The Borderline Church

It is not my intent to offend people by writing my observations.  I’m not trying to be provocative.  I am, however, going to point out a dynamic that has been swirling about church culture for as long as I’ve been privy to it.  It’s important because many, many people go to church.  It doesn’t matter what denomination you choose.  From what I have experienced, some flavor of this will almost certainly be present.

I was confirmed orthodox Lutheran when I was a teenager under my mother’s very strong influence (meaning I had no choice) which is only one step away from Catholicism, but I have visited many other Christian church environments.  My father preferred the Southern pentecostal denomination complete with yelling, public displays of speaking in tongues, people falling on the ground “slain in the spirit”, and exuberant singing.  My stepfather came from a charismatic Catholic church, and my mother liked to church hop prior to her Lutheran phase.  Hence, I visited many streams of Southern Baptist denominations as well as other denominations in North American and Europe.  I’ve been in Episcopal churches, Anglican churches, Emergent church gatherings, French and Italian Catholic masses, and Methodist churches.  In the history of my 36 year journey with God, I’ve only been to two Christian congregations where I have not heard some form of what I will label “legalistic, religious nonsense”.  I don’t know what else to call it–RBS.  Religious Bullshit.

This is important to note because when people I meet go to a Christian church there is an expectation that what is spoken, observed, and displayed will be truthful and align with biblical truths.  Here is one very basic truth that should flow like a river through every Christian denomination:

16 For God so greatly loved and dearly prized the world that He [even] gave up His only begotten (unique) Son, so that whoever believes in (trusts in, clings to, relies on) Him shall not perish (come to destruction, be lost) but have eternal (everlasting) life.  17 For God did not send the Son into the world in order to judge (to reject, to condemn, to pass sentence on) the world, but that the world might find salvation and be made safe and sound through Him.  John 3:16-17

This is a founding principle–even dogma–of the Christian faith.  This is why many people in pain who are dealing with trauma and tribulation show up on Sunday mornings.  They are looking for the God of John 3:16 and particularly verse 17.  The God who does not judge, reject, condemn, or pass sentence; the God who so dearly loved the world that He saved it.  What are they finding? I ask this with honesty.  Not to be confrontational.

I am not speaking for everyone, but I am speaking for many, many people whom I have met when I write this.  I am speaking from a place of observation.  Millennials are leaving the Christian church environment in record numbers.  Why? Here are a few things I and people I’ve met have heard in various church environments:

  1.  Jesus died for you.  Through Him you were made.  You owe him your service.
  2. God saves us so that we can save others.  
  3. God begrudgingly saves us because he theologically has to.  He is fulfilling a contract because of the second covenant.  So, you better be thankful.  The Bible says that you have to be thankful and obey God because He saved us.
  4. Grace means ‘unmerited favor’ which means that you don’t really deserve any of the favor that God has towards you.  Technically, you’re worthless then.   
  5. You are just a sinner who’s been saved.  
  6. There is a cost to being a Christian so you must pay the cost.  If that means giving a lot of your money away and being poor, then you must do that.  God is not interested in your being happy or comfortable.  He only wants your obedience.  If you have to give up your family, then do it.  Your happiness means nothing to God.
  7. Women are like Eve.  Women are born temptresses, and a godly man must never be alone with a woman lest he be tempted by her.
  8.  Your suffering is meant to teach you a lesson.  If you suffer, then it’s because you have stepped out from under the umbrella of God’s grace.  You must have sinned.
  9. Sin is judged and punished so do your best to try your hardest to be obedient lest you open up your life to God’s judgment and wrath.
  10. It is vital that you tithe lest you be punished by opening yourself up to devouring.  God will take what belongs to him one way or another.

Please compare these statements to these:

  1. “I gave birth to you! I’ve sacrificed so much for you! You can’t leave me.  Don’t you dare abandon me!”
  2. “You have no identity apart from who I say you are.  I paid for your food and clothing and education while you were growing up.  You will now do exactly what I tell you to do for the rest of your life because you owe me! You are ungrateful if you do not.”
  3. “I’m your parent, and you have to be thankful for what I give you! It’s your job to love me because I’m your parent.”
  4. “You only have worth because I say that you do.  You’re worthless without me.  You’re only alive because I say you are. I control your life.”
  5. “I take care of you.  I pay for everything that you do, therefore, I have say over who you are and what you do.  I control your resources.”
  6. “Do you think I care about your happiness? Do you think I care about what you want? You will do what I say and meet my needs because what I want and say matters more that you do! “
  7. “You are intrinsically evil and inherently bad, and there is nothing you can do about it.”
  8. “Look what you make me do? Do you see the lengths I must go to in order to teach you? Why won’t you just learn? You require extreme punishment to learn obedience to my will.”
  9. “No matter what you do it’s never good enough.  Try harder. But, no matter how hard you try it will never be good enough because you are not capable of being better.  You are depraved.”
  10. “You weren’t thankful enough.  You didn’t give me what was mine.  You didn’t pay attention to me.  I want what’s mine, and you are mine. You wouldn’t exist without me! And I will take what’s mine.”

