“I (heart) Jesus…Not the Church”

For those of you who are subscribers to Outreach, I just got my issue yesterday and I’ve already read this article: http://outreachmagazine.com/Library/features/MA07ftrILikeJesusNottheChurch.asp. I liked it a great deal; author Dan Kimball did a good job of summarizing the way us unchurched types think of Jesus versus the church.

There’s something he missed, though.  He talks about how the church is perceived negatively; organized, political, judgmental, intolerant, homophobic, etc. Then he discusses how those perceptions are not necessarily accurate, and suggests ways for the churched to get that across to the unchurched. Most importantly, he suggests that these perceptions come from encounters with street preachers and the media, not from real Christians, and that therefore it’s important for real Christians to engage with non-Christians so as to counteract them.

But I don’t think you can separate the two. I have many Christian friends, and I adore them. They are among the finest people I know and I admire the way their religion helps them to be better, stronger and kinder people than I am. But I can’t ignore the other element of Christianity: the angry street preachers, the political organizations. I suppose this is one of my reasons for being agnostic. I can appreciate the beliefs but I can’t ignore the ones who share them, yet use them as a bludgeon against those who are different from them.

Here’s a disturbing example, which shows the link between the political and religious views of the intolerant:

Focus on the Family founder James C. Dobson and other conservative Christian leaders are calling for the National Association of Evangelicals to silence or fire an official who has urged evangelicals to take global warming seriously.

In a letter this week to the board of the NAE, which claims 30 million members, Dobson and his two dozen co-signers said the Rev. Richard Cizik, the NAE’s vice president for government relations, has waged a “relentless campaign” that is “dividing and demoralizing” evangelicals. — Washington Post, March 3, “Evangelical Angers Peers With Call for Action on Global Warming.”

Now, whatever you think of global warming isn’t the issue here. It’s that James Dobson and Co. think that their religious views give them the right, not to argue with this guy, but to actually silence him. Richard Cizik feels strongly that the Bible commands Christians to take care of the environment, so what gives Dobson and his friends the right to say that he should just shut up? And why should those of us who admire Jesus but find Christians scary from time to time change our minds when he feels free to pull stunts like this?

This is what I think Kimball missed in his Outreach article. Those of us who find certain Christians scary would probably trust Christians more if they did more to speak out against intolerant Christians. Is anyone going to write to James Dobson and tell him he’s wrong to try and silence a fellow Christian? Does anyone write to that nut Lou Sheldon, who protests at the funerals of gay people with signs that say “God Hates Fags” to tell him he’s an embarrassment to a God who does nothing of the sort? Do kinder Christians than these ever form associations for the sole purpose of defending Christianity from those who use it to whack others over the head? If Christians can’t speak up against the intolerant among them, why should non-Christians believe that there’s room for them in the same tent?

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6 Responses to ““I (heart) Jesus…Not the Church””


  1. 1 lori g. March 3, 2007 at 6:55 pm

    Hi. I enjoy reading your blog. I am a Christian (raised with no religion and then years seeking in a more new age-type area with some Buddhism and Taoism). I guess I would say I was agnostic and in some regard consider myself that still since I do believe that God and spiritual teachings are fully unknowable. My way of Christianity is one of constant seeking to know more and more about God, in one ‘religion’ rather than many (and to use it to learn to be a better person). There’s plenty unknowable stuff in that one religion to keep me busy.

    Anyway, today your post provoked emotions in me on a couple things. First, no one can say who is or isn’t a ‘real Christian.’ I didn’t read the full article but you say that that is what the author said. Anyone can be a Christian no matter how they behave or what they do. That is a personal thing between us and God. It always irks me when a person thinks they can exclude someone that way.

    Second, I appreciate your honesty about having difficulty separating the negative side of Christianity and the wonderful side. But to say that you don’t think you can separate the two I have to disagree. Many Christians do that every day…and so do many people that are associated with anything else negative that they don’t personally identify with. Whether it be family, work, friends, etc. We all view ourselves as different than the groups that we associate with.

    It upsets me to be lumped into a group that does not represent my beliefs or behaviors just because they have a bigger bark and call themselves the head of the religion that I follow.

    You say you have wonderful friends that are Christian. I’m not really sure what they have to do with these other people that are tainting your view of Christianity.

    Ok, I’m starting to get a little over-emotional here. 🙂 No matter what you seek, if you seek goodness in something you will always have conflict with how things are done and what believe try to impose. That goes on within the church itself. You know, ignorance is bliss. You will need to separate from something or fight against it to make it better. There is no perfect group if you want to have a sense of community with people. Anywhere. If you seek something that is more hands-off in that regard something always feels like it is missing and it can be lonely…and that’s ok too, if that’s your bag. Dealing with people and opinions is something we do daily…unless we retreat to meditate on a mountain. Which Jesus did at times. But he always came back to speak the truth. Lovingly. Sometimes toughly. Is that a word? And that’s all we can do.

    If you are drawn to Christianity, consider that. If you haven’t, read the book Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell. It’s modern and contemporary and covers these kinds of things. It’s great to wrestle with them and one doesn’t have to exclude themselves from Christianity because they struggle with it. Struggle is encouraged…it’s what keeps us seeking more.

    Personally, I do love Jesus and his teachings and would feel empty without that thirst for more of what he teaches. I’d rather be a part of the solution in my own corner of the world than feel cut off because I disagree with what humans say.

    Whew. That got long.

  2. 2 Tom Goodman March 3, 2007 at 10:25 pm

    So let me get this straight: the Christians you know you admire, but front-and-center in your thinking are the Christians portrayed in media stories whom you know?

  3. 3 Tom Goodman March 3, 2007 at 10:27 pm

    *Sigh* WordPress needs a preview screen before submitting comments. I meant to say: “So let me get this straight: the Christians you know you admire, but front-and-center in your thinking are the Christians portrayed in media stories whom you don’t know.”

  4. 4 paulpeterson March 4, 2007 at 2:27 am

    I’m a Christian and a pastor, and I struggle with weird, mean “Christians.”
    I think a couple of points are worth considering…

    1) Some of these people would be weird and mean if they were agnostics, Buddists, etc. I kinda hate to blame Jesus for them!

    2) I guess for me I’m kind of moving in this direction… what would Jesus be like? Honestly, as a leader in the church I am continually surprised at some of the petty, mean people I meet who wear the label “Christian.” Sometimes it makes me not want that word used to describe me.

    Thanks for keeping it real!

  5. 5 tobeme March 5, 2007 at 5:23 pm

    I find it very disturbing that some Christians feel that they are able to lable other as “not real Christians” To me, this speaks volumes of how they think. What they are saying is that those other people do not play by our rules and therefore cannot be considered “real Christians”. The question should be our they living a “Christ Like Life”?

  6. 6 Alien Drums March 9, 2007 at 3:23 pm

    Holly, you touched some nerves. I find myself shaking my head. When I read the Dobson thing a few days I couldn’t believe it; no, I could believe it, but I didn’t want to. His version of Christianity is so different from the version I want to be part of.

    I also found Kimball’s piece as lacking. While he had some great things to say, it seemed like his solution was for non-Christians to simply get to know Christians, or vice versa. I think the bigger problem is that Christians need to get to know Jesus better, including me, and seek to follow Him better.

    Thanks again for helping us think.


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