A Response to Lillian Daniel and a Defense for the Spiritual But Not Religious

A Response to Lillian Daniel and a Defense for the Spiritual But Not Religious August 15, 2013
copernicus revolution cartoon by nakedpastor david hayward

I read Jonathan Merritt’s interview with Rev. Lillian Daniel. I haven’t read the book yet so this post is based on the interview only.

I’m intimately familiar with Daniel’s concern for those who’ve left the church. I was a minister of local congregations for 30 years and thought exactly the same way she does. She knows the church faces increasing losses of its members because more and more people claim to be SBNR (spiritual but not religious). Growing numbers want to just follow Jesus without going to church, and Daniel thinks this just isn’t going to cut it. As the good minister I’m sure she is, she’d like to correct this. She’s written a book that is gaining attention not only in her liberal circles but in conservative and evangelical ones as well, When Spiritual But Not Religious Is Not Enough. Perhaps her book will encourage people who want and need a local church to find a good one. There are some out there. She’s been pastor of First Congregational Church of Glen Ellyn, Illinois, since 2004, and it may be a fine church to be a part of.

Daniel says about liberal churches that “our church growth project for the last 50 years has been to listen to people complain about conservative Christians and nod sympathetically, hoping that if we are really, really nice, they will come to our churches. It hasn’t worked.” Tired of apologizing for a church she’s not a member of, she’s pulling out the big guns. No more nice. So she lays out her clear vision of what the church should be: it should be reasonable in that it should engage your intellect; it should be rigorous in that it should have a mission and make a difference in the world; and it should be real in that it should embrace all our humanness. She also encourages people who’ve been burned by the church to not be afraid to dip your toe back in the water. Once you find a church give it time.

However, what I take issue with is her opinion of people like me who’ve left the church. I want to address this from two points of view: my own personally as well as from my perspective as moderator of my online community The Lasting Supper that is made up of many SBNR people. I’m sure she would insist her descriptions of us are generalities, but they are these: we are proud and think we are smarter than church goers; we lack spiritual depth and can’t contend with real life; we are self-indulgent and narcissistic; we assume we are a brave, bold and unique minority but we are just common conformists; we are bland and uninteresting; we can’t experience real community outside of the church; we are individualists and make God in our own image; and we quit church because we were frustrated with other people.

I want to try to change her opinion of me and my friends.

Many may say this is an obvious case of the pot calling the kettle black. Every one of these accusations are aimed at church goers by SBNR people: church goers are proud and assume they are smarter than non-church goers; they lack spiritual depth and can’t cope with real life; they are self-indulgent and narcissistic; they assume they are the brave and bold minority when in fact they are conformists; they are bland and uninteresting; they can’t experience real community outside of church (or inside for that matter); they are individualists who make God in their own image or that of their leaders; and they go to church because they are disillusioned with other people.

Blatant disdain for people goes both ways. Since these can be leveled at every living human being, church going or not, we can rightly assume that these aren’t the real issues. I suggest there’s something else going on.

