In the past three years I have been blessed mightily with hundreds of emails, comments and love-letters from my favorite fans: the religious jerks. I have read all of them, smiled with hope and drank a few extra glasses of chocolate milk… for comfort.
Religious Jerks are usually angry people who justify their hate as spirituality. They dress their bitterness as God’s truth. And turn their frustration into “holy” manipulation.
The problem is not religion, it’s actually self-righteousness. The New Testament uses the word in a positive manner, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:27
But Religious Jerks are usually the ones that only live by the second half of that verse. They try hard to keep themselves from being polluted by the world, but forget to serve and love the world (by looking after the orphans and the widows).
Religion, spirituality and theology tend to be destructive when they’re not drenched in humility and love. So I will try to be humble, and I will try to be lovely, in my Step by Step Guide to Dealing with Religious Jerks:
(Lord help us all!)
Step 1: Realize that you’re a religious jerk yourself. You might be religious about being non-religious. You might be religious about being gluten-free or lactose free or anti – _______. We all carry a sense of higher value based on what we do differently to others. It’s human nature to compare. So I know that I am a religious jerk myself (and you can read more on my jerkiness here: 15 Biggest mistakes I’ve made as a Pastor).
Step 2: The next time there is a natural disaster let’s be louder with love than the Religious Jerks are with their assumptions. They might say that God is acting in destructive ways because of the gays, feminists, abortionists, communists, socialists, Obamacare, liberals, pornographers or whatever. But Jesus is God. And Jesus stopped the storm. Jesus never started one to destroy sinners. He only stopped one to save his friends.
There was also this one time when the people in Samaria didn’t welcome Jesus. And then, “James and John saw this, and asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?”
“But Jesus turned and rebuked them.” Luke 9:53
Step 3: (Read above) Let Jesus rebuke them. It’s his job not ours. #Hallelujah
Who was Jesus harsh toward? Almost exclusively the scribes and Pharisees. Why? Because they portrayed God as harsh toward sinners. -Brian Zahn
Step 4: Earn the right to be heard. Whenever you disagree with a religious jerk, don’t become a jerk yourself. Unless your willing to walk the road of relationship, community and accountability, engaging in arguments will only bring distrust. The last thing we need is another family feud. Either engage in love-based-dialogue, or shut it. Remember that, “A fool’s mouth lashes out with pride, but the lips of the wise protect them.” Proverbs 14:3
Step 5: Don’t try to convince them with Bible verses about God’s Love (they probably know tons of verses about wrath and death and sin). Instead, talk about the way that the Father has loved you, encouraged you, and been kind to you. Be vulnerable about your weakness and let God show off the strength of His love. A religious jerk usually sees God as angry, distant and cold. And as the genius AW Tozer wrote:
[bctt tweet=”What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”]
Step 6: (I should have started with this one) Don’t called them Religious Jerks! They are humans, as sinful and as needy as the people they de-humanize. As lovely and as valuable to God as the most innocent child. They each have a name, and for each of them Jesus bleed on the cross.
Step 7: Don’t judge by appearances. That’s what most people hate about religious jerks. But it’s how most people judge a “religious person by.” The songs they sing, the clothes they wear, the flags they use during worship or the things they promote on Facebook. I have done it hundreds of times, and every time I do, I hear the Holy Spirit lovingly say, “Who made you better than them?”
Step. 8: Ask them for prayer. It’s my new strategy when dealing with the people who destroy me for these articles. I ask for their prayers, because who knows? Maybe they’re right about me! Who am I to presume that my thoughts, opinions, theology are correct… and they are wrong?
Step 9: Stay humble; forgive and do not judge. Believe in the love that God has for sinners, and for his church… and for the jerks. Because even if they are jerks, they are His jerks, and like a true perfect Father, he loves us all the same.
I’ll leave you with this story:
A super-religious-preacher-jerk in Puerto Rico was about to die. He was famous in the church (and for horrible reasons) outside of it. He was the guy who sent everyone to hell. He did it through screams and shouts and spits (on national TV). And his passion and his consistency made him infamous for years.
A few weeks before going to heaven another famous super-prosperity-gospel-preacher invited the jerk to preach at his church. They were literally the polar opposites in every single theological way. They dressed different, preached different, acted different, sinned different. But Jesus is a magnet and he brought his sons together.
Everyone was confused with the invitation. The religious jerk had publically insulted the prosperity preacher (and vice versa). So most of the church and the media thought the whole thing was a marketing ploy.
But when the Religious Jerk started to preach, he began to repent. He spoke of misusing the pulpit and hurting the family of God. He was sincere and humble. And at the end of his beautiful sermon the prosperity pastor brought a bucket of water, knelt down and washed the jerk’s feet.
He died a few days after, with feet washed in the grace of a brother.
I would have never visited either of those pastor’s churches. Honestly, they were not my cup of tea. But on that day of repentance and humility, they became a manifestation of Jesus to the world. They showed the goodness of Christ to his body. They demonstrated the power of forgiveness to each other. And taught me a life-long lesson in honor.
Jesus (as always) said it best: “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.” Luke 6:27
Even if they’re part of the Christian family, let’s stop looking for a fight. Let’s get hungry for connection. And wash each other in God’s loving grace.
*Read more: Freedom from the Religious Spirit by C. Peter Wagner
Share this list with your religious and your non-religious friends. Hopefully good things will come from open and honest conversations in the family of God.