Category Archives: Church

Evangelicals’ Reaction to Orlando: Too Little, Too Late

Like everyone else, I was shocked and appalled at what has become the largest mass shooting in recent US history.  A single gunman carrying an assault rifle opened fire in a crowded Orlando night club, killing 49 people and wounding 53 others.  The night club, Pulse, was known as one of the largest LGBT-friendly bars in the area, and all evidence points towards this being a hate crime against LGBTs.

As news spread about the incident, a public outpouring of sympathy came from across the globe.  People were desperate for answers, and when news came out that the shooter was an ISIS sympathizer, it was quickly labeled as an “act of terror” and dismissed by many as yet another sign of the growing problem of Islam in America.

Most shocking to me and many others was the outpouring of grief from Evangelical Christians.  Social media was filled with the same useless platitudes of “thoughts and prayers” being offered for the victims of Orlando.  (Some couldn’t even bring themselves to do that, so entranced in their homophobia, they instead prayed for the doctors of the Orlando hospitals instead.)  The same group of people who have been solely responsible for the horrible treatment of LGBTs in the US for the last several decades are now, of all times, suddenly shocked over the persecution of LGBTs.

Well, I have a few things to say about that.

Evangelicals have spent the last several decades doing everything in their power to marginalize and oppress LGBTs.

Christians spent millions opposing same-sex marriage.

In 2015, more than 115 anti-LGBT bills were introduced in at least 31 states.

This year has seen a wave of anti-trans “bathroom bills” sweeping across the country.

American Evangelicals initiated and spent millions of dollars trying to pass Uganda’s “Kill The Gays” bill that would have made homosexuality punishable by death.

Evangelicals and other Christians continue to send kids to “pray the gay away” camps which are not only ineffective (and illegal in many states), but often leave permanent psychological damage.

So, when Evangelicals try to feign innocence in what has become one of the most tragic examples of persecution against LGBTs, you can see why I’m throwing the bullshit flag.  Every major Christian media site is trying to play this of as a problem of “radical Islam” and completely ignoring their own history of “radical Christian” discrimination against LGBTs.  Evangelicals don’t get to sweep this incident under the rug as a “Muslim problem” – this is a hate problem; and Evangelicals are just as culpable as anyone else for spreading hatred and intolerance towards LGBTs.   I have no doubt that if the shooter had been a Christian, it wouldn’t have made any difference; Evangelicals would simply claim that “he wasn’t a TRUE CHRISTIAN!”.  This crime is a result of hatred for a minority group that has long been victimized by Fundamentalists and Evangelicals, yet suddenly they want to pretend that this incident has nothing to do with them and claim innocence.  Like an abusive husband being concerned when his wife gets in an accident, they want to suddenly pretend that have a heart for the LGBT community.

Well, I’m not buying it.

The only reason we are suddenly seeing an outpouring of sympathy and prayers is because of how public and brutal this attack was.  LGBTs have been dying for decades as a result of hate and discrimination, but it’s only now that people are paying attention.

I didn’t hear Evangelicals lamenting over the 1,500 LGBTs that commit suicide last year.

I don’t hear them lamenting over the all the hate crimes committed against LGBTs every year here in America.

I don’t hear them lamenting over the thousands of LGBTs killed in Africa as a result of the hate brought there by American pastors and missionaries.

Many people have deluded themselves into pretending that their level of discrimination is somehow better than what happened in Orlando, because “at least we’re not going around shooting gay people!”  That’s because Evangelicals don’t have to go on shooting rampages – they just make life so fucking miserable for LGBTs that they take their own lives.  Evangelicals don’t get to denounce the Koran/Islam and its teachings while pretending their views are any less deplorable.  As Benjamin Corey puts it: “Yes, they are correct to denounce the evil that led to such a horrific massacre. But no, they don’t have a moral or ideological alternative that gives them a moral high ground that’s perched high enough to pretend their religious views are all that better.”

gunman

Coming from an unlikely source, Jen Hatmaker sums it up perfectly (emphasis mine):

It is very difficult to accept the Christian lament for LGBTQ folks in their deaths when we’ve done such a brutal job of honoring them in their lives. It kind of feels like:

“We don’t like you, we don’t support you, we think you are a mess, we don’t agree with you, we don’t welcome you, we don’t approve of you, we don’t listen to you, we don’t affirm you. But please accept our comfort and kind words this week.”

Anti-LGBTQ sentiment has paved a long runway to hate crimes. When the gay community is denied civil liberties and respect and dignity, when we make gay jokes, when we say ‘that’s so gay’, when we turn our noses up or down, when we qualify every solitary statement of love with a caveat of disapproval, when we consistently disavow everything about the LGBTQ community, we create a culture ripe for hate. We are complicit.

We cannot with any integrity honor in death those we failed to honor in life.

Can you see why the Christian outpouring of compassion toward Orlando feels so disingenuous? It seems like the only harm toward the LGBTQ community that will overcome Christian disapproval is a mass murder. We grieve not publicly for your dehumanization, suicide rates (individual deaths have failed to move us), excommunications, denial of liberties, hate crimes against you, religious exclusion, constant shame beatdown.

Christian love has yet to outpace Christian disdain.

Perhaps instead of saying “we’re sad” this week, we should begin with “we’re sorry.”

Not: We’re sorry but…
Not: We’re sorry if…
Not: We’re sorry as long as…

Just: We’re sorry. Full stop.

Someone on Facebook was upset that I was “dragging Christians” into this.  Here’s the thing: I wouldn’t be needing to write any of this if Christians, by and large, had had actually shown some genuine care and concern for the LGBT population.  If they hadn’t spent years doing everything short of gunning down gays in a club to show how much they hate and revile anyone whose sexual orientation isn’t 100% straight.  If they had actually been allies; in their corner, as they fought for equal rights instead of being the ones they had to fight against.

If Christians truly care, and are horrified by what happened in Orlando, then STOP with all this bullshit about homosexuality being a “sin.” Stop treating LGBTs as people who are “broken” and need to be made straight.  Stop supporting “religious freedom” bills.  Stop standing in the way of anti-discrimination laws.  Stop pretending you are innocent in all this, and just admit that you were wrong. 

And then start treating LGBTs as normal human beings.

I truly hope that this will be a wake up call to this country that all of this anti-LGBT bullshit needs to stop – that beliefs lead to actions, often with disastrous results.  I hope that “Remember Orlando!” becomes a rally cry anytime some Bigot-for-Jesus takes to the media to de-humanize LGBTs, or some Republican tries passing yet another anti-LGBT bill.

