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‘Religion can be beautiful’: A pastor responds to ‘Jesus>Religion’

‘Religion can be beautiful’: A pastor responds to ‘Jesus>Religion’

On Friday we posted a video – “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus” – that had been making the electronic rounds lately. It created a good conversation when it landed here.

The video was churning up commentary in several places a once, including with our Lutheran friends. Blogger/pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber was asked to respond.

After confessing that there is much about the content of the video in which to be in sympathy, Bolz-Weber notes the specifics of her divergences with it.

I too reject religion that does little more than prop up an identity of sanctification and righteousness based in the successful adoption a particular affect, style, personality and way of speaking.

I too think that Jesus is about grace and being with those on the margins and the unbounded way in which God is always coming TO us.


I believe that religion can be beautiful. For every war it has started how many hospitals have been built? How many children found homes? How many people found community? How many non-profits established to serve the poor? How much beauty created?


So…I believe in Religion AND Jesus. I believe in the Gospel. I believe in the transformative, knock you on your ass truth of what God has done in Christ. I believe that I can only know what this following Jesus thing is about when I learn it from people I would never choose out of a catalog when we all gather together as the broken and blessed Body of Christ around the Eucharistic meal. I believe that I am the problem at least as often as I am the solution. I believe in participating in sacred traditions that have a whole lot more integrity than anything I could come up with myself. I believe I need someone else to proclaim the forgiveness of sins to me because I cannot create that for myself. I believe that Jesus is truly present in the breaking of the bread and that where 2 or more are gathered he is there. That’s religion AND Jesus. May God make us worthy of it all.


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C. Wingate

I will take this sentiment more seriously when all of those who disclaim “religion” quit all of their institutional associations and benefices. Until then I’ll hold it nonsense in the mouths of laymen and hypocrisy on the tongues of clerics.


I like her last paragraph up there. Reminds me of what A.A.’s Step 2 has to say on the topic:

Another crowd of A.A.’s says: “We were plumb disgusted with religion and all its works. The Bible, we said, was full of nonsense; we could cite it chapter and verse, and we couldn’t see the Beatitudes for the `begats.’ In spots its morality was impossibly good; in others it seemed impossibly bad. But it was the morality of the religionists themselves that really got us down. We gloated over the hypocrisy, bigotry, and crushing self-righteousness that clung to so many `believers’ even in their Sunday best. How we loved to shout the damaging fact that millions of the `good men of religion’ were still killing one another off in the name of God. This all meant, of course, that we had substituted negative for positive thinking. After we came to A.A,, we had to recognize that this trait had been an ego feeding proposition. In belaboring the sins of some religious people, we could feel superior to all of them. Moreover, we could avoid looking at some of our own shortcomings. Self-righteousness, the very thing that we had contemptuously condemned in others, was our own besetting evil. This phony form of respectability was our undoing, so far as faith was concerned.

W.H. Auden puts it this way:

‘O look, look in the mirror,

O look in your distress:

Life remains a blessing

Although you cannot bless.

‘O stand, stand at the window

As the tears scald and start;

You shall love your crooked neighbour

With your crooked heart.’

You go, Nadia Bolz-Weber. (Love that Lutheran-style preaching….!)

Michael Russell

Karl Barth was not a fan of religion, but of faith. Here are someof his remarks:

“the revelation of God is the abolition of religion.” 4

“It is always the sign of definite misunderstanding when an attempt is made to systematically coordinate revelation and religion…to fix their mutual relationship. 5

“In opposition to all ‘religionism’ the proclamation of the grace of God is introduced as the truth…” 6

“Religion is unbelief. It is a concern of…godless man.” 7

“Religion is clearly seen to be a human attempt to anticipate what God in His revelation wills to do and does do. It is the attempted replacement of the divine work by a human manufacture.” 8

“It is a feeble but defiant, an arrogant but hopeless, attempt to create something which man could do. In religion man bolts and bars himself against revelation by providing a substitute, by taking away in advance the very thing which has to be given by God. It is never the truth. It is a complete fiction, which has not only little but no relation to God.”9

“What is the purpose of the universal attempt of religions but to anticipate God, to foist a human product into the place of His word, to make our own images of the One who is known only where He gives Himself to be known.”10

“The revelation of God denies that any religion is true. No religion can stand before the grace of God as true religion.”11

So our video blogger is in good company. But is he perhaps talking about faith communities being unnecessary? There I would disagree. Jesus, if we are to believe him, invited us into a fellowship of brothers and sisters bound together by baptism and. Communion. To say that we can know Jesus, but reject being part of the body he formed into being is not listening to him.

That body is his presence in the world, there to nurture and challenge us and send us forth. There is danger of fanticism in too solitary a faith, which is why Jesus always points us at one another. He tells Peter that if Peter truly loves him, the he will feed and tend the flock, not sit on a rock by himself?

Bill Moorhead

I’ve already put in two cents’ worth on the post with the video. But it seems to me that part of the problem here is the massive and largely unexamined equivocation on the word “religion,” and perhaps also on the word “church.” “Religion” occurs only a very few times in the New Testament, and is a tendentious translation of different Greek words; “church” translates “ekklesia” and nowhere in the NT means an “ecclesiastical” or “religious” institution. Jesus himself never used the words (I do not believe that Matthew 18 records verba ipsissima). Of course “religion” can be beautiful, as Nadia Bolz-Weber points out. But it can also be ugly and destructive, as Jesus himself pointed out on several occasions.

“Christ is no longer an object of religion, but something quite different, really the Lord of the world.”

— Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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