  1. There are lots of churches that meet her idea of a good church. They allow you to think, they have a mission, and they embrace people. But they tend to be selective in what this means. Also, there are very few churches, liberal and conservative, that don’t employ manipulative, coercive, controlling and even abusive tactics to realize these values. I know because I’ve administered, witnessed and experienced spiritual assault and violation across the denominational and theological spectrum. Just because a marriage shares lives, bodies and possessions, this doesn’t necessarily make it a good one. There are other issues like the addition of abuse or the absence of love that can change everything. The same with church. What church doesn’t have its own thinking, it’s own mission, its own way of embracing people? It’s the extra things that are added or absent that matter.
  2. The SBNR people I know are not a homogeneous whole but a diverse diaspora. For the most part, the ones I know are humble but confident. They are unusually deep and find ingenious ways of dealing with difficult situations. They are spiritually complex and fascinating. They hunger for a community they’ve concluded the church cannot seem to provide. They are fiercely and even defiantly independent. And they quit the church because they felt restricted, controlled or even harmed by the system, its ideology and the people who govern and administer them. They left because they concluded “I don’t need this!” and they have discovered they’re right! They don’t need it. The church is no longer on their landscape of duty, demand or desire and there’s nothing the church can do to change this new geography. And it’s frustrated.
  3. This perpetuates the same assumption that the church knows what’s best for us. Most can’t seem to see it because they are totally embedded. Their perspective from the inside is that the church is central and always has been, that people have grown dissatisfied with the center, and that people have left it to their peril. But I’ve discovered that the church is not central. Like Copernicus said about the earth, the church is no longer the center of the spiritual orbit of every living human being around it. But this is how the church and its leaders see it. Rather, many people now see the church as just another planetary body circulating around their self, a self that has become the center of their spiritual universe. It’s the decentralization of authority. What got Stephen stoned in Acts was his bold and visionary declaration of the decentralization of the temple and its religion. The church does not know what is best for me. I do! Will the church come alongside and assist me or instead continue to insist that it will tell me what I need and then provide it from its list of prescriptions? This is the hardest paradigmatic symptom for the church and its custodians to break.
  4.  The presumption that you must abide by the system to change it or receive the benefits of what it claims sole access to is no longer true. It’s like telling people if they want to affect political change then they should vote. What this implies is if you obey our rules then you can have a voice. Actually, people around the world are discovering that there is a more effective and immediate way of affecting change, and that is by not only refusing to participate in the system but by protesting and even overthrowing it. This is one of the most common errors of the present day church: it thinks that people who’ve left the church care what it thinks and are concerned for its survival. It supposes that if it just tweaks itself with some minor adjustments it will pacify the populace. It sometimes even thinks more radically that if it undergoes significant change it will save itself and satisfy us. But we’ve discovered that just because the church says it is the authority on spiritual matters it doesn’t mean it is. In fact, because it says so makes us suspicious of its claim. The church used to be powerful. It’s losing it and it knows it. The church’s boast that we need the church to get what it offers is empty and the SBNRs know it.
  5. It is condescending to believe that the church will accept us back and make us what we should be rather than respecting who we already are. The lack of respect is glaring and I have no desire to try to win it. The church continues to make the fatal mistake: it’s the assumption that we are deficient if we are not in the church, and that if we’d only humble ourselves and join it then we would become the people the church thinks we should be. But some people have awakened and are leaving the church for this very reason. Sure, what the church wants us to be are good things: patient, gracious, forgiving, generous, humane, etcetera. But the problem is that the church does not see us as good already, so it takes upon itself to bend and shape us according to its will to achieve its ends. In the church’s mind, it’s a factory producing saints, whereas the church is actually a collective of regular people who already are saints. Again, the church’s thinking is centralist with good insiders and bad outsiders. SBNRs smell this patronizing attitude a mile away and won’t come anywhere near it.

The church’s noble attempts to retrieve the SBNRs will mostly fall on deaf ears. Its attempts will continue to appeal to arbiters of the system, but not to those who have rejected it. We are experiencing a revolution of cataclysmic proportions that those within the system can’t perceive since it predicts the death of all they hold dear… the church… their gravitational center.

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  • Wow! I love this! It is so fantastic – just what I’ve been trying to express, in one simple graphic.

    I just wonder if it’s open to misinterpretation – that people who the church revolves around are self-centred…

  • Fiona Ogilvie

    She lost me at the three R’s!! And you are right David, I don’t need it, I don’t want it, I like it out here 🙂

  • haha the 3 r’s. 🙂

  • What’s wrong with self-centered? I think we need to come back to center on this issue. 😉

  • klhayes

    This reminds me of comments I see on blogs that criticize Christianity where people tell the blogger they should be “Building up the Kingdom of God” or some churchy phrase like that. They are so stuck in their own worldview that they can’t see that is not the goal of the blogger. The blogger may no longer be Christian and therefore does not have the goal of building up the Kingdom or doing things for the glory of god.

  • Seamus King

    I want to write a book entitled “When Christian and Condescending Are Not Enough.” Sorry, lady. I’m not even gonna use that load of manure to fertilize my garden. Thanks for the good thoughts on this, David.

  • I think the person in the center is the proper way to view spirituality. Each person’s experience of “the spirit” is unique and individual. It can only be talked about. There is no objective measure. The natural material world, on the other hand, has attributes that can be measured and experienced by multiple people with the same results (experiments repeated). These objective truths could be placed in the center of a diagram with people orbiting around. Experience of spirituality would necessarily have to be “self-centered”. To place the church in the middle simply denotes deferring to or trusting authority.
    It is also somewhat ironic that Jesus was probably the best example of SBNR but now most churches that supposedly spread His word are themselves acting as stand-ins for individually hearing “the spirit”.

