Benjamin L. Corey

Benjamin L. Corey

BLC is an author, speaker, scholar, and global traveler, who holds graduate degrees in Theology & Intercultural Studies from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and received his doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller. He is the author of Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus, and Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith.

The Difficult Aspect Of Christian Friends (Must we agree in order to be in relationship?)

I don't know about you, but I want to live out a Christianity that's worth living. I want to help contribute to a reformation of American Christian culture and build a new culture where Christian friendships say, "Oh, you disagree on that theological issue? Fine by me as long as we're still playing tennis together on Saturday."

I’m not going to lie: even though I’m a Christian, I’m learning that having Christian friends is a stressful endeavor.

Not long ago my wife and I reflected on our life one year after moving back to our home state and we both lamented over how few dependable, Christian relationships we had to show for it. This realization was a hard reality for us to accept, but one that we had predicted may come to pass as a result of moving to an area where Christianity is… well, let’s just say, different.

While it shouldn’t be this way, I think the reality for many of us is that having Christian friends is… hard.

This isn’t because our Christian siblings aren’t nice people or incapable of being good friends. Rather, this is because somewhere along the line you and I were taught a horrible lie:

We were taught that we have to agree on everything in order to be in relationship with one another.

For the last 2,000 years, instead of following the one who came to reconcile “all things” back into one body, we’ve been dividing up into so many sub-tribes that it’s impossible to keep track of all of them. As kids, many of us went to “Christian” summer camps where a common message was that our friends would all leave us when we got back home from camp. Now as adults we’ve refused to worship with people who worship the same Jesus differently than ourselves, created our own sub-cultures, and even within those we’ve told people “you can’t be a part of this community unless you are in ‘full harmony’ with every line of this 28 page Statement of Faith”.

We’ve looked at a finger and called it “the body”, when really it was just a finger off doing its own thing.

We’ve become people who functionally believe, by demonstration of our cultural norms, that we must be in total agreement on nearly every issue in order to be in relationship together.

How destructive.

How anti-Christ.

The prevailing norms in this area are making it harder and harder to live the Christian life as it was intended– many parts of one body in community with each other. In addition, it’s keeping us from experiencing the “abundant” like that Jesus promised in the here-and-now.

Instead, I find myself with beads of sweat pouring down my head each time I get ready to push the “publish” button for a new post. Will I lose any friends over this? If I take a theological stance on this issue or in this direction, will it be “too much” for some people to be in relationship with me?

Several months ago I was getting ready to do an interview when my wife wished me luck and gently asked me: are you willing to accept the consequences for this?

And, I knew what she meant. She meant: are you prepared to have very few Christian friends?

It’s actually heartbreaking that we even have to ask these questions. We shouldn’t have to agree on all of our theology or politics to be in relationship with each other.

Now, that being said– I do think there’s a time to draw lines. For example, I recently deleted some Christians from Facebook for posting racist content. As a trans-racial family and a decent human being, I’m not willing to be in relationship with people who are racist. Sorry, but that’s one of my lines. However, I don’t think we are as hesitant to draw these lines as we should be. We should resist it at all cost, reserve it for rarest of cases, and wherever possible find ways to actually erase the lines we too quickly drew.

We must reject the lie that we have to agree on everything to be in relationships with each other, because it is simply untrue.

We don’t.

Yet, Christian culture has become so “tribe exclusive” that my favorite, most trustworthy friends… are atheists. Why? Well, because they love me for me, want to be in a relationship simply for the relationship, and they’re not going to stop being my friend if my theology shifts. Truth be told, I wish my Christian friends were like my atheist friends because I’d love to feel the relational safety of believing they’re not going to walk out on our friendship.

I long to live in a world where someone says, “I really need a good friend” and the first response that comes to mind is “you should go find some Christians“, but that’s unfortunately not where we’re at in this time and this place. Facing such a truth should cause us to realize the need for old fashioned repentance. We often suck at being friends, and we need to fix that aspect of American Christian culture.

I don’t know about you, but I want to live out a Christianity that’s worth living. I want to help contribute to a reformation of American Christian culture and build a new culture where Christian friendships say:

Oh, you disagree on that theological issue? Fine by me as long as we’re still playing tennis together on Saturday.