Yeah, you’re damn right I’m pissed off…

 

 

American Evangelical’s Real Source of “Truth”

“Sure, we used the prayer breakfasts and church services and all that for political ends.  One of my jobs in the White House was to romance religious leaders.  We would bring them into the White House and they would be dazzled by the aura of the Oval Office, and I found them to be about the most pliable of any of the special interest groups  that we worked with.”

The above quote is from Richard Nixon’s “hatchet man”, Charles Colson, discussing how the Sunday services at the White House were set up during the Nixon’s term as President.  Billy Graham and other faith leaders had helped get Nixon elected, and his administration was all too happy to exploit the Church for it’s own political purposes.

I’ve spoken at length before about the many reasons why I de-converted from Christianity.  As I’ve attested, there was no “ah-ha!” moment for me that started the ball rolling down the hill, but there were certainly tremors that kept getting stronger the more I learned and experienced.  One of the biggest such tremors for me was the stark realization that Evangelical Christians in America today are far more influenced by politics than by the teachings of Jesus.

From big business leaders enlisting clergymen in their war against Roosevelt’s New Deal, to the Bush administration using it’s “play-to-the-base” plan to exploit the concerns of the religious right for electoral gain, the Church of America has a long history of being odd bedfellows with big business and politics, using each other for their own gain.

The line between politics and religion have become so blurred over the last eight decades, that it is nearly impossible to discern what came from where.

And the vast majority of Christians can’t make the distinction.

They will adamantly insist that their views comes from the Bible, and that it’s merely a coincidence that their favorite political party and/or politician happens to espouse the same views.  Yet, they seem to completely illiterate to the teaching of the man they claim to follow, who stood against many of the positions they so boldly stand on.

Books like Greg Boyd’s The Myth of the Christian Nation, Jim Wallis’s God’s Politics, Shane Claiborne’s Jesus for President, and Kevin M. Kruse’s One Nation Under God all paint an accurate picture of the influence right-wing politics have had on the Church – and the negative repercussions of this merger.

Zack Hunt wrote an article that I thought articulated this point well.  The subject of the article is on John Piper and his hypocritical stance on socialism, but my focus is on what Zack has to say in regards to Christians and politics:

What I do know is Piper is not alone in his ability to ignore the obvious when it comes to contradictions between his faith and politics. If anything, his inconsistency is emblematic of American Christianity and American evangelism in particular.

From immigration and gun control to healthcare and caring for the poor, American Christianity has become synonymous with its ability or willingness or even zeal for turning a blind eye to the egregious ways in which our political convictions contradict the faith we confess.

Like Piper, we go to astonishing lengths to twist and contort and ignore scripture until it becomes a sanctified prooftext for American capitalism. So much so, that simply raising questions about the negative effects capitalism can and does have on the poor (to say nothing of a whole host of other political issues) is akin to the worst sort of heresy.

Our faith has been baptized in the waters of capitalism, refined in the fire of American patriotism, and somehow we either don’t realize it or simply don’t care.

God help us all.

Zack perfectly outlines one of the many reasons I believe American Evangelicalism is, by and large, a hypocritical and toxic institution – it claims to base its views solely on the Bible while parroting right-wing ideology and conservative soundbites.  It continues to use the Bible as justification for war, violence, discrimination, intolerance, and fear-mongering while ignoring the central tenets of Jesus’s message.   

Rather then take ownership of their ignorance, dualism, and bigotry, many Evangelicals will throw their hands up in the air and loudly proclaim, “Hey, these aren’t my opinions, these are GOD’S OPINIONS – I’m just abiding by them!”

And the politicians are laughing all the way to the White House.

I’m happy to see more progressive and enlightened people of faith like Zack speaking out against the double-speak preached from the pulpit and media alike.  Sadly thought, they seem to be in the minority.  I’m sure there are many other Christians who have similar feelings, but because of the tribalistic nature of their religion, are too afraid to speak out.  But, there is reason to hopeful.

The younger generation has taken a notice to this disconnect as well.  Both non-believers and Christians alike have cited the Church’s heavy insolvent in politics as an unfavorable quality.  Phil Zuckerman, in his book Faith No More: Why People Reject Religion, cited “the use of religion as a tool of political power” as one of the most common reasons people left their religion.

Whether it’s people of faith realizing the hypocrisy of a religion thathas been baptized in the waters of capitalism”, or people walking away from faith all together, I’m hopeful that there will come a time when Christians in America loose their power, privilege, and influence in politics, and society as a whole.  This country will be all the better for it.

Thanks for reading.

BLC

 

Signs of Low Religion

In a previous post I discussed the differences between high and low religion.  In it, I listed some of the characteristics of both.  I came across this list written by Jim Palmer called “A 16-Step Religious Guide To Sabotaging Your Life”.  I thought this was a great list and wanted to rewrite it slightly, to set it up as a checklist of sorts for believers to see if they are in a toxic and/or abusive church or religion.  So, here it is:

16 Signs You May Belong to a Low Religion

1. Your religion is based on the premise that there is something hopelessly and incurably wrong with you.
2. Your religion teaches that your humanity is an affront to God, an obstacle to overcome, and an evil to repress or eradicate.
3. Your religion tells you to pin your hopes on the afterlife, and don’t get too attached to the here-life.
4. Your religion teaches you to mistrust what you most deeply think and feel.
5. Your religion gives others the power and authority to determine what your beliefs, values, opinions, goals, desires and views are.
6. Your religion makes you fear, reject, condemn and close yourself off from anything that doesn’t fit with what you got in #5.
7. Your religion focuses on behavior modification, checklists, do’s and don’ts, obedience, and keeping the rules when it comes to living your life.
8. Your religion demands you give up or kill off all your needs and desires as a sign of spiritual maturity and call it “dying to self.”
9. Your religion makes sure everything and everyone in life is assigned a label or put into a box.
10. Your religion labels science, psychology and art as “secular,” “carnal,” or “worldly,” and tells you to stay away from it.
11. Your religion considers talk of love, unity, harmony, peace, beauty and oneness as childish, foolish, idealistic or dangerous.
12. Your religion draws a clear line between “sacred” and “secular” and divides up the world accordingly.
13. Your religion divides the world up into “us” and “them,” tells you to stay away from “them” and judge them from a distance.
14. Your religion demands that you lock up and throw away the key to your sexuality and get busy focusing on something that is holy.
15. Your religion puts forth a valiant effort to project and maintain an image that lines up with the expectations of your religious community, and hide the ways you don’t.
16. Your religion demands that you don’t ask questions, rock the boat, challenge authority, think for yourself, or listen to that voice inside… just keep doing or believing even if it violates something deep inside of you.

If you answer “yes” to any or, God forbid, all of these – then it might be time for you to hit the eject button on you religious beliefs and affiliations.  I know that may sound like an impossibility, but believe me – you’re better off.  These types of religious are toxic and incredibly harmful to ones well-being, self-worth, and overall quality of life.

