‘Why I Refuse To Join A Church (Part 2)

Go to church but they tease us, with a picture of a blue-eyed Jesus!  –  Ice Cube

Well, sort of.  I don’t take these lyrics from Ice Cube’s rant from his classical African-American community critique “Us” as an issue of merely color; but rather ideology.

I tried to make this point in the last church I belonged to.  Our services were tailored in a fashion that allowed us to ask questions or make comments during the sermon.  As you can imagine, that made for some memorable experiences, both for the good and not so good.  At the time George W. Bush was campaigning for a  second term in the White House.  There was a heavy religious fervor regarding that election too.  Both Catholic and Protestant organizations were galvanized similarly (if not more) than they were in 2000.

My comment during the service was that I found the election season offered at least two different Jesuses.  Immediately when I said it there were cat calls from the other members.  “Oh no, there is only ONE Jesus.”  I think they thought I was being literal.  And I found it hard to explain, as I was cut off continuously.  My point was that while most Christian churches share the same basic bible for scripture references, Jesus’ points of emphasis and agenda seemed to go down racial, class, social and political divides.

I recall visiting a prominent church in South St. Louis when the subject of the election came up.  The pastor of the church said, “I’m not going to tell you who to vote for.  But I will say that I’m not voting for someone who is for killing babies.”

I thought to myself, “Wow, I can understand Jesus being bent about abortion, but he’s not bent about torture or bombings of civilian communities?  What about all of the other injustices and crimes against humanity out there perpetrated by men for political or ideological reasons?  Is that ultimately what this election is about?”  I’ll get back to that.

Later I attended a different church for a men’s breakfast.  As usual when the subject of men come up at such an event it’s natural for the meaning of manhood and how it’s manifested in society to be brought up.  Some of the speakers made a point of making sure that homosexuality and manhood had nothing in common.  In doing so words and phrases to describe gays or being gay were slung around.  They consisted of standards such as ‘sweet’ ‘sissies’ and ‘punks’ to name a few.  Then there was the usual reference to Adam and Steve.

While all of these black macho evangelical males “amen’d” and approved of this name calling, I raised my hand and asked a question:

(Paraphrasing)

“I hear all of this name and cat calling regarding the homosexual community.  And while I respect the fact that your brand of faith entitles you the right to have your own opinion that homosexuality is a sin, do you honestly believe that Jesus would endorse the name calling that some of you are using such as ‘sissy,’ ‘punk’ or even ‘fags?’ “ 

At that point the pastor was silent.  To speak boldly like this against the precepts of leadership in a powerful black church is not something grinned upon.  But one of the elders jumped in quickly to the rescue.  With anger he burst from his seat and started spouting off scriptures in Leviticus and how homosexuality was a sin and that God didn’t like it and neither should any Christian.  He was practically foaming at the mouth from the front of the sanctuary as he looked towards my way in the back.

I reiterated:

“I’m not discussing the validity or non validation of homosexuality as a sin.  What I am asking… is that if there were homosexuals in this congregation, (and chances are there one or more among this group of men) if I were a homosexual who was struggling with my sexual identity vs. what I believe my faith allows, would your words as well as your spiritual disposition attract me to you as a source of help, or would I be repulsed, insulted or put off by your tone?  Would Jesus address a person who happens to be a homosexual with the names you choose along with your mocking tone?”  

DEAD SILENCE in the congregation.  I think some thought a fight was about to ensue.

The elder grew more angry, then shouted something else before the pastor got up and addressed my question… sort of.

“I understand what you are saying brother.  And perhaps you are right that we can do better with the name calling.  But let me be clear, homosexuality is a sin.  Now let’s move on.” 

This, among other things at that time, drew me to the conclusion that as far as the evangelical community was concerned, all God/Jesus really cared about were what I called the ‘Big 3’  Abortion, Homosexuality, and Stem Cell Research- all of which He was against.

That’s right.  Let it be known henceforth that these are the bullet points on Jesus’ hit list.  But was it really? 

The question of Jesus and the identification of his agenda have been going on thousands of years, right?  In the scriptures he seemed to identify it himself:

Matthew 16:13-15

13 Now when Jesus came into the parts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Who do men say that the Son of man is?

   14 And they said, Some say John the Baptist; some, Elijah; and others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.

   15 He saith unto them, But who say ye that I am?

   16 And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.

In my estimation, this question is still the most divisive among Christian believers.  Who Jesus is- a direct result of what he endorses- stands for, evangelizes, and lives by.  As Christians (followers or Disciples of Christ) by very definition that agenda should translate into their own.  And this is where confusion and division has obviously settled in.

Let’s take it step by step.  While these are not absolute, I think we can agree that these are generally the focus, missions, and nature of Jesus, depending on the demographics and world view of the worshipper. 