  • Caryn LeMur

    If only the author would realize that such arguments are the same among older gen women vs newer gen women, concerning the necessity of having a man:

    1. “There are lots of ‘good men’ out there – you can find one, you single girl!” (Note that older gen women refer to younger single women as ‘girls’. In short, a single woman is infantile in her reasoning).

    2. “I was so lonely until I found my husband – how do you survive?” (Note the projectionism of her loneliness upon all women. In short, a single woman cannot survive loneliness without a man – let alone thrive despite occasional bouts of loneliness without a husband).

    3. “When you are old, who will care for you? Who will be your knight in shining armor that sweeps away your enemies? A ‘good husband’ will be there for you.” (Note that her fantasy dominates her interpretation of reality. When you both are old, the husband may need the wife as a nurse, not vice versa. And, a husband may just shrug when a wife discusses her many (normal for women) growing list of enemies: growing poor in an economy that favors older men, losing security in relationships, empty nest – children do not really need her, needing more networking with distant children; and a society that values only young, thin, beautiful women, etc.)

    4. “A ‘good husband’ will make you a better woman!” (Note that this is a blatantly false equation… yet, it is believed by many older gen married women. This is believed to the point that if a husband verbally abuses them, deeply teases them, and rolls his eyes at them (showing that the wife is inferior) – that these things are done to make her a better wife. Instead, the reality is that these things chip away at self-worth until little is left of the wife’s self-image. If he cheats on her; if he slaps her; if he , then it is done because she earned it and/or it will make her a better wife.)
    5. And significantly, the unspoken theme: “You have no worth as a person, as a citizen of society, until you have a man.”

    Here are some of the reasons again: “You are infantile in your reasoning – so grow up, girl! I am right in projecting my loneliness upon you – so date a man! I live in fantasy, and I focus on fantasy – so you should put on the lens of fantasy and ignore as many parts of reality as possible! Whatever your husband does to you is for your own good – to make you a better wife! [Do you realize you have no worth to yourself, to others, or to God?]”

    The church-structured states the same to those believers that are living in the world of the church-unstructured:
    – “You are infantile in your reasoning, so grow up and join a church!
    – “You must be lonely, so commit to a church ‘family’!
    – “You need to believe in your church and trust that God will guide the leaders – so commit to always believing this fantasy even when things go wrong!
    – “The church is there to make you a better disciple of Christ – so pour yourself into the church; and give your time, talent, and treasure to the church – and if you feel overused, then give more and more – for this will all make you a better disciple of Christ!”
    – “You are worthless without us. Oh, did we just say that by accident? Sorry, we meant to say that ‘you are confused’.”

    Meanwhile, there are a lot of single mature women out there, enjoying the company of men at times, but living quite well, quite alone. They are mature in reasoning; they thrive despite moments of loneliness; they realize leaders are human and make mistakes they do not wish to endorse; they recognize abuse/manipulation, and avoid it. They work on their sense of self-worth, contribute to people and businesses, and invest listening and love and time with the ‘least of those that believe’ – the poor, the sick, the prisoner, the homeless.

    Much love in Christ always and unconditionally; Caryn

  • Jeannine Engle Buntrock

    Agreed. I do not think self-centered means what people think it means…

  • In the post-Steven-Hawking world, churches get sucked into black holes and the universe is a cleaner place.

  • Shawn Spjut

    Love this post David. Nailed it on the head. I can relate to all you’ve said and then some. Those of my friends that still attend ‘church’ have even offered to pray for me (I stopped trying to go to ‘traditional church’ 3yrs. ago…couldn’t deal with the hypocrisy and manipulation anymore) so that God would heal my woundedness. Of course my inner response was, “Here, let me pray for you so that He will heal/deliver you from the propaganda of crap you’ve been fed, and still believe.”

    If the ‘traditional church’ is dying, (and I agree with David, it is) then it’s not too soon for me. I see more ‘anti-christ’ perpetrated in ‘church’ than I see out in the world. I’ve also had more engaging, profound, conversation in sites like this one than I ever had in ‘church’ – where they are terrified of debating and overturning theology.

