On Religion vs. Relationship

By now it’s an almost certainty that you’ve seen this controversial “religion vs. relationship” video. But on the off-chance that you’ve been fasting from the Internet (then how are you reading this?) or have stubbornly refused to update to the newest version of Flash these last 7 years, here it is for your viewing pleasure.

(Uh, you’d have to update to the newest version of Flash…)

It’s a polarizing video, whether you’re one of the 165,623 people who like it or one of the 20,234 who dislike it. When I first came across the video, I only made it halfway through before stopping and moving onto another Internet chore.

Why didn’t I finish the video? Because I knew it was just another wearying religion vs. relationship debate in the making.

And I can’t stand arguments. Especially among Christians.

I don’t normally write argument-inducing posts because I hate confrontation. If a waiter gives me the wrong order, I’m much too bashful to complain and I’ll try my best to stomach down those frog legs.

So feel free to comment with your thoughts after I finish sharing mine, but realize that I don’t plan on confronting you.

Mmmm frog legs…

I hate the religion vs. relationship argument not because I ardently support one word over the other, but because it always boils down to the fact that the word “religion” means something different to every single person.

To some, Christianity is no different from Islam or Buddhism or Hinduism or Bieber Fever as a way of life.

And to others, Christianity is way different than Islam or Buddhism or Hinduism or Bieber Fever because Christianity is right while all those other religions are wrong. Well, Bieber Fever is sorta right since J. Biebs is a Christian. But I digress.

For this second group of people, Christianity isn’t religion because as Mr. Poet Rapper Guy titles his video, Jesus > Religion.

But again, it all depends what you define “religion” as.

  • Does “religion” involve following a God or Gods?
  • Does “religion” involve church and prayer and following rules in holy books?
  • Does “religion” skip that other stuff and only focus on the rules?
  • Is “religion” strictly how you fill in that blank on your Facebook profile, and nothing more?

Do I believe in God? Do I believe God sent His one and only Son — indeed, Himself — to live, die, and conquer death? Do I believe His words have been transcribed onto pages thousands of years old? Do I believe in a spiritual brotherhood and sisterhood? Do I believe in an eternal destination beyond death?

Yeah. I do. All of it. Does that make me religious? I don’t know; you tell me.

Religion Relationship Jesus

Personally, I’ve never once thought myself “religious.” I don’t know, it just feels like a weird and impersonal way to describe my relationship with God.

You could look at all those “religious” facts about me and call me otherwise, sure. But I could care less if your definition of “religious” strictly adheres to what Ms. Merriam-hyphen-Webster says or as is prone in culture, have crafted your own unique definition of this word.

I’m white, but never think of myself as “Caucasian.” I’m also a quarter Mexican, which some might say makes me “Mexican,” but I have never once filled in that “Hispanic/Latino” bubble on job applications. But I’m sure countless quarter-Mexicans would disagree and have — wait, should I have bubbled that? Have I been living a Latino lie all these years? WHAT AM I?

Sure, if believing and doing everything I believe and do seems religious to you, then I’m religious. That’s great. So how are you doing today?

I’ve been raised in the “relationship, not religion” sect of Christianity, but I’m certainly not opposed to another person calling himself or herself or me or Christianity religious.

I eventually watched the entire video and thought Mr. Poet Rapper Guy raised some sobering points. But whether Jesus > Religion, Jesus < Religion, or Jesus = Religion, it’s all semantics.

These arguments never go anywhere. All they do is make the rest of the world shake their heads and roll their eyes because those silly Christians are at it again, so petty, arguing about what they are or aren’t.

One of the many reasons I fell in love with my YouthWorks summer in Milwaukee was because religious Christians and relationship Christians of all denominations came together as one to minister in nursing homes, soup kitchens, and homeless refuges.

Catholics, Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans — everyone put aside their theological differences or petty personal preferences and served some very needy people in the city of Milwaukee.

So can we put down our dictionaries and microphones and love each other and this hurting world? Together? As one?

