Uh-oh, it looks like it’s Jen Hatmaker’s turn.

The protectors of orthodoxy appear to have drawn a bead on her as they did on Rachel Held Evans, Rob Bell and Brian McLaren before her.

And it’s getting ugly.

Not only are they repudiating her views on various issues (especially on same-sex marriage), but they’re even attacking her for daring to express the pain that all this criticism is causing her.

Sadly, this is what happens when religious communities become obsessed with building walls to exclude others. Sooner or later they start excluding their own, throwing those members they perceive to be recalcitrant over the wall to the wolves below.

We see it most clearly in closed communities like Scientology, or in cults like Jonestown or the Branch Davidians, or among fundamentalist churches like Westboro Baptist.

And we deplore it.

We’re sickened by it.

But often we fail to see it when it’s practiced within our own communities.

Hey, I’m not saying conservative evangelicalism is as bad as Jonestown, but I do know this: once the pack starts circling an identified victim there’s very little stopping it. And if you think I’m exaggerating, recall John Piper’s incendiary tweet “Farewell, Rob Bell”, written in response to Bell’s book Love Wins. Over the wall you go, Rob Bell.

When Jen Hatmaker wrote a raw and heartfelt blog about the pain she’s been through over recent attacks and posted it on Good Friday, she was taken to task for daring to identify her pain with that of Christ’s. One conservative blogger referred to “wounded wolves” who prey on their followers to lead them astray.

It was brutal.

I’ve spoken personally to Brian McLaren about the searing pain of rejection he felt when ejected from the fold. And I’ve heard Rob Bell speak movingly about the cruel and unusual punishment meted out by his evangelical “brothers.”

I’m not suggesting religious communities shouldn’t have core beliefs and clear tenets of faith. And I’m not suggesting that religious leaders shouldn’t debate and discuss their concerns when members (or fellow leaders) appear to contradict or challenge these beliefs.

But the feeding frenzy around Jen Hatmaker isn’t that. It’s not a respectful desire to explore matters of the heart, to find common ground, or to discern a way to live respectfully with differences on non-core beliefs.

It’s “Farewell, Jen Hatmaker, Offender #11328”.

It’s the brutality of unhealthy religion. And wall building and ceremonial ejections are classic signs of unhealthy religion. Other indicators include:

  • Being chiefly concerned with things to avoid
  • Measuring quantities (of giving/serving/attending etc.)
  • Locating our identity in our behavior
  • Constricting life
  • Simulating holiness
  • Seeking argument
  • Maintaining blind spots
  • Promotes suspicion
  • Suppressing thought
  • Isolating dissenters

Sound familiar?

I think what conservative evangelicals do to their brothers and sisters who come to different views to theirs is a clear mark of unhealthy religion. And I think the fact that evangelicals seem to focus on one prominent dissenter at a time, making an example of that person by public mockery and critique is cruel and unbecoming.

So, what does healthy religion look like? Well, the opposite.

In her book, Bothered and Bewildered, Ann Morisy identifies healthy religion in the following way:

  1. Healthy religion does not indoctrinate, but teaches people to think for themselves;
  2. Healthy religion invites us to be humble about what we believe and know;
  3. Healthy religion does not invest in negativity; it does not major on what it is against but rather on what it is for;
  4. Healthy beliefs stay in tune with reality, never filling in the gaps for what we do not know.

A 2006 Church of England report into the role churches can play in human flourishing found that healthy, life-giving faith will have the following hallmarks:

It will enlarge our imagination: by setting the story of our lives in the framework of a much larger story than ourselves which gives our life coherence, meaning, purpose and direction.

It will teach and encourage the practice of wisdom and holiness: finding our happiness and fulfilment is about coming to a right understanding of who we are, and what it means to be mature human being in terms of vulnerability as well as potential.

It will open us up to the new: while religion continues to be a profoundly important vehicle for personal and community identity it also embraces a humility borne of the awareness that our knowledge is partial – we see through a glass only darkly. Healthy religion gives confidence to embrace the stranger and insights that are available from those with a different experience of life.

It will deepen our sympathies: it unlocks our compassion because it sees the whole of humankind sharing in a common unfolding story.

This surely is something many evangelicals would agree with.

Get the bloodlust out of your system, people. Call off the attack dogs. Start treating your sisters and brothers like sisters and brothers.

In the meantime, let’s pray for our sister currently in the crosshairs of unhealthy religion, knowing that at any time it could be you or me who draws the ire of her detractors.

 

 

 

 

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