Why a Non-Believer at Your Church Would Throw Up a Little

Atheist Gina Welch faked a conversion, got baptized, went on a mission trip and attended Thomas Road Baptist Church for two years, taking detailed notes that she published in a book.

I’ve always struggled with the preaching-to-the-choir, inward-looking nature of the church.

I’m a believer, and though I attend churches and see good things come out of them, I also see how institutionalizing faith can lead to degenerating faith and advancing false teachings.

And institutionalizing faith also leads to clones, what I often call “stupid sheep,” who listen and accept their environment without thoughtfully questioning it.

This makes churches unwelcome places for people who don’t already believe. Plenty of times I’ve cringed in church at intolerant language, hoping that no non-believers were around to witness it.

Welch points out inconsistencies she saw in the church she attended and notes certain token phrases that don’t necessarily make sense to everyone.

“Evangelical language was a language of its own, where the rhetoric often didn’t mean what the words seemed to signify in English. Words were encoded symbols used to describe feelings evangelicals  understood. Sometimes I was able to understand these feelings and crack the code on a turn of the phrase. But not so with the personal relationship with God. With this I scraped and scraped for a more direct meaning, but each layer I revealed was just another picture of a picture.” (236)

When you’ve been in the same culture or environment for years, of course everything makes sense to you. But does that rule still make sense when you leave that context?

Non-spiritual example: I’ve met people who think women can’t understand computer science or make 3-pointers in basketball. In their world, they have observed this consistently. In my world, I’ve observed the opposite. Just because you’ve consistently observed something in one context doesn’t make it universally true.

Spiritual example: Some people believe wearing jewelry or make-up means you are pleasing your flesh or being materialistic. While others see it as a neutral activity that has no bearing on spiritual identity.

Doubt, Debate and Decide

It’s when you step outside your box that you begin to doubt, debate and then either reject your previous views, adjust them or fortify them.

Two Ways To Avoid Being a Church Clone

1) You can step outside that box by interacting with people who aren’t like the culture you grew up in. Or read about the experiences and perspectives of other people. At your disposal are spiritual and philosophical texts.

2) Ask your agnostic, atheist, Muslim, Jain, Hindu, Buddhist, Catholic, Mar Thoma, Orthodox, Pentecostal, Baptist, Presbyterian and other friends about their beliefs before you make up or casually accept secondhand logic about why your faith outwits all others. I think these conversations can get uncomfortable if they turn into debates. Listening is  a better way to go, don’t ya think?

Takeaway 1: No church and no believer is perfect. The journey requires thought and reflection and questions. You can’t live in a fantasy world where you or your church leader immediately has all the answers. We all have to seek before we find, right? We have to admit where we’ve been wrong and how we saw the light.

Takeaway 2: Don’t be bigots who preach to the choir. Should a church look outside of itself and use language that takes non-believers into consideration? Or just put a sign at the door that says it outright: “No non-clones welcome here.”

HT: Trevin Wax

Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/revger/3459895910/


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