Let me begin with a disclaimer – this should probably actually be titled “10 things I hate about narrow-minded, mean, divisive, holier-than-thou, American Christians.” But that’s just not very catchy. The disclaimer is to save my skin, and because every American Christian does not exhibit the traits I’m about to complain about. There are plenty of genuinely wonderful, Christlike people leading and attending churches across the United States. They love on people, help people, care for people, and do their best to make a difference in the world. This is not directed at those people.
1. The teaching that if you just say a prayer, getting “saved” will make you RICH/HAPPY/YOUR ENTIRE LIFE WILL BE SUPERDUPERAWESOME! (Otherwise known as Prosperity Theology)
Um. Not so much. In case you haven’t read the Bible, Jesus died a horrible agonizing death only reserved for slaves, pirates, and enemies of the state. And for all of you who want to point out that he had to die as part of the divine plan to save us from our sins, let me ask this – what about the disciples? They were all killed too, with the exception of John.(1)
Sure, it could be in God’s plans that you get rich, that nothing ever goes wrong in your life, and that you live happily ever after until you die. Or, he could want you to give up your riches and go help malnourished babies in Libya. He might want you to stop being materialistic and live a modest, quiet life, serving in your community. There might be some pain and hard times in the plans for you. God never promises that we’ll be “happy” or that we’ll have possessions. He promises that he’ll never leave our sides.
Faith in Christ is not a “fix-it” pill. It’s a process, and sometimes it’s really, really hard work. Telling people otherwise isn’t just false advertising. It’s a guaranteed recipe for failure when something goes wrong.
2. Dress Code
We’ve all heard the phrase “Sunday best.” Dressing up to go to church was a staple of American society for years. It’s just what you did, and no one questioned it without negative repercussions. My mother used to make me wear pantyhose and dresses, even to Wednesday night services. We were going to the house of God, after all. There’s a flaw in that logic that it took me years to uncover – the church building is not the house of god. We are the house of God.
Which means God sees me all the time.
No matter what I’m wearing.
He sees me even if I’m not wearing anything.
He did create me, after all. I doubt he’s offended if I, his perfect house that he created, walk into a building that man created, wearing a pair of jeans and a t-shirt.
What I am positive is offensive, however, is how people who don’t meet the dress code are still treated when they walk into some churches. Those are his babies. He created those people. It might have taken a very long time and a very long list of circumstances for those people to set foot inside a church door. They might have come looking for answers, or hope, or peace, or some story they didn’t quite believe about a God that might care about them. Instead, they get talked about because their clothing doesn’t meet the status quo.
Grow up, people. If a person wearing baggy pants won’t come in to your church because all the men are wearing suits, check yourself. If a girl with neon pink hair and combat boots won’t even look your way because every woman is in a dress and heels, check yourself. Make it fit with the culture of your area – if your church is in a place where only business types gather, maybe a business dress is appropriate. But you might want to preach a few sermons on how God wants to reach everyone, and then take a few field trips to the areas that aren’t so businessy. After all, Jesus spent most of his time with the people who had nothing.
3. Fat Pastors
This is a touchy one. Like, really touchy. Weight is something we don’t talk about in church. We’re not allowed to be addicted to alcohol, or cigarettes, or porn, or crude tv shows, because those things are all “bad.” But we are allowed to be addicted to food, and no one says a word. Having a youth event? Pizza’s #1 on the menu. Having a 4th of July barbeque? Well…might as well eat a hot dog, a hamburger, and a sausage. What better way to celebrate being American than stuffing our faces full of processed foods that have almost negative nutritional value?
I once had a (very large) church lady lecture me for ten minutes on the definite evils of the half glass of wine I was drinking, while stuffing her face with a large nugget meal from McDonalds. Her argument? My body was the temple of the Holy Spirit. How could I be putting that crap into it? I could’ve asked her the same question.
We eat and eat and eat and lie around and watch tv and never ever exercise. And then we want God to just heal us when we have heart attacks, strokes, high blood pressure and cholesterol, diabetes, and a myriad of other ailments that we bring on ourselves? Pastors, of all people, should take care of their temples. They are the examples for the rest of us. Somehow, pastors seem closer to God. If it’s okay for the pastor to be fat, well, then it’s okay for me too. God must not mind what I do with my body.
I think I’ll have another slice of that pizza. Oh, and two scoops of ice cream. With hot fudge on top.