Do you see how similar the legalistic, religious messages are to the borderline adult/parent statements? Some of these statements could be made by an abusive spouse as well.  In any case, it’s a predatory, personality-disordered person who would be making these statements, and the spirit behind these statements match the spirit behind the RBS statements.  What are the intended messages?

  1. You are a slave.  You are an object.
  2. You have to earn everything from God.  There is no relationship at all.  Christianity is like the feudal system, and we swear fealty. 
  3. You’re really only loved because of a contract.  There’s nothing lovable or worthwhile about you.  The Gospel isn’t really true.
  4. God is a taskmaster God who actually despises humans.
  5. Your performance determines your worth.  The Bible’s declaration that we are new creations because of the Gospel is completely untrue.  
  6. You have to deny yourself daily even if that means tolerating abuse from other members of the faith community, within your marriage, or suffering personally.  Jesus was crucified for you and even by you metaphorically, you sinner, so you might need to die at the hands of a spouse even if s/he is abusing you.  After all, physical abuse isn’t specifically named in the Bible as a reason for divorce.  Besides, partners generally don’t attack unless provoked.  We are not valued.  We are merely sinful creatures God is stooping down to bother with.
  7. Any kind of suffering can be explained in two ways: 1) You deserved it or 2) God is teaching you a lesson.
  8. Don’t ask questions or question leadership lest you be ousted and alienated.  God put leaders into place.  They are ordained.  It is insubordination, disobedience, pride, and stubbornness to question an elder.
  9. Relational aggression among women in Christian communities is often higher than in most high school settings.  Women are seeking personal empowerment at the expense of other women due to being objectified and vilified in church culture simply due to their gender.  After all, Eve was evil for tempting Adam, therefore, all women are evil.  This is a religious view that has been around for centuries.

Everything I have described here I have heard Christians say and witnessed in various religious settings.  Comparing the RBS statements and messages to the borderline statements, you’ll see a frightening congruency.  The messages are the frighteningly similar if not the same.  Who becomes the ultimate abuser here? God.  Christians are just His representatives.  It is a sobering thing to see once it’s written out, isn’t it? There is a name for this.  It’s called spiritual abuse.

Spiritual abuse is a very real thing.  I have yet to meet one Christian who has not been spiritually abused in one way or another because these messages can be very subtle.  The most powerful lies usually possess a tiny grain of truth, and then that grain of truth is pushed through the distortion machine.  What comes out is something that might sound a little familiar, but it’s nowhere near true.

Why write all this out? Well, I write this because I am meeting more and more people who feel crazy.  They are starting to question their community church experiences.  They intellectually “believe” that God loves them.  They intellectually know that they have worth.  They intellectually know that their performance isn’t supposed to determine how God feels about them, but the moment they step into a small group or spend time in their religious environment, they begin to doubt what they know.  They certainly don’t feel loved or accepted.  What they know in their heads won’t drop to their hearts.  They can’t experience any consolation because they are too busy trying not to feel double-minded about themselves.  How can they know this loving, kind, generous, merciful, gracious God if they’re supposed to be volunteering, tithing more, worshiping more, looking like they have it all together, and getting themselves straightened out so that they can, in turn, go off and save everyone else? Isn’t this what Christianity is all about?


God does not have a personality disorder.  If you feel crazy, then maybe it’s because you’re living in Borderland Christianity.  I know a lot of people who are.  I used to be one of them.  I left.  I haven’t looked back.  I have no regrets.  It’s worth walking off the map.  Here are some resources to get you started if you’re curious to know what life outside of the Borderlands looks like…


13 Comments on “The Borderline Church

  1. I was ruminating over something similar on Sunday as I missed church for the third or fourth week in a row. Why have I become so okay with not attending a church that I used to feel so connected? Why do I have no desire to be a part of a small group or to be involved in one of the many ministries in my church? A year ago I thought it was burn out. My husband and I had been involved in a couple of time intensive ministries and though I felt the prompting of the Holy Spirit to move in certain directions, the leadership didn’t seem to feel the same way. Visions were different and it’s difficult to lead people against the current.

