October 17, 2017

J. Michael Jones: A Tumultuous Relationship with the Bride

Church. Photo by astrid westvang

A Tumultuous Relationship with the Bride
By J. Michael Jones

An Inherent Church

I was born into a family that attended a Southern Baptist church, deep within the hollows of Appalachia.  While I’m sure there are a broad spectrum of Baptist church experiences, mine must have been on the shady end, or at least one would hope.

As a child, the things that you learn are kneaded deeply into your soul and that was no different for our concept of church. The purpose of going to church was clear, it was about pretense and penitence. Everyone in our community behaved very differently within the hallowed walls of the little white chapel than we did in our public lives. Apparently, we believed that God was limited in His perception and therefore easily duped.

The pretense wasn’t limited to the mischievous behavior of the laity. The pastor had a mistress on the side for all those years and it was common knowledge by everyone, save his wife. Many, including my dear mother, even helped to provide him cover for his sexual liaisons. The amazing thing that it was not a bigger scandal than it was. It continued as a clandestine narrative because none of us wanted meddling. We all had secrets to protect.

The worst folly happened within those walls. The architype Christian was a thirty-something-year-old man, Jake. He never cursed or drank, even out in the community. He was not a connoisseur of rock and roll and had a crewcut. He was well dressed, wearing a tie and suit coat, even on week days. Jake was pointed out, on many occasions, as the Christian man that we boys should emulate. Jake, however, had one vice. He used his position of Sunday school and music director to habitually, sexually abuse the young boys of our church. I don’t know how I escaped his sticky fingers all those years. It did often require serpentine maneuvers, something like a football running back, to avoid him. He did get his hands on my brother once. The incredible thing was, everyone knew about this behavior but preferred—for the sake of peace—to say nothing.

It was also a place where we were taught that you should never ask questions. Faith, the kind of faith that pleases God, must be rich in credulity. Thinking, so we were told, was worldly. In fact, all material things were worldly and it was going to burn . . . and the incineration was close at hand. God dwelled in the wispy clouds and that was our only aspiration, to someday dwell there too.

The only reason that we faithfully attended the Sunday show was due to the second factor, penitence. It was deeply ingrained within that subculture that the one Christian behavioral requirement was attending church. Not to do so, would aggravate God immensely. If you felt especially guilty, as we often did, we could attend Sunday evenings or Wednesday nights too.

The one redeeming value was that we were exposed, although only as background chatter, to the Bible and its wonderful stories. They were just irrelevant.  It was no surprise that we all left the church as soon as we could drive and had our own cars. We had left, in spirit, many years earlier.

The Token Church

When I was a senior in high school, I was requisitioned (by God’s grace) into a new Christian world via a psychology teacher. He was on staff with a para-church organization at a nearby university. Within this new group, I had a total retooling of my faith into a far more authentic Christianity.  However, my involvement with this group, for next fifteen years, took me into a strange world of church artifices.

There was no question that the parachurch organization functioned as our real church. It was the best experience of koinonia in my life. It was so good, that in some ways it ruined me. No future church could ever aspire to that level intimate fellowship and mutual support. However, because we didn’t call ourselves a church, we did not have a Biblical church leadership structure. There were no elders. Each chapter was an autocracy, controlled by one professional staff member.

During those days, we were required to attend the local church to look respectable within the Bible Belt culture. However, at the same time, it was an unspoken perspective that we were to look at the local church people with contempt. They didn’t take Christianity as seriously as we did, so we thought. The local (Presbyterian Church in American, PCA) church was our token church. It was our Trojan Horse into the world of Christian decency.

One year, during a brief lapse of pretentious, we decided to call ourselves a “house church.” We chose elders and tried to structure ourselves more like a real church. The local pastors were deeply distressed about this new development. This movement swept through our parent organization, at least in our region. Howard Snyder’s book, The Problem of Wineskins, may have been the catalysis for this thinking. However, since the professional staff received most of their financial support from local congregations (we college students were too poor to contribute much) it didn’t take long before there was a drying up of funds for the organization. This caused an immediate reversal in that approach. Their theological convictions followed the money. There was a quick return to the previous system of local church association, although with an ostentatious purpose.

I stayed with this organization through college, graduate school, and into my married community life. My wife and I eventually went to the mission field in the Middle East with this same group. Prior to the mission field the autocratic leadership structure caused no significant problems because we were led by benevolent leaders. On the mission field that changed. I was faced with the dilemma of having a leader who was abusive to us, under the guise of being God’s will. This development, and my countering rage, caused me to have a tragic disillusionment with all of Christianity.