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. John 13:25

  • MLYaksh

    I honestly tend towards the relationship side of the relationship vs religion debate. But I am with you- I hate arguments amongst christians. I firmly hold my personal beliefs to the Bible and will discuss my views with someone who disagrees. But it’s always out of love.

    For instance, one of my roommates and I disagree about how to read/interpret Genesis. I see it one way, he the other. We’ve had several discussions about it, being honest but not brutal. In the end. Neither was dissuaded but neither was hated.

    Back to the topic though- I prefer the term worldview. It’s a little more defined because it is so basic- it’s how you view the world. I came from “religion”, found a “relationship”- yet my worldview didn’t change between these two. I still believed in God and Jesus and the Bible. I only changed how I practiced it.

    The most important question we can ask is not “are you religious or relational?” It’s “do you believe in Jesus Christ and His Sacrifice for you?” What you call yourself after that- it’s secondary. I still consider myself religious and relational because I know I am a follower of Christ.

    P.S. don’t be afraid to have more discussions. Arguments usualy separate people, but discussions can bring them closer together. Of course, that depends on how you define discussioon and argument. And debate. And the word “is”. Oh, I love semantics!

    • TMZ

      I’m glad that in your discussion with the other party that “neither was dissuaded but neither was hated.” I’ve seen too many instances in which neither was dissuaded, and BOTH were hated. And it’s just a total shame when that happens. It shouldn’t.

      “Worldview” is a good word to use here. Great suggestion.

      And I’m all for positive discussion with positive semantics that are positive. So far so good here!

  • It’s a tricky subject, that’s for sure! One that, frankly, I’m just terrified to touch.

    I understand why people want to make the case against the term “religion”, because there are a lot of people who equate that term with  negative experiences they had in the church. And it’s heartbreaking. The Church ought to be a refuge, not a place that hurts people.

    But at what point do we try to make the Church so trendy and appealing to people that we forget the Gospel? Not saying this guy does that (truth be told, I’ve avoided watching the video. Feel like I might start arguments if I do), but it’s something that is common in our generation.

    It’s a fine line. You don’t want to isolate people, but you don’t want to throw out the Gospel in the process.

    Anyways, I know this was a vague comment. I meant it that way. Like I said, I don’t necessarily want to touch it if I don’t have to, but it’s still something that we need to always be aware of.

    Thanks for writing about it, man.

    • P.S. What you wrote about ‘ religious Christians and relationship Christians of all denominations
      came together as one to minister in nursing homes, soup kitchens, and
      homeless refuges” is amazingly beautiful because that’s a glimpse of heaven. People of all ethnic backgrounds and Christian denominations worshiping together. Can’t wait for that day.

      • TMZ

        Great points, TJC. The Church should totally be that refuge you described, and so often, sadly, it is not. But I’m with you — can’t wait until that great melting pot reunion on the other side of this life. Gonna be fantastic beyond words.

  • Kevin Stetter

    I don’t want to cause scandal among Christians as much as you don’t, but just curious, have you checked out some of the response videos and articles from Catholics ( who might be seen as more religious) and Protestants (who might tend towards relationship) alike.

    Here’s a link that has both. If you truly want engage in civil dialogue, it’d be worth a gander, friend. http://marysaggies.blogspot.com/2012/01/video-response-to-why-i-hate-religion.html

    Course, the simple truth lies in that it’s false dichotomy. Instead of either/or, think both/and…

    • TMZ

      For me, there’s nothing really to uncover or dialogue about. Again, all arguments and responses will be based on the semantics of these two R-words, and I was just stating my particular use of them.

      • Kevin Stetter

        There’s always more to uncover and discuss and it’s totally possible to do it in charitable ways. If we ever hope the Church to truly be One as Christ prayed in the garden, we have to be able to talk….even if it’s hard or uncomfortable. In fact, does Jesus not challenge us to get outside of ourselves?

        Aside from that, this issue, among others, has divided the Church for almost 500 years. If it’s just semantics, why can’t we reach some resolution? To me, Christ didn’t die on the cross over semantics. There’s too much at stake…souls are on the line. Why can’t we see the gravity of the situation? Are we afraid of the consequences? What we’ll have to lose?