    Then I realized that it wasn’t really burn out. It was finally having my eyes open to a spirit of legalism moving through the upper leadership and seeing that spirit push and prod at people who were becoming more tired, more weary as time marched on. And it is a deep sadness I feel whenever I enter my church doors. I want to weep for the people who worship there and I cry out for the Holy Spirit to move in a powerful and healing way. But I feel alone in my journey. And I don’t know whether to leave or to stay and learn to intercess for those in my church body. All I know is that something is not right and I feel like I’m the only one who can see that the emperor has no clothes.

    • Your words probably resonate with a lot of other people who feel the conflict. It’s hard. What’s the right thing to do? Is there even a ‘right’ thing? All I can say is that relationship with Jesus is first. Everything flows from that. Of course, you know that. But, when you don’t know what to do or which way to go, just go there. Eventually, like Gandalf in the Mines of Morea, you’ll know which way to go.

  2. Ohhhh I been there. You have done a beautiful job explaining this topic. It’s one I write on and help people work through. The experience of loneliness, isolation, dislocation and self doubt hand cuff a victim of spiritual abuse to a neurotic sin obsessed, God haunted existence. These poor souls may wander about mourning the death of their faith all the while condemning themselves for being rebellious lone rangers. How subtle the errors were that led them down that road. The sad reality is they may not realize what they believed was a “cultural hybrid” of the Christian faith.The Spirit that sealed them is faithful and will send them people who also suffered in these churches to comfort them and guide them through the healing process. These churches pride themselves on being separate and different from the ‘world’ however guilt, shame and fear as motivation for climbing the “spiritual ladder” of power and control is about as worldly as it gets. So many people in churches like this and ones long gone carry in them a deep anger and bitterness toward God, however those feelings are evidence of a belief and faith in God that will not die.In many cases, God uses that anger and brokenness to build a bridge that leads back to himself. Many who are on that road back to fullness will be taught by Him, what it is like to feel truly embraced, fully accepted and deeply loved by God. I’m still on that road and it’s not easy but because I can accept and receive his grace, everything is different. The world appears no longer black and white, but is beginning to explode
    with color.

    • You said something here that is key: “These churches pride themselves on being separate and different from the ‘world’ however guilt, shame and fear as motivation for climbing the “spiritual ladder” of power and control is about as worldly as it gets.” Within this sort of culture, there is always some sort of ambition or will to power. It can be an ambition to prosper i.e. name it and claim it–“If you’re poor, then it’s because you’ve sinned!” It can be an environment that stresses emotional experiences wherein congregants FEEL God’s presence at all times, and those that look like and claim to are said to have a special anointing. Just as those who are the richest in the prosperity-based churches. There are power positions up for grabs. The people who appear to be experiencing God’s presence the most are the most anointed ergo the most faithful and sinless. Those that just don’t experience God like this are “doing it wrong”. I’ve seen this dynamic heavily at work in churches across the board when fertility is a problem. I heard one woman say, “Well, I’m sure I did something wrong, and God is punishing me. We did have sex before we were married after all. So, now we can’t have kids. We stepped out from under God’s grace and protection. I deserve this.” And yet, look at the statistics on teen pregnancy. What about drug-addicted women on the streets being pimped out who get pregnant? There is no logic for these beliefs, but leadership keeps teaching them. The fertile women are viewed as more faithful than those who struggle. There is a bias. I’ve even seen this one go so far as to include male masturbation. There is a ministry out there that claims that if husbands masturbate and don’t keep themselves pure, then God will not bless a family with a child. They call these babies “purity babies”. God will grant a couple a purity baby once the husband has mastered his flesh and the wife has submitted to her husband through sexual “ministry”. The twisted forms that spiritual abuse can take defy my imagination. Those who perform well are granted positions of power to rule over those who do not. Shame and manipulation are used to force compliance and change behavior. This is used in classrooms across America all the time. Why not use it in churches? Unfortunately, it’s nothing like God.