The Illusive Church

I arrived back in the US two years later as a clinically depressed agnostic. I would probably never darken the doors of another church again if it had not been for my wife’s insistence. She hoped that getting me back in church would aid in my recovery. But something had changed deeply within my psyche and soul. When you experience some kind of mental breakdown, something literally breaks within your brain. You can feel it breaking. Suddenly, from then on, the world looked different. Some said that I was—after my crisis of faith—seeing the world through a (negatively) tainted lens. But it felt like the fake, rose-colored spectacles had been replaced by a pair of x-ray glasses, the kind that use to be advertised in the back of Popular Science. Sudden you see through the pretense and the shamming is no longer satisfying.

Over a period of a year, my wife led me by the hand (literally) from church to church. I felt like I was walking, zombie-like, into a performance, where I knew the script from my years as a staunch evangelical. But each stage (vestibule) had a different cast of actors, yet, all saying the same lines. I knew almost exactly, the next word that would come out of the person’s mouth. It was quasi-scriptural-Republican clichés. I couldn’t stomach it! In my new frame of mind, I was brutally honest and that created the kind of dissonance as when an actor flubbed his lines while on stage. Jaws would drop. If I said that I was depressed or skeptical, which I was, they would rebuke me, just before walking away. The stranger would point out that it was my fault because “God never fails.” Sometimes they would add things like, “You must not have the Holy Spirit. I do and I’m always happy,” or “I don’t doubt because God said it, I believe it, and that settles it!”

In the vestibule of yet another cookie-cutter evangelical church, the conversation strangely took another sudden detour. It wasn’t me who deviated from the script this time. It was man named Dave. When I told him that I was struggling with depression after a hellish missionary experience, he instantly grasped my shoulder with is right hand. He looked me in the eye and said, “I want to hear all the details. Let’s meet for lunch after church.” He was instantly ready to drop his plans for the day, just for me.

During that lunch at Burger King, Dave, the pastor of his church, and I sat for two hours. I told the saga our missionary experience in intimate detail. The two men were my first listeners for the story. I wasn’t half-way through the telling when Dave started to cry. This caused me to start sobbing too. I had not cried in fifteen years. I had thought, in my previous life of a “godly man,” that there would be no need for tears if you had faith. Dave helped me to set my tears free and they flowed for months. It was the turning point of my dilemma. I soon dismissed my thoughts of ending it all. I was not completely better, but I now had hopes of being better someday. On that day, I found the real church again.

From that point and over the next fifteen years I took out on a journey to get well and to try and understand why my previous brand of faith had left me with a severe disenchantment. I undertook an intense personal study of scripture, science, philosophy, religions, psychology, and Church history, looking for answers.

Church. Photo by astrid westvang

The “Perfect” Church

Through four moves we had six evangelical church associations. As I was slowly getting healthy and returning to faith, I entered a phase where began to search for the ideal church. Once, I tried to reproduce the type of koinonia that I had experienced in college. After a year of preparation, I started a house church. It was a catastrophe after just one year in existence. There were five families in the church, each with a profoundly different agenda. One family insisted that we arm ourselves with weapons and survival gear for the coming war with Bill Clinton and Janet Reno. That family was more lucid than some of the others. Apparently, my church attracted those who had fallen off the far right-end of evangelicalism.

With our last move, we came to an island with limited church choices. I was still in search for that perfect church. My hope this time rested on finding a church with true “Biblical” structure and doctrines, based on the precise certainty that I had learned with the PCA. I found one such church.

I spent eight years with this new church and became quite involved, even becoming an elder. However, from the beginning, I saw a troublesome problem. On paper, this church had a good structure, with elder oversight of the pastor and with deacons for serving the body the church. However, in practice, it was something else. It was a return to an autocracy type of structure, with this pastor in absolute control. But he was more like my missionary boss, not a benevolent dictator.

Spiritual certainty, breeds a type of insatiable arrogance. The pastor had a bad temper. Even a minor defiance of his orders would quickly set him off. This was an unhealthy situation, but I stayed. I was hoping that I, and the other elders, could eventual change things. Our attempts were futile.