However, it’s not going to change unless we change it. We can continue functioning as if we still believe this, or we can get busy deconstructing it for the dangerous lie that it is.

I choose to reject the notion that we have to agree in order to be friends.

I hope you’ll reject that lie too.

Benjamin L. Corey

Benjamin L. Corey

BLC is an author, speaker, scholar, and global traveler, who holds graduate degrees in Theology & Intercultural Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and earned his doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller.

He is the author of Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith, and Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus.

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88 Responses

  1. Thank you for your sharing. I am worried that I lack creative ideas. It is your article that makes me full of hope. Thank you. But, I have a question, can you help me?

  2. @Gary Neal

    It seems you posted here but then deleted your post.

    You should know, we still get emails of your post.

    You linked to your blog’s story about why you are no longer a Witness (“in the Truth”):

    But it seems you are still in some Christian sect, though.
    Interestingly at that movie I went to, almost 95% of the ex-Witness folks never jumped into yet another religion. When I asked the audience “why?”, they unanimously replied “It is hard to be fooled twice.”

  3. The assumption going in to these discussions is that denominations are a bad thing. I’m not sure that’s true. I view it as just one other facet of a gloriously diverse world.

    I think it was CS Lewis that phrased it as ( roughly) ” There is a lot of work to be done and many denominations to do it. Pick one that fits and get on with it.”

      1. I understand. Still, part of being in community with others is valuing the differences. Sometimes Christians think the differences shouldn’t be there at all, which makes the relationship nearly impossible unless you circle the wagons and hang out with the small group that agrees with you.

        Denominations are just one small part of that. I probably should have picked a better word/example.

        The CS Lewis quote I think still applies – lots of work to do, so quit fiddling with the less important details and get on with it.

  4. Fun story:
    My wife (an atheist, ex-Catholic) made an Evangelical friend who was recently divorced and shunned a bit by her church. She also made a friend with a Mormon woman whose husband was a student of mine. Her Mormon group told them not to socialize with the atheist family too much. All three women then became friends. The Evangelical was told to avoid the Mormon.

    Both those religious folks told their churches to shove it and continued their relationships. They later were allowed back in their churches but they said it was the most important experience in their lives.

    They no longer cared about doctrines, salvation schemes and theology — they only cared about friends. All this made possible by an atheist.

  5. love your blog Ben…I too used to be a fundy…God doesn’t give a theology exam at the Pearly gates

      1. don’t know what Ben thinks but I think it all comes down to how you treated the least of these my brothers Matthew 25…I can guarantee you that all of us have 90% of our theology wrong according to God

        1. Hi Timothy:

          We agree 100% with each other that all that matters is how we treat ourselves and others.

          And we are within 10% of agreeing with each other on how much of our theology is right. 🙂

      2. I would say right actions are more important

        Matthew 7:21

        21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.

        Mat 25
        41 Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Departfrom me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:

        42 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:

        43 I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.

        44 Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?

        45 Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.

        46 And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.

        1. Cherry Pickin’, Joseph M.
          But I am all for Cherry Pickin’ if you are reliant on that sort of text. I’ve always said, my best friends who are Christians fortunately only believe part of what they confess.
          Pick away!
          Actions are more important than beliefs.

  6. “We’ve looked at a finger and called it “the body”, when really it was just a finger off doing its own thing.”

    Absolutely! During my experience of being bullied out of the institutional church, I kept referring to the story of the 4 blind men and the elephant. Each man only felt one part of the elephant but each thought he knew exactly what an elephant looked like. The reality was that unless each man was willing to listen to the others, and put those pieces together, he was never going to get the whole picture.

    We become so much richer by listening to the differing perspectives of others and allowing ourselves to explore those views with them. But too often the ‘my way or the highway’ attitude seems to prevail.

  7. Okay, I shared this on facebook and I thought I would post it here.

    Last night, I was at a party with my wife and some of her friends from her Kingdom Hall (she’s a Jehovah’s Witness). It was basically an event hosted by witnesses for witnesses. One thing she pointed out that she loved about it was that it had a ‘mixed’ crowd. Witnesses pride their kingdom halls for having a mix of races as opposed to many churches that tend to be predominately one race. I simply responded with, “Yeah, I see mostly black people with a few whites and an asian person.” She then elaborated by saying that she meant that it was nice to see people from different congregations (Jehovah’s witness speak for kingdom halls) attending one event.

