Religion

'No, Jesus Isn't My Boyfriend' and Other Lessons from Single Christians on Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day image, nito / Shutterstock.com

Valentine's Day image, nito / Shutterstock.com

So it’s almost Valentine’s Day. Seemingly everywhere you look is a celebration of love and romance. There’s so much sweetness in the air (and on store shelves), it has almost the opposite effect.

Especially if you’re single. Valentine’s Day is often one of the most uncomfortable days of the year. It’s that one special day a year in which single people are painfully reminded that we may very well die alone and childless. Unfortunately, in our romance and sex-saturated culture, every day kind of reminds you of that.

The church hasn’t offered much by way of alternatives. In the evangelical church, there’s far too much “Jesus is my boyfriend” or “I’m dating Jesus”-type songs and teaching that it trivializes the kind of intimacy that can exist between God and humanity. And it silences the deeper pain of loneliness and disappointment that single adults — both gay and straight — can feel. Humans were made for relationship with God, but we were also made for relationships with each other.

There are a couple of issues at work here. On one hand, we’re fed so much junk about sex and romance and relationships from our culture that it becomes difficult to think any differently about love. When the highest, most celebrated form of love in our culture is erotic love and romance, the concept of spiritual intimacy with God seems unsatisfying and — let’s be real — also kind of icky. It feels like a consolation prize, something you say to make yourself feel better about being alone.

On the other hand, in the church, marriage almost becomes an idol. Christina Cleveland writes all kinds of amazing things about singleness in this essay, (so many I want to quote!) but this stands out:

“After interacting with the church, many singles start to wonder: Is there something wrong with me? Is God working in my life? Am I as valuable (to God, to the church) as married people? Does God love me as much as he loves married people? Does God have good things in store for me as a single person?”

There Is No Such Thing as Perfect Christianity

 gst / Shutterstock.com

gst / Shutterstock.com

There’s no such thing as a perfect Christian, and there’s no such thing as perfect Christianity.

They don’t exist. One of the biggest lies Satan can tell you is that perfect spirituality can be achieved — it can’t.

There’s no perfect denomination.

There’s no perfect church.

There’s no perfect congregation size.

There’s no perfect style of worship.

There’s no perfect theology.

There’s no perfect children’s ministry curriculum.

There’s no perfect youth ministry philosophy.

There’s no perfect sermon formula.

There’s no perfect service sequence.

There’s no perfect leadership structure.

There’s no perfect interpretation of the Bible.

There’s no perfect strategy for evangelism.

Unfortunately, the idea of attaining perfect faith is perpetuated throughout Christendom. If you only attend this church more, pray more, tithe more, forgive more, sacrifice more, and ultimately do this or that just a little bit more — then you will attain blissful happiness, perfect harmony, divine communion with God, and a happily ever after eternity.

Science vs. Religion? There’s Actually More of a Three-Way Split

Graphic courtesy of Tiffany McCallen / RNS

Graphic courtesy of Tiffany McCallen / RNS

Meet the “Post-Seculars” — the one in five Americans who no one seems to have noticed before in endless rounds of debates pitting science vs. religion.

They’re more strongly religious than most “Traditionals” (43 percent of Americans) and more scientifically knowledgeable than “Moderns” (36 percent) who stand on science alone, according to two sociologists’ findings in a new study.

“We were surprised to find this pretty big group (21 percent) who are pretty knowledgeable and appreciative about science and technology but who are also very religious and who reject certain scientific theories,” said Timothy O’Brien, co-author of the research study, released Jan. 29 in the American Sociological Review.

Put another way, there’s a sizable chunk of Americans out there who are both religious and scientifically minded but who break with both packs when faith and science collide.

VIDEO: RavelUnravel

Project Interfaith, an organization dedicated to creating interfaith dialogues, supports a social media project called RavelUnravel, in which individuals and groups in universities can express their faith and cultural backgrounds, the ways they worship, and the stereotypes that they face on their faith journeys.

Below are three videos from RavelUnravel’s campaign to spread awareness and understanding of the people and communities all around us. To learn more about Project Interfaith’s work, read the “Short Takes” interview with PI’s founder, Beth Katz, in the January issue of Sojourners

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Why Are Religious Survey Results So Confusing?

A crowd recites the Pledge of Allegiance at a Kerry campaign rally in 2004. Photo via American Spirit via Shutterstock/RNS.

Reading religion surveys can seem like confronting the Tower of Babel: stacked questions, confusing terms, unscientific methodology.

It gets even crazier when results are contradictory. How does that happen?

Some surveys lean like the Tower of Pisa

The Pledge of Allegiance is a perfect example.

There’s almost always a flap over how many Americans do — or don’t — want the words “under God” kicked out of the Pledge of Allegiance. Indeed, on Nov. 19 a court in Monmouth, N.J., will hear the case of the American Humanist Association battling the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District to have schools edit out mention of God.

The humanists claim 34 percent of Americans agree with their view. But, wait. What about a survey conducted earlier this year by LifeWay Research, a Christian research agency? It found that only 8 percent would cut God from the Pledge.

Why four times the difference? Look to the poll language.

LifeWay asked: “Should the words ‘under God’ be removed from or remain in the Pledge of Allegiance to the United States of America?” That’s a straight-up question with no preface.

The humanists’ survey, however, began with a bit of pointed Pledge history — before getting to the (loaded) question:

“For its first 62 years, the Pledge of Allegiance did not include the phrase ‘under God.’ During the Cold War, in 1954, the phrase ‘one nation, indivisible … ‘ was changed to read ‘one nation, under God, indivisible … ‘. Some people feel this phrase in our national pledge should focus on unity rather than religion.