Everyone has some sort of believe system, religious of otherwise.  Whichever it may be, it should be one that brings peace, that is a source of joy and freedom, that inspires kindness and compassion, and that dispels fear.  We should all embrace an ethos that is empowering of one’s full self-expression, and that motivate love for all people and all living things.

 

 

 

What We Learned About Conservative Christians Last Week

On June 26, the Supreme Court made history by handing down the decision that it was unconstitutional for same-sex couples to be denied the right to marry.  The decision, which was the culmination of decades of litigation and activism, set off a wave of jubilation from not only the LGBT community, but also from its allies and those who believe in justice and equality.  Predictably though, it also set off a tsunami off bitterness, anger, paranoia, and fear-mongering from conservatives.  To say that conservatives were sore losers would be the understatement of the year.  With the spotlight on America and its reaction to the decision, there are several things that we’ve  learned about conservative Christians in the week following.

They Don’t Really Trust Their God

With all the lip-service Christians give to God being in control, for all the platitudes of Christ being their solid rock, for all the hype about just needing to “trust in God” – all that goes right out the window when things don’t go their way.  The amount of petrifying fear displayed by some Christians was astounding enough, but the fear-mongering and propaganda by leaders and news sights was truly over the top.  While the rest of us were celebrating a great victory for social justice, conservatives were wringing their hands, and loudly proclaiming that the proverbial sky was falling .  “Pastors  will be forced to perform gay marriages!”, “Businesses will be forced to shut down!”, “Pedophile marriages is the next step”, “Christians are going to be put in jail”, “Gays are going to feed Christians to the lions!”, “Gays are going to force Christians to like anal sex!”(no, I didn’t make that last one up) – there was seemingly no bottom to the depths some were willing to stoop to whip fellow believers into a frenzy.

What all this says to the outside world is simple – Christians don’t really trust their God.  Fear ≠ Trust.  What this really shows is that they don’t put their trust in God, but rather in the government, in Republicans, and in their own position of privilege that they’ve held for so long.

And when these idols let them down, when things don’t go their way, when their security at the top was shifted – they panicked.   As John Pavlovitz put it “With all the fatalistic sky is falling rhetoric and raw-throated ‘The End is Near’ prognostications, what so many Christians did for the watching world was inadvertently paint the image of a God who is hopelessly on the ropes; not all-powerful, not all-knowing, not at all able to withstand the slightest changes in our world. We completely neutered God by horribly overstating the circumstances and crying wolf yet again.”

It’s ironic that the most common command in the Bible is “fear not”.  In fact, it’s used over a hundred times in scripture.  Perhaps some some people were too busy proof-texting a few verses about homosexuality to notice them.

They Really Don’t Want to Serve the Gay Community

Jesus taught his followers –

“If anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.  And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” – Matt 5:40-42

Paul echoed this statement by telling the Church –

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink…”  Rom 12:20, also found in Prov 25:21

These verses are some of the many verses certain “Bible-believing” Christians choose to ignore in favor of their own world-view.  Throughout last week, one of the most common concerns I heard from Christians was that now they might be forced to serve a same-sex marriage in some way – bake a cake, take photographs, make a dress, officiate the service, whatever.  Putting aside the legal improbability of that happening (more on this later), is serving two people wanting to get married really too much to ask?  Is that really the hill you want to die on?  I can’t find a single exception to either Jesus or Paul’s commands listed above.  It would appear that “religious freedom” trumps anything the Bible has to say on the matter.  I can’t think of a more explicit sign of someone’s bigotry towards another human being than their refusal to take someone’s money in a commercial exchange for goods or services.

They Don’t Love LGBT’s – At All

“Love the sinner, hate the sin” has long been the go-to stance for many Christians whenever the issue of homosexuality was brought up.  But, like politicians, Christians have become notorious for talking out both sides of their mouth.  For years now, some Christians have been claiming that homosexuality is a grievous sin against God, treated LGBTs as social pariahs,  have denied same-sex couples the right to marry, have fought against anti-discrimination laws, have been champions of “conversion therapy” and “pray the gay away” counseling, and have considered homosexuality to be one of the biggest threat to this country.

Yet, they claim to love gay people.

But, all this talk of “love” has fooled no one but themselves.  Good intentions and fake Jesus-smiles can only hide one’s disdain and contempt for another for so long.  Every now and then the curtain gets pulled away, and we get a glimpse of ugliness on the other side.   Like the World Vision controversy of last year, Evangelicals’ true colors were shown this past week with the scathing response to the SCOTUS decision.  The amounts of vile, de-humanizing remarks towards LGBTs from their camp seemed to know no bounds.  

They Have a Major Persecution Complex

This has long been known by those outside of the Christian ranks, but it’s as if the dial was turned up to full power this past week.  Mark Cabbo put it quite well –

The problem with being privileged your whole life is that [after] you have had that privilege for so long, equality starts to look like oppression.

And that’s precisely what many Christians think is happening  – they are being oppressed.  What they fail to understand is that not getting to discriminate against someone does not mean that you’re being discriminated against.  Many states legalized same-sex marriage years ago, and other countries, like Canada have had marriage equality for over a decade.  And, none of them have seen any increase in discrimination or legal actions of any kind towards pastors or churches.   In fact, there is not a shred of evidence to support claims that this decisions will have any legal ramifications on religious institutions.  Yet,  what I keep hearing from both leaders and lay people alike is that it’s coming – Christian persecution is going to come any day now!

What we’re seeing here is a classic case of psychological projection a defense mechanism involving the projecting of undesirable feelings or emotions onto someone else, rather than admitting to or dealing with the unwanted feelings.  Conservatives are quick to assume that they will be persecuted for their beliefs- because that is the very thing they have been doing towards LGBTs for years, but will never admit to it.

I have no doubt that public perception towards anti-gay churches and individuals will change, but that is far from persecution – that’s social progress.

(For more on Christian’s persecution complex, check out RHE excellent article

They Have No Idea How the Judicial System Works

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve had to explain to people how the Supreme Court works or the what the differences between for-profit and religious institutions are…

Starting with the Supreme Court of America (SCOTUS), one complaint that I heard extensively was something along lines of, “It’s not right that decisions affecting our country can be made by 5 un-elected individuals!”  First off, SCOTUS is comprised of 9 people, not 5.  Secondly, that’s precisely what SCOTUS does – make decisions involving federal laws.  And it has been has been doing this for quite sometime now, in fact, since our country was founded.   For those who weren’t paying attention in US Govt class back in high school, you can read up on the role of SCOTUS here.    And, contrary to what some ignorant presidential candidates would like to think, the SCOTUS ruling must be upheld by all states, as much as some would like to think they can ignore it.