LGBT – or just “those people” in most Christian circles. For those of you who don’t know, LGBT stands for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender community. Fundamentally, LGBT people think they should be given the same rights that people in heterosexual relationships are given, and would like to be recognized as human beings. Also, they’ve adopted the entire color spectrum (the rainbow).
Now, I am not here to start a debate about whether being LGBT is right or wrong, whether people who have those tendencies should remain celibate, what the Bible says regarding the issues, etc. If you’re looking for a fight, go somewhere else (if you’re looking for honest, humble dialogue about LGBT issues, check out http://gcnjustin.tumblr.com/). I’m simply here to complain about how the church treats LGBT persons. Most of the time there’s little to no dialogue, and an enormous amount of judgement.
I have a happily married straight friend who recently walked into a church hand in hand with a friend of hers as part of a research project. The two girls went in, sat down in the back row, and were not very politely asked to leave within 5 minutes. 5 minutes! For all the drivel the church puts out about how Jesus loves everyone, he sure seems awfully picky. It feels like Jesus doesn’t love those people, and won’t until they stop what they’re doing. Everyone can come as they are…except LGBT persons. And if we do let them in the building, God forbid they don’t give up their lifestyle immediately. After all, we can’t have “those people” around our children.
Those people? Those people are God’s children. He created them. He loves them. He probably gets really pissed off when people hurt them using his name. Sure, they have sin. So does everyone. Beating someone over the head with a metaphorical Bible is never a good way to save a soul. If I walked into a church and someone told me to leave because I had pre-marital sex or told a lie or stole something, I would probably never go to another church. Stop being sin snobs. Try actually having a conversation for a change. You might realize that the LGBT community is made up of people, not sins.
5. No Care for the Environment
Now I sound like a tree-hugging, whale-saving, hybrid-driving hippy, right? I wonder why that has such a bad name. Is it because saving trees and whales and fossil fuel is inherently wrong? Or is it just because it’s inconvenient for us, and it’s too much work, so we don’t want to bother. If we were going to save the Amazon rainforest, we’d have to stop eating so much McDonalds, since it’s getting chopped down for farmland. If we were going to save energy, we’d have to turn up the air a few degrees in our houses and open the windows. Maybe we’d have to take showers instead of baths, and drive cars that got better gas mileage. Maybe we wouldn’t use so much disposable dishware and plastic bottles that end up in landfills, never to decompose.
None of this matters though, right? I mean, we’re all just going to die and go to heaven, and if it does matter, it’s only because our kids live here. Wrong. We’re not “going.” Heaven is coming here. The Bible doesn’t say that God is going to “make all new things.” It says he’s going to “make all things new.” Which means that all the things will still be there, and that they will be the building blocks for the new heavens and the new earth.
In Genesis 1, right after God created humanity, he blessed it, and told it to “rule over the earth.” Another way to say that is to “be responsible” for the earth. Be responsible. Drinking water from a different plastic bottle that you don’t recycle every day isn’t responsible. Driving a vehicle that guzzles gas short distances when you could ride your bike or walk isn’t responsible. Throwing things that could be recycled or given to thrift stores away isn’t responsible.
It’s convenient, but it isn’t responsible. Let’s stop pretending we care about the environment just because we bought a trendy reusable sports bottle. Yes, every little bit counts. But it’s not enough. In the words of a famous superhero, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Step up, Christians. Stop and plant some roses before there aren’t any for you to smell.
6. Women aren’t Allowed to Minister
Now, this isn’t always true. Some churches and denominations have women pastors on staff; some even have a few women leading congregations. As a general rule, however, the church is a male-dominated society. There are all kinds of debates about this – whether the Bible allows for women in leadership, whether women should be silent, whether women can minister, but can’t be the “head” pastor. I am not going to list those debates here. There is plenty of literature on the matter. Educate yourselves.
My point is simply that the church is just one more place where women have been oppressed throughout the centuries. Even in churches that say they allow women in leadership, there can be little opportunity to minister. If women are allowed to minister, it is usually only to children, other women, or as part of a husband-wife team. And why is that? Because we are only capable of being a “helper”?
The holy community of God’s believers should not be just another place where women feel oppressed and marginalized. We have a voice. A strong voice. There are more women than men in churches across America. Don’t believe me? Look it up. We have an enormous pool of talent, experience, and resource in the women in our churches. It’s wasted, because no one bothers to fight the status quo.