    I also see nothing wrong with ‘narcissism’. Fact is, I don’t think there is enough of it in those who call themselves ‘Christian’. What is wrong with knowing that you are the Beloved of God, that He loves you so much that He gave up everything for you, and that you are the apple of His eye? Maybe if more of us saw our true value (demonstrated by God Him/Herself), rather than touting the dogma of false humility which degrades us, and therefore Christ, we’d actually start seeing effective change. But…the dogma of religion says that pious equals worm – a ‘worm theology – you might say. And the truly humble think of themselves as ‘dirt’ rather than the absolute brilliancy of creation.

    Let those who don’t want to think for themselves, stay in ‘church’. Me? I’d rather be a free wheeler enjoying the conversations of those who aren’t afraid to engage in overthrowing religious dictates that have nothing to do with Christianity and everything to do with religious manipulation and control.

  • Jeannine Engle Buntrock

    Honestly, I could barely read the interview. She’s incredibly rude.

    We are not all extroverts. And introversion is NOT a negative tendency. The church, generally speaking, pushes all people to be extroverts and, statistically speaking, half of us are not.

    Great post.

  • One of the parts I took issue with was when she said “Any idiot can find God alone in the sunset. It takes a certain maturity to find God in the person sitting next to you…” I hardly think we need to go to church to find people we disagree with or who don’t naturally bring out the best in us. While I agree with her assertion that “community is where the religious rubber meets the road”, and that people challenge us spiritually, you can find such people, and such experiences, just about anywhere. Not just in church.

  • SuperJae

    I agree that congregations can be condescending,
    but just like David points out how those congregations are the pot calling the
    kettle black, so the SBNR do the same thing.
    I split the middle of the being part of a congregation and being SBNT,
    and I think we are all the same. Some of
    us are looking for a group of people who make us comfortable, inside a steeples
    four walls, others not. We are just
    trying to do our best.

  • Al Cruise

    I think the elephant in the room is social media. It’s already begun. It will play the largest roll in the way people will receive all things Spiritual. It will become the home of the Church. People starve for real meaningful relationship. Who are you going to confide in? Someone who might be online who really cares and can give you relevant advice or people in your Church building who only want to judge you and gossip about you. Once this area of people connecting for Spiritual needs grows, and more people realize the real Church is in people, not buildings, a real exodus will take place.

  • Very good post! I really like your 5-point suggestions.

  • Rebecca Trotter

    Thanks for this post. I’ve been avoiding this woman and book because I have a nagging sense of guilt over not having been part of a church for 5 years. I was afraid she was going to say something that made sense! 😉

    I keep thinking that I should go back to church, but I just can’t get myself to.

  • hahaha 😉

  • Andy

    I’d add “Reverent.”

    Good post, David. Church is like Soylent Green: “It’s made of PEOPLE!”

  • Where would you add reverent? I’m not sure I understand.

  • ConcientiousHeretic

    I’ve read Daniels before. Sometimes I’ve even found myself in places where I’ve agreed with her, but I’m increasingly offended by her arrogance and dismissive attitude. I’m actually finding that I’m one of those idiots that enjoys finding God in a good sunset or sunrise, or in the many other splendid riches of the creation. And she should have more compassion for those among us who need to opt out to maintain some semblance of mental and physical well-being. I’m not there myself, but I can appreciate and respect those people who are.

  • Yeah! We can “go to church” while sitting at home in our underwear at the keyboard or laying in bed looking at our smartphone or tablet! Appearances totally don’t matter anymore.

  • klhayes

    Amen, I totally agree…that is probably a large part of why I never felt like I fully fit in.

  • Pubilius

    Guess I have a question for David, this may be answered elsewhere: How is your sense of Christian community fulfilled (accountability, edification, growth) outside the traditional church? I’m torn here, as someone called to ordained ministry (after promising myself I’d never get involved in church again) I’m interested in hearing that. I’m certainly a critic of the system, but the Holy Spirit still works in and with the church (and of course outside of it)… I’ve even heard of atheists groups recently replicating a weekly “worship service” to fill that communal gap.

  • McJust

    Good response! One of my pet peeves is this continual equating of ‘community’ with church attendance. Sitting in rows, watching the back of someone’s head while someone prescribes what songs you should sing and what you should believe is hardly community.

  • McJust

    I agree in part, Al. I love social media although I personally see online community as being inferior to the face-to-face type. I’d prefer a real smile than a colon and a bracket symbol.

  • Fiona Ogilvie

    What I am thinking is that “church” or a gathering of people for mutual support and edification/learning/growing, should come from a place of sharing our spiritual life with one another. Not the “false social construct” that the church has become, that we are forced into, trying to make ourselves fit… if you want to belong there, you have to conform. Is that being in community? No, I think not. This is what I get from this picture. People are the heart and soul of life, false social constructs bring death.

