Why I love religion and I love Jesus

jesus > religion
This last week Jefferson Bethke blew up the Internet with this compelling spoken word entitled, "Why I hate religion, but love Jesus."  If you haven't seen it yet, I highly recommend it.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1IAhDGYlpqY]

A number of people shared this video with me and I have now watched it several times.  Every time I watch it, I am compelled by Jefferson's passion and talent. It is obvious that he has been radically transformed by the living power of the living Christ.  His authenticity, transparency, and creativity have drawn me in.  The truth is that I would be honored to know Jeffuhson and be encouraged by his faith.

It is a crime to bank on behavior modification:

I am totally with Jefferson and his angst towards religion, and I too mourn the awful things that have been done throughout history in the name of religion.  It is an offense to the gospel of Jesus when we take the free gift of salvation and turn it into some shallow form of behavior modification.  Jefferson is preaching to the choir along with Jesus himself when he compares these religious leaders and Pharisees to white-washed tombs.

It is a crime when we take the power and mystery of atonement, salvation, and grace and use them as wedges and sledgehammers to crush people, or even worse, to grow in our own power and prestige.  It is obvious that Jefferson, and I am sure to just about anyone else who has ever interacted with a religious person and has been wronged or hurt by someone’s misguided approach to faith and understanding of the Christian life.

But if we are not careful, we can slip into a knee-jerk response of placing all of our own angst and disagreement with or hurt over the actions of a few individuals and put them on "the church."

Lets not be so quick to blow up the church:

I know Jeffuhson makes it clear that he is not judging, but that is exactly what he is doing. I actually believe that we do need to do some judging and that some of Jefferson's judgments are right and needed.  While Jeffuhson claims to not judge and says that he is for the church, the overwhelming tone in his piece is a crushing indictment of the very thing he claims to love; because, like it or not, popular or not, religion IS the church.  The church is made up of sinful and broken people who are all on a journey towards Christ.  And these sinful and broken people who have gathered through history have done amazing things!

It is so easy to blame wars, judgmentalism, bigotry, and hypocrisy on the church.  And for every one example you can give, there are hundreds and thousands and hundreds of thousands of examples of Christians, religious people, who have: started schools and universities, opened hospitals, cared for leper colonies and AIDS communities, donated billions of dollars to thousands of charities, lobbied Congress, rescued women and children from sex trafficking, adopted unwanted kids, adopted special needs kids, provided community for the marginalized in society, abolished slavery, fought for women's rights, cared for neighbors in need, donated food and clothing and time to people and organizations, etc.  I could go on and on.

The point is that it has been religious people throughout history that have done most of society’s good deeds. 

Most educational institutions, hospitals, non-profits, and charities were started and funded by religious people.  It has been Christians throughout history as well right now, in my actual church, who have done and are doing some pretty amazing things. And it is the stories of these religious people, the stories of the church, that need to be celebrated and lifted up.  It is a cheep shot to simply rail on religion in an effort for more street cred.

We are all in process:

And that is the point that Jefferson makes clear in his spoken word: he is on a journey.  At one point he was a part of the religious community, but only in a shallow and surface way.  He was addicted to porn and living a double life.  But as the grace of Jesus rocked his world, he became more and more passionate to follow Jesus with his entire heart.

I totally remember when the light turned on for me.  All of a sudden, I was the only real Christian in the room.  All my Sunday school teachers, my parents, their peers … they were all obviously missing it, because I had finally found it.  Of course, I know now that this was such an immature view of things.  We are all in process, and all moving closer to Christ at our own unique pace.  It would actually be more helpful to open my own ears and close my mouth and listen to the amazing faith stories of those boring church people who seem to be just sitting in the pew next to me.  You will be rocked to hear the stories of pain and suffering, joy and victory that Jesus has walked people through.

I get that religious people have done awful things, and especially powerful religious people have abused their influence.  But in case you haven't realized, the church, religion, and religious people are quickly losing their social influence and power.  We need to be highlighting the overwhelming good news stories rather than continuing to crush what little influence the church still has.

One closing thought: 

The caricature of what a self-righteous person is has undergone a transformation. The truth is that there is a reverse self-righteousness going on within this newer, hipper brand of Christianity.  Many people seem to think that it is only the old skool religious people with their emphasis on personal holiness, abstaining from drinking and sex, while voting Republican and marching in pro-life rallies are the only people who can be self-righteous. I would like to encourage my Christian brothers and sisters who have pushed back from the traditional form of self-righteousness to wrestle with the fact they you may have simply traded one form of self-righteousness only to embrace a new form of self-righteousness centered on social justice, creation care, Tom's Shoes, and voting Democrat.  Self-righteousness is self-righteousness and I agree wholeheartedly that Jesus hates it.

We are on the same team!  Let our words be seasoned with grace for one another, especially for those for whom we don't know the entire story.  If we are going to impact our world for Christ, then our life in faith has to be more about personal faith in Jesus.  My faith is lived out in the context of “we.”  Together, WE are the body of Christ, the church, the Christian religion.  If we are going to share the go od news, feed the poor, extend grace, expand the kingdom of God, it is going to be done through the church!

May we have grace for one another, may we lift up and encourage the church with the amazing things religious people are doing, and may we love Jesus!