One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that when folks are called ‘church people,’ it isn’t necessarily a compliment. I grew up as a preacher’s kid (and actually a pretty tame one at that), so I thought it was nice to be referred to in such a manner. Life has taught me otherwise.

Talk to nurses in the ER and you’ll find that their experience of ‘church people’ is often of mean, demanding patients and family member who arrive on Sunday with, shall we say, less than charitable attitudes.

Talk to waiters and waitresses, and ‘church people’ are to often those who are very very unkind, wearing their Sunday best to the restaurant and then barely tipping if they tip at all. (If your lapel pin has a cross but you talk to people like dogs, then take the pin out and leave it in your pocket, alright?)

I don’t even know what ‘church people’ believe sometimes. What strikes me most is that as Christians, we are to live this life in full expectation of the next. As the Creed says, ‘I believe…in the resurrection from the dead and the life everlasting.’

And yet, my fellow believers act as if death in this life is an unimaginable, inexplicable tragedy. Especially when it’s their infirm 98-year-old grandpa who has been ready to cross the Jordan for a full decade.

‘Church people’ can sometimes be heard hoping for the eternal suffering of non-believers. ‘Well I guess they’ll just burn!’ There can be a kind of dark glee when referring to the lost. The way we look forward to cookouts and watching the marshmallows turn black on the Smores. ‘Oh look! I love it when they catch fire!’


person barbecuing marshmallow
Photo by Leon Contreras on Unsplash


Instead of trying to ‘rescue the perishing’ as the hymn says, they’re just getting ready for the judgment day barbecue.

(As an aside there are some sound theologians who believe that when the Bible talks about eternal destruction at the last judgment it means that; destruction of the wicked, not eternal torture. For those of a theological bent here’s a website.)

And ‘church people’ have become far too comfortable with having faith intricately wound up in politics. I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t be engaged. But that earthly power centers and politicians of any strip aren’t worthy of our worship. ‘Render unto Caesar’ and all that.

Church people often just miss the point of love; or rather the person of Jesus.

I’ve been reading ‘Walking on Water, Reflections on Faith and Art’ by Madeleine L’Engle. What a beautiful book. At one point she says this:

‘Canon Tallis suggests that perhaps for our day the best translation of love is the name of Jesus, and that will tell us everything about love we need to know.’

Not a bad idea.

Of course, there are the other, more modern ‘church people.’ Those church people find it just a little uncomfortable to be ‘church people,’ so they minimize it.

These are the ones who like the idea of the historical Jesus but all of that silliness about casting out demons is simply first century mental health care and all of those miracles are just nice fairy tales or mass delusion or things that were added later by well-meaning but confused simpletons without college degrees. (Clearly they haven’t met enough college graduates…)

Those ‘church people’ hold a finger to the air to discern the way the spirit is moving, as long as it’s moving conveniently with the masses of public opinion.

They are happily on board with believing and (sometimes) saying things that won’t affect their jobs, friend groups or online profiles. But they’re really afraid of being associated with ‘crazy fundamentalist types,’ by which they often mean ‘people who think the stories are true and the Jesus really did all of that stuff and means it.’

And honestly, I’m not sure either group would have defied Rome or anyone else to the tune of crucifixion or a trip to the lion petting experience in the Coliseum.



The thing is, if you believe a thing, own it! I have some atheist friends who are the most ethical humans you can imagine. I know some Christians who literally spend so much time in prayer and in serving the broken that it would do your heart good to meet them. Whatever you believe, don’t be afraid to believe it…and say it. But have the ‘courage of your convictions.’

I’ve led a spiritually ‘amphibious’ life. I was raised in a church-going (mostly Christian) family with a pastor father and a deep immersion in evangelical Christianity. And I have spent three decades in the cathedral of suffering that is the house of medicine, where pain, anger, loss and a liturgy of profanity often permeate the atmosphere. And where I’ve known the victims of violence, of sudden death, of substance abuse who fill its sagging pews as it increasingly becomes a kind of modern house of worship for the hopeless.

Perhaps most powerfully I’ve learned the love of God by living life as a husband and father where I have come to understand what it is to passionately, painfully love the people entrusted to me and be willing do anything to keep them whole. (There’s a heap of theology in the idea of family.)

I guess, since tomorrow’s Sunday, I just think we can all do a little better. And particularly if we’re going to be ‘church people,’ we need to step up our love, and confess (and discard) our cruelty and lack of grace. Repentence, after all, means to change one’s mind. Metanoia, in the Greek, to be exact.

I’m not throwing stones. I need a lot of metanoia too. I’m working nights right now. I’m easily discouraged, frustrated and angry. I slam the computer keyboard (but I’m pretty sure St. Luke the physician would have also if he wrote his gospel on an electronic medical records system). I mutter unkind things in my exhaustion. I’ve got work to do.

We’re all works in progress. I’m just saying, as a southerner in a southern, Christian culture, the term ‘church people,’ needs to once again be a compliment, not a thinly veiled insult.

Or maybe, we should just stick to the term Christian and mean it.



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