In a desperate attempt to give meaning to life, many turn to religion because a struggle in the name of faith is always justification for some grand action that could transform the world. “We are doing God’s work, they tell themselves.” And they become devout followers, then evangelists, and finally, fanatics. They don’t understand that religion was created in order to share the mystery and to worship, not to oppress or convert others. The greatest manifestation of the miracle of God is life.
Similarly, I joined my church at a time when my immediate family structure was falling apart, using it as an escape from home life. When we experience physical and psychological deficits, we tend to make ourselves believe we need people, places or situations that aren’t necessarily right for us. Honestly, if my family were stronger, I wouldn’t have needed religion the way I thought I did.
Religion is an antiquated machine that needs to be destroyed. Writer and former minister, Steve McSwain shares in Finding God After Leaving Religion, “Just because people are fed up with organized religion doesn’t mean their appetite for spiritual things has been swallowed up, too.” Religion has killed the God experience and any hope of spiritual growth. When you stop growing, you die.
For most of my life, I followed Christianity. After years of eye-opening experiences, I decided to eliminate the middle man, discontinue my relationship with the church to forge a stronger union with God. When I share my experiences with active church members, the usual response is “There is no perfect church.” I agree wholeheartedly. However, when you dedicate yourself to God (Yah), you do just that. If you’re going to live your way, then do that. Unfortunately, what I found in the church are members trying to do both.
I’m not claiming that anyone must be perfect to be in a relationship with God. What I am saying, my relationship with the church strained, as I noticed seasoned, educated, prominent members struggle with drug abuse, domestic violence, health crises, infidelity, and criminal activity. Yet, they flaunted a perfect relationship with God. Either they didn’t care about what they learned or settled with perpetuating a lie. If it was neither of these, why didn’t they “get it?” Reality stripped away the façade and revealed the rebellious hearts of the church members. When words and actions didn’t line up, I struggled to accept the Christian philosophy.
Self-control is the foundation of a monogamous, intimate relationship with anybody, including ourselves. If you can’t manage yourself, it’s almost impossible to manage a relationship. Some believers may disagree. But how? You can’t take up your cross and follow Jesus, while ignoring signs of self-destruction. Somehow, the church members managed to love Jesus, while catering to themselves. So, it wasn’t that I challenged what I learned but more of what I saw among the members. I set every indiscretion against the backdrop of the bible. It made me question my participation in the madness. I didn’t want to be in another dysfunctional family. —Mari S. (By Your Side: That Time I Broke Up With God)
Religion and Servitude
The difference in religion and servitude is pride. Religion is pride. Pride is self. Self is innately immoral. Servitude is humility. Humility is righteous. Righteousness is God (Yah). I’ll say this, I’ll take a person’s honest experience over expertise any day.
In 2013, I vowed to never step my foot in another religious institution. I began to realize and understand my personal power, and it wasn’t sourced from the presiding pastor or church building. Your pastor, bishop, priest, or church membership doesn’t have the authority to give you power. Their job is to build you up through knowledge and God-fidence and help you realize your spiritual strength through the power already bestowed in you.
Don’t confuse ‘position’ with power. They are not the same thing. You can have power without a prominent position. However, people see position and relinquish power. It’s a visceral reaction. Immediately, we begin to perceive that person as better than us. She’s the CEO, I’m not. I have no power. I disagree. You don’t have that person’s position, but you definitely have power. Someone positively exercising their personal power, doesn’t strip you of yours.
The Christian church teaches members to lose their identity to become like Jesus. Pastors impress upon members that there should be more of Him and less of you. Saying to your partner to destroy part of themselves and become more like you is ridiculous. That’s not a real relationship. There should be an interfusion of personalities, goals, and beliefs without devaluation. Christians are often told of their uniqueness. However, it’s always constructed from Christian ideology, which often translates into uniformity. Unfortunately, Christian ideology extends from the pulpit to the vestibule. Each church leader has their own perspective and understanding about God. These beliefs permeate through the hearts and minds of members. So, who is right amongst a diversity of beliefs? –Mari S. (By Your Side: That Time I Broke Up With God)
McSwain say’s “Go into many churches today, and instead of finding an institution interested in saving the world, what you may find is an institution vastly more interested in saving itself.” He continues, “…instead of finding God.. followers…are told what to think, how to believe, as well as how they’re supposed to live.”
Breaking Up is hard to do
People tend to be very sensitive when it comes to God, Church, and Religion. Some people have built their entire lives around theology. The slightest ripple, can turn their entire lives upside down. That’s what happened to me. Although, it wasn’t a ripple; it was a tsunami.
The practice of religion has prostituted the church system and its believers. As much as overseers speak about moving away from religion, the very word is embedded into our genealogy. We used it to survive slavery. Now, it’s enslaving us. And although religion has left a bad taste in mouths of most believers, we still unwittingly practice and participate in it.
What is religion?
Religion is an institutions ideology about worship. Controlling the mind and ways of the believer. It’s what kept me from having a true relationship with God (Yah) and continue to fantasize the story of Jesus through the eyes of his disciples versus cultivating my own experience.
