Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Least of These

The irony is that I’m again working for a religious institution.

This time, however, it’s Catholic.

And lest my fundamentalist friends go ballistic about fraternizing with such heathens, let’s have a discussion about true religion (a la James), shall we?

My spouse and I have noticed over the last year while reading through the Old Testament how often Israel got in trouble for leaving their God. And their God (through His prophets) often gave specifics about what constituted leaving. There’s the easy stuff – creating idols of wood and stone and then worshipping them, not observing God’s Sabbath. But consistently, there’s also a repeated accusation of failing to defend the poor and vulnerable. Why I never saw this before, I don’t know. It’s there quite frequently. There are also multiple portions of the Law that deal with treating the poor correctly and providing for them. God is very, very concerned that His people aid those less fortunate, and consistently chooses that failure to criticize rather than or alongside others that may seem “worse”.

What do Catholics have to do with this?

Go look at your local phone book under “H”.

How many of the hospitals are named “St.” Something? How many homeless shelters? Indigent care clinics? All run by/started by Catholics?

In my current town, it’s pretty much all of them. In other towns I’ve lived in, same, as best I can remember.

Sure, you’ll find an occasional Lutheran, Episcopal, or Baptist hospital in certain geographic regions. You’ll find a decent number of Jewish hospitals (I guess they finally started listening to those prophets). And there’s always the Salvation Army. But you have the Catholic Church to thank for the lion’s share of religious-based medical and indigent care.

I *never* remember being taught such care for the poor when I was a Fundamentalist. I can’t think of *anybody* in *any* of the independent fundamental Baptist churches I attended who encouraged volunteering in or donating to a program that fed the poor, tended the sick, or defended the vulnerable. Sure, you might get guilted into visiting someone from the church who was in the hospital. And now that I think of it, one of my youth pastors did try to get a group of us to go around and sing to people in the hospital and nursing homes for a while. But *never* was there a concern for the tangible needs of anyone outside the congregation (rarely inside either, for that matter). And woe to the person who had the audacity to donate time or money to a non-fundamentalist cause – they were compromising with unbelievers. And Fundamentalists. Don’t. Compromise. They separate instead.

I remember looking down on a couple in my church who donated to a Billy Graham charity (as evidenced by a calendar from said charity in their kitchen). I remember flippantly brushing off charities because they weren’t “truly Christian”. Yet, had I been asked, I couldn’t have named anyone in the circles I thought were “truly Christian” who was doing any significant work among the poor.

And my favorite face-palming story from just a few months ago: a Christian charity in my hometown held a 5K run/walk to raise money for a Kenyan orphanage. My old church (new pastor) was located in a convenient place for them to have the finish line for the race, and the pastor graciously allowed them to set up their booths in the parking lot – on one condition.

He wanted it to be perfectly clear that his church had NOTHING to do with the charity, supporting the charity, or being mentioned in the same breath as the charity.


Because of the music they would be playing.

Yes, indeed. Because of course, heaven forbid that a fundamentalist church be associated with people helping orphans. Especially people who are also Christians and share the same basic cardinal doctrines. Music is much more important than that.

When a belief system claims to be orthodox but does not value what God values - well that should have been a very big red flag to me. Not that I’m converting to Catholicism by any means. (They seem to have just as much religious baggage as Fundamentalists.) But at least they got a very big something right. And it’s one of the many big things that Fundamentalists got very, very wrong.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


I haven't posted in a while due to life upheaval, but that isn't to say that the journey hasn't continued. In fact, I have several more posts... in my head. Perhaps in a week they will make it to the swirling ether.

May God bless you and yours.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Wandering Part 2

Still visiting various churches. It takes a while to get through the non-Baptist non-Pentacostal Protestant churches, even if you can eliminate some by listening to online sermons and perusing their websites.

Ah, websites. Here's what I've learned about churches from their websites over the last few months:

A. If the website is painful to look at (or absent), that means either they don't trust "outsiders" or they're too penny-wise and pound-foolish to pay for someone to create a good one - neither of which bode well for the function of the rest of the organization. For example, the website of the church that I grew up in is absolutely horrific. (Identifying marks changed/obscured to protect the innocent).

Painful pink/red links on a blue background with poorly aligned, pixelated graphics, uber-patriotic animated .gifs... *shudder* Enough said.

B. If your pastor is pictured on your website like this:

or this...

...I'm not interested. Perhaps I'm the one with the problem, but I can't take these people seriously.

C. If one of the main links on your homepage is "How to donate"...

...that's a great big red flag. Especially when there isn't a link to "what we believe" anywhere nearby.

