I sat in the 2nd pew of the small church I grew up in - the church my grandfather built and my family were charter members of, the church where my grandmother and I baked the unleavened bread for the Lord’s Supper, and picked flowers from our garden to grace the altar, where my dog got a certificate of perfect attendance every year for Vacation Bible School, where my mother played the piano for worship, where we threw baby showers in the Fellowship Hall for unmarried teen mothers, the church just down the street from our small shotgun house, where my grandmother fed the hobos riding the trains that ran behind our house - and looking up into the face of the angry preacher shouting that we were all going to burn in the eternal fires of hell if we didn’t do something, or believe something, or…the specifics don’t matter. I knew, even as an 8-year-old, that there was something intrinsically wrong with his fear-mongering, threatening, terrifying message.
A couple of years later, I listened to a Sunday School teacher talking about heaven and hell, and said to her, “That doesn’t sound right to me.” So she asked me to explain heaven and hell to her. I described them in terms of what I now recognize as quantum physics. “But, that’s not what the BIBLE says about heaven and hell!” she exclaimed, mortified at my theory of energy and collective consciousness. But it seemed so consistent, to me, with Jesus’ message, that even as a child the rest seemed like nothing more than an allegory.
Now, 40 years later, religion is still mostly a cult of fear, shame, and intimidation. The institution of the church has made the bible, a book of human words about that which transcends human words, an idol, a weapon to be wielded as needed and desired for control, political gain, and to justify oppression and hatred.
Rather than being, like Jesus, the champion of justice for the poor and oppressed, rather than leading the way to a better society, the mainline church is in some instances a partner in the violence toward anyone who dares to take the message of Jesus seriously, who dares to question the status quo, who has a disagreement with the Pharisaic approach to scripture and tradition.
Jesus understood that organized religion has many idols, even in the first century, and his was a radical reinterpretation of the tradition. He corrected the trajectory of religious interpretation. But the 21st century church has fallen into the same traps as the Pharisees, focusing on polity and doctrine rather than embodying Jesus’ message of love, forgiveness, and service to the marginalized.
We have lost our way. Again.
I considered renouncing my faith this year and leaving the church, but I still believe in the mission and teachings of Jesus. I still believe, as Jesus said, that the “Spirit of God dwells in” us. I still believe that the Kingdom of God has come near, every time we show love, and offer grace, and bring healing and comfort to those who suffer.
I am finished with arguing and debates and endless bickering. I am ashamed of my own denomination. I am adopting the religion of Christ.
Through the books and bibles of time I've made up my mind I don't condemn,
I don't convert, [sic]
I don't convert, [sic]
'Cause no one is gonna lose their soul
Love is my religion,
‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ He said to him, ‘ “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’Matthew 22: 36-40
I’m declaring my freedom from the constraints and misguided control of the institution of the church. Now love is my religion, because that is what Jesus taught.
Note: I write a monthly column for FreshDay.org. It's a terrific publication. I encourage you to check it out!