    I then said, “Well, what would make this even nicer is if we had people from different churches attending parties like this together.” Her response was, “Why?” and she said it in a tone that implied that it was a dumb idea.

    One thing I loved about a church I use to attend was that it had a campus of 6 different churches of different denominations all worshipping there. Sometimes the churches would get together and have events and they always believed they were part of the same body. It was sad to watch that church die.

    1. Gary,

      I went to a film preview called “Truth Be Told” — and exposé about the JW. I really knew very little about them. It ends up that more than 2/3 of the audience (about 70 people) were former JW.

      Here is a short version of it:

      The movie was fascinating. The movie emphasized that JWs must always keep praying to convert family and friends or not associate. I am curious how you keep your relationship with your wife when she views you as a project.

      I guess any Christian who views nonbelievers as hell-bound must view their nonbeliever spouses as projects to be considered compassionate — as weird as that sounds.

      1. She does not view me as a “project” anymore. She wrote me off as a lost cause years ago when I learned the truth about the “Truth.” I associated with former witnesses (now atheists, Muslims, witches, and Christians) mostly online which she is taught to view as apostates. I have also been given that label by my wife.
        I don’t mind, I probably am an apostate of some kind. Organized religion can kiss my ass. I was a former IFB and recall that church was every bit as bad as the witnesses. The witnesses are not the only cults out there.

  8. I’m so sorry you’re having this trouble. It’s heartbreaking to hear of the stress you are feeling. I went through it myself as a Christian. I was a Pentecostal (not the snake-handlers, just the holy-rolling tongues-talking type) and had friends in college who were members of less extremist denominations–SBC, Maranatha, etc. And we had a tough time reconciling that huge difference in belief and practice. I thought they were slacking and dooming themselves to Hell. They thought I was legalistic and too focused on rules to really love Jesus. We still stayed friends till I deconverted, at which point they dropped me like a hot rock along with every single (Christian) friend I had in the whole wide world. And if you yourself were to deconvert, let me promise you that the same thing would almost certainly happen to you as well–for the exact same reason that Christians have a tough time being friends with people they know aren’t in lockstep with them theologically. It’s because they don’t really love you. They love their idea of you, and their idea of you is that you are on the exact same page they are. If the reality of you gets too different from their idea of you, then they are going to challenge you to try to force you back into lockstep, and if you simply won’t budge, then you’re going to get jettisoned to keep the dissonance to a dull roar.

    The problem is that Christians generally form relationships based upon their shared hobby. And this shared hobby is considered a grand and good basis for a relationship, from friendship to marriage. But that’s not true. A shared belief or hobby is a terrible thing to base a relationship on. There needs to be more to it than that. One person is bound to get bored or at the least to shift attention to something else. And if one person breaks the fantasy and moves away from the hobby, then the relationship based upon the shared belief is going to suffer.

    Added to the problem is the Christian emphasis on correct belief (orthodoxy), which as you’ve pointed out leads to a huge tribal mindset. But all Christians think they believe exactly correctly, which by necessity means that those who do not believe very similarly are wrong. If you think your interpretation is the right one, then it’s difficult to make room for other interpretations. Again, there’s a dissonance that creeps up: you can’t both be right when it comes to some stuff, like the incantation used for baptisms or whether or not there is a Hell; some stuff is a yes/no binary question. So if you think the incantation is X, but someone else thinks it’s Y, then one of you is wrong–and a lot of Christians regard that difference as an intolerable chasm that must be “challenged” or else there’s no “accountability” between you.

    But on the plus side, as I once discovered long ago, you may well be finding out that the people who are dropping your friendship weren’t really your friends anyway and didn’t really love you. What a world it’d be if Christians began unconditionally loving each other, don’t you think?

  9. Titus 3:9 But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain.

    Proverbs 13:10 | Only by pride cometh contention

    1 Corinthians 11:16
    But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.

    It seems to me that the Bible is quite against nit-picking each other.

