Ever get so annoyed, disgusted, fed up, appalled, worn out, or simply bored out of your mind enough to want to put the whole religion/church thing in the rear-view mirror once and for all? Yeah, me too.

But then, there always seem to be some kind of mitigating circumstances. We stay because of the spouse, or the kids, or the extended family/clan. Or maybe it’s for social or professional reasons or it’s just that’s what we do. Tradition. Heritage. Familiarity. While the pandemic the last two years has given us all a taste of what life might be like without church and its responsibilities and demands (as well as its opportunities and blessings, let’s not forget), this still isn’t a decision that should be rushed.

For some folks, unfortunately, their only option is to keep their butts in the same pews as usual on Sunday, even while their minds and souls wander elsewhere. If that describes you, please pay close attention to your spiritual and mental health. I’m told some readers of Wheat & Tares use this blog as a safe place to either blow off some steam (i.e., righteous indignation) or retreat to a “happy place.” As good as an online community can be, it’s still not quite the same as having a trusted community “in the flesh,” so to speak.

In any event, well-known Christian author Brian D. McLaren’s newest book may be just what all of us fence-sitters have needed: Do I Stay Christian? A Guide for the Doubters, the Disappointed, and the Disillusioned.

I’ve read several of his previous books, most notably A New Kind of Christian and Faith After Doubt. This book is a natural extention of those two.

He spends the first 10 chapters enumerating all the reasons for saying a final NO to Christianity. It’s thorough and quite persuasive. He begins with Christianity’s 2,000-year record of anti-Semitism. Let’s be honest; what Hitler and the Nazis did in the 1930s and 1940s didn’t just appear out of nowhere. The Christian church viciously brutalized its “Mother” almost from the beginning. These days Evangelical Christians (think John Hagee, Franklin Graham, and Jerry Falwell Jr., among others) practice “philosemitism.” They essentially pretend to be Israel’s best friends, but only to further their Last Days, “end of the world” theology that, truth be told once Jesus comes back as an ultimate warrior, will require Jews to either accept Jesus Christ as personal savior or be sent to hell.

I don’t have room to go into all the other nine chapters in detail. Just to mention a few: the Crusades (“let’s kill some Muslims for Jesus!”), the papal Doctrine of Discovery (that’s how we got White European colonialism and the enslavement of people of color), American Protestants’ Manifest Destiny (ostensibly to create a New Jerusalem, which required wiping out Indigenous People in North America), authoritarianism, White Patriarchy, anti-intellectualism, and a deeply embedded love of money (even though Jesus probably had more to say about money than any other topic, but well, you know, priorities). And let’s not forget American Evangelicals love affair with Donald Trump and White Christian Nationalism.

After about eight chapters I began to get pretty depressed, and maybe you will, too. Keep on reading!

If you can make it through those first 10 chapters without bolting Christianity, McLaren offers another 10 chapters with reasons why you should stay. These are more nuanced and begin to reveal his nondualistic way of thinking (there’s really a whole range of options between Go and Stay). Perhaps my favorite of his Yes reasons is, “Because it would be a shame to leave a religion in its infancy.” What if Christianity is just getting started? What if, now that Christianity has screwed up so badly for 2,000 years, it’s finally getting its act together in new, previously unimaginable ways?

McLaren points out that leaving defiantly or staying compliantly are not the only options. There are plenty of folks out there hard at work to change Christianity for the better. Why abandon them when they need help the most?

But the most important question is not, after all, to leave, stay, or something in-between. Rather, the key is HOW do we live our lives from now on. It’s the questions, not the answers, that matter most. McLaren starts off Part 3 of his book with this quote:

I want to beg you, as much as I can, dear sir, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.

–from Rainer Maria Rilke’s 1903 letter to Franz Xaver Kappus

Sure, Christians both individually and through the institutions they’ve created to promote and organize Christianity, have royally screwed up, forgetting the words and life example of Jesus. Of course there have been good things along the way, too. And we could spend a lot of time and energy debating the balance or whether our “sunk cost” is worth our continued involvement.

McLaren, though, is calling for a fresh start and an honest appraisal of who we are and whose we are. For some, the weight of the past will just be too much to continue to bear. We need to accept, understand, and continue to love those folks. Correspondingly, we need to do the same for those desiring to keep the status quo (I personally need to work on that, a lot).

Others may need to change their “brand” of Christianity, if they no longer feel welcome in their denominaton for any reason or if it’s become hostile or toxic. But if you choose to leave, do it on good terms. Be honest and forthcoming, and most of all continue to love your neighbor.

  • What are the primary questions involved in your own relationship with either Christianity as a whole or your current denominational involvement?
  • McLaren contends the best place to be in a religious organization is somewhere on its edge, preferably just inside. Do you agree?
  • What (or who) is keeping you in the church or driving you out?