The Daily Gamecock

Exclusive tendencies mar some religions

Churches need to eliminate divisiveness

When we think of organized religion, everyone seems to have a different, yet strong opinion. As times and society evolve, so has the presence and role of the church and Christianity. In May of 2013, a Gallup poll found that 77 percent of Americans believe religion is losing its influence. This is the highest percentage since the poll’s inception in 1957. The poll indicates these numbers were heavily influenced by whether or not people attended church regularly. While there are a number of explanations for Americans’ feelings on this matter, I feel there are several contributing factors worth examining.

For starters, the development of televangelism may play a role in Americans’ viewpoints. The late 1990s and 2000s have given rise to several televangelist empires. Joel Osteen is the pastor of Lakewood Church in Texas whose sermons are broadcast across the world. Osteen’s church membership exceeds 40,000. While the church donates a great deal of money to a variety of causes, Americans watching at home see a grandiose church that cost $75 million to renovate back in 2005. This church is not an outlier; there are several churches around Columbia that cost enormous sums to renovate. Particularly during years of recession, as in 2008-2009, these images can influence financially strapped Americans in a negative way.

Another divide Americans face is the exclusivity of certain groups. In my friends’ experience and my own, it seems that if you are gay, divorced, liberal or of different faith, you are looked down upon in church. Such exclusion is often a result of the ambiguity of sin. There are many doctrines in biblical teachings addressing how one should strive to live one’s life; however, nowhere does it give humans the authority to judge others. Judging is a sin unto itself. According to the book of Romans (3:23; NIV), “All have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.” A friend of mine once attended a church class with a married couple. The following week, she was told she could no longer attend the class because she was single. Because of this incident, my friend left the church. Another friend of mine was essentially banned from her Sunday school class after she divorced her husband. This hurt her immensely and led to her leaving the church. Excluding others is not a way to reach their hearts. Churches tend to focus on the nuclear family and often center activities around it. I believe in my heart that being married and having children is not God’s plan for everyone. There is a place in church for those who may be gay, divorced or of a different faith. Many of the apostles in the Bible, as well as Jesus himself, were never married nor did they have children. I believe all of us have an individual plan ordained by God, and Christianity is less about rules and more about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Romans 8:28 (NIV) says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Part of faith is understanding that we can’t understand everything. It’s hard enough to know what’s in store for our own lives, much less the lives of others. If we had all of the answers, we wouldn’t need God.

A third area of divide for Americans is the merging of faith and politics. The emergence of the “Religious Right” has, in my view, been detrimental. The vitriol and hammering on such issues as abortion and homosexuality in the political and religious arena has poisoned Christianity’s message. First, not all Christians feel the same on these issues. Second, we should be focusing our energy on other issues instead, such as poverty, the environment and education. These issues and more are outlets where a community of faith has impact. There is great potential for a society that chooses inclusion over exclusion. I pray that we live to see the day when all feel welcome in the pews and at the altar.