      • Wow !
        I guess you have been there also? Ameri-Christ is a concept I am developing about a fictional mega church. I can tell by reading some of your stuff that you know exactly what this “Ameri-Christ” church believes and teaches. No doubt the cable network Ameri-Christ owns is called the “RBS Network”. I love your RBS label. I hope you develop that concept and write about it in the future. One day I hope to see it added to the DSM complete with symptoms, warning signs and a new pill we can give to school children( manufactured by who else? Ameri-Christ-Pharmaceuticals.. oh wait they are against any psyche-meds.. because mental issues are the devil)
        I used to read books on things like “the failure” “worldliness” “psychologized” “emasculated” “liberal”or “conservative” church. It becomes so tedious and irritating … There will never be a lack of dysfunctional churches to criticize..It’s just to easy. Have you ever seen those ministries where when you click on the false teachers bar, it’s literally every pastor or ministry you have ever heard of? It’s the same kind of thing… tedious and depressing. Again, even Jesus and Paul had critical things to say about churches.

        I resisted coming to faith because of “christians”. I wanted no part of this arrogant, in your face bunch of dorks who are compelled to control and micromanage every ones life. There was nothing different about them, to me it was just another sub culture with its own language, music and awful movies. I am using a huge broad brush here .. my bad.
        When I finally came to faith.. for a time I was “on fire” which as you know is code for really full of myself. Bla Bla Bla.. I’m rambling. Here is my point. This has been very helpful for me. The term “Body of Christ” I use in place of the term “the Church”. Christ is united to his bride the”Church” in heaven so we know all of those people are believers.. no rbs up there. The Church down here could mean just about any thing good or bad. The “Church” was never to exist in and of itself, for itself. It was to be the continuation of Christs mission on earth giving itself to and for the world. Bitching about the church is an Evangelical art form but for the work of God I don’t think that moves the ball forward at all. Many churches mirror our culture, this or that dysfunction… or who knows what. The body of Christ however is still mirroring Christ, still continuing his ministry. That gives me a lot of hope because people can still come to faith who have issues and are put off by the church. Anyways, I appreciate your writing and relate and have experienced so much of
        it. People who are limping around out there with shattered faith and broken hearts over these issues will find comfort and clarity reading your blog.

        • Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment! I relate to what you say. I’ve been in a church setting since I was tiny so I can appreciate your view. I always felt like I was on the outside looking in because nothing made any sense to me. I don’t know if it’s because I’m half-Jewish, but evangelical culture with its Christianese and cliques has always fascinated and frightened me at the same time. Many people do not know the history of the church. They don’t know that it was Constantine, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, in 4th c. CE who institutionalized Christianity, thus, dividing people into priests and laity. That was the beginning of sanctuary-based Christianity. Before that, it was house churches which is the NT model. And, I do believe that should be our model now. The Mega-Church just isn’t working. People get lost. I don’t want to be some bitchy person who has nothing good to say because that isn’t who I am. BUT, there are many people who want something better, and they don’t know that God and the Church as they have observed or even experienced it in North America and even the rest of the world are quite possibly NOT the same thing. The Body of Christ? There’s the distinction and rightly so. You make a very good point.

          I can see your idea now…”And now, RBS presents Ameri-Christ.” I feel like we’re already there. And, yeah, I’ve seen those websites. It’s…laughable at this point. I’m waiting for Jesus to show up on that list.