  10. I think one reason this happens is because we are taught that you have to have “compatible” relationships, i.e. other Christians. You have to have accountability partners and the like. Then we learn that not all “Christians” are the same as you. So if you’re from a conservative tradition (to put it nicely) and have a non-conservative Christian friend, that friend often becomes a person who may “damage your walk”, and we distance ourselves so as not to be negatively influenced by our misguided friends. The end result is forming herds of same-minded people, who are quick to extricate any black sheep.

  11. “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
    “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
    Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.”

    I heard recently that unless the world is fighting against your ones witness of God, there really is no witness.

    Trust God.

    1. If you seek division, you’ll find it. Pretty much what he’s complaining about in this post, the black and white moralism that’s untenable for actual human relationships.

      1. What in the world are you talking about? I spake nothing of ‘division’, and certainly nothing about b/w moralism. But more specifically about the self-righteousness that excludes non-conformists from their sanctimonious sectarianism, which revile and persecute those who by their example represent God. It is a time for great rejoicing, if you can follow Jesus’ trajectory here.

        Trust God.

    2. “… shall say all manner of evil against you falsely…”

      Yeah, so far I have caught some uncharitable interpretations of scripture (so as to say, “see, that’s false”), but a lot of the “evil” being said about certain Christians and the general political climate of conservatism is pretty spot on (liars and manipulators with a lot of money, followers, and people to scapegoat, the lot of ’em). Not to mention, there are a lot of legitimate criticisms of the Bible and Jesus in general.

  12. You’re in good company, brother:

    I often ask myself why a “Christian instinct” often draws me more to the religionless people than to the religious, but which I don’t in the least mean with any evangelizing intention, but, I might almost say, “in brotherhood.”

    -D Bonhoeffer

    1. Didn’t Jesus prefer the company of publicans and ‘sinners’, and hang out with the wine-bibers, instead of the religious and ‘churchly?’ You know, when I read the bible, from the voices of the OT prophets crying out against the religious leaders of their day, as well as Jesus’ encounters with the religious, and such as James’ take on to think oneself religious, I’ve come to wonder if structured religion, and the social culture that it creates and promotes, isn’t the ‘enemy’ of true faith and seeking toward spiritual growth and God. My most trusted friends are and have been, too, either atheists, or very ‘unchurchly non-religious’ or quite ecumenical Christians, and even a few of other traditions, such as Wicca and other forms of pagans. I’ve met some Orthodox, Eastern, Greek, and Coptic Christians that, had our life circumstance provided us more a longer term connection, I think I could have gotten along well with. All of those, however, I’ve learned to not even mention around conservatives, evangelicals, Pentecostals, charismatics, for to associate with any of those seems to them having gone out dancing with the devil himself!

  13. Here is my hope, as it is in so many other areas, that this is changing with us younger believers. Young evangelicals aren’t big on fights over Gay Marriage and the like, and I’ve got a small group of stellar friends with whom I agree on very little (and amongst them agreement is scarce) and yet we still hang out, play cards, pray for each other, and read the Bible together. I know what I have is rare, but I’m glad to have it. And I know each one of us, when we leave this college town, are going to insist on recreating it wherever we land.

    1. Glad you have a supportive circle of friends, Timothy.

      A question; are you OK with “hanging out, playing cards, etc…” with people who aren’t Christian? If not, can you explain why?

  14. I find it very difficult to remain friends with Christians who cannot accept me because I’m different than they are. I’m “deceived”, “hell-bound”, and a “purveyor of false doctrine”. Honestly, I feel that way about the people who feel that way about me. I have been a big promoter of Christian unity, and people are fine with it until that one sticking point that they’re unwilling to study with you and hear you out on. I can work with anyone who will live their convictions for themselves and not try to force them on the rest of us. That’s even the issue with politics because so much of it is driven by religious fanaticism and dogma. I’d have no problem with this being a Christian nation …. if it was truly guided by Christ’s words and example. That is not going to happen in this current environment, if ever, and I won’t roll over so others can be tread upon, neglected, and abused by the religious. .