  • Al Cruise

    I agree with you in part also, problem is that real smile face to face often times isn’t real. People wouldn’t be leaving if it was. As for the online community, people will find a way to get together. It may not be every Sunday but when they do, it will be genuine, relevant and without pretence. One thing that is a known truth, people are creative.

  • Michael McCoy

    I think the problem I have here is that the “Copernican Model” does not apply–not really. The Church isn’t a building or a place we “go to” on Sunday. It is us. We are the church. The church needs us as much as we need it. I do not think we are “all right the way we are.” We can always grow and mature, especially in the knowledge and love of God. We do not have all the gifts and graces we need to do that by ourselves, so we need the “community of faith” to lift us up and help us with our faith journey. AND, they need us to help too.
    As for conformity? What other organizations do you participate in and what are their requirements for membership? Most require a financial commitment. Many have rituals and ceremonies that are part of what they do as a group. They have a “belief structure” and a common set of values to which you must subscribe or you cannot be a member, yet you choose to remain. Why is that? It may be that you “get something out of” those organizations. This consumer model pervades our culture and it has seeped into churches. I go there to “get something.” In fact Jesus calls us to give ourselves sacrificially to the work of the gospel. It’s not about us and that is something the current developed world has trouble overcoming–both inside and outside the church.

  • Kristina Skepton

    Wow – thanks! I seem to be moving into this arena of “no church” and needed to hear your insights. I am not completely opposed to church, I just have grown weary of the “church machine.” I know it works great for so many people and it worked great for me for a long time but I just seem to be in a different place right now. I love Jesus just as much as I ever have, if not more, so it’s not a God-crisis. Thanks for letting me know I am not alone.
    Kristina Skepton
    Founder, SeeingGod Ministries

  • Cynthia Brown Christ

    I recently shared in a public post that I didn’t need church, but that I often want it. i left due to being treated very bad, over and over.

    Two people, Christians by name made interesting responses. One created a response three times longer than my post, attempting to publicly humiliate me. The second guy said: Thank you so much for leaving the church, because you have always been a false believer and it is better without you.

    My faith is deep and unyielding. Nobody can “get to me” with comments like this. I share it, in an effort that one of this type of person sees it and sees how wrong and unbiblical this behavior is.

    I didn’t start a ruckus and attempt to get them to see me and my truths better.

    The only thing more stupid than a person who thinks they know it all, is the person who argues with them. LOL

  • Cynthia Brown Christ

    You are not alone!

  • Ruth Shaver

    I’m an ordained minister serving a local church in Rev. Daniel’s own denomination (United Church of Christ) and I consider myself definitively SBNR. Religion is the imposition of someone else’s (or a tradition’s or a community’s) idealistic version of a relationship with God in a one-size-fits-all way on others. Spirituality is an individual’s living out of relationship with God (or gods, to be fair) that can be enhanced (or harmed) in the company of others through common practices and engagement in conversation and learning.

  • Worthless Beast

    I think what some people in the Church do not understand is the same as what *society in general* does not understand: Some people are introverts. Some of us ENJOY solitude. For some of us, to choose not to drag ourselves up on Sunday mornings isn’t about some kind of rebellion, for some of us, it’s our dislike of going anywhere face-to-face-social at all.

    I read an article about tonight on Cracked – though a comedy site, this is actually educational/right on the money: http://www.cracked.com/blog/4-things-everyone-gets-wrong-about-introverts/

    A church an be practically perfect in every way and I’d still put in my bid to be a hermit, because that’s just who I am. (Also, not too many people in society, let alone church seem to really understand those of us with mental illness / anxiety issues). I find it easier to *communicate* in writing, and to deal with online interaction.

    No one wants me disrupting a service with a panic attack or throwing up from nerves in their pews.

  • Brigitte Mueller

    Churches are different from other places because there you have a real mix of all strata of society and they are all supposed to be friends and accessible to one another, brothers and sisters forged into one body, not one hierarchically above the other in value, though some are called to different functions. All are to be esteemed and this is difficult for us. A workplace or a club won’t be as diverse in this way with the same kinds of expectations attached. — I liked the part about the sunset, because we often hear about people who find God in nature, as if there wasn’t a single one of us who does not have those kinds of feelings. It’s not an acquired taste or skill.