  3. I am loving this dialogue/conversation. I know only a handful of people who can engage in this kind of discussion. You said something here: “I had often wondered why the churches I went to could only describe this resurrection life, new man and new creation as to only be achieved by more bible reading , longer prayer devotionals and listening to “christian music or radio ministries. This is how one puts on the “new man’ for what? So one could better receive and understand the pastors sermons of course.” After much thought and meditation, I think the primary reason that the Church at large is so sin-focused and performance-oriented is because of a Buddhist teaching centered around something called the Black Dog. The Black Dog represents all those things in us that we do not want or like. In part, in Buddhism it represents desire. So, in order to deal with The Black Dog we starve it. Perform the good deeds that will starve the Black Dog of “________” in order to shape our own behavior. In Christianity, the Black Dog would be called the flesh. And, how many ministries exist to deal with the flesh? I know many that exist to deal with the darker more shameful facets of the flesh i.e. sexual and immoral that insist on fasting, excessive exercise, deprivation of all sorts all in an effort to starve and subdue the Black Dog of the Flesh. The problem with this view in a Christian context is this: THE DOG IS DEAD. 2 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” I don’t think that the majority of Christians know this. So, here we all are, attempting to heal corpses. Instead, we are to focus on what it means to be NEW CREATIONS. God has already dealt with our sin. It’s a non-issue. He is not a sin-obsessed deity. He is a LIFE-obsessed God. Our sins were forgiven the moment Jesus said, “It is finished.” and the temple veil was rent. (Matt. 27) Now, we have the privilege to learn what it means to be new and what it means to live an abundant life. We are not of the flesh anymore at all. We don’t deal with the flesh. We don’t minister to the flesh. We don’t attempt to problem-solve the flesh. It’s dead! Our flesh was crucified with Jesus: Gal. 2:20 “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” So, our entire journey now becomes about living and exploring the new spaces of that new identity. No longer are we bound up by a dead identity. And how do we deal with the flesh? We ignore it, and we replace all negatives with positives. Why? Because God replaces death with life. What does that look like? We change the “what ifs” that we ask. what if God is more for me than I am? What if God is more enthusiastic about me than I am? What if God really CAN do something about __________? What if God really is happy when He thinks about me? What if I really don’t have to perform to earn anything from God? What if resting in God’s favor towards me actually is the antidote for anxiety? What if practicing the fruits of the Spirit will free me from my negative thinking? The Holy Spirit lives within every believer. The fruits are there to practice at any time. For example, practice gentleness when frustration is beginning to percolate leading to anger. Make gentleness the focus. A gentle voice. A gentle demeanor. Gentle breathing. It’s completely counterintuitive in Church culture. We are SO focused on sin and appeasing God that we don’t know who we actually are. Our prayers have become, “Please forgive us. Help me not to be impure. Help me not to angry. Help me not to be ________” We don’t know that in Jesus we ARE pure. We ARE gentle. We ARE kind. We ARE everything that we could ever hope to be because He made us new. This is the Gospel! It is the dream. It is the staggering beauty of what Jesus did. He completely reconciled us to God and restored us. God now sees us as we truly are, and the greatest evil perpetrated upon humanity is to keep that truth from us. “No, you are horrible, ugly, irredeemable, and if you ever hope to be acceptable to God you must earn your way.” We could be praying, “Lord, empower me today to be gentle. Expand that gentleness in me so that every response that I have blooms with gentleness and others around me are blessed.” or “Lord, I want to exchange my scarcity thinking that has resulted in greed for your generosity knowing that he who gives to the poor lends to God. Expand my experience of your love so that I am firmly rooted in your love for me knowing that you will always keep me and provide for me. In place of fear, give me confidence. In place of anxiety, give me peace. In all the places in my life where I have been fearful, I ask you to love me more so that your love will cast out all fear and I may continue to know you more personally, thus, conforming more and more to the new creation that I already am in your heart.” We get to pray those kinds of prayers. There is no begging. There is no importunity. We are favored because we are NEW. We are not dead. And I suspect this is why so many, many Christians and churches are so performance-driven.

    They believe that we are all still dead when we are all very much alive.

    • “He who controls the past…. Controls the future~ George Orwell
      “We are the Dead” ~ Winston (from the book 1984)

      “The Dog is Dead”…
      Well said my friend. It reminds me of when Jesus said, “Let the dead bury the dead.” He wasn’t being a insensitive ass when he made this remark, he was simply saying my kingdom is not about the dead it is about the living, it is about the eternal now. When he said “He that plows while looking back is not going to be able to follow me.” He is not being rigid and exclusive, He is simply saying if you want to follow me you can’t look back to Adam, obsess over your past or wallow in nostalgia, you must look forward, all things have become new.

      I like what you wrote here…

      “In all the places in my life where I have been fearful, I ask you to love me more so that your love will cast out all fear and I may continue to know you more personally, thus, conforming more and more to the new creation that I already am in your heart.”
      I could write a book on this line alone, indeed I am.

      How does one put on the “new man”, by putting of the old. How does one put off the “old man”, by putting on the new. The word you used was “ignore”. I think that is very accurate, ignore and do not respond to the selfish demands the old nature makes. Like smacking somebody in the face because I am upset and my old nature said “You should do this!”
      With my mind I “reckon” that old way of dealing with people dead. (“reckon” is a good hillbilly word) The problem with my old man is I should have buried him face down, instead I buried him face up so every once in awhile he digs out of that grave.

      Here is where George Orwell comes in… The emphasis on Adams’ “original sin” ,”sin nature” and physical death as a penalty for sin as popularized by Augustine lets the Black Dog out to run amok in through the Western Church. This view of the fall and original sin are not necessary.. all it achieves is loading people with guilt and shame.

      Restoration and Reconciliation: Restoring the Garden?

      How many times have u heard a pastor say that the relationship Adam lost with God has been restored by the cross?
      Umm no not true, that would only bring us an old testament relationship.,
      We were promised something better than Adam had. May I put it the way you put it?

