All throughout my childhood, I was raised by religious parents in a Christian environment. Church on Sunday’s, youth group on Wednesdays, it’s what we did. Yet as I grew up and moved around from church to church, city to town, I started to notice some pretty interesting patterns. While I would not title myself the most well versed or educated in every religion, my exposure to the various beliefs, specifically Christianity, has given me firsthand experience in the church. I believe this gives me a valid viewpoint on the subject that I would like to share. To preface, I am not calling out a specific group or person, but rather shedding light on my experience to perhaps spark a conversation or understanding in others experiencing the same or similar things.
Fortunately enough, I was born into very loving church community, in which I know no matter how long it’s been, I am always welcome through the doors. I am very thankful for that because whenever I think of the negative ways Christianity has impacted me, I never forget the people that got me into it in the first place. I think every place of worship can take notes from Elim Baptist, the small church in Wallingford, who not only puts Christ first, but matches that love for the Lord with a love for the people in our congregation as well. Family is what I would call those people, and family doesn’t judge. I bring up judgment because while God is the ultimate judge, it’s the people who think that they can also pass judgment on who you are and your character strictly because they are “better Christians” that really make me question whether that’s something I want to be a part of.
I met a good majority of those self-entitled characters when I moved from a big city in Washington to a small town in Iowa. In the Midwest, God is the law to many. Communities, especially small ones, especially Pella, revolve around Christianity. The religious leaders of the church have, in my opinion, more influence than the political leaders of the community. This can create a toxic cycle of competition to who can be “the most Christian” which seeped into not only my youth groups, but my outside life as well. People are so quick to judge and dismiss a person simply based on their actions not matching up with what they think others should be doing. They do so in a way to almost degrade you and put themselves on a pedestal of “holiness”, thinking they’re are for some reason better than you because of it. This I find to be the most ironic thing ever because does the Bible not say to love thy neighbor? Does the Bible not say that Jesus loves all and his love is unconditional? Did he not die on the cross for our sins, knowing that humans are not perfect and will make mistakes? John 13:35 states “… Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another”. That passage of scripture right there should dispel any Christian from judgement or distain for other Christians who live their lives the way that they do. I’m not saying you have to agree with what others do, or applaud actions that maybe you yourself would not partake in, but rather be compassionate and understanding as religion in general is an incredibly personal and different journey for everyone. Colossians 3:13 instructs us what to do in times of disagreement stating, “Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive”. Mistakes, forgiveness, love, and community through Christ should trump all other feelings you may have against another. People are different, and that’s what makes this whole thing called life work.
Today, in midst of conversation with my old roommate, Emily, a prime example of a “good” Christian in my terms, she brought up faith vs religion. It really made me think and appreciate her viewpoint as a devout and active member of the church, because even though she lives through the word, she still is her own person. Highlighting the importance of simply loving God and believing him to be the one true savior, as opposed to defining your worth on how well you follow a book written about 3400 years ago. While Jesus gave us this “guide to life”, filled with stories about him and commandments to follow, he told the Pharisees himself that the most important commandment is “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy heart, and with all thy soul… And the second is like unto it, thou shalt love thy neighbor as thy self” (Matthew 22:37-39). As a piece of text, the Bible is interpreted differently by everyone who reads it. Yet it is indisputable that the Lord instructs us to love him and one another. So, by judging & discriminating upon others, you are a hypocrite to the upmost degree.
I know when reading this, everyone will have a different opinion on what I have to say. But I’d like to close my piece with a simple saying. You do you man. You live your life the way you see fit, whether that’s following every single rule in the bible to a T, or simply believing in God from your couch. Religion and faith are a journey specific to whomever is the traveler, and no one has the right to judge the path you take. I personally am somewhere on my journey, who knows where, but I’m going. I may not be the “perfect Christian” in some people’s eyes, but I believe in God dude, and faith is enough for me. We’re all going to end up in the same place, six feet under with not a breath in our lungs. So show kindness to those around you, forgive one another, and enjoy the journey. God put us here for a reason, and we’re all in this together.