  • bexgee

    What Daniels omits from this convo is that she has a book out with Jerico, an imprint of Hatchette Books. A review of this imprint’s authors (http://jerichobooks.com/authors) reads like a who’s who of hipster Xnity. (A few missing voices like Rob Bell, Rachel Held Evans, Diana Butler Bass and Pete Rollins endorse this crew and play in this same pool.) These authors have a vested interest in promoting their brand of Xnity lest they lose their book contracts, speaking gigs, etc. It is impossible to have an honest conversation under this missional marketing plan. This is why I left the world of commercialized Xnitry. There was a period when one could be a Christian author but with the recent merges and move to the right of Xn pub houses, that ship has sailed.

    Love to hear what these voices “might” say if they were with say a smaller unbranded press (e.g., Beacon Press is run by UU’s but allows for much more diversity of thinking) or self-published their reflections. Of course, if they did that, there goes the money train.

  • quickshot

    Six years ago, when Facebook was gaining huge steam, I probably would have agreed with you. But now, as we see that online interactions are not quite the same as face-to-face, I think we will have to rethink the benefits of virtual communities.

    Here is a relevant article:

  • Al Cruise

    I disagree, everything in that article has been going on in Church’s “face to face”. for years. It causes a lot more damage when done face to face, and is the main reason people are leaving Church. Yes people need to be aware on line, and as awareness grows, so does discernment. It is much easier to remove abusive people from on line, than ones in a face to face relationship. In Church environments, the abusers usually continue to abuse the victims for long periods, even after that victim has left. I speak from 40 years of attending fundie Churches and doing street ministry.

  • Pastor C.

    I’m a pastor as well as a strong introvert (statistically, introverts are well-represented in the ministry). So I obviously don’t think introversion is a negative tendency, and I don’t agree that churches push people to be extroverts. How have you experienced that in churches you have attended?

  • Brigitte Mueller

    That is hate speech. Put in “mosques”, it s islamophobic and we might get a day of rage. Put in “gays”, it is homophobic… and we get more Naked Pastor cartoons. Put in “atheists”, boy we would never hear the end of it.

  • Jeannine Engle Buntrock

    I apologise as I was certainly generalising. My dad is a church pastor and has never pushed people in this way either. However, broadly speaking again, church is a group activity. You’re encouraged to “witness” to others (an extroverted activity), and the idea is very much that what the group “thinks” is superior to what the individual thinks. So there is a lot of pressure to conform to the group. In the church, in my experience, you are not encouraged to think independently. In one church, I was openly ostracised when I did begin to think for myself (and to express it in a musing way).

    I’m happily unchurched now. Even after growing up in the church and remaining there until my early 30s, I don’t feel the slightest bit of unease about it.

    I believe that God dwells in every individual and every individual in God. I think that that relationship (with yourself so to speak – and I believe God is inseparable to the self) has to come first so one can be truly centered before extending it to others and to the community. People act like you can’t have God without the group (church), but I have found that to be nonsense. My best friends are agnostics or at least Christians with very open minds. I’m immensely put off by evangelicals with their dogmatism when there is so much mystery. I believe in a God who loves me – and all people – much more than I love my own children. That’s enough for me.

  • That’s well said. Thanks Jeannine.

  • Nah, I can want buildings to disappear — I don’t think buildings are protected by hate laws. Well, that said, I’ve seen some really cool bars made of converted churches — I guess I wouldn’t mind some avoiding the black hole.

    Besides, I didn’t say I’d throw them in the black holes — I was only imagining them continuing to navigate themselves into oblivion.

    I would love Islamic minarets to disappear too. I think many folks raised Muslim would agree with me. They are loud and obnoxious. I lived only a few blocks from one for a year in Pakistan — propaganda along with calls to prayer FIVE times a day!

    Only China’s loud speaker communist daily propaganda was worse. Hmmm, is that Sinophobia? I think not. Sure, I wouldn’t mind if lascivious bath houses disappeared too. But that is not homophobia — lots of gay folks would agree with me.

    Is it hate speech to wrongly accuse someone of hate?
    Sorry, not up on the current PC standards.

