When Religion is Evil

I recently watched a documentary on Warren Jeffs, former president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. It was horrifying and left me sick to my stomach.

But it also wasn't surprising- religion has been abusing people for thousands of years.

The overall theme of the film was that Jeffs used God as a way to manipulate people and satisfy his twisted sexual appetites. As a result of his “faith,” children (boys and girls) were molested, families were torn apart, and people’s spirits were crushed ("Evil Lives Here" My Brother, the Devil [TV Episode 2017] - IMDb).
 
For me, the most riveting point of the film was when the camera zoomed in on two plaques that hung at the school Jeffs was in charge of (and where he molested little boys). They read, “Perfect obedience” and “Perfect faith.”  In other words, religion. Only humans with a warped and unbiblical view of themselves can believe in the idea of having perfect faith and obedience.  When any church or organization puts forth perfect obedience and faith as the earthly goal- they have abandoned the gospel. In fact, this theology is anti-Christ (against everything that Christ stood for).

Religions are all the Same

Christianity has been twisted and tweaked so many times, that it often looks little the good news that Jesus presented. In fact, Christianity can look exactly like any other religion. Most religions operate on the following premises:

1. There is a perfect deity (deities).
2. There are rules that must be obeyed to find favor with the deity (deities).
3. Fail at the rules, suffer the consequences.

In Christianity, the rules are taken from the bible. These include the ten commandments, and continue throughout the bible with other recommendations on how to best love God and others. Jesus said all the rules can be boiled down to just those two precepts: love God, love others. 

Sometimes church cultures or Christian religions may add a few more rules for acceptance or approval-

  • Worship services should only be on Saturday.
  • There's only one approved translation of the biblea
  • You must read your bible regularly (daily, weekly, etc.)
  • You must be involved in a bible study or small group.
  • Don’t drink alcohol.
  • Don’t get divorced.
  • Don’t have depression or anxiety.
  • Always be growing, transforming, improving.
  • Work hard to please God.
  • Don’t be lazy.
  • Don’t be fat.
  • Don’t be poor.
  • Don’t be rich.
  • Only play hymns.
  • Only play modern music.
  • Dress up.
  • Dress down.
  • Don’t doubt. Or at least, don’t talk about doubt.

Some of these rules are centered on a biblical standard of perfect love- taken straight from the bible. Some of them are just human preferences.  None of them actually provide us peace or favor with God. The rules (and our failure at obeying them) were always meant to drive us to Jesus. This is the secret sauce that religion misses- the rules are not the thing. The free gift of love- without having to obey a single rule - that's what was in the good news Jesus came to share. That's not a religion. That's grace.

Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor (Galatians 3:24, 25, NKJV).

Back to the Five Basics (forget religion)

  1. Perfect love is the highest aim of life. There are rules that define perfect love (laid out in the bible). These include the ten commandments, and continue throughout the bible with other recommendations on how to best love God and others.
  2. No human can master perfect love, meaning- we fall short of the rules. Every one of us, in one form or another- will fall short. We are all natural rule-breakers, all on a level playing field. None of us is any closer or further from God (including religious leaders).
  3. Jesus was God, who became a human just like us, and then obeyed all the rules for perfect love, perfectly. He did something we could not.
  4. He offered his perfectly lived life as a SUBSTITUTION for us (not merely an example for good living). We get credit for obeying all the rules perfectly, if we choose to accept his perfect obedience as a gift to us. No strings attached. No matter what religion tells you.
  5. The goal of life then is no longer obeying the rules (performance) and becoming perfect (or becoming just like Jesus). It is about using our little bit of human strength, empowered by God’s spirit, to love others (often imperfectly). And enjoy being loved by God. And always having faith that Jesus is enough.

Still Working For God's Love

So many religions emphasize rule obeying and hard work as a way to get closer to God.  Christian churches use Jesus as the example for how we should be living. For those of us with sensitive spirits, this may leave us feeling rather hopeless and condemned.  I know, with every shred of my being, that I will never be perfect. I will never attain Jesus’ status. 
 
But, all of that pressure rolls off when I remember that Jesus is my substitute. We are so loved, in Jesus, that God approves of us no matter what. When I fail short of offering perfect love to my neighbor- still embraced by God. When I doubt Him and doubt what He’s doing- still the apple of His eye. I have God's unconditional love- no matter what I may say or do. I am still driven by love- I really do want to love God and people well. But that is not what my identity is centered on. Here's my identity- I am forever cherished by God, regardless of my performance, by receiving Jesus' perfect life as my own. 
 

Grace is the Main Thing

Religion lies to us. Life is not about perfect faith and perfect obedience. Anyone familiar with the heroes of the bible knows that they were all deeply flawed humans.  If you understand that you are a deeply flawed human (like me)- you are light years ahead of many religious leaders. And if you understand that religion does not bring peace, and good works do not earn approval- then you are wise. But most of all, if you receive the gift of perfection from Jesus (and quit trying to earn it)- you are the wisest of them all, covered by grace, grounded in truth.
 
I’m going to be honest- I am often frustrated with Christians and churches for failing to emphasize God’s grace (unconditional love) towards us. More often than naught, I am bombarded with messages from Christianity that add to my never-ending to do list. Or seem super-judgmental- as if we Christians have an edge on being human. :(

I am also often frustrated with myself for again and again falling back into the religion or performance trap- taking my eyes off of the free gift. Sometimes I give myself too much credit, or judge myself harshly, or judge others harshly- all based on rules. But that makes sense, because we humans are rule-based by nature- and grace is counterintuitive. It's hard to swim against the stream.
 
I believe the closest we can get to “perfect love” and “perfect obedience” is resting in the gift that God has already given us (Jesus’ perfection). Please, please, please do not let religion (any religion, including Christianity) hurt you, condemn you, abuse you, or have unrestrained power over you- especially in the name of God. 
 
And thank you to those individuals, churches, and church leaders that do their best to emphasize God’s unconditional love - and present Jesus as the perfect rule-obeyer, and our substitute. You are rare and precious gems, a cool drink in a parched desert. You help us put down our burdens, and remember that God actually loves us. Yes, He loves us, He likes us, He approves of us, He's delighted with us, He's on our side. For one reason and one reason only.

Grace.
 
 


Bottom line: Grace conquered religion.