By far the most common argument I heard in wake of the decision was that now pastors and churches were going to be forced to perform same-sex marriage.  This comes in wake of the now famous incident involving the bakery, Sweet Cakes by Melissa,  that refused to bake a cake for a same sex-couple, and was ordered to pay $135k in damages.  These Bigots for Jesus, Aaron and Melissa Klein, are now being held up as a martyrs by conservatives, and are prominent activists in the anti-gay movement .  For them, this indecent is a shining example of the “rampant persecution of Christians in America.”  What most fail to realize, is that the Kleins were not facing legal trouble for their ‘strongly-held religious beliefs’, but because they broke the law, in this case, an Oregon anti-discrimination law.  A law that she agreed to abide by when they opened a for profit business.  You see, there is a big difference between a for-profit business and a religious institution.

Religious institutions have long been protected by the First Amendment and are exempt from many state and federal laws, including anti-discrimination laws.  So, how will this change now that the SCOTUS ruling has been handed down?

It won’t.  At all.

Neil Carter sums it up as follows:

“Thanks to the same First Amendment that keeps your religion from taking over everyone else’s lives, those churches which do not approve of this move will remain free to disapprove of it—and to speak publicly about their disapproval—for as long as you still care about this issue.  What’s more, that constitutional protection has enabled churches to refuse to marry anyone they choose despite every new national advance in the fight for civil rights.  You don’t want to marry an interracial couple?  That’s actually your right.  Always has been, always will be.  Your churches will remain free to reject as many kinds of people and relationships as you please.  This is a well-established protection that will not budge no matter what those who disagree with you wish were the case. Even if somebody tries to take you to court over it in the future, they will fail because your constitutional protections overrule their personal views.  That’s how this works.”

In other words – pastors, churches, religious schools, and non-profit businesses will still be able to discriminate freely and legally.

The SCOTUS decision will inevitably mark a major turning point for religion in America.   Conservatives have effectively lost this long, drawn-out, and doomed-from-the-beginning culture war that they themselves created.  No longer will conservative churches be able to hide behind a veil of fake love and well-polished religious jargon.  The curtain has now been torn down for good.

Many denominations and religious-based colleges are already revisiting their stances on same-sex marriage and making changes.  More then ever, churches are going to be judged on their stance of same-sex marriages and homosexuality.  Those who continue to oppose it will be increasingly seen in a negative light.  Even Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist seminary seems to understand this:

“The real danger is we’re going to pay an enormous social, cultural price for not doing a same-sex ceremony. We’re going to be considered morally deficient. Let’s admit it. We’re much more accustomed to being accused of being morally superior. They’ve said we’ve been “stand-offish” meaning better than them, now a large part of this culture thinks we are morally deficient. And we’re going to find that’s a very different way to do ministry.” 

In closing, I’d just like to say, on a personal note –  the reactions to the SCOTUS decision, by many who call themselves followers of Christ, a decision which will go down in history as a major win for justice, equality, and human rights, was absolutely appalling to me!  There was nothing “Christ-like” about their reactions.  What I witnessed was ignorance, hatred, contempt, and pathetic, childish shrieks from a group that has for far too long considered themselves exceptional, privileged, and morally superior to everyone else.

This past week solidified for me, once again, that Christianity has nothing to offer me.  I can’t abide by an institution where religious dogma trumps basic human rights.  It has also shown me just how important it is for people to fight for social justice and human equality.  This was a great victory, not doubt, but we haven’t won the war, we’ve only won the battle.  More needs to be done.  My hope is that the tides have turned and that more people will take a public stand against toxic religions that continue to be a monkey wrench in the wheels of social progress.

Becky Explains Why People Are Leaving the Church (and it’s everything you’d expect)

It seems these days there is no shortage of people offering their opinion as to why so many people, particularly millennials, are leaving the church.  Type in “Millennials Leaving Church” into Google, and you will get page after page of articles offering their insight, other articles refuting the thoughts of the first article, and so on.

While I may be technically too old to be considered a millennial, I do fit the category of one of those who has abandoned ship on the whole church/religion thing, and so tend to read these articles whenever I come across them.  There’s a couple of things I’ve found to be consistent with most of these articles that I’ve come across – most are written by people who are still actively involved in church in some capacity, therefore most fail to address or acknowledge the real reasons that people are leaving the church.

There are some that seem to “get it” and understand what’s at the heart of the issue, like Ben Corey and John Pavlovitz.  But then there are those who are so completely out of touch with the reality that they take the debate to a whole other level by insulting, shaming, and demoralizing any who would dare speak badly about the church; the typical “blame the victim” response that is becoming increasingly popular in religious circles.

Whitney Capps, a true “Becky” if there ever was one, wrote an open letter addressing those who are saying what’s wrong with the Church.  If you have the stomach for it, feel free to read the whole things.  For this post, I’ll spare you all the details and just hit on a few of  Whitney’s finer points.

Whitney wastes no time in getting right to the point as to why so many young people are leaving the church:

“…because we are spoiled, selfish, uneasily satisfied, hypercritical, consumeristic and socially enlightened but biblically light-weight.”

Wow.  There’s no judgment, is there?

Because she is so firmly engrossed in the church, (openly admitting admitting that “I love the Church. I’m crazy, obsessed and slightly obnoxiously in love with the Church and her leaders.”)  Whitney can’t conceive of a word in which the Church might actually be the problem.  She has built up such an lofty, idolatrous image of the Church, that in her mind the problem has to be with those leaving.

This probably makes sense due to the fact that Whitney doesn’t appear to have actually spoken with anyone who has left the church.  Her opinion seem to be based solely on articles and letters she has read.  She starts her article by saying that she has “read them all-the letters from well-meaning, well-written peers of mine. Posts penned by young (well, relatively young) people unhappy with and enlightened by the woes of the Church. And they all know the various reasons why people are leaving the Church, the problems they see and the ways to fix said problems.”  

Good for you, Whitney, you read some letters.  Did you ever think to actually talk to a real human being and hear what they had to say?  No, probably not.  And another thing – I’m throwing the bullshit flag on the fact that you’ve “read them all”.  I’m taking an educated guess that you only read the articles that fit your preconceived notions about why these “spoiled, selfish” young, brats who are leaving the church.  You conveniently skipped over any letter written by “liberal” Christian and would certainly ignore any written by ex-Christians and atheists.  Like most in your world, you suffer from confirmation bias and are unable to compute any idea that doesn’t fit your world view.  You even admit as such when you say, “I’m not objective. I’m not impartial… I don’t probably give you the benefit of the doubt you deserve.”  Finally – something we can both agree on.