The final blow came around my fifth year with this church. Rigid churches are known for splitting theological hairs and requiring allegiance to very specific views. This church adopted a theological position that the universe is only six thousand years old. While normally, this should not be an issue in any church, it became an issue when it was made a litmus test for being a “true believer.” I made it clear where I stood, but I subdued my own opinion for the sake of my family. My kids were still at home and I did not want to take then through another church move. My wife was deeply committed to her circle of friends at this church.

It was during this final two years with this church that my personal studies, which had started fifteen years earlier, was reaching its culmination. I was realizing that I am no longer and evangelical. I had been attempting to put the proverbial square peg in a round hole. I knew the time had come for me to move on.

I waited until my last child had left home before making my move. This move became very difficult for two reasons. I knew that my leaving would morph the pastor into his Mr. Hyde persona . . . and it did. I almost had to get a police restraining order to keep him away from me, after a nasty verbal assault at my house. The second problem was my wife said that she would not come with me this time. But I knew for certain, that my staying would lead to my spiritual demise. For the next four years, until my wife eventually joined me at my new church, our marriage faced one of its greatest challenges. She was committed to this pastor who saw me as a malicious person for leaving his church. It was awkward to say the least.

The Accommodating Church

There was one other church on our island that I had also considered, even before we had moved here. It was old Presbyterian (USA). The building was the closest to a cathedral on our island. It was also attended by many thinking people. This included several with PhDs, retired professors, artists, scientists, professionals as well as a blue-collar workers and fishermen. It was a true cross-section of our culture. It was growing and alive.

The one barrier to my considering this church it at first, was the fact the pastor is a woman. It had been deeply engrained into my fabric that such a church was “unbiblical.” Indeed, the church that I was leaving followed scripture strictly, that no woman should have leadership over a man, not even to teach a Sunday school class where men were present. For me to move to this church, it required me to have a Peter-on-the-roof type of experience. Women here have many key roles and that was a new concept for me. The women’s character and perspective have been a blessing to me.

If churches have one trait to define them, my previous church was defined by “law,” and my new church, defined by “grace.” My new church has a wide spectrum of views. Some members, have a liberal theology that I’m sure I would not agree with. Others, far more conservative than I am. This political season, you could see the bumper stickers on the cars in our parking lot, which completely crossed the political spectrum. But it is a church of peace and respect. What binds us together is not agreement, but a mutual dependence on God’s grace.

This church reflects the attitude of the leadership. It is a humble church that acknowledges that, in this life, we cannot always have certainty. But one point of certainty we can have, and that is the gospel compels us to love immensely, especially those who are different than ourselves. It is a church that understands human failures and the absolute need for Christ’s redemption. I feel more at home in a church than I have ever felt before. Unless there is a major change, my searching has finally found a rest.

• • •

Photo 1 by astrid westvang at Flickr. Creative Commons License

Photo 2 by astrid westvang at Flickr. Creative Commons License

Comments

  1. Ronald Avra says:

    Hopefully, you will have several good years to catch your breath and heal.

  2. Robert F says:

    I’m glad you’ve reached a safe haven. Perhaps it will be your final stop, but we live in a world of constant change. The thing about the Presbyterian Church USA, as with the other mainline churches, including my own ELCA parish, is that it’s losing members in large numbers each year and decade. Many congregations have dwindled away by member attrition, and have had to close shop. But even if this were to happen, I pray that you will continue to rely on the grace of God, and I know that Jesus will always be with you, no matter what changes may be ahead.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      From the post: “””It was a true cross-section of our culture. It was growing and alive.”””

      > Many congregations have dwindled away by member attrition

      As have many places. From the 10,000 ft view it appears that “Mainline” Christianity is dwindling, from the 20,000 ft view those institutions are close to indistinguishable from from the places they are in [the same is true for ‘growing’ Evangelicalism; fed by sunbelt urbanization, for one example].

      Down at the 500 ft / Micro view there are exceptions aplenty to every macro-trend [which is always true]. Who knows? Some of those exceptions might take root and grow up to be tomorrow’s Macros. In any case beautiful exceptions are something to be cherished and nurtured.

      • Rick Ro. says:

        Good insight.

      • Robert F says:

        Yes. There are parishes/congregations here and there in all the mainline denoms that are thriving and growing, bucking the negative trend and narrative, and they’re not always the more conservative ones. I guess J. Michael’s is one of those. Good for him!

