One of the main problems I’ve ran into when attempting to engage some Christians is—it seems like we’re speaking two different languages. There’s a lot of loaded religious language used that only serves to confuse and alienate others. When I could no longer stay silent about the contradictions I was seeing within the congregation, I spoke with some elders individually about those things. I was given a whole lot of rhetoric, cliches, and loaded language. I understood what they were saying, but their minds were so wrapped up in (what I believe to be) misconceptions, that there was no real conversation taking place.
For example, I mentioned that the way I was beginning to see church was more of relationships between individuals that are helping each other along in life’s journey. The “congregation” is free to be frail and vulnerable with each other to work out their faith together. It wasn’t so much a single speaker stating his beliefs, or that of the denomination, to an audience who’s only recourse is agreement or silence. The elders assumed that I was going to try to start my own congregation since I happened to mention that I had more of a church experience just chatting with others in my home or theirs. This was never my intent, but that “with us or against us” mentality seemed to kick in and it was stated that I had to connect any activity with their congregation, period! My intent was to engage people where they’re at in love and not forcing anything on them. Instead, I felt the grip tightening the more I tried to be part of their congregation.
Another situation, at my mom’s funeral no less, was when an elder’s wife approached me and stated there are a lot of people going to hell and they don’t even know it. This was not only inappropriate, and I refused to enter such a conversation at that time, but it was loaded with such misunderstanding of our loving Father and Savior Jesus, that it saddened me these concepts are still being perpetuated. Is that love, joy, and peace, that the majority of people spend eternity burning—in effect, that God loses in the end? I’m heartbroken that people have been subjected to such horror movie scenes in a place that was supposedly about worshiping and loving God.
It seems that to engage many Christians in conversation, we would first have to be able to peel away all the layers of assumptions stemming from poorly translated Bible versions. This isn’t to say I have all the answers or that I’m right about everything. I’ve been on both sides of the conversation, but it seems many will only believe what they’ve been told to believe without actually trying to put together all those teachings that contradict God’s love for us. This in turn voids our witness. If we approach others with “the Bible says so,” but don’t understand enough of the Bible to explain this, we’re only left with hollow threats to try to force someone to act righteous externally. More and more, as we see today, this method is failing.
We no longer live in an age where knowledge and understanding is subject only to those who attend seminary. We can now dig deeper into the meanings of passages than we’ve ever been able to throughout history. The more I dig, the more simple and straightforward the Bible seems to become. Much of religion seems to assume (and I’ve even been told directly) that we’re too stupid to interpret the scriptures and only certain people educated and chosen by God can. Bologna! Everyone can come to understand the love of Jesus through the Bible. Forcing people into a state of “you don’t have the discernment to know” only forces people into compliance. It seems confusion, threats, chaos, and dependency (among other things) are used to keep people compliant and to keep the religious machinery running.
So what’s the point of all this? I keep searching for a way to engage these Christians on common grounds so we can come to some sort of unity in Jesus. Some seem stubborn in their ways and would rather die than give any hint that they could be wrong. Others eventually find out when they “see behind the curtain.” Still others except the evils they’ve been subjected to as necessary lesser evils than those of “the world.” I guess, as patiently as I listen to the rhetoric and misconceptions (those I’ve researched extensively and have found to mean something other than what is taught), I don’t see that same willingness to listen from some of these religious types. It’s still about “you have to believe us because we’re right because we say so.” Conversation is shutoff, obligation is doubled down, seeking is relegated to sinful doubting, and we see the state of religion as it is today—declining.
How do we engage those that are too stubborn to listen and insist that archaic ways (that never seemed to work for the societies that have practiced them) are the way to unity? Maybe we should just take Jesus’ advice—“Leave them alone. They are blind guides of the blind.”—Matt 15:14.
I know much of this might sound harsh. It can be frustrating when trying to spread the Good News of Jesus while others, claiming Christianity, are spreading hatred to further their finances, politics, power, control, etc…My desire is that we all, as Christians, embrace the life Jesus showed and leave our defunct religion, that is only causing more strife, behind. My desire is that we all truly live out love like Jesus did.