    1. The problem with that thinking is that you’d have to hammer out what kind of Christian nation. Mormons consider themselves Christians, as do Seventh-Day Adventists, snake-handling Pentecostals (as opposed to the Pentecostals who don’t go in for that), tongues-talking Assembly of God folks, staid and placid Episcopalians, and of course Catholics. What kind of Christian nation would it be? Which form of the many tens of thousands would it be? Because every single one of those forms of Christianity I’ve named think that they are “truly guided” by Christ’s words and example. Too bad there isn’t some big checklist Christians could print up and distribute, hmm? But it’d have to be written very clearly, not like the one they think they currently possess.

  15. It takes great intuitiveness and patience to have a variety of friendships, Christian or otherwise. We kinda have to be all things to all people, while not compromising our own convictions. Yes, Christians are oftentimes guilty of shooting their own wounded. I’ve been the recipient as well as the other end, sadly. It takes grace to move on. Chips and grudges can literally eat us alive if we let them. Thanks, Ben Corey, for sharing what God has put on your heart.

  16. I still find this shocking. I’m on the outside looking in, and sometimes the view is not so nice.

    I’m not a believer. I have friends that I disagree with. Generally, we simply agree to disagree and move on. Sometimes we have truly interesting discussions. Sometimes we argue, but not to the point of rage. We’re still friends afterwords. Some are Christian, some aren’t, in general religion doesn’t seem to be a huge divide. However, the few people that I have had problems with in this regard have been conservative Christians. Perhaps it’s the conservative aspect and not the Christian one that demands conformity?

    I agree with you on racism, Ben. That’s a deal-breaker. If someone is openly racist, they have proven they are both stupid and cruel and I don’t need that in my life. If someone is unable to respect me as an individual that’s another deal-breaker for me. Other than that, let those thousand flowers bloom. It takes a lot of different flavors to make a good stew.

    I’ve asked this before, and I’ll ask again:
    You all seem to recognize the phenomenon. You see it in your communities and families. Why does it happen? Why do your friends and family do this. If you have done it in the past, why did you?

  17. Woah, so sorry you’re Atheist friends are more accepting than the Christian ones. That is pathetic. My Christians friends are way better to me than my atheist ones, but I like them all. (PS I don’t live in the South – do you?)

  18. I understand perfectly! I can say also that I have more non-chrisitian friends than chrisitian ones. I can also say that I have recieved more betrayal and lies and abuse from so-called chrisitan friends than my non-chrisitan friends. In my church, to become friends with a ´catholic´ was anathema. But all through my life, I have received as much (and sometimes more) blessing and consolation through the dark patches of my life from catholics. After my divorce (I was married to a lying, cheating “chrisitan” by the way), I dated several chrisitian men, and I could just not believe the dissapointment, (I´m not saying all chrisitan men are bad, but the ones I met were). I ended up meeting a really nice catholic man and we have been happily married for 3 years now. My parents still can´t swallow this. But I have never been happier. I practice my christianity, he respects me. He practices his catholicism and I respect him. I came to this conclusion: Not all catholics are bad, as not all chrisitians are good. I belive the really important thing is that our hearts desire to do good, to help our neighbors and to love each other without trying to change the other into what is ´supposed to be´.

        1. Just out of curiosity, what were you taught existed before Martin Luther and the Protestant revolution?

          I know some denominations of Evangelical Christianity don’t consider Catholics to be Christian, but I always wondered how they explained the history of Christianity.

          1. I guess they think it was Catholics vs. Christians.. I don´t even know how they explain history. When ever I had questions I was just told that I shouldn´t question their theology. But I broke their mind chains.. I believe God is above religion, any religion. There are good people in all religions as there are bad people in all religions.

    1. Last time I looked, Catholics also identify as Christians…. but lovely story, all the same.

      (edit: sorry, wrote this just before pressing the “load more comments” button)

  19. Blessing my brother. You have also gain many of us now as your friend. We “progressive” are finding one another on this earth. Good news is: we will stand together even if we do not agree on all teaching. For, we all know how it feels; as you do; to be rejected by Christians. For we refuse to be legalistic to another person.