  3. Regarding the house church situation. I had the thought that one of the dangers of the non-institutional church is that individuals with extreme views may see a small church as fertile ground for their agenda. At least in many
    (moderate) institutions, the status quo will protect the status quo, moderate views will keep out extremism.

    (I think)

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > one of the dangers of the non-institutional church is that individuals
      > with extreme views may see a small church as fertile ground for their
      > agenda

      This. It is a good idea in theory, it held a lot of appeal to me at one point, it does not work in reality.

      • Every system of church organization has its flaws, and human beings, being the clever little sinners we are, will eventually find and exploit them.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          Tiny systems are barely systems, that is problem with the House Church idea. Exploiting them is as easy as walking through the door; they present little “eventually” and more “immediately”.

          I prefer the wisdom of a generous portion of cantankerous bureaucracy.

          • Robert F says:

            We can be thankful to the Founding Fathers of the US for putting so much bureaucracy in our system of government. It makes it hard for the worst to do their worst, as we are currently seeing in our nation’s capitol.

            • Don’t confuse “separation of powers” with bureaucracy. 😉

              • Robert F says:

                I don’t. But you need a lot of bureaucracy to manage separation of powers; the Founders knew that.

    • StuartB says:

      Every house church I have attended (5+ years for one) or visited (maybe another half dozen off and on) has given off strong cult vibes to me, to the point where I left one in an anxiety induced panic when they broke for prayer between sermons. I have no doubt they can work, if leadership is decentralized or has extremely strong oversight outside the bubble, but I’m done trying to find one that fits. I want to know who keeps the leadership in check, and who can fire them.

      • You are right. Before I started our house church, I’ve visited one of the most “successful” house churches in the country for a week. It was quite large having probably 200 people involved. However by the end of the week alarms were going off inside my head. The founder/pastor/prophet, (prophet is my word not there’s based on how they treated him). This leader was a total authority an absolute final decision maker. The scariest part was that his decisions were seen as directly from God. That is always a disaster waiting to happen. And that’s the great evil and “gnostic” knowledge. That church did eventually go off the rails into splinter cults. Like with any church, a good house church must have pluralistic leadership and not a superstar founder or pastor.

    • When I read where Michael recounted something of his house church experience I immediately thought of this article;

      http://www.simplechurchjournal.com/2008/04/whos-in-your-ho.html

      We house churched for about 7 years. Reading Snyder was a substantiation of our views regarding house church vs the IC. The whole thing was a monumental education that totally changed my thinking about “the perfect church.” It also broke my Restorationist ideology.

  4. So as not to come across as a total cynic after my comment above, let me say that overall there are many parallels between Mr. Jones’ story and my own. So it gives me a little bit of hope.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      Same, many familiar paths. 🙁

      These days I have a lot of peace with how things lay. And I lift my latte to the author!

    • StuartB says:

      Very much same. But whereas he had a pastor dave who helped him, the pastor in my life with the exact same name is one of the huge central figures that really screwed things up for me (ever had your pastor physically throw and pin you against a wall for a theological disagreement?).

      I would hope that any pastor or chaplain would be more concerned about seeing people heal and learn to live and be healthy again, whether or not their final destination is back in the walls of a church.

      • I’m sorry. Everyone needs a good Dave now and then.

        • StuartB says:

          I’ve got several now. My best friend is a Dave. My mentor/physical trainer is a Dave. But a Dave still messed me up, lol. It’s that combo of words together that’s triggering.

      • Michael Bell says:

        Just to clarify. Dave wasn’t the Pastor. Though he was certainly pastoral.

  5. Mike: thanks for contributing. I read your first draft of “Butterflies…” when you published it on your old Christian Monist blog. It was helpful to me in coming to grips with my own post-evangelical journey. I too, had experience with hyper-authoritarian churches and helped run a home church for a number of years. Blogs like yours and, of course, Imonk were an oasis of sanity when it seemed there was no one I could talk to. I’m glad your wife finally joined you in your current church. My wife is still attached to evangelicalism. We go to a mega-church in the area where the kids and grand-kids go also. I go for the sake of family peace, but my heart isn’t it anymore. But the pastor is laid-back and non-authoritarian type and is non-political as well, so it’s all good.