      “I have long believed that we carry the Kingdom of God within us because we no longer live in a visitation culture as it was in the OT.”

      I love that line… It explains so many differences between the Old and New Testament.

      Adam also did not have eternal life before he fell.
      Why have a Tree of life in the garden if one is created with eternal life?

      The church held this view until Augustine, then it fell out of fashion

      Irenaeus Book lll XXXlV “For life does not arise from us, nor from our own nature; but it is bestowed according to the grace of God.

      ( eternal life only belongs to God.. we have eternal life only because the holy spirit infuses the soul)( this raises questions about an eternal Hell also)

      This scripture is the nail in the coffin of the idea that Adam in his flesh would never have died had he not sinned.

      1Cor 15:50 I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.
      Adam was flesh and blood and that garden was not the kingdom of God

      The curse God pronounces in the garden did not affect Adams physical nature or body. Adam has a natural body suited for the natural order where death is one of the components that creates new life.. Without corruption and death how would we digest our food..grow crops, grow hair?
      Physical death is simply a part of life.. “A seed must die” type of thing

      It is understood by the 1rst century reader, that sin brings the second death.. not natural death.
      We come into this world with the guilt and sin of Adam hanging over our heads so says Augustine.. This is not a view held by all of Christianity and was not a part of the early churches’ teaching, It is bad theology.

      Adam does not need a sin nature to sin nor do we.. Adam and Eve fell without a sin nature… they fell because they have a human nature.

      Many Christians have had enough of Christians. The way they talk Christianese, judge, divide and separate people. God help us.. The bunker mentality, siege mentality..always building forts when God asks them to make tents.

      I am also really enjoying this dialogue also.. Every time I read a reply from you there are so many good points in there that I seriously could write pages about it . I’m glad I found you.. you are very inspiring to me.

      • This is an epic comment! Just amazing. You touched on things I have been recently pondering particularly the notion of life in the garden and the Tree of Life. This notion that the spirit is not actually immortal but that God bestows immortality. Otherwise, why would there have been a Tree of Life in the garden? It was something to eat from daily. And, in a way, I think this represents the notion of abiding. We can choose to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil or from the Tree of Life. We can’t do both. We can’t sit in a place of constantly assessing, judging, moralizing, and partaking of religious effort because that always turns itself outward. Even if, in the beginning, it started with the self. As with Adam and Eve, they were overcome with shame and were compelled to hide, it resulted in blaming the other–“Eve made me do it!” And, Cain killed his brother because his offering was better. Rather than enter into relationship with God, he chose revenge. Ultimately, the spirit of Pharisaism is murder. Perhaps not physical, but spiritual. A death of some kind is the goal. Death of relationships. Death of self-esteem and hope. Alienation and loss of community. That’s death at work due in large part to eating from the Tree of The Knowledge of Good and Evil. Someone sets themselves up as the curator of religious knowledge in a community or group, and juries are formed. Accusations get made even if it’s just what someone wears or the music they listen to or that their child goes to public school, and the shaming starts. And, it always ends badly.

        But, that’s the boundary, isn’t it? All relationships have boundaries. Relationships exists because we choose them. If Adam and Eve were given no choice in the garden, then God would not have had a true relationship with them. There had to be a moment of choice every day when those two people decided how they were going to show up. Were the going to choose relationship with God, or were they going to do something else. And, that, as you have said correctly, was not sinful. That was human, and the available choice was necessary. Otherwise, what would God have had in them? Automatons. Not real people with a mind, will, and heart. And, that’s what He wants. I want my husband to choose me of his own free will. Daily. Not because he had a frontal lobotomy and he knows nothing else. That’s not real then. That’s a dictatorship starring ME.

        I really enjoyed your references to the old Church “fathers”. I don’t know that many people understand just how much Augustine influenced modern Christian thought, and the dude wasn’t always right. Augustine was not a fan of women, and he really struggled with some sexual addiction problems. i’m not judging that at all because I’m not a prude. But, human beings have a tendency to hate that which binds them. I think he had a blind spot there, and that blind spot has been passed down throughout the ages.