Religion sells itself to the highest bidder. Religious institutions are in the business of generating money, whether it’s from the congregation, donors, or government. Many churches have visions of being pillars in the community and often lend themselves as shelters, food/clothes banks, and resource centers. However, most churches are merely operating and not committed to vitalizing the community. Still, they establish themselves as 501 (C) (3) nonprofit, exempting themselves from federal taxes. Allowing an outside third-party into the direct affairs of God is sacrilege.
When a church becomes a nonprofit, they have the option of receiving federal assistance. If they take this assistance, despite the reasons, they give up their free speech. They have to teach or preach within the requirements of the grantor. Basically, “Say what we tell you to or lose your tax exempt status and assistance.” It removes God as the source of the church and replaces Him with an outside governing body. Now, you have the government controlling your speech and not the spirit of God. I have literally heard pastors say “Oh, I better not talk about that, I’ll get into trouble.” It’s a complete lack of faith to think that God is not going to cover you. If your ministry is His will and purpose, He will make provisions for it. But, people establish churches for the wrong reasons, which is why they are ineffective and not doing what they were designed to do: Create a force of change.
I live in Los Angeles. In South Los Angeles, there is a church on every corner. Around those churches on every corner, is gang-violence, prostitution, substance abuse, and homelessness. Don’t believe me. Take a trip down Figueroa and Western.
Instead of being agents of change, churches vie for member loyalty.
Earlier, I spoke about servitude. Seems like a simple concept, but today’s church leader is ambitious. “…there are those church leaders who seem obsessed with having the biggest church, the largest crowds and the most expensive campuses. While 40 million people died of starvation in the last decade, churches spent $10 billion on campuses,” McSwain says.
That was one, of a long list of issues that pushed me over the edge years ago. Money hungry, whore-mongering, church leaders leading double lives. Ones similar to the very people they are shepherding. “I suspect that scores of people are just plain fed up with an institution that would condemn gays and lesbians for coming out of their closets, as someone characterized it, while hiding clergy pedophiles in its own,” McSwain said.
Depending on your bible, 1 Timothy 3 of the American Standard Version states:
“Faithful is the saying, If a man seeketh the office of a Bishop (newer versions say Overseer), he desireth a good work. The Bishop therefore must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, orderly, given to hospitality, apt to teach, no brawler, no striker, but gentle, not contentious, no lover of money…”
Well, if we agree the word is true, there should be NO Bishops, bishoping on earth. No lover of money, eliminates them all. My C.O.G.I.C (Church of God in Christ) experiences were interesting to say the least. In 2008, I attended a C.O.G.I.C church in South L.A. at the request of a co-worker, who made it seem like this was the church without spot nor wrinkle. It was fifty degrees in the building. The sanctuary was so cold, my bones began to ache. I had to excuse myself several times to warm up outside. The bishop announced that we deserved to be cold because of the consistently meager collections. He stopped service and began to yell repeatedly “I want your money!” He forced people to open up their wallets and give more before he would proceed to the sermon. My coworker turned back, looked at me and shrugged his shoulders. That’s what I describe as actively participating in religion.
When church leader’s transgressions are exposed, they declare their tendency to human error. Sorry, not according to the scripture. If you are prone to the same mistakes as the people you are leading, the right thing to do is step away. I’m not speaking in terms of a mistake. We all make those. I’m talking about chronic battles that cause one to stumble and fall like substance abuse, fornication, adultery, embezzlement, and abuse. You get the point. Getting on television and flaunting your transgressions doesn’t make you more relatable; it makes you extremely irresponsible. Do I feel overseers should maintain an authoritative position, while displaying immorality? No.
Leadership requires that you be an example. Stepping back shows honesty, servitude, and responsibility. We all need time to heal from mistakes. Stepping away shows that you care about the people that respect you and how they perceive your character. Undermining the significance of your position when it’s convenient, has grave consequences on other people’s souls. Religion is pride. Having to cater to the ego of a church leader makes me feel as though I’m aiding and abetting.
I, like McSwain, had a spiritual awakening that led me on a journey to find God outside of the church—apart from religion. You can read about his life altering experience in his book The Enoch Factor. McSwain shared his final thoughts:
“Among the many realizations to which I awakened was this: “You don’t have to go to church to know God.” For reasons too obvious to mention, this isn’t the kind of message the church, or any religion, wants spread around. But it’s true nonetheless. There is no religion, not even the Christian religion, holding the title deed to God. God’s grace is not limited to a select few. The moment any religion believes it is, you can be sure that religion knows nothing of God.”
I’ll close this chapter of my life with an excerpt from my book:
God has always been by my side, even before I knew who He was: Yahuah. He heard my prayer at 19 years old—and stepped in to deconstruct everything that I was told about Him. It took some time, but He rebuilt our relationship with new purpose and meaning. The circumstances that Yah allowed to happen in my life were necessary in preparing me for spiritual warfare. He manifests His plan around who you are in the different stages of your life. One phase is a stepping stone to the next—all centered on developing a better you.
Live. Bless. Prosper.