(RNS) If Christians stopped bickering about church, presenting sex as a first-order concern, telling other people how to lead their lives and lending our name to minor-league politicians, what would we have to say?

We need to figure that out, because we are wearing out our welcome as tax-avoiding, sex-obsessed moral scolds and amateur politicians.

In fact, I think we are getting tired of ourselves. Who wants to devote life and loyalty to a religion that debates trifles and bullies the outsider?

So what would we say and do? No one thing, of course, because we are an extraordinarily diverse assembly of believers. But I think there are a few common words we would say.

  1. We would say the name “Jesus.” We might mean different things by that name, but he is the center, the reason we exist.
  2. Allowing ample room for our diversity, we would say what we mean by faith in God. Not how right we are and how wrong others are, but an I-message: Here’s why I believe in God.
  3. We would tell stories about God’s impact on our lives. Not grand doctrines, not airtight theories, not definitions of who’s inside the circle and who’s outside, but stories of personal encounter.
  4. We would listen to other stories, respectfully, not defensively, eager to hear what our fellow Christian has to say.
  5. We would each tell as honestly as we can how we are trying to lead our lives in the light of our encounters and stories. We would sketch the bridge between faith and action.
  6. We would tell what we see in the world — not in the woe-is-me, sky-is-falling, Satan-is-winning manner people expect from us, but just what we see and how we think God cares about it.
  7. We would speak of hope, a durable, solid-rock hope that God is God, and God can use us to make a difference.
  8. We would talk of joy. Not giddiness, not even happiness, as the world understands happiness, but that deeper response to God that feels whole and peaceful.

Personally, I think these eight things are what we ache to say. They are why we walked in the door of a church in the first place. They are why we stay, despite abundant reasons for leaving.

Everyone has a theory about “why people are leaving the church,” “why millennials don’t come to church,” “why churches are dying” and “what’s wrong with society.”

Personally, I think we should stop worrying about institutional outcomes — especially outcomes that we hope will prove we were right all along — and try instead just to be hopeful, joyful, active people of faith.

I think we should take our parts in the great political debates — power and wealth, after all, were Jesus’ primary concern — but then agree that, whether X or Y gets elected, God will still grieve our cruelties and sufferings, and we will all have much work to do as believers.

Whatever the label — progressive or conservative, contemporary or traditional, denominational or nondenominational — we will each have something unique and necessary to contribute.

There is more binding us than dividing us. For division comes from our small and selfish places. Binding comes from God.

(Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the president of Morning Walk Media and publisher of Fresh Day online magazine. Get the new Fresh Day mobile app here. His website is www.morningwalkmedia.com.)

YS/MG END EHRICH

 

20 Comments

  1. After visiting his site, I am convinced this guy is not actually a christian. I have no doubt he attends a church, but I suspect it had no doctrine other than “do what feels good and love everthing and everyone”. I don’t believe jesus taught blind acceptance like this guy would…with his “best practices for churches” he wants to sell you. As if it were a business. How convenient then he even believes churches should bow to the taxation of a secular master.

    • “..bow to the taxation of a secular master” ?

      “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s” (Ἀπόδοτε οὖν τὰ Καίσαρος Καίσαρι καὶ τὰ τοῦ Θεοῦ τῷ Θεῷ).[Matthew 22:21]

  2. Chaplain Martin

    Tom Ehrich, the eight common words we should are a good beginning. You put in “tax avoiding” which pulled Llies chain plus mine a bit. I always remember the quote: “The power to tax is the power to destroy.” I can see some reasons property not used for religious services should be taxed. I have long felt that Churches and other religious buildings should pay an appropriate amount for fire and police protection, but it should not be taxed for such.

    • The quote/phrase you refer to is absolutely true.

      Any real asset you have purchased funded by your savings (gross income net of living costs) over time is analogous to your bank account balance. Now if we allow a gov to tax your bank account annually it’s easy to see how eventually you have zero and the gov consumed it. Taxing real property assets is insanely destructive economically. A similar case can be made for certain intangible assets, but its easiest to demomstrate conceptually with residential real property.

      Another way of thinking about it is that you pay a ransom annually to not have your saved equity in your house confiscated by local gov. Its ironic that they do so many gov program in the name of beneficial economic matters but reserve the right to make any citizen homeless and savingsless every year.