  20. I feel sorry for Christians who form schisms between themselves and with other religious communities. Many of them come up with all sorts of excuses for doing so, but I think most of this is centered around fear. It must be comforting to be around like minded people

    1. Comforting, perhaps, but not very challenging. How can you learn about the differences in people if you demand everyone pretend that they’re all the same? Personally, I like learning about different beliefs. You never know where or when you might pick up some valuable information. But it’s a lead-pipe cinch you won’t learn much in an echo-chamber.

  21. Wow, Benjamin, this is timely. Just yesterday, I decided that I’d had enough of a few people’s bigotry. I’ve been wringing my hands over it for months – because I believe that people who disagree with me are the most valuable of my friends. But, I was receiving too many e-mails, Facebook messages, text messages – all telling me that, not only did they disagree with me, but that I was obviously a false prophet, didn’t know Scripture, yada yada yada. I had to draw some lines, and I did it in a way that allowed THEM to withdraw from my life. I wish that, when we disagree, we could disagree with respect to each others’ well-considered viewpoints. But, it’s turned into a shouting match – and I’m tired of being yelled at.

  22. Years ago I recalled a conversation that some of my friends and I had back during college days. We were all caught up in our evangelical faith and someone said that they had heard that if a Jew converted to Christianity, their family would “hold a funeral” because they considered their family member to be dead. We all thought that that was a terrible thing.Several years later when my own spiritual path led me out of the evangelical camp, I realized that many in my evangelical “family” seemed not to know how to interact with me when I found a home among more liberal and liturgical practices. Though I was interested in maintaining friendships, it seemed difficult for some of my former colleagues. There seemed to be some kind of death there.

  23. The word of the day is: Cynicism.
    When meeting possible Christian friends, always toss in something like “Isn’t it great that the Federal Courts are striking down marriage protection acts and opening the door for gay marriage in Texas, Oklahoma and other bible-belt states where it would never have had a chance otherwise?”
    If your new acquaintance finds that he suddenly needs to refill his coffee then you have saved yourself the hurt and bother of investing yourself and then being rejected later. Before anyone gets too judgmental, how is that different from what Jesus told the disciples in Matthew 10:14?

  24. Unfortunately, sometimes theology impacts our view of what is right for our friend or how to help them, what to say to them in difficult times. Ben has been bugging my home and phone because more than once this week he has posted on something timely for me. My friend’s theology has caused the end of our relationship because no matter how many times I told her that the way she was using scripture to “encourage” me was actually hurtful to me, she continued to “speak the truth” to me. Instead of accepting that I don’t see things her way and that she is hurting me, she dug in and insisted that she is only saying what is “true” from the bible and that until I “obey” scripture (or her interpretation of it), a certain situation in my life will not be blessed. She has a strong Pentecostal background and relies on subjective scriptural interpretation (although she does not see it that way) and insists her interpretations and opinions are “truth.” Not to mention the lack of tact or sensitivity. No attempts to have her become more open minded/inclusive on my part have been fruitful. There is no reasoning with her. Oh well. It was becoming a negative energy drain when I really needed support and space to work out my own faith with fear and trembling, so to speak. I was certainly willing to have a respectful relationship with her despite there being some differing points of view and withheld my opinion and even expressed curiosity many times over the years. I do feel much better not being beaten over the head with her bible anymore.

    1. That has been the more common difficulty I’ve had in trying to maintain relationships with ‘religious’ Christians, whether family or friends. Less the major doctrinal differences one might think, more how they interpret scriptures and apply them to how they interpret my, and others’ behaviors, things I’d so, or even something I would say, they would ‘make something out of it’ and then go into that ‘mode’ like, what do you say? A chiding or scolding parent going at an errant idiot child? I found the same problems when I’ve tried to attend churches, become ‘churched’ in my community. I had some experiences at churches, ones like SS teachers, modify that tone just a bit, trying to sound more like trying to talk as if mustering all the patience they had offering nice ‘guidance’ to the errant idiot child, most of them younger than I was, lol! This IS down here in the south, definitely conservative country and community, that I was born into and have lived in all my life. Not just the matter itself, but the attitude, the tone, superior, talking down, as you say, telling someone else to “obey.” Many times, what/how they were “interpreting” both scripture and the behavior or things said by another were just really out there, would make o sense to most people not also immersed in their culture. sometimes like speaking different languages. I’ve put up with it with some loved family, but they have passed on and I’m done with it. I am a mature, settled, sensible ADULT that just lives an ordinary life, I will no longer walk on egg shells, wondering what is going to set them off next. How does anyone even hold normal conversations with such people? To be honest, I’ve come to believe what we call ‘beating people over the head with the bible’ is really something very different going on, down at the level of motive and intent. I think it is a very mean, hostile ‘power’ game.