        Back at hand, the guy from the video has since admitted that he made some mistakes with it. Idk if he offically apologized, but his humble recognition of error is a step in the right direction. We can all learn from his example.

        • TMZ

          Mmmm frog legs.

  • I purposefully avoided that video until just the other day because I didn’t see the value in discussing it. You’ve pretty much written exactly what I would have said about it though, if I had felt the need to comment. It’s all semantics, and I’ve watched so many people talk around each other without defining their terms. 

    Bottom line it’s just something else to distract us from being the hands and feet of Christ. We can lock ourselves away in our studies and libraries and debate every single iota of our faith, or we can go out into the world and live it. 

    I’d much rather be friends with Catholics, and Baptists, and Mormons, and Muslims, and Atheists than alienate them by trying to force my own views upon them. Unfortunately it seems that everyone just wants to be right these days, and no one seems willing to consider the greater good. You can’t enter into a meaningful relationship with someone by trying to prove them wrong. Politicians can’t lead our country to success if they’re focused exclusively on towing the party line. 

    But now I’ve brought politics into this, and so I must stop. Thank you for your words, and I appreciate the comments others have left. Discussion is great; unfortunately it seems to be hard to find on the Internet. 

    • TMZ

      Well said, man. And thanks for the encouragement. Was anxious about the reaction when I first posted, but pleased to see it be largely positive.

  • Very well said, TMZ! People were losing their minds over that video and I honestly wasn’t that impressed with it. We waste a lot of time trying to put people and what we believe into categories. While I think it’s good to have healthy debate (it strengthens our faith and helps us sort out what exactly we believe), it makes me sad to see Christians attacking other Christians simply because the way God meets them is different than the way they think is “right”. It’s silly that semantics keep us from truly being the body of Christ.

    • TMZ

      Thanks Amanda! Couldn’t agree with you more; God totally meets his unique collection of creation in a unique collection of ways, and it’s so beautiful. May we never lose sight of our love crusade of a mission here.

      All the best!

  • I have read sooooo many posts and comments and responses about this video. People usually take one extreme view or the other, but this was delightfully, refreshingly chill. And I agree with you totally.

    • TMZ

      Sweet. Thanks for the feedback Lauren!

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  • Bryon

    I love what you said about whether you should fill in the dot for Hispanic. It really puts everything into perspective for me. It also helped me to think about my own journey as a Christian, and how I have shaped my own view of the word “religion.” At the time I saw the video 3 years ago, I was like, “yeah! That’s what I’m talking about!” I never thought twice about it actually, until I heard someone talk about it in a dirty way. I said, “yeah, I hate religion too!” So I went to “non-denominational” Churches, but I realized that these too were a “franchise” under the heading of “non-denominational.” Then I wanted to be a pastor in these Churches, only I was met with a polite cold shoulder for being a same-sex-attracted man, all the while they were hoping I would give up and move on. Well, I did move on. I attended “house Church” which was full of people who took rejecting “religion” even further by rejecting all traditional Church customs except communion. I thought I found my home, until, I realized even THESE people clung to their ideas of what Church was NOT and that they were resistant to change as much as the rest. I was isolated and bored. So, I went back to traditional Church, and guess where I ended up? A religious “looking” service with people who are NOT religious at all.

    See, I don’t care what others call religious, but I know what it means to me. Relationship to me means doing whatever I want to (biblically of course) in order to worship my God for the sincere reasons I make them out to be. Sincerity, that’s what being non-religious means to me. So, when I meet new people, I ask them if they are religious, simply because it is a universal word, but when I talk to them, I really want to know how sincere they are. That’s when the talking gets good. I don’t judge a book by its cover any more, and I can worship in my sincere way wherever I happen to be and I KNOW that there are others who feel as sincerely about their God as I do. I don’t even worry about who isn’t any more, I just ask the questions because I want a good conversation and let them figure out what they believe.