Believing in God, but not organized religion

An increasing number of Americans, us included, find it better to believe in God but not any specific denomination
Jim Conrad, pastor of Towne View Baptist Church, looks at a copy of a letter from the Southern Baptist Convention’s credentials committee on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021, in Kennesaw, Ga. (Angie Wang/Associated Press)

As some may know, I disaffiliated myself some years ago from the local church of my youth because of its objections to gay marriage and other issues.

I’m not alone in concerns over the actions of churches when it comes to politics, gender and LGBTQ issues. A report by David Crary of The Associated Press notes:

Divisions over race, politics, gender and LGBTQ issues are roiling America’s largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, ahead of a meeting of its executive committee next week.

On the agenda are two items reflecting those divisions: A recommendation that a church in Kennesaw, Georgia, be ousted from the SBC because it accepted LGBTQ people into its congregation, contravening Southern Baptist doctrine; and a report by an executive committee task force criticizing the widely respected leader of the SBC’s public policy arm, the Rev. Russell Moore. Among the grievances against Moore: His outspoken criticism of Donald Trump during Trump’s 2016 election campaign and his presidency.

Jim Conrad, pastor of Towne View Baptist Church in Kennesaw, says he and his church is “at peace: with the threat of being “disfellowshipped” by the excecutive committee of the Southern Baptist Convention.

“The problem the SBC is facing right now is this: In order to work with them, you’ve got to be in lockstep agreement with them on every point. Nine out of 10 won’t get you by,” Conrad told Crary in an interview. “That’s just a shame. They’re going to limit themselves in terms of who’s able to work them.”

Crary finds other problems within the SBC:

— Some Black pastors have left the SBC and others are voicing their dismay over pronouncements by the SBC’s six seminary presidents — all of them white — restricting how the subject of systemic racism can be taught at their schools.

— Several prominent SBC conservatives, citing church doctrine that bars women from being pastors, have questioned why the denomination’s North American Mission Board has supported a few churches where women hold titles such as children’s pastor and teaching pastor. The board says it seeks to persuade such churches to change those titles.

— The leadership continues to draw criticism from victims of church-related sexual abuse over promises made in 2019 to combat that problem. Activists say inquiries related to sex abuse should be handled by independent experts, not by the SBC’s credentials committee.

He adds:

Moore has been president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, or ERLC, since 2013. Though staunchly conservative on issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage, he has gained an audience outside the SBC with his speeches and writings, including criticism of Trump, condemnation of Christian Nationalism and support for a more welcoming immigration policy.

After the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters, Moore wrote on his blog, “This week we watched an insurrection of domestic terrorists, incited and fomented by the President of the United States.” If he were a member of Congress, Moore wrote, he would vote to remove Trump from office even if it cost him his seat.

What could be the real problem with Moore comes from Rev. Mike Stone, task force chairman when he admits Moore’s actions “jeopardize contributions to the SBC” from its 47,000 churches.

As in politics, it often pays to “follow the money” if you want to get to the bottom of what drives too many actions in organized religion.

During my recovery from a serious motorcycle accident in 2012 that doctors felt I would not recover from, many churches in and around Floyd County offered prayers and support to myself and Amy. I tried to thank those who did and visited the congregations in services at several in the year that followed. Their support was key to my recovery.

But Amy and I believe in God but we do not, at this point, believe in organized religion because we feel too many of them are letting politics and personal biases supplant what we feel is faith. Her families are Catholics and Lutherans. Mine were Presbyterians. We now are members of what surveys say is the largest growing community of religious believers in the United States: “Non-denominational.” Our faith is intact but personal.

Thomas Jefferson, America’s founding father credited with authoring most of the Declaration of Independence, believed in the separation of church and state and argued that America’s government must not “officially establish one particular religion or denomination over another.”

The First Amendment says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

My first cousin is gay and is happily married to another man. When I was in the hospital, I woke up one morning with a lesbian law enforcement officer, who was also a police chief, praying for me beside the bed.

We have many friends who are gay. We cannot, in good conscience, attend a church where gays are not welcome or called “sinners” because of their love of other human beings.

We do not believe God wants us to be hypocrites.

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