Pushing People Out of the Church – Part 4

Valerie Tarico

I recently read an article published by skeptic Valerie Tarico on the left-wing, anti-religion, news-and-commentary website Alternet.org entitled, “8 Ways Christian Fundamentalists Make People Convert — to Agnosticism or Atheism.”

Most of the articles on this site are either offensive or just plain ridiculous, this article caught my interest, because it contains some truths that Christians need to understand.

People who reject Jesus Christ ultimately do so because they choose to suppress the truth (Romans 1:18-19). However, there are also many things that those in the church do to push people away. As Tarico states, “if you read ExChristian testimonials you will notice that quite often church leaders or members do things that either trigger the deconversion process or help it along.”

I’ve found that I can often learn a lot by listening to what skeptics say about their perceptions of Christianity. This series looks at the eight reasons Tarico highlights.

Reason #4: Hypocrisy

Christians are taught – and many believe—that thanks to the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit they are a moral beacon for society. The writer of Matthew told his audience, “You are the light of the world.” That’s a high bar, and yet decent believers (along with many other decent people) try earnestly to meet it.   But the added pressure on those who call themselves the “righteous” means that believers also are prone to hiding, pretending, posing, and turning a blind eye to their own very human, very normal faults and flaws.

People who desperately want to be sanctified and righteous, “cleansed by the blood of the lamb” – who need to believe that they now merit heaven but that other people’s smallest transgressions merit eternal torture—have a lot of motivation to engage in self-deception and hypocrisy. High-profile hypocrites like Ted Haggard or Rush Limbaugh may be loved by their acolytes, but for people who are teetering, they help to build a gut aversion to whatever they espouse. But often as not, the hypocrisies that pose a threat to faith are small and internal to a single Bible-study or youth group. Backbiting and social shunning are part of the church-lady stereotype for a reason. They also leave a bitter taste that makes some church members stop drinking the Kool-aid.

Tarico’s comments show both considerable insight and a fundamental misunderstanding of what Christianity is all about.

The comment that Christians “believe that they now merit heaven but that other people’s smallest transgressions merit eternal torture” shows a very common, yet very fundamental, misconstruing of the Gospel. The Bible does not teach that Christians merit heaven. Christians will spend eternity in Heaven despite the fact that we do not merit Heaven. Because of our sin, we deserve Hell. Yet, through the blood of Jesus, those who receive Jesus Christ as Savior will spend eternity in Heaven despite the fact that our sins merit Hell. Christians are not more moral than non-Christians; we are just forgiven of our immorality. A Christian’s righteousness is not a result of our superior behavior or character; it is because Christ’s righteousness is credited to us.  We are saved solely by God’s grace!

Unfortunately, there are many who call themselves Christians who have the same basic misunderstanding of the Gospel. Many of these so-called Christians are actually false converts; they have never placed their faith and trust in Jesus Christ, and have never received Him as Lord and Savior. As 2 Timothy 3:1-5 puts it:

1 But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!

Or, as Jesus put it in Matthew 7:21-23:

21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’

There are also some true believers – those who have a saving faith in Jesus Christ – who do not understand that Christians don’t “deserve heaven.” Many of these Christians have simply been taught falsely. For others, their pride and arrogance lead them to think that they are morally superior to others, and that this moral superiority somehow makes them more acceptable to God. One of the problems I have with Calvinism is that many Calvinists teach that God love the elect, but hates the non-elect; that the elect somehow deserve Heaven, but the non-elect deserve Hell. This belief is nothing more than pride and arrogance run amok, and comes straight from the devil.

Tarico is right on the mark with her charge that hypocrisy drives people from faith in Jesus Christ. Numerous studies have confirmed that one of the main reasons cited by those who leave the church is the hypocrisy of Christians. Numerous high-profile Christian leaders have been exposed as adulterers, thieves, liars, or outright frauds. Tarico is correct in stating that “backbiting and social shunning are part of the church-lady stereotype for a reason.” The Bible teaches Christians to “love your neighbor,” but too often churches are filled with factions, condemnation, and hatred. It’s not just the Westboro Baptist Churches of the world; it’s also a problem in almost every church. Churches are filled with sinners, and sinning is what comes naturally to us, even as Christians. We teach one thing, but live another. Our pride and arrogance fuel this hypocrisy.