    2. FWIW, I think you did the right thing. I really think that a lot of right-wing fundagelicals get drawn to that side of Christianity because they want the borrowed authority it gives them to browbeat and control the people around themselves. If she’d really loved you, she’d have shown you more respect. I hope the situation you were dealing with got resolved in a favorable way.

  25. Happy to report that I have only been “un-friended” by a few people since I decided to be more public about my own heart level beliefs, and since I started sharing your blog-posts, Ben. I did find it necessary to un-friend a couple religious facebook bullies, but I do that reluctantly. Conversation is good, if people are listening even a little bit.

  26. I used to be one of those people – reluctant to be friends with those who didn’t believe exactly the same as me. It’s because

  27. This hits way too close to home. I’ve had frequent people unfriend me on Facebook because of my willingness to post content from people they disagree with, like Rachel Held Evans, or Peter Enns…even NT Wright. My inbox has examples of notes written “in love” to correct and rebuke me. I even had to shut down my blog because I’d only get people who thought I needed to be discipled commenting.

    And beyond the web, in the past few months I had several friends publicly choose to not be friends with me anymore because I’m apparently “so arrogant” and “unchristian” because I refused to accept at face value their advice, and would dare to argue with them, debate, and respond like an adult to other adults.

    It hurt, sure, and made me very angry for a time, but I realize now it’s just certain theological positions being consistent. I still love them and care for them and consider them a friend, but it’s out of my hands to make amends. If they choose to unfellowship with me until I’ve “learned my lesson and admitted my mistake”, well…sorry.

    So yeah. This hits close to home. All my life I’ve been accused of not being a Christian by some, and they’ve chosen not to be friends with me or even talk to me any longer. Christian disagreement is a myth. I guess this is just another season of that.

        1. Stuart, I’ve always appreciated your contribution to the body of Christ and was even thinking of your sermon years ago at church last night in a positive light. I have always viewed disagreements as opportunities for the grace and truth of God to be shed abroad in our hearts, not as a point of schism or irreconcilable differences. Love you sir.

        2. I’m an atheist (ex-Freewill Baptist), and I have been a troll, sorry. I “combat” (not sure I have done anything but waste time on the computer really) homophobia on Crisis and Charisma online magazines, mostly, as a straight ally. I don’t know how to be non-combative most of the time and that homophobia exists is just one frustration for me on a mountain of not-having-anything-to-do-with-religion frustrations.

          1. Remonstrating with homophobes is so frustrating, I applaud anyone who tries to do so.

            However, there are a lot of religious traditions that are LGBT-welcoming and inclusive. Pagans, Unitarians, Unitarian Universalists, Quakers, Liberal Judaism are in the forefront of the struggle for marriage equality, and there are campaign groups in many other traditions, denominations, and religions.

    1. It’s going to be a fine and wonderful day when Christians figure out that it’s the recipient of the words spoken “in love” who gets to decide if they were loving, not the person issuing those words. I’m sorry you had to close your blog. I bet it was interesting reading, but Christians often silence what they cannot force into lockstep. If they come a-disciplining here or anywhere else and I see it, then please rest assured I won’t stand idly by and let it happen without speaking up.

    2. Is any denomination more or less likely to engage in this kind of groupthink pressure for censorship?

      Also, do you think this kind of social pressure is one of the causes for some denominations (and Christianity in general) are seeing a decline in believers?

  28. It is fascinating to realize that there are roughly 41,000 Christian denominations, all quietly or not-so-quietly claiming that they are purer and better Christians than the folks in the other 40,999 groups.

    Think of all the human pain — strife, aggression, violence, sorrow, frustration — that radiated out from the forming of virtually each and every one of those factions.

    There may be 50,000 by the end of this century, for all I know.