  • duhsciple

    1. I find value in Gathering, Word, Meal, and Sending as the pattern for “church.”
    2. I’m a fan of Bonhoeffer’s “Life Together”
    3. I don’t want to be in rivalry with SBNR over who is mature and who is immature.
    4. I miss the SBNR folks when they leave the pattern.
    5. And I don’t want to have an “agenda” or guilt anyone into returning.
    6. So be free to live where you are.
    7. And know that you are welcome back, too.

  • klhayes

    That is not true that churches have a mix of people. Some of the most racially segregated places in America are churches on Sunday…there are churches in wealthy neighborhoods and poor neighborhoods where you don’t see a diverse groupings of people. People can talk about the “church” in a bigger sense, but when it comes to Sunday, like attracts like. When my parents were first married and going to church, people would look at them in horror and leave the pew b/c they were disgusted by an interracial couple.

  • Brigitte Mueller

    I can’t speak for America. But while ethnically, culturally and regionally speaking, it may not be always mixed, there will even in this little segregated church be a stratification which considers itself brothers and sisters nonetheless, who are available for each other. So the shoemaker sits by the sheriff or the beggar; whatever. In church we are one. And then we take the sacrament together after we share the peace… I am sorry your parents experienced people’s shock. It is not supposed to be that way, but some changes take time and some peoples’ brains and neurons are so laid down that they can’t change anymore. We had a music conference in Edmonton the other day where James Abbington came up from the States and we invited the black congregations to help us sing the African American songs. We had a choir of 60 and we rocked the place together. http://www.candler.emory.edu/faculty/faculty-bios/abbington.cfm

  • Brigitte Mueller

    Well, that was witty. But don’t just be a nasty atheist. Some of the buildings are very beautiful and inspiring and treasured by their cultures, a high art of architecture, painting, sculpting, etc. the best they could make with their hands. When I first came to North America I missed the architecture. Where are the beautiful buildings? To this day, I grieve every same-looking strip-mall and Walmart I drive past. How dispiriting. And the parking lots are so big. The gardens and smaller and smaller and the parking lots spread far and wide. Our world has become about shopping and you don’t even know what city you are in any more. It all looks the same.

  • Not THAT is hate language.
    That is the same prejudice language my children hear at school from Christians. Good job illustrating it.

  • Brigitte Mueller

    It has become a very public perception that those currently going around public confessing atheists are not nice or pleasant people. I am not making this up. http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/brendanoneill2/100230985/how-atheists-became-the-most-colossally-smug-and-annoying-people-on-the-planet/

  • that just tells us that there aren’t very many nice people out there, believer or non-believer. it’s those “going around in public confessing” that exposes their not-niceness, and this applies to Christians and atheists alike. IMO.

  • mirele

    This. Just this.

  • Brigitte Mueller

    Yes, it can be. But the article, I think, tries to show that it is more difficult to be “nice” and against everything, vs. being “for” something.

  • Ya but I don’t agree with that. It suggests atheists are against and Christians are for, and I think that’s a simplistic generalization that simply isn’t true.

  • @ David:

    Thank you for jumping in.

    @ Brigitte Mueller:

    I’ve met many more nasty Christians than I have nasty Atheists. David rightly comments that both Atheists and Christians can be nasty. But we have to look at what “nasty” means.

    First, let’s look at an operational definition of “nasty” of those who end up in prison (though I think the majority of people in prison are in their wrongly — namely stupid drug laws). But if you go with that, did you know that 0.07% of US prison population is Atheist? The significance of that number is that Atheists-equivalents make up about 5 – 10% of US population in general (see Pew research). Does that tell you anything about how “nasty” atheists are. These statistics are controversial, but it is clear that percentage-wise, people not affiliated with a religion commit let crimes than those affiliate.

    Those are statistics, while you simply quoted “an article” that was merely someone’s opinion: classic Christian epistemology! Not data – just opinion and rhetoric.

    “Nasty Atheist” is you hate myth — fed only by your own self-pity.

    We don’t need to be nice to everyone. Jesus wasn’t.


    Jeee, I hope that wasn’t nasty. Instead, I was just trying to be firm, accurate and direct — kind of like Jesus.

    Wow, I feel a glow of holiness around me.

  • R Vogel

    It all seems very self-serving when people who are a part of the church establishment start insulting those who have chosen to not be a part of their club. The reason people are leaving the church is simple: church no longer offers them anything valuable, There was a time when it did, so people went. However times changes and the church didn’t. The definition of a dead language is one that no longer changes. The church should take that to heart. I love how the assumption is that people have just become more self-absorbed or less engaged rather than church did not keep up with providing something meaningful for people. People stil need meaningful connections in their lives, they just don’t find them in church.