Christians need to get real with themselves, real with God, and real with the people around them. We need to understand that we are fundamentally sinners; our righteousness is not our own; we are saved, not because God loves us more, but because we received His forgiveness, which is offered to all. We need to quit trying to convince ourselves that we are morally superior to others; rather, we need to fall on our faces before our holy God and repent of our pride and conceit. Paul tells us to “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”

Pride and arrogance lead to hypocrisy, and hypocrisy drives people from the church. Tarico is right on the money when she states that, “believers … are prone to hiding, pretending, posing, and turning a blind eye to their own very human, very normal faults and flaws. ” Christians must learn to acknowledge our faults, both before God and before others, and not allow pride and vanity to turn others from Christ. There is no room in the church for snobbery, smugness, or self-importance. Rather, humility, genuineness, and unpretentiousness should rule our lives. Humility and genuineness will draw people to Christ; pride and hypocrisy will push them away.

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Pushing People Out of the Church – Part 3

The anti-religion, left-wing, news-and-commentary website Alternet.org published an article by skeptic Valerie Tarico entitled, “8 Ways Christian Fundamentalists Make People Convert — to Agnosticism or Atheism.” While I find most of the articles on this site either offensive or just plain ignorant, this article caught my interest, because it contains some truths that Christians need to understand.

Ultimately, people who reject Jesus Christ do so because they choose to suppress the truth (Romans 1:18-19). However, there are also things that many in the church do to push people away. As Tarico states, “if you read ExChristian testimonials you will notice that quite often church leaders or members do things that either trigger the deconversion process or help it along.”

As a Christian, I can learn a lot by listening to what skeptics say about why people leave the church. This series looks at the eight reasons Tarico highlights.

Tarico’s third reason:

3. Misogyny. For psychological and social reasons females are more inclined toward religious belief than males. They are more likely to attend church services and to insist on raising their children in a faith community. They also appear more indifferent than males to rational critique of religion, like debates about theology or evolutionary biology. I was interested to notice recently that my YouTube channel, Life After Christianity, which focuses on the psychology of religion gets about 80 percent male viewers. Women are the church’s base constituency, but fortunately for atheists, this fact hasn’t caused conservative Christians to back off of sexism that is justified by – you got it – prooftexting from the Old and New Testaments.

Evangelical minister Jim Henderson recently published a book, The Resignation of Eve, in which he urges his fellow Christians to take a hard look at the consequences of sexism in the church. According to Henderson, old-school sexism has driven some women out of Christianity permanently, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. For those who stay, it means that many are less enthusiastic and engaged than they would be. Churches rely on women to volunteer in roles that range from secretary to director of children’s programs to missionaries. That takes a high level of confidence in church doctrines and also a strong sense of belonging. Biblical sexism cultivates neither. Between 1991 and 2011 the percent of women attending church in a typical week dropped by 11 points, from 55 to 44 percent.

Definitions

First, let’s define some terms:

Misogyny
is the hatred of women.

Sexism is:

1: prejudice or discrimination based on sex; especially
: discrimination against women

2: behavior, conditions, or attitudes that foster stereotypes of social roles based on sex

Prooftexting means to pull a Bible passage out of context and to use it to justify a doctrinal position.

Misogyny and sexism in the Bible

Does the Bible promote misogyny, the hatred of women?

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, 26 that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, 27 that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. 28 So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. 30 For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. 31 “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. 33 Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. Ephesians 5:25-33

There is no verse in the Bible that teaches the hatred of women. God does not hate any person. It is not in His nature to hate people. God hates sin, but loves everyone in the world (John 3:16). Because He loves all people, including women, He has commanded His people to love women, not to hate them.

Does the Bible teach sexism? The answer depends a lot on semantics. The Bible does not teach prejudice or discrimination; nor does it teach stereotyping. It does, however, teach that men and women have different roles and functions within the Church.

And the Lord God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.” Genesis 2:18

To the woman He said:

“I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception;
In pain you shall bring forth children;
Your desire shall be for your husband,
And he shall rule over you.” Genesis 3:16

From the beginning, God created women and men to work together, but with differing roles. Those roles were in perfect harmony until sin entered the world. After the Fall, the roles of men and women changed for the worse, not because of God, but because of human sin.

Many atheists like to point to verses such as Leviticus 21:9, Leviticus 12:2, or Leviticus 15:19-23 to claim that God hates women. First, the atheist does exactly what they accuse Christians of doing when they prooftext – pull passages out of context to support their view. The Old Testament Law was never about making a person acceptable to God, but all about pointing to the need for a Savior. Men and women were uniquely created to be different from, but complementary to, each other. The Fall effected men and women differently – compare Genesis 3:16 and Genesis 3:17-19. As a result, the Law, which is all about demonstrating God’s holiness and our need for Jesus Christ, has variations for men and women.