  6. T.S.Gay says:

    The beginning description of church on the shady end is shocking to me. I guess at my age it shouldn’t be so. An intro like that can’t be good, and I agree that I hope it’s not all that typical.
    Just one aside. After I read the whole story, I went back to read again. And it was then that the title “A Tumultuous Relationship with the Bride” made me want to post. I just don’t believe that the church is the bride. Once upon a time I did. Of course this has to do with salvation, and who is in and who is out, and names in the book of life, and exclusivism, inclusivism, universalism. Many, many years ago I attended a small group where Zola Levitt spoke about the Hebrews’ ways of preparation for the bride. Perhaps even he thought (I don’t know) that the church is the bride. And I don’t know who many people think are the guests that attend the wedding. I know that some who people think are the naturally logical ones to be invited will not attend, and ones who people think are scrubs will be guests. And I now think many will be shocked who Jesus marries.

  7. Today’s post is a testimony, which is an Evangelical tradition, and perhaps goes back to Jesus’ original assignment as witnesses, which unfortunately took on our present understanding of “martyr”, unfortunately as today with the persecution often coming from within. You don’t hear ordinarily hear testimonies in mainline churches, liturgical or otherwise. I heard one, the standard conversion story complete with date, from the local Methodist pastor, who strikes me more as a Baptist by nature. I might attend there if they got a new pastor. This one turns his back when he sees me coming, his reaction from the moment he first laid eyes on me. God bless him.

    I’m still surprised at the constant negative press that home churches get, whether from professional clergy protecting their own territory and income, or from actual participants. If you think about it, most of the New Testament is written to home churches, admittedly often with problems, which flies in the face of Evangelicals claiming to be practicing the original church in their buildings with pew and steeple and offering plate. As far as I can tell, what we do here is more home church than anything else I have experienced except for my Quaker meetings, and I must say I would much rather have our good Chaplain Mike as pastor rather than Paul, who was not always such a “laid-back and non-authoritarian type”, nor John for that matter. Seems to me there’s an optimal balance struck here most of the time that keeps it functioning and even growing from time to time. I could do with a little less caustic cynicism from the peanut gallery, but I suppose there are those who might say the same of me. I’m hoping our own Mr. Jones continues to learn what is happening for real. Others as well.

  8. Ben Carmack says:

    What a perfectly obnoxious piece of writing.

    The author criticizes evangelical churches for being rigid and authoritarian, but he isn’t self aware enough to understand every church is rigid and authoritarian in some sense, including the better angels of the PC-USA. Maybe he should ask his pastorette what would happen if she preached Romans 1 in her next presbytery meeting? What would happen if she tried to switch denominations? Has the author thought to ask what goes down when a church votes to leave the PC-USA and what the tolerant, cool, non-authoritarian head honchos at denominational headquarters try to do to keep that church’s property?

    This business about accepting people as they are is pure BS. That never works in real life and it isn’t what Jesus taught or did. Did Jesus accept the Pharisees just the way they were? Does this blog accept theological conservatives just as they are? Hell No! If you oppose homosexuality you’re a bigot. You’re evil. You’re equivalent to racists. To Nazis. And nobody wants to accept Nazis or racists just the way they are, do they?

    How about you admit you’ve exchanged one rigid religious dogma for another? Why not have the honesty and self-awareness to admit this, instead of posting self-serving drivel on the Internet?

    • Burro [Mule] says:

      Absolutely this.

      The Spiritus Mundi has a kindly face to those proceeding in her direction, which turns to a snarl if you turn and go the other way.

      “History” has no direction. I want to puke every time I hear about someone being on “the wrong side of history”. I am no post-millenialist.

      • Stephen says:

        Spiritus Mundi? Do you really think the world is bending towards toleration and magnanimity and understanding? Everywhere the candle flame of reason is guttering in a cold cold wind and the shadows are dancing hysterically all around us. Be patient. The darkness you pine for will come soon enough.

        • Robert F says:

          But he’s not saying that the world is bending towards toleration, magnanimity and understanding. He doesn’t think that that is the true character of the Spiritus Mundi, but only its mask. I would guess that he thinks the darkness is already here, and has been for a while, under the guise of the positive attributes you enumerate, and that the Spirit of the World is actually a malicious one disguised as an angel.

          Interestingly, your own apocalyptic fears mirror his, and probably reinforce them, in an opposite direction.

      • Ok, how about “the wrong side of Christocentric ethics” then? 😉

    • Stbndct says:

      Plus 100

    • Ben, I’m not sure you know Mike’s story, but if you did you might be a little more sympathetic. It includes spiritual abuse of the most extraordinary kinds.