During slavery a certain segment of the population believed that Jesus endorsed the enslavement of Africans which included selling, beating, raping and murdering people that Jesus/God created.  During this same period the slaves (often taught Christianity either from Catholics in Africa or Protestant enslaver in America) believed that Jesus would deliver them from their oppression. 

Similarly, during the Jim Crow and civil rights eras, The KKK (who defined themselves a Christian organization) believed as they do today that Jesus choose them to be superior, while other nationalities are inferior. Many churches, both black and white, believed that Jesus created, loves and values all men equally. 

These days we face many of the same challenges.  Some upwardly mobile church dogma believe that Jesus favors the wealthy while others believe Jesus is concerned for the poor.  

Let me give you a biblical example and how it may play out today:

John 6:5-14

5When Jesus then lifted up his eyes, and saw a great company come unto him, he saith unto Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat?

   6And this he said to prove him: for he himself knew what he would do.

   7Philip answered him, Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little.

   8One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, saith unto him,

   9There is a lad here, which hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes: but what are they among so many?

   10And Jesus said, Make the men sit down. Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand.

   11And Jesus took the loaves; and when he had given thanks, he distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were set down; and likewise of the fishes as much as they would.

   12When they were filled, he said unto his disciples, Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost.

  13Therefore they gathered them together, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves, which remained over and above unto them that had eaten.

   14Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world.

 Newt Gingrich

If something like this were to happen, one side of the Christian agenda would report it this way:

Boy donates food, Jesus takes the little and performs a miracle to serve thousands.  The people rejoice.

Another Christian agenda would report it this way:

Unemployed multitude threaten to mug little righteous boy who has food.  Jesus the self-appointed welfare socialist takes the food away from the one who had in order to spread the wealth.  Claims of a miracle go unsubstantiated, but Newt Gingrich says that Jesus should face prosecution for robbery.  Sara Palin said Jesus is an illegal alien- “just look at his name”- (Pronounced Hey-Seuss) and bad for American values.  Finally, Rush Limbaugh called him “The Magic Hebrew.” 

Ok (chuckle) I’m having a little fun with this.  But you get my point.  This conversation has political ramifications, but in this context it’s not political at all. 

I have attended many of these churches during my lifetime so I speak with experience.

The evidence shows that our depiction of Jesus, given his world view, is something either given to us by others or something we decide upon ourselves- based on our own background- sociopolitical, socioeconomic and dogmatic vantage point.  Christians decide which Jesus to follow based on what they are comfortable with.  That’s right.  Believe it or not, Christians have pretty much picked their own Jesus to worship and follow based on their own accepted set of criteria.

For those living in inner cities, their Jesus cares about the poor; thought not exclusively.  For many living in upper class neighborhoods, Jesus wants you to have riches.   Many ministers I know believe and teach directly that the level that God shows his favor and blessings upon you, and the very proof of your own level of faith is a direct result of the believer’s financial status.

 Rev Ike

Some Christians promote charity and believe that government should help with social causes.  Other Christians are for cutting any and everything having to do with helping those less fortunate.  It’s happening in this country in a big way right now.  I’m not making a judgment one way or the other but more asking why is it that so-called liberal Christians believe one thing while conservative Christians believe something else entirely – while reading the same bible?

I’ve heard it said that it’s up to moderate Muslims to speak out against radical Muslims who are for violent and other unrighteous acts done in their name.  While I agree with that I rarely see Christians doing the same. 

When have you heard of moderate Christians speaking out against Pastor Steve Anderson and Rev. Wiley Drake  for praying that President Obama dies?  Have you ever been up late and night and seen those ministry programs where they offer to sell you God’s blessing for $500-$1000?

So why not just join a church that chooses a Jesus I am comfortable with?

On the one hand, that sounds kind of attractive, right?  But on the other, I’m not so sure about that.  My own personal evangelical bent lends me to believe that God, by virture of being the creator of the universe (which includes my very existence), has the authority to demand without question first and foremost that he be in charge.  If that is the case I certainly don’t need to align myself with a church that simply makes me comfortable.  Furthermore, I can’t fathom believing in a gospel that is not transferable to any and all communities in the world.   I can’t believe a message in College Park, Georgia that could not be preached in the slums of Calcutta, India just because the economic opportunities are not the same.

The bottom line in my view is that Jesus (as we know him) has been bastardized and transformed into a political football, tossed to and fro by whoever wields his name.  He’s been labeled like soup, and packaged for consumption like a Happy Meal or an Ipad too often for the purposes of manipulation, domination, or deceit.  That’s not to say all churches, ministers, or parishioners, liberal or conservative, are all bad or good.   But what is the difference in that or any other religious group that have segments that do good work?   The point for me is that following God as I want to know him is so profoundly vital to my own spiritual growth and well-being, dogmatic preferences and spiritual limitations cancel my mere desire to belong in such a  group.