Despite all of her research, Whitney seems to think that these are the reasons people are leaving the church:

The ladies ministry is too old-fashioned, and yet the worship is too flashy and fake. The pastor doesn’t use enough technology, and yet he’s trying too hard to be relevant and contemporary. The Church is too inwardly focused, yet not focused enough on your needs.

The rest of Whitney’s article might have a leg to stand on if these where, in fact, the reasons people are jumping ship.  But the thing is, I’ve never known anyone who has left the church for any reasons even remotely resembling these!  

Having thoroughly insulted and dehumanized her subjects, Whitney’s next tactic comes straight out of the Toxic Christianity handbook – shame them into silence.  Whitney is one of those who thinks that Church = Jesus.  Therefore, anything bad you say about the Church hurts baby Jesus’s feelings, so you best just keep your damn mouth shut.

“Don’t pretend to love Jesus, but damage the Church. You can’t love Jesus but hate on the Church.  I know, you don’t think what you are doing is damaging the Church, but that’s where you’re wrong.”

She also appeals to people to not air their grievances about the Church in public, because we don’t want to make Him look bad, now do we?  (Little heads up, Whitney, people complaining about the church is the least of it’s public image problems)  She takes this shaming tactic to a whole new level by bringing sweet, little, ol’ ladies into it:

“You wound those sweet, saintly ladies who put on those events praying over those doily-laden tables for young women to fill those chairs. These women who aren’t silenced or frozen by a fear of being irrelevant show up and serve with you in mind.”

Won’t someone please think of the old ladies!

You see, Whitney doesn’t care about actually trying to understand people who are leaving the church.  She isn’t genuinely concerned about millennials, their experiences, or what they have to say.  What she’s doing is dishonestly slamming people she doesn’t like and reinforcing her own sense of superiority under the guise of “love”

It’s not hard to figure out where this attitude of “Keep quiet!  Do as you’re told! Whether you like it or not!” comes from.  Whitney is firm believer in the top-down “submission” model of the church and in Christian Patriarchy.  Both of which are implemented as “Biblical values” for the sole purpose of controlling people.

A quick read of her “about” section reads like someone who has been browbeaten into submission by her husband, who she refers to as her CEO.  She admits that her primary call in life is to serve her husband, and to teach her kids, “that in our house Daddy is most important and valued. I tell them that we all, including Mommy love and obey Daddy. God is first and Daddy is second.” 

Sweet Jesus…

Her “solution” to the issues being brought up with the church are as ignorant as they are useless- keep quiet, pray, talk to your leaders, and stay in the Church.  It’s the same advice some church leaders give abused women.  None of these things actually address the real problems, of course, but it’s the company line, so they’re going to keep spinning it.

I don’t think it has ever crossed Whitney’s mind that perhaps she’s the problem.  That self-righteous, condescending attitudes like hers might be what’s driving people away.

It probably never occurred to Whitney that people within the church have gone to their leaders with their concerns and had them marginalized and down-played just like she just did, or told that they were the problem, that they needed to pray more, serve more, or show up more.

And I can guarantee that in Whitney’s tiny, little, sheltered world, she couldn’t fathom that some people are leaving because they’ve found all the major tenets of Christianity to be untrue and unsupported by any actual evidence.

People are taking to the public forum because no one else is listening. The Church has become an institution that worships itself and is above reproach.  Concerned about it’s image, the Church tries to silence any who would speak out against it and uses shame, manipulation, and emotional abuses to keep people quiet.

All I can say is this – keep it up Whitney, keep it up.  You are doing more to drive people from religion than Dawkins could ever dream of.  7.5 million people left their religion in the last two years, and that numbers is likely to grow exponentially.  If Whitney ever bothered to step outside of her fundagelical circle, she would see that the Church is becoming irrelevant to young people in America.  Like most church leaders though, she will likely continue to ignore the real problems and continue to vilify those who point them out.

According to every survey done, the question isn’t “Will Christianity collapse?” but rather “How hard will Christianity collapse and who’ll be left standing?” And a lot of the blame for that collapse lays at the feet of evangelicalism, with its love of political meddling, its deep desire to control and trample non-believers and shove its nose into other people’s private business, its blatant narcissism, its science denial, its breathtaking misogyny and abusiveness, its inhuman hatred of all who defy its grasp, and its constant demands for capitulation and deference from everybody else. Evangelicals are fast beginning to stand for all that is wrong with Christianity itself; they highlight the religion’s general failings and put into harsh spotlights all the worst aspects of modern Christians’ Biblical illiteracy and their childish, over-simplistic misunderstandings about both the Bible and love itself. And the numbers reflect people’s growing impatience with this particularly nasty strain of Christianity. The fact that young people are fleeing the sinking ship as fast as they can does not bode well. – Captain Cassidy 

I have no doubts that Whitney’s particular brand of low religion will continue on for generations to come (hell, there’s still large denominations teaching that black people have “the Mark of Cain”).  But, hopefully it will continue to shrink in numbers to the point where they have no real influence or relevance in our culture, looking more cult-like then Christ-like.  As Neil Carter puts it, “Perhaps like the snake handlers, some of them will keep an alternate reality alive among networks of tiny churches scattered across the Appalachian foothills or in the deepest pine forests of rural Mississippi and Alabama.”  We can only hope.

 

 

 

Low Religion

I often see people on social media complaining about the criticism that is dealt out against Christianity or the Church.  The most common responses are usually something in the vein of, “Well, not ALL Christians are like that!”  I personally think this is a cop-out; a way of dismissing whatever argument is being brought forth.  The thought process is usually that A) This statement doesn’t apply to me or people I directly know, or B) This statement is too broad and general, or C) This statement is about action done be people who aren’t “True Christians” – therefore I don’t need to address this concern.

I could write several posts on why this drives me crazy and how Christianity’s (yes, I’m using the general term) inability to be self-critical will ultimately ruin it.  But, for the sake of argument, I’d like to propose the use of different terms, ones that are at the same time both more general and more specific, ones that can be used when discussing any religion or denomination –

Low Religion and High Religion.

Here’s how I would define them:

Low Religion

LR is based on dualistic thinking, or an “either/or” view of the world – black and white, good and evil, right and wrong, deserving and undeserving.

This thinking inevitably leads to a religion that is exclusive and tribalistic, with very clear borders set up to determine who is “in” and who is “out” – us vs them, saved or unsaved, conservative or liberal.  This makes them suspicions and even antagonistic towards those perceived as “outsiders”.  The also go to great lengths to make sure no one within the tribe leave the borders.  Those that do are considered “back-sliders”, “apostate”, “heretics”, “lost-souls” and are shunned by tribe.

All LR are fear based, and in fact, can’t survive without it – fear of the wrath of their deity, fear of eternal punishment, fear of the “other”, fear of themselves, their own hearts and minds, fear of believing the wrong thing, saying the wrong thing, doing the wrong thing.