      As for our blog, I don’t recall equating those who oppose homosexuality with bigots, racists, or Nazis. Perhaps you might want to tone down the rhetoric.

      • Richard Hershberger says:

        I’m not going to win friends with this, but I am OK with the “bigot” characterization. The key is the recognition that sexual orientation is a matter of who you are, not what you do. It isn’t a choice. [1] It isn’t a medical condition that can be cured. It is who you are. Once we recognize this, the game is up. Opposing homosexuality is precisely like opposing blackness. Using the language of the Civil Rights movement when talking about gay rights is not an analogy. It is not an attempt to borrow prestige through cheap rhetoric. The same language is being used because it is the same issue: discrimination based on who someone is. This is practically the definition of bigotry. [2]

        This is why gay conversion therapy is central to the debate. If a gay man can be “cured” of his gayness, then homosexuality is something he did until he got better. The right held onto gay conversion theory long past the point where it was defensible. At this point even most of the right has given up on it. It’s failures are too obvious. Game over. We are back to “who you are.”

        I recognize that this chain of reasoning is a process, that there are still people out there who haven’t worked their way through it, but who will eventually make it. This is the only functional distinction with gay and race issues on the “is this person a bigot?” scale. But then again I am a white middle class heterosexual male. If someone without my advantages takes a stronger stance, I won’t say they are wrong.

        [1] There are exceptional circumstances such as incarceration, leading to what I have seen described as being “situationally homosexual,” but that is a side issue. I only mention this for the sake of completeness.

        [2] Yes, I know you can point to a black guy who is opposed to gay rights and hates the fact that people use the language of civil rights in talking about gays. No, that doesn’t change anything.

        • StuartB says:

          +1

          Homosexuality is not a choice. Period. Homosexuality sex, broadly defined, is a choice, just as heterosexual sex is a choice. But heterosexuality is not a choice either.

          Gay conversion therapy is a perversion. It’s damaged or killed thousands. And in the name of Christ too.

          You are absolutely right. Fundamentally, it is being a bigot. Does that justify people calling them bigots to their face? Perhaps not. Especially from believers. But that’s where we are when the lines between Christian and conservative have blurred, and the enemy is now just “Liberals”, regardless of their faith.

    • Ben, thanks for reading it despite not being palatable to you. You are correct. Jesus was not kind to the Pharisees at all. The arguable point is who do “the Pharisees” represent in our present culture if you try to draw the closest Biblical parallel. Is it the Muslims, LBGTs, blacks, Hispanics, immigrants, mentally ill, unchurched, and the more “liberal” churches who love them? Or is it those, in the name of Christ who despise the above? What do others think?

      • Ben Carmack says:

        The Pharisees of modern America are those church officers and leaders who neglect the weightier matters of the law and obsess over minor issues to ingratiate themselves to the powers that be in our culture.

        In other words, Rachel Held Evans is a Pharisee. The PC-USA is a Pharisaical denomination. Chaplain Mike is a Pharisee. The many evangelicals who’ve converted to Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy are Pharisees.

        • Rick Ro. says:

          –> “The Pharisees of modern America are those church officers and leaders who neglect the weightier matters of the law…”

          Hmm…neglecting the law? That’s an interesting take on “Pharisees.”

          • Exactly. I think those Ben’s definition would more closely fit the Sadducees of Jesus’ day. The Pharisees were very concerned with matters of right and wrong, ‘traditional morality’, and focused on the sins of ‘those people’. In my 30+ years in fundamentalist SBC churches, I met a lot more Pharisees than Sadducees (in fact, I can’t recall any).

          • I think Ben has been deeply hurt ECUSA member who decided that Gene Robinson’s ordination was the last straw and was part of a group that tried to separate yet keep their church property–which never belongs to the local congregation.

            I hope you get over this bitterness soon. It is not becoming of good mental health.

        • “Chaplain Mike is a Pharisee.” Boy-howdy you have no effing idea what you are talking about, Not a god-damned clue.

        • So you essentially define Pharisees as “those other people, but not my tribe.”

          The 2,000 year old drum beat keeps playing.

        • Ben, what would you consider “the weightier matters of the law”? If I recall correctly, Jesus described them as attitudes and acts of mercy over legalistic rules and a spirit of judging others by those rules.

        • But Ben!
          You forgot us Anglicans! Are we Pharisees too?

        • “those church officers and leaders who neglect the weightier matters of the law and obsess over minor issues to ingratiate themselves to the powers that be in our culture.”