Read Why I Refuse To Join A Church Part 1 here.



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First “The Decision,” Now There Needs To Be, “The Conversation!”

As  a true die hard Los Angeles Lakers man, in some ways I could care less about the debacle that is the Miami Heat these days.  In the whole scheme of things, this soap opera is just fodder, something to keep us talking until the playoffs start.  Champions don’t deal with such shenanigans.  And even with some of the sorry losses that Lakers have endured, my experience has always told me that in the NBA, it is after the All Star break where we begin to separate the men from the boys; the contenders from the pretenders.  Thus you see the two time defending champs clamping down on defense, moving the ball with superior precision, and rebounding with a vengeance on the way to impressive wins over OKC, Portland, and most notably a smashing of the league leading Spurs.  This is what I’m talking about.

If the Heat were a Hollywood sitcom they would be “Two and a Half Stars Men,” with Lebron James as Charlie Sheen.  And if Pat Riley can’t channel his inner Chuck Lorre, then Dwayne Wade needs to channel his Jon Cryer and step to his narcissistic side kick.  If Jame’s summertime presser was dubbed, “The Decision,” then Wade and James need to have, “The Conversation.”  I’m thinking it should go like this:

Wade: Hey King.  Real talk.  Enough of this heroic sh#!.  You trying to prove yourself at the end of every close game is hurting…

James: What?

Wade: Let me finish.  You trying to prove yourself at the end of every close game is hurting us.  Shooting threes and…

James: Hold on…

Wade: LET ME FINISH!  Every since you got here, if its a close game you act like you got to take the last shot.  We’re piling up L’s against the better teams and…

James: Wait a minute.  Do you know who the hell I am?  In case you didn’t know I’m King James.  Two time MVP!   Who else supposed to take the last shots?  If you didn’t know ask them clowns in Cleveland what I meant to them….

Wade: And in case you didn’t know that don’t mean sh#! to me!  I gotta ring!  Finals MVP – wanna see it?  Cause I can go get it for you.  When you get the ball at the end of the game, it’s because you have the ability to penetrate, and get to the basket if you can.  But that’s not where it ends.  I know about Cleveland but you forgot I ain’t Mo Williams or Boobie F’in Gibson!  I’m a stud!  A closer!  That was the point of you coming here in the first place.   We’re already thin up front, everybody knows what you are going to do at the end of games and you are playing right into their hands shooting bricks!  The first few months I ain’t said nothing to you.  I gave you space.  Enough!   F#*! your ego.  You better start finding me cause this ain’t working.  I ain’t going out like that!  I let you come to Miami.  But I’m still Tony Montana!

The two have to be separated.  James walks away angry and dismissive, cussing Wade under his breath.  His crew tells him Wade is full of sh#! and that it was Wade who begged “The King” to take his talents to South Beach in the first place.  But deep down inside, James eventually admits to himself what Wade says is true.  In his heart he knows its true anyway, but its not his fault that his teammates and management are cowards.  He won’t apologize.  But he will look to get Wade the ball in crucial situations.  In future close games James becomes the bait and Wade does what he does best.  Close games.  The Heat stay respectable able to beat anyone on a given night.  Riley works his magic and get more depth and size.  Udonis Haslem, Miami’s enforcer comes back healthy and the Heat stay relevant for several years to come.

Perfect right?

Except I don’t think Wade is going to have “The Conversation.”  He is too busy licking his own wounds to stand up to his bully buddy.  He won’t tell LeBrick that this the NBA, not AAU.

After Sunday’s loss to the Bulls, it was Wade who said, “the world is better now” because The Heat are struggling.  Cry me a river!

My message to D-Wade is that as fans we don’t give a bleep!  We saw the parade on TV a few months ago where you all acted and talked like championships were a wrap.  Now you want sympathy! Please!!!!  You brought all of this attention on yourselves!  Not merely because James went to Miami.  It was the way he did it and the way all of you acted!

Now Coach Spoelstra talks as if Cry-Gate is overblown.  Let me help him out too!  The NFL is in labor negotiations, Tiger is irrelevant,  most of us are waiting on March Madness to kick in and nobody gives a damn about spring training.   That means that for a short window the NBA is front page sports news.  Live with it.

They call me old fashioned but this much I know.  Nobody partied harder, and kicked it more than Earvin Magic Johnson back in his day.  It’s all been well documented.  But what separated dudes like him from some of these new cats is that he understood that the points of emphasis was on winning first.  If the Lakers lost, there was no party!  The parties were off the hook after wins and championships.  These new dudes got it backwards!  This is why the likes of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett will always beat them.  They’ve already learned this lesson.  Wade knows better.  But it doesn’t appear he has the heart to stand up to LeBully.

And so you have it!