Being “Spiritual but not Religious” seems to be the new identifier. We explored this “SBNR” tag in last week’s Sunday School class led by the Rev. Malone Gilliam and learned that most SBNRs feel connected to some “being”, but don’t want to be associated with an institutionalized group (a “church”) that has rules, or makes promises that they don’t keep.
Why has the term religious gotten so out of favor? Scandals in churches haven’t helped with frequent stories of unpunished sexual abuse and church leaders caught in affairs. If the leaders of the churches can’t follow their own rules, why would anyone else want to follow those leaders? We all know someone who has a personal story of mistreatment by a Christian: a broken romantic relationship, a ministry that wasn’t honored, or gossip among the church “faithful”.
Fr. Malone challenged us to look at a question from the eyes of an SBNR: “Are there any benefits to belonging to a church community instead of going it alone on a beach or a mountain having a one on one experience, just you and your god?”
One class participant summed it up: Being part of a church affords you “accountability with acceptance” or put another way, “Truth with Grace”. He went on to say that when we worship alone we can define God on our terms instead of letting God define us on His terms. We look for the parts of the Bible that confirm what we want to do, dismissing the others that seem “out-of-date” or too “preachy”. We define our relationships with God and others in self-centered terms, looking inward for truth, instead of outward to God. Truth may be self-defined, but it takes more than one person to experience Grace.
It is through my church community that I learn about God’s truths through the teaching of Scripture; it is my friends that hold me accountable when I stray from these truths. My church community also offers me the Grace of the risen Lord so that I understand that although I am a sinner every day, Jesus has already paid the price permanently for me.
I travel each year to South Africa with my church and there is an African Proverb: “If you want to walk fast, walk alone.” Perhaps the “spiritual, but not religious” are trying to walk too fast, to accomplish worldly tasks so that they feel “good enough” in today’s world. If we walk fast, we may accomplish good deeds, but we will walk alone.
God wants us to be in holy relationships with Him and others. I pray that you have found a church community like mine that offers both Truth through Bible teaching, and Grace through others exemplified by the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Blessings, my friend,
Based upon Sunday School Class of the Rev. Malone Gilliam, October 21, 2012