So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Genesis 1:27

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28

God created both men and women in His image. Men and women are of equal value to God. In Jesus Christ, men and women are equally loved, equally valued, equally accepted by God.

And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. 1 Timothy 2:12

But as for you, speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine: that the older men be sober, reverent, temperate, sound in faith, in love, in patience; the older women likewise, that they be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things— that they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed. Titus 2:1-5

Again, atheists and skeptics point to these verses, and others like them, to claim the Bible teaches misogyny. The problem is that such an assertion presupposes that differing roles implies superiority, that God values men more than women. This presupposition does not come from the Bible; rather, it is a sinful, man-made idea. One must cherry-pick verses out of context, and ignore other passages completely, to claim the Bible teaches that women’s roles are inferior to men’s roles. Granted, some in the church have done exactly this for centuries; but this doesn’t mean the Bible teaches it.

The Church and Sexism

What should the church’s position be on the roles of women in the church, the family, and society? Tarico is correct when she says that Christians need to take a hard look at the consequences of sexism in the church. Women should never be put down because of their God-given roles; rather, men need to value women above themselves, as Christ valued us above Himself. God created men and women to fill different roles, but human sin has corrupted the harmony and complementary nature of those roles. The church must make sure they are not prooftexting passages about the roles of men and women, but looking at all of Scripture to balance understanding. The Bible clearly teaches that women and men have different roles, and that men are to be the leaders; but, it also says that men are to love women as Christ loves the church. Tarico is correct when she states that misogyny and putting down women is wrong, and drives women from the church. But, she’s wrong in assuming that different God-given roles means that the Bible teaches that men are more important than women.

Is the Bible misogynist? Absolutely not.

Does the Bible teach sexism? In the sense of teaching that men are better than women, absolutely not. But, the Bible absolutely does teach that men and women have different, yet equally valued, God-given roles. Some will ignorantly call this sexism and misogyny. I call it God’s design for balance and diversity. As Christians, we need to make sure we have God’s Biblical perspective on this issue, not mankind’s perspective. If the Church has a correct Biblical view of women, then women will be drawn to the church, not pushed out, because the Church will show God’s love, respect, and honor toward them and their Biblical roles.

The Irrationality of the Modern Concept of Intolerance

One of the most overused buzzwords today is the word intolerant. Anyone who opposes abortion, gay marriage, illegal immigration, embryonic stem cell research, or government controlled health care as intolerant and a bigot. During an interview with Baptist Press, Chick-fil-A president and COO Dan Cathy was asked about the Chick-fil-A’s support of the traditional family. He responded,

“Well, guilty as charged…We are very much supportive of the family—the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that. We operate as a family business … our restaurants are typically led by families; some are single. We want to do anything we possibly can to strengthen families. We are very much committed to that.”

Cathy’s comments sparked intense media frenzy. Cathy was labeled an intolerant, anti-gay, homophobic bigot. Chick-fil-A restaurants were picketed by opponents, and proponents flocked to show their support.

Christians who take a stand against any belief or practice that is opposed to Biblical teaching are labeled intolerant. It is intolerant to say homosexuality is a sin; it is intolerant to call abortion murder; it is intolerant to suggest that men and women should have different roles; it is intolerant to claim that non-Christians will go to Hell.

Is Christianity intolerant? Does the Bible teach intolerance? What does it mean to be intolerant?

What intolerance means

According Dictionary.com, the word intolerance means:

  1. lack of toleration; unwillingness or refusal to tolerate or respect contrary opinions or beliefs, persons of different races or backgrounds, etc.

The word tolerate means:

  1. to allow the existence, presence, practice, or act of without prohibition or hindrance; permit.
  2. to endure without repugnance; put up with.

In other words, the traditional meaning of intolerance is an unwillingness to allow or put up with things with which one disagrees. It involves prohibiting or hindering practices that one finds offensive or disagreeable. Under this traditional understanding of tolerance, a person cannot tolerate something with which they agree; to tolerate means to disagree, but to permit in spite of disagreement.

In modern American politically correct thinking, however, there has been a subtle shift in this meaning. Intolerance now means to oppose any belief or practice. If a person thinks any practice or belief is wrong or immoral, they are now labeled intolerant. Note the subtle difference. Intolerance used to mean prohibiting or hindering beliefs and practices one disagrees with. Now, it means to simply disagree. If a Christian merely believes abortion is a sin, they are now labeled intolerant. If one merely suggests that same-gender marriage is wrong, they are now intolerant bigots. The meaning has shifted from prohibiting that with which one disagrees to merely disagreeing.

Where does this new concept of intolerance come from?

