Before you listen to this podcast, watch the following documentary:
As I watched Jesus Camp, I came to realize that what I was watching on the screen was spiritual child abuse. It was extremely sad for me to watch.
But more than that, as I watched it, I came to realize that what was being done to these children is nearly identical to what gets done to most adults in most churches today. It’s a little more subtle, it’s not quite as blatant, but it pretty much amounts to the same thing.
Many of our churches are little more than places where spiritual and religious abuse is heaped upon people week in and week out. People are manipulated and controlled in the name of God to act a certain way, think certain things, and live a certain way.
I know that what happens in this movie is not typical in most churches. I do know that. I doubt that the events which take place in this movie occur is more than 10% of the churches that are out there.
But even though the specific actions and activities might not be taking place in most churches, the underlying mindset and approach to people is.
And the mindset is this: You’re not good enough. You need to fix yourself up. God hates your sin and the sin of other people. If you want to have fellowship with God, you’ve got to stop sinning and stop doubting. You need to act a certain way, talk a certain way, live a certain way, eat only certain things, go only to certain places, and do only certain things, and if you don’t, then God is going to punish you.
You can’t be yourself, churches tell people, because you are evil. You are unrighteous. You need to be reformed and remade. You need to get fixed up. You need to pray more, pray harder. You need to read the Bible more and study harder. You need to attend church more and get involved in a home group so that you can truly become who God wants you to be. You must give more of your money to the church so that God can bless your home and your finances and your job. You need to witness and evangelize more because if you don’t, the blood of all your friends and neighbors will be on your own head.
And on and on and on it goes.
The movie shows in glaring colors what happens in a more muted way in most churches around the world.
Okay, maybe not at your church. But trust me when I say that it is happening in many churches, maybe even most churches, around the world. I get dozens of emails and comments through my blog every week from people all around the world who tell me the saddest stories about what they have been told and what they are experiencing in their churches. And as I watched Jesus Camp, I recognized that what was being done to these children was nearly identical to what is done to these adults who email me for help.
This is why I write at RedeemingGod.com. One of my primary goals is to help rescue people from the shackles of religion. I have a great burden and unceasing anguish in my heart for people who believe they are following God and doing everything He wants them to do, but who nevertheless go about in a state of constant fear and worry that maybe they haven’t done enough for God, or have said the wrong thing or done the wrong thing to make God stop loving them.
I also long to help rescue people from religion because religion kills. I don’t mean that religion physically kills—though it does that too. I mean that it kills psychologically and emotionally. Religion tells people that they are not good enough as they are, that they need to reject themselves and deny who they are and who they want to be and instead, become some sort of religious clone where they say the right things, wear the right things, eat the right things, and go to the right places.
Religious people cannot have a normal conversation with someone without feeling guilty for not bringing God into it. And that makes me sad.
Religious people cannot get together with friends for food and fellowship without feeling guilty for not turning it into a Bible study or opening with a time of prayer. And that makes me sad.
Religious people cannot help a neighbor or a coworker in need without feeling like they have to share the gospel or invite them to church. And that makes me sad.
I want you to live in the freedom for which you have been set free.
The scenes in the movie I remember most vividly is the one scene where the kid up front admits that he doesn’t know if he believes everything written in the Bible, and the camera then zooms in on the crowd to show their shocked and nervous faces.
Here is a poor kid who wants to know God and read the Bible and understand it, but so much of it is just too difficult to grasp, so in a moment of honesty he admits doubt. And what sort of response does he get? They were shocked that such doubt was even voiced.
Anyway, maybe you think your church is different.
I really hope it is. Truly, I do.
And I know that there really are churches out there that a different.
If your church is different, that is wonderful. I am not saying every church is like this. But many are. But if you think your church is different, let me invite you to take a little test. The next time you talk to your pastor, slip the word “shit” into your conversation. Or if you’re too uncomfortable with that, use the word “crap” a couple times. Then see what he says.
Or, better yet, tell your pastor that you are thinking of taking a break from church attendance for six months or so. Tell him you need to sort some things out with God and so you might not be in the Sunday morning service for a while. Then see what he says.
Or in your Bible study group, let it slip that you are not so sure that Genesis 1 teaches 6-day creationism. Or that maybe the Bible has errors.
Or maybe mention that you are starting to have feelings like you might be gay. (You might want to run this one by your spouse first.) Then see what sort of reaction you get.
If all of these are still too bold for you, just challenge your pastor about something he said in his sermon. Tell him he’s wrong. Just pick something. It doesn’t really matter what. Or if you don’t want to tell him, tell someone else that what your pastor said in his sermon was wrong. Tell an elder, or mention it to someone in your Bible study.
These sorts of experiences will show you that most churches, and probably yours included, don’t really want you to be you. They want you to be a better, fixed up, sanitized, sinless, happy, joyful version of you. They want you to toe the party line, sign on the dotted line, and not rock the boat with questions or doubts.