doesn’t matter; they will soon hijack those labels too. Which is why I tend to opt for the ‘choose no label’ option.

    One final thing. Those people would hijack those labels because they actually believe that they identify with those labels. I don’t think it’s always a marketing ploy (although sometimes it is; how many churches do you know with names like ‘Grace Fellowship’ where in fact neither is true; there’s neither Grace nor Fellowship there).

  20. I turned away from organized religion when the Church started preaching from the pulpit about how and for whom to vote. I walked away when they decided to judge someone else’s sins different than their own. I left when they wanted money for a gym and to fund the pastor’s new mega mansion versus following Jesus’ request to take care of each other, including the poor, the immigrants with a different skin color than mine, the single mothers trying to eek out a living on minimal wage and no healthcare. I left in the middle of a sermon one Sunday. It was not easy walking up the red carpeted aisle while the Pastor spewed out his version of God’s word but I could no longer sit there and waste my time with bastardized words of untruth.

    I’ve never looked back. I have a closer relationship with Christ now than ever before. I’m no longer duty-bound to the whims of a close-minded Pastor and “his” flock.

    Jesus lives inside each of us. We just have to set Him free. Right now, we have imprisoned him with barbaric rules based on ego and power versus the mystical magical Power that is His. He reigns … we just have to free Him from the shackles of organized religion and politics. I am here on Earth to serve the Lord. No one else.

  21. Have you ever considered that the Protestant religion is a lie and that the so-called “Reformers” were most certainly not doing the work of the Lord? Have you ever considered that the vast majority of American religion is a stooge of Satan designed to turn as many people against Christianity as possible? The Council of Trent was coming regardless of the Protestant revolution.

    Protestant religion is unreformable, for the only things that can fix Protestant religion are those things that will undermine its very pillars. Protestant religion was damned from its very inception to become the perversion that it is now. The only thing that can be done to save Christianity in America is to return to the Christianity of the first thousand years

    Has the thought ever come across people’s minds that the Russian toll operation that persuaded so many Evangelical Protestants to embrace Trump was a mousetrap designed in large part to destroy Protestant religion by forcing people to see the vast depths of evil it contains? The Russians, who are now the leading force in global Christianity know full well that Protestant religion is a cancer that must be eradicated in order for the Christian Faith to be healthy.

    Protestantism must die so Christianity can resurrect!

  22. Oh yeah I git ya there Mr. John. No I’d never put you into the category of the average christian, no sir. Nor would I put my self there (I’d say aloud without reservation). However, I like you, Mr. John, choose to listen t the words of Jesus, not the church or any religion. Okay yeah blah, blah, blah, you’ve heard it before, I understand.

    But here’s the deal here there, I feel sorry for the Christians. What a freak’n place to be in these days, my God, a sect of the human species gone nuts. Of course I’m sure it’s only a small portion of Christians, but also a portion much too powerful. Don’t worry Mr. John, you have no associations with these wayward “Christians”. Jesus is still Jesus with all his wisdom in tact. The concept as well as the word Christian is a made made thing, more or less, while following Christ is your own business.

  23. I hold three ministerial ordinations … and no longer call myself Christian. Rather, I call myself a believer in Jesus’ teachings.

    Why? For all the reasons you cite. I refuse to be painted with the brush tarred by those who have co-opted Jesus’ name in order to give what they see as legitimacy to their hatred.

    Thank you for this article.

  24. Maybe, it’s time for another reformation revolution.
    Maybe it’s time for people to stop using the term “Christian” to refer to those people who act in ways that would make Jesus weep.
    Maybe it’s time to, instead of saying “Our Christianity isn’t like *that*”, find a new name for yourselves- one that doesn’t cling to an identity that no longer has any real meaning because it’s been ground into the mud by zealots, fundamentalists and bigoted ideologies that are more about making themselves look good, and following Jesus.

  25. Why choose Christianity? Because as someone drowning, Jesus feels like a float one might be able to trust. But everything seems in such flux; as if we were swept into disgusting flood waters. Organisations and places and individuals one used to trust in seem corrupt, including much of the various churches. We need turning to silence, or silent prayer.

  26. I posted this to the page of a particular hard-headed friend of mine with this message:

    Well written article by a Christian pastor talking about people who claim they follow Jesus, but still want to follow those who are against anyone who is “different” from themselves – other races, other religions, etc. They believe that our leaders are making our country better, when in fact they are creating divisiveness and encouraging others to follow their hateful rhetoric.

    One example: There are churches who teach that same-sex couples are sinning, but the only reference against this in their Bibles is in the Old Testament. They forget that there was no Christianity during that time, and many of those old rules were no longer valid after Jesus started teaching. Jesus never condemned any person for their gender identity or sexual orientation, but taught us to love your neighbor as yourself.

    Anyone that is not a Christian can see those problems in Christian churches, and would stay away from any group that teaches such hypocrisy.

  27. Amen. The more divided and judgmental our country becomes, claiming that groups should be outcast in the name God, the deeper my Christian faith becomes. I’ve posted before that those who stand on their pedestals–hatred in one hand, the Bible in the other–that they might try opening that Book. I have yet to find to see the words “love thy neighbor EXCEPT….”

    We have to live and be examples of the Christian faith, talk when asked, and use the hatred in the political climate to start rational discussions.

  28. I was discussing religion with someone I know to be from the church called “Disciples of the Light”. They worship Lucifer, the angel of light. This follower has some really good points.

    He believes in the pursuit of all knowledge, especially scientific knowledge, and he believes that it goes against God because he punished Adam and Eve for gaining knowledge of good and evil. In fact he kills them after hundreds of years of a hellish, painful existence. Not being satisfied in killing of humans after hundreds of years after he creates them he cuts their lives short, from a few dozen years, and in many cases, just years, months, or days. In Genesis, over and over again, he punishes people for not “staying in their place”. In Exodus he frees the Hebrews only after murdering thousands and thousands of Egyptians and then once they get away God hardens Pharaoh’s heart, instead of blessing him with understanding, just to murder his troops and humiliates him. God apparently likes to torture and kill people, subjects and “heathens” alike, he says.

    He believes in doing anything you want as long as you hurt no one and that God does not, as evident in the Torah. He won’t worship a God that condones the murder of innocents that had no opportunity to worship him. The deal seems to be “Worship the God of Abraham or all of you, including the defenseless, will be painfully and brutally killed”.

    He believes that everyone, including the powerful, need to face the due punishment for them hurting people while Christians seem to excuse the powerful, if they scream “Lord, Jesus, Lord” for them hurting the powerless.

    He believes in not hurting children when teaching them self-discipline while God says “spare the rod and spoil the child”.

    He believes in accepting everyone, especially the oppressed that the Christian God seem to be forsaking. He won’t worship a Jesus that eschewed power instead of fixing the world, and telling everyone else to do the same. He believes in using any power he can get to make his world a better place, especially for those still being abused by Christian Churches.

    He believes that Lucifer is the angel of light, knowledge, and betterment of the human race while God must be the opposite, because if it wasn’t there wouldn’t be so many horrible Christians abusing people.

    There is something horribly wrong when a follower of the big, bad, horrible Devil is a better person to be with than many Christians.

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