Fear-based religions seek to control others.  The insist that they alone hold “The Truth” and as such, can dictate the lives of others.  Not just those within their own institution, but society as a whole.  There is a strong emphasis on submission – submission to religious leaders, sacred texts, the government, social groups.

LR can also be referred  to as belief-based religion.  The emphasis is placed on holding to correct theology, teachings, doctrines, and dogmas.  They use this knowledge for the purpose of ego enhancement, shaming, and the control of others and themselves.

The sacred texts of LR are seen as divinely written or inspired and are mostly interpreted in a literal sense.  The text are often proof-texted to conform the text to their own world views.

LR puts an emphasis on the after-life – rewards for those  who are “in”, and punishment for those who are “out”.

Those who practice LR suffer from cognitive dissonance and have confirmation bias.  They tend to be anti-intellectual and anti-science. 

High Religion

HR is about non-dualistic thinking, or an “and/also” view of the world.  It embraces paradox and isn’t concerned with having all the right answers.  It is a contemplative.

HR is radically inclusive and seeks the greater good off all humanity and creation with an emphasis on issues such as human suffering, healing, poverty, environmentalism, social justice, care for outsiders, and political oppression.

Those who practice HR have risen above the boundaries created by LR and can see wisdom and goodness in all faiths, religions, and traditions.  They are willing to engage in dialog with those of other faiths in the belief that they might learn something that will allow them to correct their own truths.

Symbols, traditions, and sacred texts are viewed in a more metaphorical  and comprehensive lights.

HR is for those who have reached the 5th Stage of Faith – Conjunctive Faith.  They can be found in every religious tradition, although are rare, especially amongst the Judeo/Christian traditions.

Despite my own feelings about God, religions, and faith, I want to make a clear that I don’t have a problem with religion – I only have a problem with Low Religion.  When I (and most others) speak critically of religion/Christianity, it is almost always Low Religion that we are speaking of.  I know that there are churches that are the exception.  I know that there are individuals within churches that are the exception, ones who would be considered practicing High Religion.  But, they are just that – the exception, not the rule.

If you read something by me and another writer that’s bashing the church, and you say to yourself, “This doesn’t sound like my church!” – great; then it doesn’t pertain to you.  But if you get all defensive, if you start clamoring on about how, “not all Christians are like that!” or, “that doesn’t represent THE Church, only a specific church!” – then you’re probably part of the problem.  You are probably a part of the Low Religion I’m speaking of.  At best, you simply have blinders on, don’t get out enough, or don’t pay attention to the news and are unaware the the damage being done by religion in this country and around the world.  Maybe you know that there are problems, but would rather focus on the good and let someone else deal with the problems.  Or worse, you are active in trying to control, marginalize, or discriminate against those you consider “others”.  You are actively a part of an institution that is wreaking havoc on this country and on the lives of countless people.  

In future posts I’m going to try to use the term Low Religion instead of Christianity or the Church when applicable.  However, there are instances where being more specific is necessary.  (For example, Evangelical Christians are the only religion still hung up on the whole Evolution thing, therefore I’m going to call them out on it.)

I also want to say a quick bit to those who aren’t “like that”, who wouldn’t consider themselves to be a part of Low Religion, yet still consider themselves Christian.  If you see or hear about people doing deplorable things in the name of religion – take a stand!  Quit making excuses, quit pretending like it’s not a big deal, quit acting like it’s “just a few bad apples in the bunch,” and quit dismissing people as “not True Christians” like it’s not your problem.  It is your problem!  The reason asshats like Frank Graham and Mike Huckabee get away with saying the hateful shit they do is because none of their peers are calling them out on it!  The only people I see saying anything are the progressive Christians and “liberals”.  As Mandela said, to stay silent is to side with the oppressor.  If you don’t like what’s being said in the name of god, Jesus, the Bible, whatever, then let that be known, loudly and publicly.  Because while not “all Christians are like that”, they certainly don’t seem to have a problem with the ones that are.

 

 

 

 

I Smell a Rat… (or, Why I Can’t Stand Christian Music)

There’s a great indie movie called The Art of Getting By which is the story of a boy named George, who slacks off his whole senior year of high school and is in danger of not graduating.  After getting his heart broken by a girl, George comes to his senses.  With only three weeks left in the school year, he makes a deal with his principal that in order to graduate, he has to make up every piece of undone work for the year.  My favorite part of the movie is when George goes to get his assignment from his art teacher.  The teacher says this to him:

“I simply don’t believe that dull, lifeless assignments are the measures of a person’s soul.  I want ONE – one meaningful work from you.  I want you to look in the mirror, listen to your gut, and make an image… that speaks to the real you.  What you care about.  What you believe.  It can be big, it can be small, it can be painted in bat shit – as long as it’s honest and fearless.  But…, but… the caveat: if I smell a rat, if you didn’t find something you’ve never had the courage to say before – I won’t pass you, you don’t get out of here.”

When it comes Christian music – I smell a rat.  

I know much has been written about the shortcomings of Christian music (lack of creativity, the repetitiveness, the cheesy, “Jesus-is-my-boyfriend” lyrics, the polished, over-produced sound)and the industry that caters to it, but I intend to heap more the pile.  I believe all these things are simply the symptoms of an underlying problem – a lack of honesty.

What’s missing is artists truly opening themselves up, listening to their gut, taking a risk, and putting out something that’s from the heart.

Instead, Christian artists pander to their audience and to their record companies.  Like top-40 music, Christian record producers have figured out a tried and true formula for selling records and exploit it to the fullest.  Why does all Christian music  sound the same?  Because it’s made to sound the same.  Christian music isn’t about “worshiping the Lord”, it’s about an industry producing a product that sells to middle-age soccer moms who listen to K-LOVE.

Only messages of certainty and positivity are promoted and accepted within Christian AC and worship music communities.  It is next to impossible to create art that has transparency and honesty, expressing doubt, and vulnerability.  You can see those things all throughout Scripture, but the system in place to sell albums has a very narrow view of belief that they want to promote to their consumers. – Trey Pearson

 What is being played in churches and on Christian radio today is predominantly one-dimensional – it lacks the honest expression of the FULL range of normal emotions and experiences in our journey of being humans and wrestling with faith.  It views the world through rose-colored glasses and ignores the life experiences that cause people to grow and develop.  This teaches  people that their feelings don’t matter, that they should be happy and positive all the time.  It’s the only message put out there on the radio and in the sanctuary, and if people aren’t feeling the same, then they must not have enough faith.

