Bad Religion – by Rubel Shelly
Mean spirited —Bad religion. I’ve seen it,tasted it, and participated in it in my early ministry. But that is not what Jesus called us to be and do. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35 NIV) Bobby Deason
Title: Bad Religion
Date: For the Week of September 29, 2014
The bulk of the finest people I have ever known are devoutly religious. But some of the meanest people I’ve ever known are also among the most religious people I’ve ever encountered. I struggled for a long time to figure it out.
For example, one lady I grew to fear and avoid could quote more Scripture than just about anybody in our church. Little kids had better not touch her, though, or she would screech at them and make them cry. Her husband was a cowering little fellow who hardly ever spoke. I never wondered why.
A preacher whom I recall very distinctly had a withering wit that he turned on people to mimic, mock, or otherwise humiliate them. As I think back on it, the worst thing about that memory is that I sometimes laughed as he did it.
If you think I’m making it up that truly devout religious people can be mean-spirited and evil, just read the online comments made to stories in the New York Times or your local newspaper that speak positively about evolution or homosexuality. The invective is too harsh to reproduce here. Some of the comments even use profanity, assign the “godless evolutionist” to hell, or tell the “shameless perverts” that God will damn them at the Final Judgment.
I’ve read a few of those pieces that made me think the writer would kill somebody if he thought he could do it without getting caught. So is it his religion or his fear of the police that keeps him from doing something evil?
Nobody ever read one of those postings and thought the harsh language and judgment it contained helped them see Jesus. Understand his mission to the lost. Want to be his follower. Or give her a positive impression of his people.
So I think I’ve figured out the mystery: Religion can lead people to do hateful and wicked things to people, but loving and following Jesus never does.
Aren’t “religion” and “following Jesus” one and the same thing? Hardly! Religion is the system of beliefs and institutional loyalties one embraces, while following Jesus is the conscious imitation of the person one learns about in the Gospels. And the only people Jesus ever called names or declared in danger of hell were the most religious people of his time and place. They prayed, made pilgrimages, gave money, worshipped with pious looks on their faces, and quoted Scripture. They had no clue about the loving, compassionate nature of God.
Defending a pattern or system, proving my church is better than yours, or trumping my argument with your counter-argument breeds defensiveness. Makes tempers flare. Alienates friends. Starts wars. Makes people nasty. Breaks God’s heart. Following Jesus produces humility and keeps you from being mean.
Jesus never called us to be religious. He said, “Follow me.”