I’m beginning to ponder how I can officially break ties with Christianity. I’m hoping to keep my job as the pastor of my church and continue to do ministry in the name of Jesus, but I’m looking into what is necessary to sever all ties with a specific segment of my lifelong religion, a process that may include surrendering the name itself. Is there a quit-claim deed one could sign over, freeing some of us from a fringe element that appears hell-bent on dragging Christianity into a territory where no saint ever tread?
A few days ago I learned of some Christian ministers making a national name for themselves by offering religious exemption to anyone seeking to avoid vaccine directives or to sidestep mask mandates for children. Some of these clergy will provide the necessary documentation in exchange for a small donation to their ministry. It has been felt for quite some time that we were losing our way within this religious movement called Christianity, but this is a sign that we may have lost our soul. What I see goes far beyond the manipulative party tricks of the faith healers and snake handlers. These are the Tetzels of the 21st century, except Tetzel promised those buying indulgences something wonderful (even though it wasn’t his to sell).
Today, we have those who carry the title of Christian Minister, when in fact they appear to me as nothing more than vendors of death. They are preying on people’s insecurities and confusion, even tossing in some feel-good religious talk that might leave some with the impression that a faithful person wouldn’t be vaccinated or wear a mask. There is a point at which the designation “Christian” may no longer be salvageable, and though Christianity has come close many times in the past, we are fast approaching the point at which everything will be lost. Some of my colleagues would suggest that moment has been behind us for quite some time.
It makes me wonder if it is time for us to give this religion over to the emissaries of what I can only describe as a self-serving form of Christianity, signing over the deed in hopes of finding a way to more clearly convey what should have been an easy distinction to make. Or does it make sense to hunker down and call out ideas that in no way resemble the life and teaching of the one whose self-sacrificing love served the needs of the most vulnerable? The Gospels of Matthew and Mark leave very little wiggle room in regard to what Jesus thought of those who caused a child to stumble. And it sure doesn’t appear to be too great a leap to suggest that anyone putting children at serious risk of illness or death is causing a child to stumble big time.
Early in my ministry, a pastor who also served as an adjunct professor of religion offered me some advice. It went something like this: “Ministers are tempted to call out the fringe elements, but to do so is a waste of your energy and will provide them too much attention. Give it time; remain on point; speak the truth, and these misguided elements will fade away.” Though not entirely unfailing in following his advice, I have done pretty well avoiding the urge to publicly scold such folks.
Twenty years have passed since receiving this advice, and during those two decades the fringe has skillfully and dramatically blurred the lines, giving many the impression that Christian faithfulness is defined only through their narrow lens. In fact, they control the Christian narrative in ways I never imagined possible, leaving some of us to wonder whether a nuanced description is even possible.
The Big Tent of Christianity currently includes those who find wearing a mask, continuing to social distance where possible, and getting a vaccine as tangible expressions of loving one’s neighbor. It requires no exegetical gymnastics to get there. The name Christian is also proudly worn by those who would mock a young person requesting a school board to mandate masks, by clergy who have exploited this moment for monetary gain, and by those who presented obscure theories for how masks limit one’s capacity to take in the Holy Spirit.
Too many people accept the latter positions because the name of Jesus is pinned to them with such conviction, while others lump this nonsense in with the larger Christian movement and assume we all believe basically the same thing. As one who has always loved the Big Tent and diversity of thought, I find myself unable to keep enough tent flaps to air out the stench of rot.
I know I’ll wake up tomorrow and return to the work I love, but if anyone happens to know what the legal requirements are for a relinquishment deed, I would appreciate knowing. There is a part of me that needs to keep my options open.
Bruce Frogge is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). He has served churches in Indiana, Missouri, Florida and is currently the Sr. Minister at Cypress Creek Christian Church in Spring, Texas. Bruce is married to Donna (Alexa), and they have one child, Zachariah, who just moved to Missouri as a first year student at Culver-Stockton College. Bruce has been writing a daily Blog entitled Ecclesiological Etchings for almost 15 years where he explores, among other things, his ongoing challenge of loving others as Jesus did.