A FOLLOWER OF JESUS

Sometimes I really don’t get why I would continue to call myself a Christian. While the last couple of weeks have not been the worst of times for the institution of Christianity it has not been anything to write home about either.

First, you get the wacko’s of a mega church in Texas refusing to do the funeral of a man after they found out he was in a loving same gender relationship. They tried to hide behind church policy about homosexuality, that some how if they did this mans funeral it might look like they are supportive of the “homosexual agenda” by accepting this persons relationship. To make matters worse they tried to justify their actions by saying they were willing to pay to have the funeral done someplace else and the family could have the food that had been prepared.

What happen to the church practicing common decency and hospitality?

Then if you are a reader of the “Questing Parson” the other day you find a story of a mega church in Woodstock Georgia refusing to help a man and his family who had been burned out of their home. Why you ask? Well let’s see he has three kids and a woman he loves but has not married and as their representative said; “We don’t subsidize immorality, and dismissed the man.”

Then I read from the Rev. Eugene H. Peterson, who is a “Professor Emeritus” of Spiritual Theology at Regent College in Vancouver B.C. He is the author of the newest translation of the Bible called “The Message”, the Bible in contemporary language. In his introduction to the Old Testament book of Amos he writes;

“More people are exploited and abused in the cause of religion then in any other way. Sex, money and power all take a back seat to religion as a source of evil. Religion is the most dangerous energy source known to humankind. The moment a person (or government or religion or organization is convinced that god is either ordering or sanctioning a cause or project, anything goes. The history worldwide of religion fueled hate, killing, and oppression is staggering.”

Wow! Read that again. No wonder churches are more empty then full.

Then I found myself channel surfing the TV the other day when I came across a TV preacher in “full preaching mode” declaring that for those who choose to go against God will pay the price of God’s harsh judgment. God will punish those who live in a homosexual life style and God will destroy and bring destruction to the society that does not “fear” the Lord and eradicate this horrible sin against God.

Now I have to tell you, it was this preacher’s use of the word “fear” that caught my attention.

Fred Phelps out of Topeka, Kansas whole ministry and picketing is based on this rubbish.

Jimmy Swaggert built a religious empire based on this crap and oh yea let us not forget Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson are always saying we were getting God’s wrath because we somehow misbehaved. Everything from hurricanes to terrorist attacks. These people have gotten filthy rich off people’s fear of God.

So let see if I have the formula of the “Church” correct…”lack of morality=a lack of fear from God, who will punish those who do not fear God.” In other words if we are fearful of punishment from God then we will behave. My friends this is really bad and dangerous theology. It makes a mockery of the Cross-and the whole teaching of Jesus.

Fear is a natural and normal event for human beings. Sigmund Freud has written at some point that we experience fear when we enter a field and see a large animal charging us; hence our well being is in real danger. Anxiety, is what we experience when we enter a field and we think that a large fierce animal may, perhaps be somewhere in the field and might; just might attack us. Natural fear is a positive thing, while anxiety is negative and many times harmful to our thinking and physical well being.

Positive fear is part of our instincts as human beings. If we are at risk for some reason, fear is indeed an emotion that will cause us to take action to protect ourselves. This is usually based on fact or real experience.

However, it strikes me this “fear the Lord” and the enforcement of morality being preached in churches and other religious groups is more about “negative anxiety” rather then genuine concern or fear of something factual or experiential.

“Negative anxiety” about what may happen after we die or even while we yet live is nothing more then a means by which evil people use to gain power and control of others.

Further this thinking gives those who are snobs, bigots and “power and control” freaks the ability to ignore the words of Jesus at every turn. It gives them an excuse to total ignore Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:31-40.

People who are anxious have a tendency to comply with “rules for living” when faced with what “might” happen. In fact they even send more money to the folks who are making pronouncements about “what may happen”. Need proof, watch the 700 Club for about 15 minutes. Better yet read Don Wildemon’s “American Family Association” newsletter, this dude has always got his hand out for money over what might happen.

Fear is the great motivator of war and killing…take a look at Iraq. We are giving away constitutional right after right because we have been convinced to fear somebody or anybody from the Middle East.

Has anyone come back from the dead, aside from Jesus, to tell us what there is after death?

We have all heard the stories and talk about “out of body experiences”.

However, I do not recall that any of them reporting an angry and punishing God…in fact it has usually been the exact opposite.

I heard a wonderful story concerning this very issue…I am not sure of the author or who to give credit to; but it is too good to not mention it here.

“There was a person visiting their minister and during the course of the conversation said to the pastor, “I am afraid to die, I have no idea what is there on the other side of life or what will meet me when I get there. Pastor, can you help me with this and tell me what to expect.” The minister look at his friend sadly and said, “No, I cannot tell you what it will be like after you die or how it will be.” The person was astounded, as they knew this pastor was a good solid praying Christian. So the person replied. “How can this be? How can you not know? You are a Christian and you can’t tell me what happens after one dies?” Just then there was a scratching at the office door and the doctor opened the door and in bounded his beloved dog. The dog was just all over the minister so happy to see its master. It was in this moment the minister looked at the patient and said, “You see how my dog just bounded into this room having no idea what was on the other side of the door, not fearing what was on the other side but only knowing that his master was here. I suspect that is the way it will be for us going to the other side of life with only one solid piece of knowledge…Our Master is there and waits to receive us.”

If someone is threatening you with eternal damnation and punishment then you are being bullied. If your preacher wants you to live in accordance to his/her moral pronouncements based on the judgments of God…then get out of that church as fast as you can, do not walk… run! The message of those who are followers of Christ is not “fear and anxiety, but rather the love of God.

The “Church” needs to wake up! I submit the agenda of the “church” must change! As my friend has quoted another source by saying, “The church is not in the business of enforcing morality, but in the business of extending grace.” Ah yes the words of Jesus:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Creator’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” John 14:1-3

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:36-40

I think this is why the Senior Deacon at our Church has it right when he says; “I no longer call myself a Christian, but rather a follower of Jesus.”

Rev. Paul M. Turner

About Rev. Paul M. Turner

Founding and Senior Pastor of Gentle Spirit Christian Church, Rev. Paul M. Turner grew up in suburban Chicago and was ordained by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in 1989. He and his husband Bill have lived in metro Atlanta since 1994. He is the editor of the Seeds of Hope blog whose posts from 1999-2005 are at http://whosoever.org/seeds/ -- and which now resides at https://gentlespirit.org/topics/blog/seeds-of-hope/.

One thought on “A FOLLOWER OF JESUS”

  1. A very thought-provoking entry that left me angry with the attitude of some self-righteous people, and made me smile at the dog and master metaphor. The entire post made me think of a bumper sticker I saw not long ago (and immediately coveted, BAD priest! *g*): “I love Jesus, it’s his fan club I have issues with!”

    Thanks for another superb post.

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