        I was reading John 4 yesterday in which Jesus was talking to the Samaritan woman at the well. I have been talking to God about women lately. I’ve had questions. I read some things recently posted by Christians, and their view of women has been rather misogynistic. I have bumped up against misogyny in religious circles most of my life, and I always wonder why it’s perpetuated. So, I read Jesus’ interaction with this woman. He broke three rules in just talking to her: 1) He talked to a Samaritan which was off-limits. Jews did not mix with Samaritans. So, he went against cultural mores. 2) He spoke with a woman alone. Jewish men were practically forbidden to speak with a woman alone. He went against the rules governing male/female interactions. 3) He drank from her cup at the well. This is really the big one. Doing this made him ritually unclean. He is now technically in violation of the Law. For a Samaritan woman? This is why his disciples were shocked. And He tells her that He knows who she is. She’s been married five times, and she’s living with another man who isn’t her husband. He doesn’t say this to judge her. He tells her this as a sign. He is the Messiah. And, the thing not to miss here is that this woman is collecting water during the heat of the day. She has to do this because her own people have shunned her. She is being publicly shamed every time she goes out to collect water because of her lifestyle. Women only collected water in the morning and the evening, but not this woman. She isn’t allowed to be in her own community. So, Jesus is even in violation of the Samaritan’s cultural custom here, too! He tells her that He can give her water that will satisfy her so that she never thirsts again. Why? Because He knows why she has married so many times. She’s looking for something. Jesus not once judges her, tells her not to sin anymore, or even talks about her lifestyle. He just blesses her. I am so astounded by this passage. He does not care about the culture, the rules, or people’s comfort. He cares about people. He doesn’t care that she’s having sex with some guy. He does care that she’s in pain and ostracized from her community. And this is what I know matters.

        When did we become such an easily offended, prudish, delicate culture that we feel entitled to deprive people of the very thing Jesus offered so freely? Who told us that it was our job to police the culture when Jesus Himself didn’t do that? So, I think about this and I realize that I, too, must practice this. I, too, judge, and I, too, must practice radical acceptance.

        Such a great dialogue. Just excellent. I hope your Anger Management classes are going well! Do enjoy the coming holiday!

        Shalom! J

        • Right on.. Since I found the Borderline Church.. I have not written anything on my own blog..damn it!

          God is doing a new thing for sure.. How could two complete strangers come to the same conclusions on so many different subjects? Thats not the miracle here… The miracle is that we agree on fine points and theological issues that historically have been problematic in the church..Very cool.. Its one thing to agree on what everyone knows… we are on the same wave with stuff that is pretty obscure!.

          I have written so much on the Garden and Adam and Eve my head is going to pop… I think it is very exciting that you are thinking these issues through.. It’s exciting because these issues are extremely important.

          Check out Irenaeus.. I think you will be surprised .. The man is brilliant when it comes to the Garden story, the early church did not have the hangups that Augustine did… Irenaeus’s theodicy makes sense and is cogent.. After reading him..Me dont sound like a moron no more.. he make me smart!

          You know the Black Dog…? If Augustine takes half the blame for it… in my opinion Luther gets the other half! These two had the same baggage that placed sin, repentance and and the cross at the center of our faith… However you don’t see that emphasis in Christs teachings or in Paul.. Let the dead bury the dead..right?

          The new man, new creation, resurrection and Kingdom of God take center stage in Paul’s epistles.. Isn’t that good news! As I think these things through… more obscure scriptures in Paul are becoming clearer… Here is one:

          For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope,…. What the hell does that mean?

          Adam’s natural human body and nature were given to him by God so he could live in the natural corruptible earthly order. The Garden story is teleological, it points beyond itself to a new order. Therefore a theology that restores the Garden relationship is wrong headed.. that is not good news. When Jesus is called the second Adam, the first born from the dead… He adds to the natural order a new body.. an incorruptible one designed for living in a spiritual order. Jesus takes the natural order and transforms it… The natural order is our lot in life for now, but we were subjected to it in HOPE.. That hope is the transformation of the old order to an eternal one.. Jesus has sent out a huge invitation to man.. Adam is not our bloodline anymore… It’s not our past anymore. The second Adam has a new body.. that is our future.. right now.. The Garden begins in hope …it ends in a complete renovation of entropy.

          So much of your disgust with bad theology finds it’s source in getting the garden story wrong.. thanks Augustine!

          I have more to say on this… I really want to comment on what you have said here.. It’s too good to let go.. but I think I am rambling.. so I will get huge amounts of coffee to my brain now

          • Good stuff, good stuff. And, yes, coffee. I LERVE it, but it doesn’t lerve me back. You’d think with my Swedish genes it would. I recently had to give it up. It was a sad scene around here for about three days. Night of The Living Dead sort of stuff. Well, you can email me at if you’d like. As much as I disdain Augustine, I do appreciate Luther in that he totally took on the Catholic Church. He saw what was going on with the indulgences, etc., and really tried to speak about grace. The Reformation was absolutely prophetic, and they tried to kill him for it. But this notion of original sin and a sin nature? It’s not even in the Bible, but even if it were? We’ve been placed in Christ. The cross trumps original sin every damn time.