  3. Wow, what a load of crap. This is exactly why I do not go to church, because of crap like this. How about opening your bible buddy and read it. OH wait, if you did that you may actually have to figure out what the book is about in the first place. Pathetic writing.

  4. samuel Johnston

    Hello Tom,
    “We would say the name “Jesus.” We might mean different things by that name, but he is the center, the reason we exist.”
    In the late 19th Century, the search for the historical Jesus began in earnest.
    My reading started with Albert Schweitzer and concluded (many books and years later) with the Jesus Seminar.
    Long story short, almost nothing is known about Jesus- not his birthplace, not his hometown, not his family tree, nor his education, not his viewpoint.
    Christianity has almost nothing to do with Jesus, and everything to do with the Romans who created the organizations and doctrines. Sorry Tom. Go to the library and read Church History. I expect you will be horrified.

  5. Well said, Tom! I keep trying to select a favorite to tell you I liked, but there are so many. Thank you for taking the time to write, and post, your thoughts. Peace to you.

  6. Thank you, Tom. You’ve majored in the majors here. So many are thirsting for positivity and guiding principles for a growing spirituality and all they hear is dickering over small rules and over who is right and who wrong. That stuff won’t help. Positive and authentic interactions will. Thanks again.

  7. Just reading through the comments so far serves to show exactly what Tom is talking about.
    However you see Jesus – whether he is an historical person who said some radical things for his time or whether it is the power of the non-historical archetypal hero there is something compelling in this search to know Jesus that transcends the rules, laws. politics.
    Samuel, if YOU read church history (and Tom is an Episcopal priest and has gone to seminary, so I know he has) you’d discover that there was an early church community that practised the ways of this teacher long before Paul and the Emperor usurped the message. There is a base to the teaching passed along. Scholars may disagree about what Jesus said or didn’t say or if he was around to say them at all, but there was a movement that certainly caught hell that followed The Way.
    The point Tom makes is a valid and important one. We need to pull together and not hurl stuff at each other in the name of Jesus. We need to get back to the essence of the message that called us in the first place to be Christians – and I believe at the heart of it all is a very simple direction to be loving toward each other, treat each other with kindness and respect, forgive wrongs and embrace the good.
    Whether you believe that Jesus said this or not, it is still a powerful way to live. And, if people of all religious and non-religious stripes could be more tolerant and accepting, our world could be transformed.
    Good points, Tom. Thanks for sharing.

    • samuel Johnston

      Hello Deb,
      Tom’s 8 part plan starts with number 1) “We would say the name ‘Jesus’. We might mean different things by that name, but he is the center, the reason we exist.”
      The other seven parts do not even mention Jesus, or any of his historical teachings but mentions God eight times and Satan once. You are correct in that I did not go to seminary (lucky me), nor have holy water poured on my head (in that long long line of the folks with wet heads). None of that nonsense is the least bit enlightening about the man whom the Greeks called Jesus.
      Tom is welcome to host “feel good therapy sessions”, or seances, or meditation meets, but to say Jesus is the center etc. is total nonsense.
      I attended the Episcopal Church for about a Decade in the Sixties (paid choir) and found them a civilized and well educated lot (if a bit eccentric). Guys like Tom make me ask how the mighty Church of England has sunk to such a low intellectual level.

  8. Nice laundry list there, Mr. Ehrich — and this is a sincere comment, no sarcasm. Mostly good stuff, honestly.

    However, Item #1 is a deal-breaker. Period. We have got way WAY too much of that “We might mean different things by that name” stuff, and that’s why you see so many huge problems infecting and paralyzing the American churches right now.

    I’m not going to attend any church where they start talking about Jesus like the Unitarians or Bishop Spong or the Jesus-Seminar or the Internet Infidels do. And I have no trouble advising other Christians to do the same avoidance. Liberal pastor? Go find another pastor.

    Not going to attend any church where Jesus doesn’t have the power to save and heal the people, the power to execute 1 Cor. 10:13 and 1 Cor. 6:9-11. Not going to attend a church where Jesus is forced to be politically correct. Not going to attend any church where they worship Jesus and Gay Marriage at the same time. It’s time to say “Enough”, and vote with one’s feet.

    Having said that, though, I still liked the laundry list.

  9. Excellent article by a genuine Christian. The Bible tells us in John 13:35 New International Version (NIV)
    ” By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”.

    I don’t see much love in the Religious right, instead they have an uncanny resemblance to the Pharisees in the NT
    .

