Spiritual

When Church Says, “I Love You, But…”

Back in 2013, The Barna Group decided to study the accusation that the church is full of hypocrites.

They didn’t look at the question of whether church people are perfect or not, because that answer is already known.  (Spoiler alert: you won’t find perfection under any steeple, anywhere.)

Instead, Barna put together a poll that examined the attributes of Jesus against the attributes of the Pharisees and tried it out on self-identified Christians.

It turned out, according to Barna, 14% of Christians were like Jesus in actions and attitudes (e.g., God is for everyone, every person has God-given value), while the largest group, 51%, were caught up in self-righteous actions and attitudes like the Pharisees (e.g., I like to point out wrong doctrine and theology, the most important thing is following God’s rules).

Rather than offering the unconditional Love of Jesus, Pharisees have a list of requirements that must be met before acceptability is achieved.

The attitudes and actions of Jesus can be summed up in this way: “I love you.”

This is rest for our souls.

The attitudes and actions of the Pharisees add one fatal word: “I love you, BUT.”

This is an exhausting eternity of trying to measure up.

So you’re probably thinking about your church at this point.

Is it a Jesus-church, or a Pharisee-church?

I’m guessing that if you go there on a regular basis and don’t completely hate it, then it probably feels fairly loving toward you, and restful to your soul.

Here’s the thing, though.

I have a feeling that most of my readers are like me: straight, white, and cis-gender.  If that’s you, like it is me, the evangelical church in America was created just for us.  (If we’d happened to be male as well, we’d have that extra cherry on the sundae.)

Lucky, lucky us.

But what does church offer to the less-privileged?

What does church offer to people who are not straight, white, male, and cis-gender?

Does church offer rest to the souls of the LGBTQ community?

Or does church say, “I love you, BUT you need to be straight/act straight before you can be a part of our community?”

Does church offer rest to the souls of people of color?

Or does church say, “I love you, BUT y’all need to forgive. Stop being so angry. Stop being so sensitive. Let’s just all be reconciled and move on.”

Does church offer rest to the souls of women?

Or does church say, “I love you, BUT you have to stay with your abusive/porn-addicted/neglectful husband, and why were you speaking anyway?  We do not allow a woman to speak.”

Does church offer rest to the souls of the gender non-conforming?

Or does church say there’s really only one right way to live out biblical manhood and biblical womanhood, and it just happens to look exactly like Father Knows Best crossed with tonight’s UFC rage-fight?

Does the church offer rest to the souls of the neurodiverse?  What about those who deal with chronic mental illness?

Is church anything like Jesus to the marginalized and suffering?

Or is church more like the Pharisees: “We love you, BUT you need to meet our standards?”

A few months ago, I started reading The Fourth Gospel, by John Shelby Spong.  I’ve talked before about how Spong revolutionized my view of the story of the Samaritan woman at the well.

Spong showed me that the disciples of Jesus, these old Jewish guys, stopped defending their racial turf, their religious turf, their gender turf.  They just opened the doors and let everybody in.

And it didn’t just stop with the woman at the well.  They kept breaking the rules.

The dietary laws: gone.

The circumcision laws: gone.

The temple regulations: gone.

Jesus said that he came to fulfill the law, and this is what fulfillment of the law looks like: GONE.

IT IS FINISHED.

Jesus’ followers got it.

I don’t think we get it quite so much.

I think this is why 51% of us end up testing out as Pharisees instead of Jesus-followers.

We know this is true: it is so easy to follow a list of rules that says, “I love you, BUT... ” 

This is also true:  it is so hard and scary to follow the Love that opens its arms completely and simply says, “I love you” without condition.

To truly follow Love, we give up control.  

We give up on outcomes.  

We stop being Right, even if the Bible clearly says.

We honor the free will of others.

We allow God to be God, because we are not.

We acknowledge that Love is at work in the lives of others, just as it is in ours.

We simply trust that Love is Enough for all of us.

Let us all consider:

What would be different,

in our churches,

in our lives,

this year,

if we all

followed the way of Jesus

out of the tomb of the law,

into the new life of grace and rest

for every, single weary soul?

I think that would be a miracle, all over again, the same kind of miracle that Jesus made in the lives of a bunch of old Jewish guys who somehow (I was blind but now I see) found that a Samaritan woman was someone to be celebrated as an equal.

If Jesus could make that kind of miracle for those guys, back in the day, he can surely do that for us, too.

Kay Bruner
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Kay Bruner is a writer, wife and mom of four. A former (depressed) missionary, she is now a Licensed Professional Counselor and recently published a memoir, As Soon As I Fell: A Memoir. You can catch her writing more words of love and hope at KayBruner.com.

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