            The dog is dead.

            You enjoy that coffee. I was high maintenance and ordered a half-caff today. I felt guilty about being THAT chick. “Yea, I’d like a Tall Half-Caff Salty Caramel Mocha, please…” It just sounds so cheeky.

            Thanks so much for your engagement in the discussion. It’s just a real pleasure! Have a great weekend!

  4. Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

    I have not walked away from the body of Christ. To do that would be to abandon my faith. I have largely walked away from an organized, sanctuary-based experience.

    Now, your view that what I’ve written–“things you’re writing about are messages from individuals, from pastors, leaders, lay people, to casual attendees.”–is incorrect in my experience as well as the experience of many people I know. These are the messages given in small groups to committed Christians not to mention there are worse things said. To be frank, just because it is outside the realm of your experience doesn’t mean it isn’t happening to others. I have mentored people who have been so mistreated in mainline Evangelical, Protestant, and Catholic churches that it has taken them years to figure out what is the real Jesus and what is the false one.

    I agree with you that confession and repentance born out of recognition that God delights in you is the beginning of reformation, but that is only the beginning. The next step is iNTERNALIZING that God utterly delights in the person that you hate, the people group that you despise, the person at church that you view as completely irredeemable including those that are viewed as untouchable through religious filters. What you speak of–recognizing that God delights in you–is out of reach and Christianese for many people who have been mistreated in life. What does that mean? How does that look? What does that feel like? If God delights in me, then why can’t I pay my bills? If God delights in me, then why is my son dying of cancer? If God delights in me, then why does my husband beat the hell out of me behind closed doors? These are all questions asked of me personally by Evangelical Christians–not casual attendees. They have asked their pastors for answers and been told that perhaps they were being taught a lesson. Perhaps they had stepped out from under the umbrella of God’s grace. Perhaps they had provoked the violence. Much of this is High Calvinism and typical for that point of view. All this is to say, there is so much more available to us according to Eph. 3 and even to the words of Jesus Himself, and it starts with reacquainting ourselves with the right Jesus and learning to discern what is actually true vs. what is religion.

    As for the use of the word abuse, I agree with you. But, spiritual abuse is a very real thing and my application of the word ‘abuse’ is correct here. You do care about semantics clearly, and, as one who writes for a living, so do I. I am not using the word ‘abuse’ recklessly. I am in no way diminishing the potency of the word ‘abuse’. I’m using the word ‘abuse’ here because many people are experiencing gaslighting at the hands of people in spiritual authority and even their peers in a church setting, and that is abuse. Abuse needs to be used in this context to call out and identify the depth of the wrongdoing. This post was not about the legal system, lawyers’ and guardian ad litems’ manipulation of vocabulary and the word ‘abuse’. Clearly, you have been through something there, and I hope you find resolution and peace around that circumstance. That kind of situation is fraught with pressure, pain, and immense grief. I’ve been deeply involved with another family in that sort of circumstance, and I’ve seen how damaging it is to all parties. Nonetheless, spiritual abuse is very real thing. I referenced a very well-written book on the topic and additional resources as well. Many people have no idea that they are being harmed. They think it’s God. They feel shamed, alienated, afraid, disempowered, and completely inadequate. That is the definition of victimization, and where you find victimization you will always find one form of abuse or another. I used the word accurately, but it can be shocking because it’s a strong word. Who wants to talk about abuse? Who wants to know that spiritual abuse is a real thing? Your response is not unusual. If you haven’t experienced what I’ve written about, then you are blessed. For those who have experienced this and walk around feeling crazy, inadequate, and ashamed, then learning about spiritual abuse is a revelation. It is an open door to healing for so many because God has to heal the wounds before anyone can ever experience Him as good, kind, gentle, or delightful.

    Remember: Religion says, “Look at yourself. You are bad. Try harder to be better.” Jesus said, “If you want to know what the Father is like, then look at Me. Come to me and I will give you rest.” If we are not experiencing our faith as utterly restful and refreshing and the Holy Spirit as our comforter, companion, biggest fan, and ally, then how can we show this to others?

    Thank you again for your thoughtful comment. I enjoy the exchange.

    Shalom to you…

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