It doesn’t even bother me that Christian musicians want to sing about God or loving Jesus.  It bothers me that when I hear them singing, I don’t believe a word of it!  I can tell when someone isn’t being genuine, I can tell when someone is just going through the motions, just telling me what they think I want to hear.  The song may contain all the right elements of a catchy song, but in the end it simply has no soul.  Michael Gungor calls this Zombie Music.  As he explains it, “A zombie looks like a human.  It eats like a human.  It walks and makes noise and resembles a human.  But it’s a zombie.  It has no soul.  Christian music is filled with zombies. The message of the music is predetermined, so we just need a form of music that can carry the message to a broad group of people.  Good music has soul, and the soul matters more than the form.  You can’t subtract the anger and angst from most hardcore music and still retain the essence of the music.  Musical expression is not limited to just the notes and rhythms of a piece.  Music is human. And if you take out the human bits and leave just the technical bits to be reproduced as carriers of whatever message you want it to carry, you no longer have a living thing.  You have an un-dead thing. You have a musical zombie.”

And I can spot a musical zombie a mile away.  How?  The same way an art teacher can take one look at a picture and tell whether the student put in an honest effort, or was simply trying to pass the class.  As a music-lover and musician myself, I know when a musician is truly putting themselves into their art, or when they’re just trying to sell records.

Christians have really used- and, almost, in some senses- prostituted art in order to give answers, instead of telling great stories and raising great questions.  The exploitation of believers just to turn a profit—so you care less about making a quality product, you just want to keep telling the same stories and repackaging them over and over just to exploit people—I have a problem with that. – Lecrae

What pisses me off the most about this, is that most of the church worship leaders I talk to know the music is terrible, yet they keep playing it, week after week!  I played music in churches for over a decade, and the the number of times a worship leader (and the band) has to suffer through yet another terrible K-LOVE favorite is staggering.  Why?  Why do they keep playing the same shitty music when they know it’s shitty?

Because it’s what the audience wants to hear.  

This goes hand-in-hand with the business model of modern franchise churches that I wrote about in an earlier post.  You see, it’s not about delivering a quality product, it’s about delivering a product that everyone knows and is comfortable with.  It’s about pandering to your customers.  Churches are full of consumers who don’t want to have to be challenged, but just want to have something that’s familiar and easy.  Rather then setting a high standard of excellence, churches instead pander to the lowest common denominator in the congregation.  I’ve sat in on more meetings than I could count regarding this issue, and what it always boils down to is this : “We need to play music that people are familiar with and can sing along with, or else they won’t worship, and if they aren’t worshiping, then they’ll go someplace else.”

So, rather then play music that is artistic, meaningful, and can be appreciated simply for it’s beauty, you’re stuck playing easy, repetitive, sing-a-long songs to a bunch of overgrown children.

So much for giving God your best.

The reason the Christian music industry stays the same is because no one is demanding that it change; no one is striving for something better.  I know there are a few artists breaking the mold and making great music, regardless of what genre labels are attached to it, but these are the exceptions, not the rule.  Hopefully as the church continues to dwindle and fade away here in America, musicians will feel more free to make the music that they really want- music that can speak to all humanity, rather then just appeal a select few.

 

 

 

Sacred Beliefs

I’ve had a busy week at work, so I haven’t had much time to work on a post, but I wanted to put something out.  I came across this article recently about radical, leftist social activism, of all things, but as I read it, I kept thinking to myself, “Hmm… this sounds familiar.”  Here are a few points:

One way to define the difference between a regular belief and a sacred belief is that people who hold sacred beliefs think it is morally wrong for anyone to question those beliefs.  If someone does question those beliefs, they’re not just being stupid or even depraved, they’re actively doing violence.  They might as well be kicking a puppy.  When people hold sacred beliefs, there is no disagreement without animosity.  In this mindset, people who disagreed with my views weren’t just wrong, they were awful people.  I watched what people said closely, scanning for objectionable content.  Any infraction reflected badly on your character, and too many might put you on my blacklist.  Calling them ‘sacred beliefs’ is a nice way to put it.  What I mean to say is that they are dogmas.

Thinking this way quickly divides the world into an ingroup and an outgroup — believers and heathens, the righteous and the wrong-teous…  Members of the in-group are held to the same stringent standards.  Every minor heresy inches you further away from the group.  People are reluctant to say that anything is too radical for fear of being been seen as too un-radical.  Conversely, showing your devotion to the cause earns you respect.  Group-think becomes the modus operandi.  When I was part of groups like this, everyone was on exactly the same page about a suspiciously large range of issues.  Internal disagreement was rare.  The insular community served as an incubator of extreme, irrational views.

This could just have easily been about  Evangelicalism.  Most of the beliefs espoused by Evangelical Christians are not merely personal beliefs, they are sacred beliefs.  Theologies and worldviews are considered Absolute Truth, handed down from God himself.  Therefore, denying or even questioning these views is seen as dangerous, sinful, and an act of heresy.  Churches can claim to be open to questions and doubts all they want, but in my experience there are certain lines that you simply do not cross, doors that you do not open.

Because these dogmas are held so personally, questioning them becomes an insult to those who hold them and they will often react vehemently towards anyone who steps out of line with the group’s ethos.  The security of the belief system is maintained by insulating themselves from any thoughts seen as threatening, and by pushing out and disparaging any who don’t toe the party line.

High on their own supply, activists in these organizing circles end up developing a crusader mentality: an extreme self-righteousness based on the conviction that they are doing the secular equivalent of God’s work.  It isn’t about ego or elevating oneself.  In fact, the activists I knew and I tended to denigrate ourselves more than anything.  It wasn’t about us, it was about the desperately needed work we were doing, it was about the people we were trying to help.  The danger of the crusader mentality is that it turns the world in a battle between good and evil.  Actions that would otherwise seem extreme and crazy become natural and expected.  

The difference here is that most Evangelicals do think they are doing God’s work.  They feel that it is their duty and mission to fight the “culture war” at all costs, to raise up an “Army for God”, and launch an all out assault on anyone and anything seen as a threat to their worldview.  The crazy and extreme nature that this takes can easily be found in the media – proposing laws to make homosexuality punishable by death, making documentaries claiming that gay rights will lead to criminalization of Christiansbeing thankful for ISIS as they are heralding in the end times, claiming Darwin’s Evolution lead to the Holocaustanything that comes out of Pat Robertson’s mouth.

Hardly a week goes by that Christians aren’t in the news saying and doing deplorable things, every one of them convinced that they are righteous in the their actions and “doing the work of the Lord.”  While these examples are on the extreme end of the spectrum, they none the less represent the views held by millions across the country.  As Christianity slowly looses it’s power and influence on society and in government, you can be sure that these types of views are only going to become more frequent and more extreme.