          Given your examples of “pharisees”, I have to wonder just who you think are “the powers that be”, and how you define them as such.

        • Pharisees where that unique sect who did everything they could to “make Israel great again” even if it meant killing those who disagreed with them.

    • Rick Ro. says:

      –> “What a perfectly obnoxious piece of writing.”

      The guy shared his testimony. This was and is important to him. Lighten up.

      –> The author criticizes evangelical churches for being rigid and authoritarian, but he isn’t self aware enough to understand every church is rigid and authoritarian in some sense…”

      His experiences led to the criticisms. And given the depth of his writing, I’d say he’s pretty self-aware of some of his own hypocrisy.

      –> “…instead of posting self-serving drivel on the Internet?”

      Jones’ shared testimony didn’t strike me as self-serving.

    • Stephen says:

      Ben consider the possibility that the reason people are leaving the church in droves is because they’re trying to get away from people who think like you. But all I can say for sure is that if you’re in a place where you find this post “obnoxious” then you’re in a place I don’t want to be.

    • Here is a parable, Ben. An elderly woman was no longer able to get around anymore. She had gone to one Baptist church for better than 50 years, essentially all her life. Faithful, there everytime the doors were open, tithed, cleaned the church, taught the kids in Sunday school, etc. etc. etc. A deacon of that Baptist church lived across the street from the old women, knew her, and knew her service. He did NOTHING to help her, not even give her a ride to said church. Two gay men lived down the street. They helped the old woman clean her house, shopped for her, did other various chores, etc. So who was a neighbor to the old woman, the two gay guys or the church deacon? Who fulfilled Jesus’ command in the parable of the Samaritan to go and do likewise? Oh, by the way, not actually a parable, but a true story, the elderly woman was Mike Jones’ aunt. Sheesh 🙁

    • Richard Hershberger says:

      I have only incidental knowledge of the PC-USA, but I have intimate knowledge of the ELCA. Romans 1? It turns out, we know that chapter exists. We have even read it. We generally have a different interpretation of it than you, I suspect, do. I mean that “generally” bit, too. There are ELCA pastors who read it more like I expect you do. Not as many as there were a few years ago. This sort of this is, it turns out, a deal-breaker, but only from the conservative side. Much of the conservative wing of the ELCA has left rather than have a sign out front similar to the sign out front of one of those churches with a rainbow flag. Oh, and there is no institutional hissy fit over a congregation leaving. There is a procedure that needs to be followed, but it is quite achievable, for those churches that want to go that route.

    • “How about you admit you’ve exchanged one rigid religious dogma for another?”

      I’m calling you out on this one. Speaking as one who has tasted and seen what “rigid religious dogma” is, what we’re talking about here is much less sharp. And harder to follow. Because you have to take every situation and person as they come, thinking first and foremost about their story and how you can best self-sacrifically serve them. Whatever you want to call that, it is NOT “rigid religious dogma”.

    • Patriciamc says:

      Ben, the theological conservatives you speak about on this blog, were they opposed because they were conservatives, or was it because they were acting like total jackasses? I’ve seen many respectful conservatives on here who were treated respectfully.

      Ben, you have a different experience and a different opinion than J. Michael Jones has, so therefore his experience is wrong, his opinion is wrong, while yours is right? Can you explain why your experience and your opinion is more valid than the author’s? You’ve called Jones’ story obnoxious and self-serving drivel. I’m going to assume that you are a Christian and are therefore treating Jones exactly as you’d have others treat you.

  9. Burro [Mule] says:

    I don’t think the conservatives ‘despise’ the groups you mention, nor do I believe the liberals ‘love’ them. I have decided convictions about Islam in the abstract, but I try to treat individual Muslims as I would want to be treated.

    Conservatives == Pharisees is such a common meme in our culture that the brain runs to it without reflection, but free association burns fewer calories than critical thought.

    • Sorry if I was not clear. I did not mean to imply that conservatives despise these people groups. I don’t think I used the term “conservative.” I simply define those who despise these people as those Christians who (often admittedly) despise these people. Some of them may even be theologically liberal. Here is where I become puzzled. I am pretty conservative theologically. I adore critical thinking and absolute truth. I have had many Muslims friends. I have sat over tea (sometimes coffee) and discussed the irreconcilable differences between Islam and Christianity with Muslims countless times over the years, being un-apologetically clear that Jesus is the way to salvation. But I would risk my life to protect this Muslim friend if someone was harassing them. I will defend them verbally if people, sometimes these “despisers,” put out false information about Muslims, such as they all cheered at 9/11 and etc. So because I am caught defending them, I am quickly labeled “liberal” by the non-critical thinking lablelers. Like you, I believe that critical thinking always trumps labeling and assuming.