  10. It’s an OK list. Of course, it is easily recognized as a feel good list about a Christianity that doesn’t have to be Christian and a God who doesn’t even have to be God. (I dare say the Unitarians probably love it, but that would prove my point.)

    Where you really lost me was when you stated that “power and wealth, after all, were Jesus’ primary concern.” Even a cursory glance at Scripture (not to mention an in-depth study of the same) reveals that sin against God and our need for forgiveness are primary since He died for that.

    • samuel Johnston

      Hi Richard,
      I agree with your paragraph one, and the first sentence of paragraph two.
      But when you continue; “Even a cursory glance at Scripture…reveals that sin against God and our need for forgiveness are primary since He died for that.”
      I don’t know who to be the most angry with: 1)those who made this horrid nonsense up
      or 2) those who swallow it whole without thinking it through
      How did they talk you into the sick, sick, idea that you-Richard- have behaved so badly, or are so intrinsically evil (original sin) that God had to kill his blameless son to make things right again. Run Richard run, while you still can.
      I am here to tell you that you have done nothing -and can do nothing -to upset the universe.
      Any entity that has the ability to be a Creator God would hardly be interested in punishing such a feeble creature as yourself. Least of all to torture one of his divine family because of his concern.
      Ask yourself this “would you have Jesus suffer for your sins?” I will suffer for my own sins, such as they are, and so will you. Anything else would be unjust, and I would not will a God to be so.

  11. This PROVES religion is nothing
    but incoherent, ancient delusions and cold blooded abjection.

    1. “We would say the name ‘Jesus’…he is the center, the reason we exist.” –
    NO. JESUS IS NOT THE REASON YOU EXIST.
    You exist because sex developed
    a billion years ago as a means of reproducing RNA.
    There is no reason TO life, but there is reason IN life.

    2. “Allowing ample room for our diversity, we would say what we mean by faith in God. Not how right we are and how wrong others are, but an I-message: Here’s why I believe in God.”
    AND PEOPLE WOULD RIGHTLY CALL YOU DELUSIONAL
    and superstitious because there are no good reasons to believe in a god.

    3. “We would tell stories about God’s impact on our lives. Not grand doctrines, not airtight theories, not definitions of who’s inside the circle and who’s outside, but stories of personal encounter.”
    AND YOU WOULD BE RIGHTLY CALLED A DELUSIONAL CON ARTIST.
    This is an invitation to speculate on causes and effects by using nothing more than your imagination and wish-thinking.

    4. “We would listen to other stories, respectfully, not defensively, eager to hear what our fellow Christian has to say.”
    A SURE MARK OF DISHONESTY AND IMMORALITY IS TO ACCEPT A RIDICULOUS CLAIM. MOST OF THESE STORIES DO NOT DESERVE RESPECT.

    5. “We would each tell as honestly as we can how we are trying to lead our lives in the light of our encounters and stories.”
    Unfortunately in a church all lessons will be forced into the shape of Jesus and used as a con game to persuade others that Jesus did it – when no direct links will be demonstrated; only asserted. Assertions are NOT HONEST!!! YOU LOSE THIS ONE BEFORE YOU CAN EVEN START!

    6. “We would sketch the bridge between faith and action.”
    POGROMS, SHAMING AND WITCH BURNINGS ARE AS VALID AS SOUP KITCHENS.

    7. “We would tell what we see in the world — not in the woe-is-me, sky-is-falling, Satan-is-winning manner people expect from us, but just what we see and how we think God cares about it.”
    A CLEAR DEMONSTRATION OF WHY THEOLOGY IS BRAINLESS DRIVEL.

    8. “We would speak of hope, a durable, solid-rock hope that God is God, and God can use us to make a difference.”
    THIS IS THE REQUEST FOR PEOPLE TO PRETEND THEY BELIEVE SOMETHING AND TO PUT ON A COMPLETELY ABJECT PERFORMANCE.

    9. “We would talk of joy. Not giddiness, not even happiness, as the world understands happiness, but that deeper response to God that feels whole and peaceful.”
    CONNECTING JOY TO GOD IS AS DUMB
    AS CONNECTING HIGHWAYS TO LEPRECHAUNS.
    AN EMPTY CLAIM IS DEVIOUS AND SHAMEFUL.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comments with many links may be automatically held for moderation.