3 Ways 'All Are Welcome' Is Hurting the Church

Jaret Benson / CreationSwap.com

Jaret Benson / CreationSwap.com

I see it on nearly every church sign, every church mailing; on the inside fold of every bulletin:
All Are Welcome!

Worship at 9 a.m. Sunday, All Are Welcome!

Potluck Dinner at 5 p.m. Saturday, All Are Welcome!

Vacation Bible School 9 a.m. Monday - Friday, All Are Welcome!


As the pastor of a Lutheran congregation outside Chicago, I find myself tagging it on — almost thoughtlessly — to our invitation cards and mailings as well.

It's almost an auto-signature for churches today: “All Are Welcome!”

And the impulse is a good one. For centuries the church has been exclusive rather than inclusive, despite Jesus' desire to the contrary. We have excluded women, African Americans, immigrants, gays and lesbians, people with special needs, senior citizens, singles, 20-somethings — at times the church has been downright discriminatory.

A friend of mine once told me he was desperate to find a church where he could not only worship but perhaps join the choir and get involved with music ministry. He brought his friend, another professional musician, to check out area churches. They found one they liked and were surprised when the minister asked them into his office. Ascertaining that they were both, indeed, gay, the minister said: "Well, you can attend. But just sit in the back row."

Thanks be to God, my friend didn't give up his search or lose his faith. He has since found an affirming congregation and leads incredible music there.

But too many of us have these stories: The congregation that saw single folks as irrelevant. The congregation that scorned Spanish-speaking immigrants. The place that found people with special needs disruptive.

Fortunately, many churches became aware of the way they had been contradicting the primary, freeing message of the Gospel: that all may be one in Christ Jesus, and that there is no longer Gentile or Jew, man or woman, black or white, slave or free, gay or straight, rich or poor ... (from Galatians 3:28).

As a needed corrective to become inclusive rather than exclusive, churches have hit upon a simple formula. It goes something like this: "Let's add ‘ALL ARE WELCOME’ to everything we publish. Let's make WELCOME the center of what we do."

7 Ways I Would Do Christianity Differently

via CreationSwap.com

via CreationSwap.com

Faith is a journey, a Pilgrim’s Progress filled with mistakes, learning, humble interactions, and life-changing events. Here are a few things I would do differently if I could go back and start over:

1. I wouldn't worry about having the right answers.

There’s a misconception that the Bible is the Ultimate Answer Book and Christianity is a divine encyclopedia presenting the solutions to life’s biggest questions. In reality, the Christian faith is about a relationship with Christ instead of an academic collection of right or wrong doctrines.

Rather than wasting time, energy, and resources on superficial theological issues — I would focus more of getting to know Jesus. Never let a desire for “being right” obstruct your love for Christ.

Religion Loses Clout: Why Many Say That’s a Bad Thing

Wedding-related businesses graphic courtesy of Pew Research Center/RNS.

More Americans today say religion’s influence is losing ground just when they want it to play a stronger role in public life and politics.

A new Pew Research Center survey finds 72 percent of Americans say religion’s influence is declining in society — the highest percentage since Pew began measuring the trend in 2001, when only 52 percent held that view.

“Most people (overwhelmingly Christians) view this as a bad thing,” said Greg Smith, associate director of Pew’s Religion & Public Life Project. “That unhappiness may be behind their desire for more religion and politics.”

Growing numbers want their politicians to pray in public and for their clergy to endorse candidates from the pulpit. And nearly half of Americans say business owners with religious objections to gay marriage should to be able to refuse wedding-related services to same-sex couples.

There are three ways to look at the findings, released Sept. 22:

 

What Saved My Faith

via CreationSwap.com

via CreationSwap.com

It was the beauty on the outside that drew me away.

Before social justice became trendy among evangelicals, people of all denominations, faiths, and philosophies had already been steadily working in the trenches without fanfare, caring for the least of these with a quiet strength.

Through seminary, I learned to grapple with justice being at the heart of the Christian Gospel — dignity, equality, and right to life for all — I marched out into the real world with zeal and vigor to champion the rights of the oppressed in the name of Jesus. However, I discovered the people who were doing this work often had no identification with Christianity, that those outside of church were behaving more Christian-ly than some inside.

I admired Nicholas Kristof, a self proclaimed nonreligious reporter, who tirelessly sheds light on humanitarian concerns.

I adored Malala, a Muslim, who stood up to the Taliban to bravely demand a right to education for girls.

I reflected on the justice heroes of recent history, people like Gandhi and countless other humanitarian workers who don’t claim the Christian faith for their own.

It disoriented me because for so long I believed it was only through Christ that one can walk in righteous paths; that without the Truth (which had been so narrowly summed up for me in John 3:16), everything was meaningless. I didn’t have an interpretive lens to categorize beauty that existed outside of the vessel I was told contained the only beauty to be found: the evangelical Christian church.

Religion, in the Right Hands

MJTH / Shutterstock.com

MJTH / Shutterstock.com

I was privileged to attend the ordination of a friend recently. For the first time, Michelle got to say the blessing over the bread, to break the bread and to give it to all of us with her hands.

Many tears, much joy.

As she handed me a small piece of the bigger loaf, I was reminded of how we, like the communion bread, are in the hands of others for so much of our lives. And how religion can be a thing of so much good or so much pain, depending upon whose hands it is in.

In the right hands, it’s a pathway to the divine. In the wrong hands …

It’s important that we always differentiate between religion and God. The two are distinct. God is always much bigger than any and all of our religions.

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