      • StuartB says:

        +1

        I use to share books back and forth with a Muslim, we’d read through things like Greg Boyd together, hang out and go street racing, he invited me to a Ramadan dinner, etc. That was 2004-2005. I can’t imagine how I’d be treated now for having such a friend. I miss him, lost track of him after graduation.

    • “Conservatives == Pharisees is such a common meme in our culture that the brain runs to it without reflection”

      I wish I could still believe this. But I have seen far too many concrete examples lately to just dismiss it as a stereotype.

      • Burro [Mule] says:

        As I have of other groups.

        Generalizations kept us out of jackals’ bellies on the savannah.

        • God also gave us abstract reason and the capacity for self-criticism. It’s high time we put them to use.

  10. Holy Mackerel, Michael Jones! Satan is rolling on the floor laughing, tears of joy streaming down his cheeks. Just when I think the left can’t get any uglier or more intolerant, the right steps in to claim the title. There are a few people who understand that the Dark Side of the World System is in desperate straits right now and using every possible device and deception to divide us, to get us attacking one another rather than our common enemy, the Father of Lies, but not many. Most people seem to be doing everything they can possibly do to fan the flames. Yes, this bothers me still, even as I understand the limitations of human nature, which is what makes this deception possible.

    Anyway, kudos for your response, which I thought demonstrated growing Christian understanding even better than your testimony. There’s no winning these things except to follow Jesus in absorbing the hatred of the world without responding in kind, but I’ll stand with you while weathering the storm. Earthlings amaze me, but Christians seem to have a special talent for wilful blindness and eating their own, to the great delight of the Dark Forces still at work on the planet. Well done!

  11. Rick Ro. says:

    Thanks for sharing your testimony, Mr. Jones. Sorry for the path your faith walk has taken. I’m not sure I’d still be a Christian if I’d have lived through some of the things you’ve experienced. Kudos to you for still walking with the Lord.

  12. BadBrains says:

    Thanks for sharing your story J.Michael Jones. Good stuff.

    And to a couple of you commenters, uh, yikes! What is this, Reddit? Please don’t bring that doo-doo in here.

    • Robert F says:

      Agree, on both counts. A whiff of hatred in the a couple of the comments today; not just anger and indignation, but hatred.

    • StuartB says:

      The real LPT is in the comments.

      Have an upvote.

  13. Stephen says:
    • StuartB says:

      That was a good read, thank you for sharing that!

    • “(T)he soul of these books is not love of God; it is bitter loathing of those who do not share it… (a) hollow fantasy of moral warfare: a Manichean vision of a virtuous few battling mightily against everyone else.”

      Tell me that does not describe a lot of what has driven a greater portion of us here out into the post-evangelical wilderness…

      • Rick Ro. says:

        –> ““(T)he soul of these books is not love of God; it is bitter loathing of those who do not share it…”

        I liked that description, too. I’ve seen some of this at play in the fringes of my own walk, but not enough to ruin it, thankfully. I’m astounded (and saddened) to discover how many people have been damaged by this kind of stuff.

    • Robert F says:

      Good read. I think the point the author makes about being wary when we hear metaphors of disease and poison in connection with the issue of purity and impurity is really important. So much moral outrage betrays a fear of contagion, and those in the grip of that fear see the “impure” not as fully human, but as a threat to be isolated and avoided, or even destroyed, lest the disease spread to themselves and their circle. One thing we see clearly from the Gospels is how Jesus embraced those thought by others to be impure, and never exhibited any fear of becoming victim to any impure contagion. He treated people as human beings rather than poisonous or disease-laden threats.

      • “How much larger your life would be if your self could become smaller in it; if you could really look at other men with common curiosity and pleasure; if you could see them walking as they are in their sunny selfishness and their virile indifference! You would begin to be interested in them, because they were not interested in you. You would break out of this tiny and tawdry theatre in which your own little plot is always being played, and you would find yourself under a freer sky, in a street full of splendid strangers.”

        Chesterton

    • Clay Crouch says:

      Thanks for sharing.