This new concept of intolerance as merely believing an idea or practice is wrong is firmly rooted in the philosophy of relativism. According to Dictionary.com, relativism is “any theory holding that criteria of judgment are relative, varying with individuals and their environments.” In other words, what’s true for you may not be true for me; there is no absolute truth. Relativism is a core belief in humanism, liberalism, and postmodernism. It’s the foundation of American political correctness, and, unfortunately, many Christians have been seduced by this philosophy as well.

In any worldview based in relativism, it is meaningless to say something is absolutely wrong. Right and wrong are entirely determined by circumstances, culture, and personal beliefs. For a relativist, the statement, “You should not do X because it is wrong,” is nonsense. A practice may be wrong for some people in certain circumstances, but since truth is relative, and absolutes do not exist, one cannot claim a practice is always wrong, or wrong for anyone but themselves.

When the Bible states that adultery is wrong, this teaching is inconceivable to a relativist. There are no absolutes, so claiming adultery is wrong is nonsense. It’s like saying blue is wrong, or vanilla ice cream is wrong. Right and wrong are totally determined by the preferences of the individual, depending on the circumstances.

There are several problems with relativism. First, the concept is self-contradictory. According to relativism, absolute truth does not exist. However, this belief is held as absolute truth! If absolute right and wrong do not exist, then anyone who believes is absolute right and wrong is wrong. But, since wrong does not exist, they cannot be wrong. The relativist absolutely believes that absolutes do not exist! On this basis alone, relativism should be rejected – it’s a logical impossibility.

Living with an irrational worldview

When one actually tries to put a relativistic worldview into practice, the irrationality becomes even more pronounced. Since relativism posits that absolute right and wrong do not exist, it would be illogical to say murder, rape, child abuse, or assault are absolutely wrong. Yet, in practice, almost all relativists would say they are absolutely wrong. How do they get around this paradox? Most would state that a practice is immoral only if it harms someone else. So, in practice, there are absolutes; it is absolutely immoral to harm others. The philosophy of relativism completely unravels when put into practice. Yet, most people who hold to this view don’t understand the irrationality of their beliefs.

Let’s take it a step further. Since absolute right and wrong do not exist (except, of course, that we cannot harm others), the concept of sin is inconceivable. When a Christian says that abortion is sin, the relativist is forced to conclude that the Christian is wrong in his belief. But, this is a contradiction – right and wrong don’t exist for the relativist!

This brings us back to the concept of intolerance. For the relativist, any claim that an idea or practice is wrong is intolerant. Right and wrong don’t exist, so when the Bible calls certain practices sin, it completely contradicts the very foundation of the relativist’s worldview.

When applied to the gay marriage issue, when a Christian says gay marriage is wrong, the relativist is forced into the illogical conclusion that the Christian is wrong. The Christian is claiming that absolutes exist, that gay marriage is absolutely wrong. The relativist finds this position is intolerable – in the traditional sense of refusing to put up with or respect. The Christian belief cannot be permitted, because, if true, it means the relativist’s entire worldview is wrong. What’s ironic is that in calling the Christian belief intolerant, it’s actually the relativist that is intolerant.

The modern definition of intolerance is intolerant of other views, and is inescapably hypocritical. Those who hold to this view of intolerance are unavoidably hypocrites. It is hypocritical to be intolerant of others for their perceived intolerance, yet the modern definition of tolerance forces it.

What the Bible says

Romans chapter 1 gives a very clear description of the consequences of this sort of thinking:

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them.

The Bible makes it clear that all people know that absolute truth does exist; but those who reject God suppress the truth. God reveals Himself to everyone, but most people refuse to accept Him, and come up with other philosophies and beliefs to replace the truth.

20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, 21 because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.

Rejection of God produces futility in thinking. It leads to irrational philosophies like relativism. Any worldview or philosophy apart from the Word of God is foolishness. It leads to belief systems that are completely irrational, yet are clung to by people because they reject the only Truth.

24 Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, 25 who exchanged the truth of God for the lie…

This is why, I believe, so many people get upset with Christians like Dan Cathy for saying he supports the “biblical definition of the family unit.” Non-Christians are trying to suppress the truth; Christians who speak out bring the truth back out in the open.

Is God intolerant? Guilty as charged.

The Bible makes it clear that God does not tolerate sin: “For the wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23a). The Bible also makes it clear that the ONLY solution for sin is Jesus Christ: “…but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23b). God does not tolerate sin, because sin separates us from Him. God’s love demands that while He cannot tolerate sin, He has provided a way for us to be reconciled to Him: For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

Because of His holiness, God cannot tolerate sin; but, because of His love, He cannot leave us without a Savior from that sin.