7. “Jesus is American!”
I don’t actually know anyone who would say that phrase outright, but too many live as though they believe it. “God bless America!” “God’s on our side!” “America’s a Christian nation!”
Last time I checked, the only nation God was ever on the side of was ancient Israel, and that was only when they were following his express commands to a T. When they weren’t, he let all kinds of terrible things happen to them. America definitely isn’t Israel. And it definitely isn’t a Christian nation. No, that’s not because they took prayer out of schools, or the 10 commandments out of courtrooms. It’s because the people who make up the nation aren’t Christian. Like, at all. I know that may come as a shock to some of you, but it’s true. America doesn’t really care about Jesus, except as a trendy wardrobe item or a laughable badly drawn adult cartoon.
Stop pretending that Jesus is a blond haired, blue eyed, pageant king wearing a white bathrobe and a blue beauty sash. Stop pretending that Jesus hates gays, muslims, liberals, and those people who just stay on government disability and never get a job. Stop pretending that Jesus would support blowing up the world if it’s in America’s best interests. Jesus is NOT American.
In case you missed it, Jesus is a little more global than 1 continent with severe ego issues. He looked like an Arab. And he hung out with the people that the church rejected – like the gays, the people with a different religion, the liberals, and the poor. In fact, you probably wouldn’t want to hang out with Jesus, if he just showed up on your doorstep. Think about that, before you go saluting God and country.
8. You don’t believe in Hell
What?! That’s outrageous! Of course you believe in hell. You talk about it all the time! Those sinner people will burn there and stuff, if they don’t get saved.
You don’t believe that. You don’t really believe that. If you really thought that there was a literal place of terrible agony and eternal pain where nearly all of the world was going to go once they died, you would do something about it. If you believed that your unsaved mother was going to get thrown into a lake of fire that burned so incredibly hot that you couldn’t see the flame (think the part of the flame closest to the wick) for eternity with no hope of escape, ever, you would try to save her from it.
So make up your mind. Either you believe it enough to try and actually save people from it, or you don’t. If you don’t (which, clearly, you don’t), then stop talking about it. Make it one of those parts in the Bible that never gets brought up, like all of the sex references in the Song of Solomon. “What?” you say! “We can’t just take out part of the Bible!”
If you don’t believe it, what’s the point?
9. Donating. Not Doing.
We’ve all seen the videos that missionaries bring in of starving children in faraway places. Pregnant mothers that have no shelter or water. Girls kidnapped and forced into the sex trade, boys carting around guns at 7 years old. It tugs at our heartstrings. Makes us weepy. Makes us feel guilty, even, since we have so much. So we get out our checkbooks and write a nice sum and send them on their way, able to feed 2 more children for a year.
Meanwhile, we don’t actually ever do anything. It’s easy to ignore the starving babies in Rwanda – they’re super far away. But what about the homeless people right down the street? What about the pregnant women in your community that can’t afford proper nutrition during the 9 months before they give birth? What about the fathers that can just barely afford the rent for their families, and the mothers that have to take their children back-to-school shopping at the Salvation Army?
You could help. But helping isn’t as easy as writing a check and sending someone else on their way. You have to actually do something. And that just isn’t pleasant, now is it. Again, you probably wouldn’t really want to hang out with Jesus. Because he’d be doing something. Not sitting on the couch, or in a church pew.
10. Use your brains!
Of all the things I hate, this one bothers me the most. American Christians don’t use their brains. You don’t think. You just take what people tell you (so long as it fits in your comfortable lifestyle) and absorb it. Never questioning, never analyzing. And then the thoughts are left to stew in the cauldron of your brain, never seasoned with new knowledge, until someone challenges you. Then the brittle beliefs bubble up and out into the air. To everyone else, they’re stale, not defensible.
It is not enough for a Christian to go to work, come home, eat, watch tv, and go to sleep. You have to expand your horizons. You have to learn, think, grow, challenge, expand. God created your mind. Don’t let it stagnate into a puddle of disgusting putrid mush. No one wants to listen to that.
Trust me. You’re not just making yourself look dumb. You’re making God look dumb. You’re his ambassador. Sounds cheesy, but it’s true. Ambassadors are not supposed to be stupid. So turn off the reality television and learn something, will you?
1: John died of natural causes.