    It is all well and good to dismiss people because they leave the church because ‘they are frustrated with other people,’ but the reality is we are frustrated with people like her and the rest of the church leadership and hierarchy. Given that there is no real choice but to find our community and connections elsewhere.

  • The community of faith you talk of is often not local, but is dependent upon local service and funding. The greatest generation often times keeps the local church afloat, even though they may not participate in worship very often. The young folks chime in with service, and yet, they don’t participate in worship very often either. Growth and maturity come from other than the local church, yet often depend upon the local church for its viability. It is paradoxical on one hand, but on the other, it seems predictable.

    As far as the why part, I think evolutionary psychology presents some concepts in that when you create common sacred idols to circle around, scalability and cooperation of resources multiply in a huge factor. Its like bee hive behavior cranked up a few magnititudes.

    I agree, the Gospel is truly not about us, the age and experiences of the old folks see it more clearly than the rest of us, and the young are growing in faith in an accelerated fashion. The changes are not really consumeristic as much as they are evolved group dynamics surrounding Christ over tribalism and means of personal identity. Granted, consumerism and radical individualism do play a role, but such is easy to overstate and/or make primary rather than consider that we might have gotten the bride of Christ off track.

  • 1. The meal is the challenge, the rest can be found in a multitude of places, and some of which might well be doing a better job. I don’t see a way to address this…
    2. I’m a fan of Bonhoeffer’s Letters from Prison
    3-7 I concur with wholeheartedly. 🙂

  • I wonder what your response would be if you read the book. I think you’re responding to some assumptions about the book that are not in fact what it actually is.

  • I agree Katherine. That’s why I indicated I was only responding to the interview. And they are things she actually said. But you’re right.

  • Melissa Linn Askew

    Can’t help but think you are confusing the “church” which is an organized meeting place made up of flawed people, with actual teachings of God that He reveals through the Bible. THe “church” doesn’t know what is best for you, but God, our creator does know what is best for you. Most people I know who consider themselves SBNR have created their own sense of “spirituality” based on what they want it to be, rather than on what God says is true spirituality. They want “spirituality” but want the Biblical God and His teachings and His commands out of it. Their growth will be hindered because it is a spirituality coming from themselves with is limited instead of a spirituality that is unlimited with a relationship with God with the Holy Spirit guiding them, not them guiding themselves..interesting articles, both this and the original interview..

  • scribble73

    I like your five points. I am perhaps more direct. If a Church doesn’t serve its community’s real-world needs; it dies.

    Forty years ago, Mainline Churches took the wrong side with the Viet Nam War and with Civil Rights — Martin Luther King’s ‘letter from Birmingham Jail’ addressed the problem more eloquently than I can.

    There were real-world consequences. A whole generation of younger adults left their Mainline Churches over this division. Later in the 70s, Churches instituted praise music and special services for children and less formal sermons. SBNR Christians investigated but still stayed away because changes were shallow — spiritually unfulfilling and socially irrelevant. In the 80s, Churches were slow to recognize real problems in education, crime, economics, the Military, and with Government accountability. Most mainline Churches still don’t recognize these problems today.

    How can you preach an ethical message and NOT apply that message to the world around you? Most Churches continue to find ways to do exactly that.

    I’m not saying that SBNR Christians are all Liberals. I am saying that when a Church doesn’t recognize and grapple with social change; that its membership, young or old, Liberal or Conservative; will experience real-world stresses that will drive some of them away from their religious communities. For Mainline Churches to survive; they will have to change how they relate to the world around them.

  • HChris

    I would define myself as unashamedly religious, and I think that I understand where you are coming from. I half understand your position about humility (especially false humility) but nowhere in the Bible does it say that narcissism is a good thing. God loves us, true. Our value is not inherent however. We are valuable because God values us, as is demonstrated in his love for us. Humility is a good thing, it is a Christlike thing. Christ humbled himself in his birth, in his life, and in his death. He served us. We are called to serve others.

    You are correct that humility is not viewing oneself as dirt, but don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. True humility, Christlike humility, a humility that puts others before oneself is a high and holy thing.

    I must say that I am not at all afraid to engage in conversations that others might consider heretical, but I always end up on the side defending orthodoxy. I’d love to have more conversations anytime.