Two well-respected and admired Christian leaders, one Catholic and one Protestant, are speaking out against those practices and making grand gestures to bring those people of faith who feel disenfranchised back into the fold of the church – and it just might be working.
During a mass in mid-October, Pope Francis stated about ideological Christianity, “In ideologies there is not Jesus – in his tenderness, his love, his meekness. And ideologies are rigid, always – of every sign, rigid. And when a Christian becomes a disciple of the ideology, he has lost the faith; he is no longer a disciple of Jesus, he is a disciple of this attitude of thought. For this reason Jesus said to them, ‘You have taken away the key of knowledge.’ The knowledge of Jesus is transformed into an ideological and also moralistic knowledge, because these close the door with many requirements. The faith becomes ideology – and ideology frightens. Ideology chases away the people, distances the people and distances of the Church of the people. But it is a serious illness, this of ideological Christians.”
These ideas are also becoming more prevalent in the sermons of prominent Protestant ministries, as well. During a recent Huffington Post Live interview , mega-preacher, Joel Osteen, said, “I do think that religion has turned a lot of people off. Part of it is because it was all about the rules and was political. I think now people have a hunger for God, they want to have a relationship, but they don’t want to be called religious. I’m not trying to get them to join my religion, I’m just trying to plant a seed of hope in their heart.”
In a 2005 interview with Larry King, Osteen said, “I’ve always been an encourager at heart. And when I took over from my father he came from the Southern Baptist background and back 40, 50 years ago there was a lot more of that. But, you know, I just — I don’t believe in that [fire and brimstone, hell and damnation]. I don’t believe — maybe it was for a time. But I don’t have it in my heart to condemn people. I’m there to encourage them. I see myself more as a coach, as a motivator to help them experience the life God has for us….I don’t think abortion is the best. I think there are other, you know, a better way to live your life. But I’m not going to condemn those people. I tell them all the time our church is open for everybody.”
The people of faith who have been fleeing the ”fire and brimstone” ministry that has been prevalent in recent years have now perked their ears to listen to the loving, inclusive words of these religious leaders with open hearts and minds. If these high-profile ministers continue to inspire love, warmth and joy into the hearts of humanity – in other words mirroring the true spirit of the life of Jesus – I think we will see a large resurgence of active, faith-based communities around the world.
I am an ordained minister with the Universal Life Church (I did not attend seminary, nor did Joel Osteen), and I highly encourage this resurgence of inclusiveness, acceptance and humility in Christianity. Let us all follow our own hearts and our own callings wherever they lead us. It is not our job as humans to judge others; it is our job to compassionately support one another with love and acceptance. If that brings more people of faith back to spiritual practices, all the better.
God Bless You All,
The Reverend Shannon Fisher