Monday, May 30, 2011

What is the problem with "organized religion"?

It's an old refrain, but I seem to be hearing it more these days - from more and different corners of society. From friends, acquaintances, and strangers alike, I hear "I believe in God, and I love Jesus, but I just don't believe in 'organized religion.'"

Now I realize I'm preaching mostly to the choir here. Most of you who read this blog are participants, on some level, in "organized religion." Most of you are churchgoers, many of you actively serve in your church - whether as staff or laity, and some of you even give financially to support your church's ministries.

But most of you are going to hear, at some point, "I just don't believe in 'organized religion'" - whether it be from a co-worker, a close friend, or, in many cases, a son or daughter. So we ought to give it some thought and be prepared to respond thoughtfully.

This is the response I've come up with so far:

So what exactly is it in "organized religion" that you don't believe in?

  • Is it Texas Baptist Men, whose volunteers are in Joplin right now, making sure that survivors of that devastation get proper medical care, as well as food and clean water? Who have similarly traveled to Alabama to help tornado victims, Mississippi to help flood victims, and even Japan to minister to the needs of earthquake and tsunami victims?
  • Is it Woman's Missionary Union, whose HEART (Humanitarian Emergency Aid for Rebuilding Tomorrow) Fund helped to provide jobs in Southeast Asia following the tsunami, helped rebuild a nursing home in Chile following an earthquake, and helped send children in Haiti back to school following an earthquake?
  • Is it Catholic Charities Immigration Services, which provides low-cost immigration counseling and support to families and individuals who are eligible for immigration benefits and cannot afford private assistance?
  • Is it Buckner International, formerly Buckner Baptist Benevolences, which has worked tirelessly for over 130 years to meet the ever-evolving needs of orphans, vulnerable children, families, and the elderly?
  • Is it the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission and its World Hunger Offering and its tireless insistence on justice for the disenfranchised?
  • Is it the local church, where Christians come together to worship, celebrating their common faith while being challenged to live out that faith?
  • Is it the Sunday School, where fellow Christians study the Bible and help each other in their struggle to understand it better and to search out its relevance to their lives?
Well, I could go on, but by now you get the idea. There's no end to the good things being done cooperatively around the world by Baptists, not to mention the rest of "organized religion." (By the way, I thought Catholic Charities Immigration Services was worth mentioning, because I have a cousin who heads up one of their offices, and I have a deep admiration for him and the work he does there. Sometimes we need to be reminded that Baptists don't have a monopoly on ministering to the "least of these.")

Throughout this post, I've enclosed "organized religion" in quotation marks, because it is used by many as almost a pejorative term, one that has gained a negative reputation through the worst moments of some of its practitioners. Perhaps it's a sexual scandal of some preacher or some holier-than-thou politician - thus exposing their hypocrisy; or some outrageous, hate-filled proclamation by a notable televangelist; or simply a bad personal experience in a church where the person felt ostracized and alone.

Well, we all have our bad moments, don't we? I would hate to be evaluated solely on the evidence of my worst moments. But that seems to be the church's lot. "Organized religion" has had many bad moments, because it's populated by human beings, and human beings are sinners. Our attitudes are not always right, our motives not always pure, our actions not always perfect.

For that matter, as I wrote in my post last week, we Baptists have done a poor job of responding to the needs and interests of 21st-century young people. We need to make the church experience relevant to their needs, or else we are not being faithful to the spirit of Christ, who always meets people where they are.

But many of the loving, caring acts in the world would have never happened had Christians not gathered together in community and pooled their resources to do more together than we could have done alone.

That's what organized religion - in its Christian form, anyway - is really all about. Cooperation in community - being the presence of Christ "to the uttermost parts of the earth," as well as in our own backyard, just as He commanded us to be.


  1. "Organized Religion" is this .... the subject comes up about whether or not a pastor should work outside of the church or not. I say is he wants to or needs to then he should. There are churches that say no, absolutely not! They say that his job is the church and he gets paid for that. Well, I say, if he wants or needs something else or some other bill has occured then what does he do, really. They say that God will provide, right. I say, God does not pay rent, medical bills, college funds for his/her children, a car or repairs if his/hers breaks or so on ... extra expenses for example... if the church does not pay for those extras, I am sorry but God helps those who help themselves. I say, what if he/she is working in a small church and you don't have the means there for full support? What then? They say well he/she might have more than one church and they need to be available all the time for the memebers. Yes, I agree.... if there is the financial support there for "God" (or the people) of the church to support you then fine but I don't get where a church or religion has the right to say that their pastor cannot work outside of the church. "Organized Religion" I have a huge issue with.... when they can't see that not every church works like their church and it is some big no-no for a pastor to work ... what I would like to know is who died and made them "God"... I also have to admit that I was baptized Baptist but I have gotten away from the church because I can't stand the way they ponder on what is right and correct ... it is right and correct if it is their belief and everyone else is breaking the "rules"... PLEASE!

  2. Please go back and read this post again. I asked a question, "So what exactly is it in 'organized religion' that you don't believe in?" Then I listed a number of things that are happening because of organized religion.

    In truth, you didn't respond to my post. You don't appear to have even read it. Instead, you picked one or two issues as a reason for leaving the church altogether. But what about those OTHER things I pointed out that the church is doing? What about those things that people in the church are working together to accomplish because they can do more in community than they can do by themselves?

    You say "'organized religion' is this . . ." and then talk about one single issue on which you disagree with some churches. Which means that you brought an agenda to this subject and didn't read my post.

    The point of the post is to show the many good things that wouldn't be done without organized religion. Every institution has its problems, because every institution is made up of human beings, and we're all flawed. But the point of organized religion is, as I point out, cooperation in community . . . people working together to try to get it right. And organized religion does too much good to simply give up on it because of its human flaws.

    Also, when you say "I have gotten away from the church because I can't stand the way they . . ." you tar all churches with the same broad brush. I'm sure you expect people to respect you as an individual; you probably also hope that people will not define you by your mistakes or your bad moments. Do you think it's healthy to define "the church" - which is, after all, made up of people - by the worst among them or by their worst moments & mistakes?

    You have a very narrow view of organized religion. But the true picture is much broader than you have acknowledged.