This is a reminder that fundamentalist beliefs, whether help by social activists or Evangelical Christians, are toxic and dangerous.  I know that the first thing people will say is, “But not all Christians are like that!”  Yeah, I get that, but then why aren’t they speaking out against those who are like that?  Why is it that the only people I see taking issue are atheists and progressive Christians?  Why aren’t toxic Christians being called out for their behavior by good Christians?

As the old saying goes, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”  These types of behaviors are evil, and won’t go away just by ignoring them.  If the Church hopes to survive with any sort of validity in the future, it will need to start addressing both of these issues, before it runs off any and all who might carry the torch into the next generation.

 

 

Starbucks Christianity

When the first Starbucks opened in Seattle in 1971, few could have realized just how large its enterprise would become.  There are currently some 424 Starbucks in Seattle alone; that’s 23  for every 100,000 residents!  Seattle has more Starbucks per capita then any other large US city.  You can be literally be sitting in one Starbucks and see another one down the street.   And they just keep building more.

I’m seeing the same trend popping up here in the Midwest in regards to Evangelical churches – mega-churches starting satellite, or “franchise” churches in an area that’s already heavily saturated with churches.  The idea is simple, and works just like other franchises:  take a system that works and duplicate it over and over.  And like a franchise, the church takes great pains to make sure that the product experience is the same at every campus.  The songs are the same, the announcements are the same, and the aesthetics are the same.  Usually, there is no actual preacher at these satellite churches, instead the head pastor from the “parent” church is broadcast on a big screen, ensuring that everyone hears the exact same message no matter where they are attending.

This really shouldn’t come as a surprise, however.  For the last couple of decades, the American corporate business model has been the standard by which most churches run their organization.  The church can claim to be following the “Biblical” model for running things all they want, but in reality they are nothing more than corporations with crosses on the doors.  Pastors function much like the CEO of a corporation; his main concern is always the “bottom line.”  Any pastor will tell you that their main concern is bringing people to Christ, but with churches pulling in millions every years, it becomes a little more involved then that.

The church operating under a business model measures success by results.  They are product-oriented rather than process-oriented. The church is considered “evangelistic” by how many baptisms are occurring, the number of programs that are being developed, and the amount of people participating within these ministries.  Thus, people evaluate the health of the congregation by the location and visibility of the church, the percentage of people involved in small groups, the stability of the financial resources, the adequacy of the facilities and the development of multifaceted programs.  If numbers are increasing, people are satisfied because the church is growing. When numbers are decreasing, the leadership becomes dissatisfied because the church is declining.

The business model operates under the assumption that the health and well-being of the organization is more important than the individual.  Procedures are determined based upon the effect they will have upon the whole organization.  Consequently, policies and procedures are designed to protect the organization and keep the congregation running smoothly.

In other words, the institution becomes more important than the people in it.  What was once thought of as a place of close-knit community and “family” has become nothing more than yet another impersonal corporation that values it’s success more than the well being of it’s congregation.  In this type of church, there isn’t much room for “hands and feet”- they are unnoticed, and all focus is on the few “heads”, much like the CEO and upper management of corporations.  The members become consumers for the most part, not a necessary part of the day to day functioning.

This is a problem.  The Church, or “ekklesia,” was never intended by Christ or the apostles to be a business in the modern, capitalist, consumer-oriented sense.

As Mitch Cervinka writes: “Over the years, the church has been transformed into an institution which seems much too concerned with promoting itself and boasting of its growth. It seems so overly concerned with budgets, projects, programs and attendance, that it has ceased to function as a family and instead operates like a business.”

Back to Starbucks.  A quick Google search shows that there are 15 churches within a ten-block radius from my house here in Sioux Falls, SD.  That’s 15 different churches within walking distance!  This includes Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, Evangelical, Orthodox, and Apostolic.  If I want get in my car and drive somewhere, there are roughly 125 churches within Sioux Falls itself, and many more on the outskirts and in neighboring towns.  Everyone has the opportunity to go to church.

Yet, certain mega-churches insist that what this town needs is yet another church!  The claim is that they are trying to reach the “lost”, and seek out neighborhoods that have a high number of non-Christians.  But, here in the Midwest, most people go to church in varying degrees of regularity, and the majority of the population would consider themselves Christian.  There are not a lot of truly “un-churched” people around, and the ones that are, are usually that way by choice.   It’s not that mega-churches are especially concerned  with people going to church, it’s that they want people going to their church.

What we’re seeing is the classic business model at work – set up a franchise in a busy or growing area, offer the newest, greatest product, and try to draw people in.  This means drawing people away from other churches.  A friend of mine in ministry calls this “sheep-shifting” – moving the flock from one pasture to another.   Or, as this article calls it; “Church Cannibalism.”

“Churches today seem to be in competition with one another, “ writes Cervinka,  “and are often not very supportive of neighboring churches which are little different from themselves. And, why do we see such a proliferation of churches which differ so little from one another?”  Why, indeed?  Christian churches are like cell phone companies at this point – having gone through all the potential first-time owners, they’re now cannibalizing each other and hoping for the best.

Besides the problem of pillaging patrons from other churches, there is also the issue of churches losing any sense of authenticity or character when they take on the franchise model.

The bad thing about Starbucks is that their conformity flattens the creativity of individual baristas or shop owners. It’s an a-cultural expression. It all tastes the same. – Paul Pastor

The same goes for franchise churches – they all taste the same.  John Pavlovitz writes in his excellent blog on the same subject, that franchised churches are “not bad by any means, but they’re all essentially becoming just a variation on a theme; they’re faith created, refined, and marketed for mass consumption.”

If churches want to expand and start new campuses, that’s fine, but let them each have their own unique identity.  Let them be shaped and modeled by the people who are a part of it, not some tried-and-true business plan.  A church should look and feel more like a like a local business, not some national chain.   As John Mark Comer writes,  “Being truly locally-oriented is incompatible with a multi-site model.  Even if a suburban church has the same ethos, same theology, same value system as its urban sister, it should feel different.  Multi-site inevitably ends up being personality-driven, non-contextualized, and fails to effectively raise up leaders capable of contextualizing. It promotes consumerism—even if it’s masked behind several layers of ‘missional-speak.'” 

As America continues to become less religious, I understand the need churches feel to do what they can to draw people in.  Yet, it really feels like the church has sold-out.  Rather then doing something creative, original, and counter-cultural, they have been “evangelized”  by the consumeristic, secular world and have become yet another dispenser of pre-packaged, feel-good entertainment that in the long run will likely lead to more disenfranchised Christians than it inspires.

I read a quote recently that went something like this:

“The church began as a movement in Jerusalem.  It became a philosophy in Greece, an institution in Rome, and a culture in Europe. And when it came to America, it became a business.”

Is this really the legacy that church wants to leave behind?