D. If your website doesn't even have a doctrinal statement, and in its place are paragraphs with a lot of buzzwords like "inclusion", "journey", and "affirmation", then I'm not interested. If I merely wanted a social club, I wouldn't be searching under "church", now would I. (Not that I necessarily have a problem with those words, but those should grow from your understanding of God - ie doctrine - not be a replacement for it.)

E. And speaking of doctrinal statements, from Episcopalian to Lutheran to Baptist to Evangelical to Pentecostal (and fine, even Catholics), we mostly all believe in the deity of Christ, the virgin birth, the Trinity, the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture, original sin, and salvation through Jesus Christ alone. As someone who grew up being taught that everyone outside of Independent Fundamental Baptists were heretics and didn't believe the Bible, I'm amazed at the amount of Very Important Doctrine that we share.

F. The order of doctrinal statements likely says something too. Most doctrinal statements start with God, and if the first doctrinal statement trumpets a version of the Bible, they've just told me what they value more than God Himself. I even had a friend recently point out to me that starting with beliefs about Scripture is potentially troublesome, because we should start with God. Scripture comes from God, not the other way around.

So, in our journey so far, we've visited a couple of Presbyterian churches, an Episcopal church, and a Lutheran church. My favorite? Well, that should probably be a separate post in and of itself.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


When I was in Fundamentalism, I was taught that any modern type of music was bad. (“Modern” of course being arbitrarily defined and, oddly enough, changing as the years pass and some “sinful” music gets old enough to become acceptable.) Entire books were written on the nuances of what kind of music was “pure” and what kind was “evil”; many sermons were preached on the dangers of listening to modern music, especially its use in worship. I didn’t really care much for non-traditional Christian music, so that was at least an easy rule to follow. Of course, deep down, I really didn’t care for the newer Christian music that *was* acceptable either, I just listened to it because it was the right thing (and the only thing) to listen to.

Since coming out of Fundamentalism, I still haven’t been that impressed with the majority of modern “Christian” music genres. In general, I just find it to be a lower-quality version of mainstream music with some words about Jesus thrown in. Frankly I’d much rather listen to U2 or Pink Floyd than Chris Tomlin.

These thoughts started to coalesce after a recent discouraging and depressing week where I just felt like giving up on everything. That weekend, my husband and I went to a concert at a local country music festival –our first-ever “real” concert. (I know, country music, right? Sorry. I’m new at this stuff. Plus, I’m a hick.)

And you know what?

I walked away from that concert feeling profoundly encouraged. We had a fun night of singing along, dancing when we felt like it, and snuggling to the inevitable sappy love song. Honestly, it was more helpful than a great many sermons I heard in my past.

And here’s my ultimate point. Since I got out of Fundamentalism and developed more freedom of conscience in entertainment choices, I’ve unexpectedly discovered things that speak deeply to me. And I’ve come to realize that all truth is God’s truth. Not that everything out there is true, but when something resonates as true with the human experience, it’s of God. From this, I’m concluding that Christians shouldn’t be making a “Christian” version of anything – whether it be books, music, movies, pajamas, or t-shirts. Christians should just be living out the Gospel. We should be Christians writing books, not people writing Christian books; Christians making music, not people making Christian music, etc. The resultant art may or may not contain Christian themes, and may or may not contain offensive material. Sanitizing everything is dishonest. It’s not real life. The book of Esther never mentions God; multiple Old Testament books contain horrific adult material. Scripture doesn’t sanitize.

Our compartmentalization has damaged our ability to be all things to all men – not just in Fundamentalism (I’m looking at YOU, Evangelicals); a wide swath of American Christianity produces such insincere, Gospel-less drivel. Shame on us for thinking God is so pathetic that He only lives in a Christian bookstore.

Here's a more erudite and focused discussion on this topic - or if you'd prefer a more satirical approach. (Fair warning for my Fundamentalist readers on that second link - you will probably find some of it offensive on non-theological grounds. Which is rather the point.)

Monday, July 4, 2011


Oh, foolish Galatians! Who has cast an evil spell on you? For the meaning of Jesus Christ's death was made as clear to you as if you had seen a picture of his death on the cross.

Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the law of Moses? Of course not! You received the Spirit because you believed the message you heard about Christ.

How foolish can you be? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?

Have you experienced so much for nothing? Surely it was not in vain, was it?

I ask you again, does God give you the Holy Spirit and work miracles among you because you obey the law? Of course not! It is because you believe the message you heard about Christ. -Galatians 3:1-5
So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don't get tied up again in slavery to the law. - Galatians 5:1

Happy Fourth of July, everybody. May you find true freedom from spiritual enslavement today.