    Christians love a good schism (or at least, they don’t seem able to help themselves), and with each one, the human toll in terms of bannings, shunnings, torn-apart families, and lost friendships goes up. I doubt that truly accords with Jesus’ message.

    1. While I understand that some denominations, or perhaps individuals within denominations “quietly or not-so-quietly claiming that they are purer and better Christians than the folks in the other 40,999 groups.”, I think that this is an unfortunate characterization. Most of the Christians that I know personally certainly do not believe this nor do they promote this type of thinking. I also personally do not know any believers who “love a good schism”. Using statements like this is not helpful to the conversation and indeed smacks of Phariseeism by placing one as above such thinking and actions, and saying that “I am not like all those people”.

      1. Mike:

        I take it that if your eternal soul is at stake, you’re going to be very careful about which form of Christianity to follow. Something is making the two billion Christians in the world choose from the smorgasbord of 41,000 options. You pick a religion (or gravitate towards one) for a reason, right? Isn’t that reason that you believe your pick is the right one for you, based on some combination of theology and personal comfort?

        Now, if one denomination is the right one, it means by definition that the others are ever-so-slightly less right, and some are very wrong.

        I don’t care, I have no skin in this game, I’m just thinking out loud.

        But the above seems pretty self-evident to me.

        1. I wonder about that. I don’t think any of us can really know enough about God to make the claim about who is right. I think denominations are helpful, but mainly because they do cater to the believer and allow them to experience God the way they find most comfortable. What is bad is when that morphs into “i’m right, you’re wrong” and it does that often, but not always. and a lot of mainline groups are trying to reverse that trend.

          1. Yes, but others will claim that we can know enough about god to claim who is right. When you all say something different but claim you are speaking to the same all knowing god, I have no reason to give any statement from any of you any creditability.

        2. I’d be interested in knowing how many denominations claim to be the exclusive truth. Surely most would be within the “Christ’s salvation is the only way to heaven” camp, but probably much less would claim to have it all figured out regarding the less important details.

          1. I doubt many would actually say that.. I think it’s more of “how does the culture function”? So many of them function as if they do in fact believe it, even though technically the denomination might not say, or consciously believe it.

          2. Well, what the individual believes is of course up in the air. But all the largest denominations – the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Churches, about half the Lutherans, the Baptists, many, many Evangelical congregations, and the Latter Day Saints all claim that even though other Christian denominations may have saving faith, theirs is the most correct or purest form of Christianity out there.

            So just counting the number of denominations isn’t going to give you an accurate picture unless you consider the sizes of said denominations. 1.2 billion people belong to the Catholic Church alone, plus I don’t know how many others in the rest of the branches I listed off the top of my head.

            1. This is why we can’t have nice things. I bet the Catholics are looking at all these Protestant denominations and going “See? SEE? This is why we didn’t want them to start reading the Bible themselves!”

        3. I seems far less evident to me. I am a member of and a missionary in a denomination. I do not think mine is purer or better than others. I am a member because I happen to favor the type of church government practiced by this particular denomination. I do not think it is the only true or faithful or correct type of church government, it just works for me. I also appreciate the denominations views on the Holy Spirit. Many other denominations have a differing view. The view I have is no more or less valid than theirs. I don’t think they are worse than me, we do however see things differently. I see them as brothers and sister who have some differing opinions, just as my natural brother and I have differing opinions and still love one another.

          1. Michael, you need to make friends with Pope Francis & be the next Pope. You both have the Holy Spirit & freely share that with others. What a blessing you are! Both of you!

    2. Personally I think this is a result of the constant desire to replace one institution with yet another institution. How long will we do the same thing and expect a different result? Institutions become ‘principalities and powers’ and the secondary fact that they are religious in nature does not protect them from that. The one disappointment I have in much of the ProgChristian movement is its belief, beyond all evidence to the contrary, that the institution can be redeemed.

  29. “My favorite, most trustworthy friends… are atheists.”

    In addition to your Invisible Friend, you’ll always have a friend here, Corey! 😉

    Much love,


  30. One of my best friends is Amish/Mennonite. Me, being “progressive christian” (what ever that means) AND a full time soldier in the National Guard… he and i dont see completely eye to eye on several theological issues. That does not in anyway stop us from being great friends and brothers who challenge and love each other.

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