Words have different meanings to different people. The very word religion can mean something positive for some. And I honor that. But my encounters with it have not been so positive. When it refers to Webster’s first definition (the belief in a god or gods), I’m in. When it comes to his second definition (the organized system of beliefs, ceremonies and rules used to worship a god or gods), I’m out. I increasingly see that most religious systems are primarily man made constructs used to guide and control people. Yes, it gives people something to gather around. But it also misses the point of life in the spirit as a priesthood of believers hearing and following Jesus together.
I love broken and messed up people. Prostitutes, alcoholics, addicts, criminals…no problem. They are fun to love. But, I will publicly confess that I struggle most to love religious Christians. And sadly, I have learned to spot them a mile away. I know the very words they use and the things they believe and defend. My heart breaks and blood boils when I watch them hurt people with legalism and judgement, when I know ours is a kingdom of love. In fact, I think Jesus felt similar when I read the gospels. But the Lord has shown me a few things that help me navigate this.
Religion helps bring security to an insecure relationship with God. When you don’t know how to relate to him or just how much he loves you, you can create rules, services and structures that help you feel closer to God and earn his acceptance. It works. That’s how it is with God’s love…you either know you’ve got it or you seek to earn it.
(People can actually make the Bible a stumbling block to life in the spirit…but that is for another day.)
But this changes how we can respond to religious people. They long for something just like all of us. They long to know God and live in his love. So, how can we extend that love to them too? I admit that I need grace for this. I have to ask God often to help me love Christians the way I should. It is just as wrong for me to judge religious people for being judgmental of sinners as it if for them to judge sinners and those who don’t keep all their rules. So, I have to work at it all the time. Love isn’t something we give out only when it feels easy. We do it when it’s hard too.