What Churches Shouldn’t Do
I finally saw The Book of Mormon on Broadway last week.
I say finally because I’d heard the music so much (thanks to my theater kid daughter) that I already knew most of the lyrics by heart when I took my seat in the Eugene O’Neill theater on 49th Street.
I enjoyed it so much my daughter actually had to hush me when I automatically began singing along with the actors.
But my positive reviews haven’t been appreciated by everyone.
One person told me “I’m all for free speech, but that play pokes fun at religion. If they can make fun of Mormons, then other religions will follow.” My internal reaction was “so what?”
Her distaste for the musical was one of the reasons I loved it so much. The show points out how people can be so invested in promoting their version of religion that it takes priority over actually helping people. It calls out individuals who abide by dogma in hopes of being rewarded. It demonstrates how being so focused on your own agenda can make you blind to reality. And it points out how religion can be a way to avoid critical thinking.
I know some people find both my words and the musical offensive.
I don’t care.
Having faith and asking questions aren’t any more mutually exclusive than evangelizing while respecting different religions and beliefs. My experience with Christianity demonstrates that some of the closest followers of Christ’s teachings are people who never go to church, and some very hateful people go faithfully every Sunday.
Religion should never focus on ensuring that everyone believes what you believe. Instead, it should be about putting faith into action by treating everyone we meet with dignity and respect.
And, because of that, here’s what I think churches should never do:
- Promote an us and them mentality. Whether it’s Christians versus Muslims, the haves “helping” the have-nots, or the old timers feeling more entitled to more control than newcomers, focusing on differences rather than commonalities is never helpful. If every church member spent one hour with someone with whom they thought they had nothing in common and focused on similarities rather than differences, the world would immediately become a better place. And if we focused on doing things with others rather than for others, it would be even better.
- Try to be a social service organization. Charity is wonderful, but attempting to run a social services program can often do more harm than good. Instead, raise funds, volunteers, and resources for community programs that have the experience and capacity to meet the community’s greatest needs. This doesn’t mean compassion isn’t needed or that help should never be provided. But some churches have actually made a family’s situation worst by providing them with the wrong resources.
- Set unreasonable expectations. When I was in graduate school, a professor told our class that studies indicate some mental illnesses are actually tied to being raised in a dogmatic religion. That’s because expectations don’t match reality, and guilt is used as a tool for conformity. If people want to feel accepted, they can be very good at pretending, but the cognitive dissonance can create even greater problems.
- Proclaim your religion is the only real religion. You should use your faith to be the best person you can be – and that should speak more loudly than anything else.
During the second act of The Book of Mormon, Elder Price sings a song about his beliefs. The song garners a great deal of laughter from the audience, which leads me to the last thing that churches should never do: discourage self-expression. Music and laughter almost always bring people together, and bringing people together should be one of primary missions of any church.