One of the most important things that religion is supposed to do is to teach values. Unfortunately, many of the values western religion has found important are not things that western people find valuable. Worrying about who is sleeping with whom, how often it is permissible to scratch yourself and where (on your body, and whether you are in a public place or not), dietary laws, purity codes, how to avoid anything that gives pleasure, and a host of similar pseudo-values are things that understandably just don’t energize contemporary people. Unfortunately, a large slice of western Christianity has fixated on things that are contrary the proper purview of religion and spirituality, such as nationalism, patriotism, and political power (to name but a few).
Then there are the people who come up with all manner of inventive ways to get around the prohibitions with which they don’t agree. Maybe they are in a system that forbids premarital sex, so they redefine sex to be genital intercourse and become expert at oral and anal sex. There’s nothing wrong with such expertise, but one can’t with any integrity claim to be sexually chaste just because the vagina isn’t penetrated by a penis. Alternately, these people may have certain dietary restrictions in their tradition, so they redefine what certain foods are. If you can’t eat pork, you might decide the problem is with meat with bones in it but boneless ribs are allowed. Humans are very creative, and there seems to be no end to our creativity in bending rules connected to values that we claim to hold but don’t really believe are important. Here are some serious questions – if the values your religion teaches seem silly or irrelevant, why do you listen? Why waste your time? Why not be honest about what you believe?
Religion often gets caught up in silliness and ignores the important. Sometimes that’s an accident, but other times it’s an attempt to avoid issues that really matter but might be controversial or uncomfortable. Are you aware that your pastor is very restricted in terms of the subject matter she brings up with the congregation, whether from the pulpit or in education classes? There are subjects that really should be discussed by adults in a spiritual community, but if bringing those subjects up is going to result in members of the congregation calling for the pastor’s job the odds are they will be buried deeper than crude oil in Siberia. Many if not most congregations elect people to their boards who aren’t qualified to be there because they serve their own interests rather than the interests of the congregation. There also isn’t any guarantee they are spiritually or interpersonally astute. That means we end up with pretty bland, pretty uneducated people of “faith” who are better versed in superstition than ethics populating boards and vestries in churches across America.
In the end, there shouldn’t be a great deal of safety in faith. We should feel challenged and stretched as we consider the implications for our beliefs and how we should interact with the world around us. On the other hand, churches should be safe spaces where honest discussions can occur. If we belong to a church, attend regularly, and never hear anything that stretches or challenges us, then we belong to a country club rather than a church. There isn’t anything wrong with belonging to a country club as long as we are aware that’s what we have joined. On the other hand, if we think we have joined a church but find ourselves at a country club, someone is being less than honest. Above all, the church needs to be honest in all that it does. I’m afraid it fails that goal more often than not.
If you want help in determining whether your Christian church is a country club, all you need to do is read the Sermon on the Mount. You’ll find it in Matthew 5, 6, and 7. Are those things taught in your church, or is more time spent on the Old Testament, the Ten Commandments, partisan politics, and culture wars? If it’s the latter, you have a country club that follows its own agenda rather than following Jesus. Can you imagine the implications of that? The truth is that there are very few churches in America, but a ton of country clubs. No golf shoes in the Sanctuary, please!