Thou shalt not be horrible. Imagine for a moment what the world might look like if we as people of faith, morality, and conscience aspired to this mantra. What if we were fully burdened to create a world that was more loving and equitable than when we arrived? What if we invited one another to share in wide-open, fearless, spiritual communities truly marked by compassion and interdependence?
In If God Is Love, Don’t Be a Jerk, John Pavlovitz examines the bedrock ideas of our religion: the existence of hell, the utility of prayer, the way we treat LGBTQ people, the value of anger, and other doctrines to help all of us take a good, honest look at how the beliefs we hold can shape our relationships with God and our fellow humans—and to make sure that love has the last, loudest word.
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This simple phrase, “Thou Shalt Not Be Horrible,” could help us practice what we preach by creating a world where:
- spiritual community provides a sense of belonging where all people are received as we are.
- the most important question we ask of a religious belief is not “Is it true?” but rather, “Is it helpful?”
- it is morally impossible to pledge complete allegiance to both Jesus and America simultaneously.
- the way we treat others is the most tangible and meaningful expression of our belief system.
From the Author
“I like you. You’re a Christian . . . but you’re not a jerk!”
As a pastor and author, I often hear these sentiments from people in my travels, and although I’d love to simply agree with them, I know that isn’t the primary story they’re telling me. They’re not paying me a compliment as much as they’re revealing their pain. They are letting me know they’ve been injured, that professed people of faith have often been the source of that injury—and they want me to do something about it.
Much of what people tell me about their experience of religion grieves me, frustrates me, and sometimes even angers me. Every day, I wake up trying to be a translator between wounded human beings and those who either purposefully or unintentionally hurt them, especially when they do so in the name of a God who is supposedly love.
I imagine you’ve read a lot of books in your life and I wasn’t interested in writing one you’ve already read. You and the world don’t need another thoughtful exploration of progressive Christianity or another inspirational missive about reclaiming Jesus for a new generation.
As a pastor who has spent nearly three decades teaching, studying, dissecting, deconstructing, and reconstructing the Christian faith, I’ve felt perennially burdened to write the book I’ve never read, one that rests on a single, elemental truth: Faith in a supernatural being should make you a better human being.
If God is love and if you’re emulating that God, then you should be loving. If you claim a religious worldview or have spiritual aspirations, those should yield more compassion, not less; more decency, not less; more generosity, not less. If not, what’s the point of having them?
This book is both observation and confession, sometimes looking out a window and sometimes into the mirror. It’s about admitting the prevalent tension between the love I inherently claim solidarity with as a follower of Jesus, and the lack of love I’m often capable of living with. I imagine you understand that tension. Maybe we could step into the tension together.
I’d love for you to take this journey with me and see where you end up, which doesn’t need to be in aligning with me theologically or agreeing with me politically or sharing my religious worldview. I’d just like you to dig a little deeper into your own reservoirs of empathy and see what that might yield. I’m hoping that journey will be challenging, humorous, uncomfortable, and messy.
I think your relationships are worth it.
I think your well-being is worth it.
I think the Church is worth it.
I think a world that could use a little more kindness is worth it, too. What do you say?
Let’s not be jerks, together.
Advance Praise for If God Is Love, Don’t Be a Jerk
“John asserts that he is a ‘longtime Christian by aspiration (if not always in practice),’ and his book demonstrates how his choices, his practice, have matched that aspiration, repeatedly, even when he’s sad, angry or disillusioned. John’s compassion, humanity, humility and humor are present throughout. His candor is authentic and his inspiration accessible and also challenging, in the very best sense. This is a book for anyone on a journey of faith or a journey of service, whether or not those two, as they do for John, intertwine—or for anyone who loves a terrific read.”
—Chelsea Clinton, author and advocate
“In the midst of this trying time, John gives us a road map to take the best parts of our religious beliefs and find a space for reconciliation, compassion, and kindness. Not just for others, but for ourselves. John’s bold, unwavering voice encourages us to find our common ground, and together to rise up against bigotry and hatred.”
—Amy Siskind, activist and author
“John Pavlovitz is an artisan of words. He’s a poet and a provocateur. Like the prophet Jeremiah, he’s got a fire ‘shut up in his bones’ that has to come out. That fire is love. … The love John writes about is the love that keeps us up at night because there are folks still out on the streets while we have an extra room in our homes. It is the love that cuts with the precision of a surgeon’s scalpel, because before we can get better we have to cut out the cancer that made us sick. Enjoy this book, and let it mess with you.”
—Shane Claiborne, author, activist, and co-founder of Red Letter Christians
“Pastor John Pavlovitz is the real thing. His compassion, empathy, wisdom, and guts will remind you of what Jesus actually preached. This self-described ‘theological mutt’ is a pastor, a prophet, a poet and a prince. John has given us a book of great insight and wit. It will remind you of what Christianity was supposed to be about. I can’t wait to give it as a gift.”
—John Fugelsang, comedian, actor, and host of SiriusXm Insight, Channel 121
“With clarity and candor, John reminds us of the compassion at the heart of what it means to be a spiritual human being and offers a loving expression of faith that is so necessary right now. If God Is Love, Don’t Be a Jerk calls us to create a more just and equitable world, one that affirms the beauty in all humanity—and leaves us feeling that it is all within our hands.”
—Yvette Nicole Brown, actress, writer, and activist