Shuck and Jive

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Recovering from Toxic Religion

It was an honor to hear my predecessor on Saturday. He and I together participated in a funeral service for one of our church members. My predecessor served this congregation for 33 years before his retirement. Under his leadership, the congregation became an oasis for those who were raised in toxic religion.

Toxic religion in a nutshell, poisons people's spirit with threats of hell and punishment. It is a pervasive ideology that posits a wrathful deity. Its goal is to make people feel that they are worthless, even evil. It makes people fearful of anything that isn't supposedly true dogma. It discourages people from thinking for themselves or from feeling good about themselves. It discourages spiritual growth and the discovery of their true selves. It makes all kinds of rules and punishes people for supposed infractions. You will find toxic religion in all denominations, some more than others.

Some folks who grew up in toxic religion were able finally to leave it as an adult. Many of these have left religion altogether. I don't blame them for that. Better no religion than a toxic one. These folks bear its scars. For some the wounds are still open.

I do believe there is a role for religious practice or spiritual practice that is healing, open, and affirming. I believe there is a role for communities that foster spiritual recovery and growth. The good news is that there are many congregations that are oases of recovery. You have to look for them.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of Original Blessing. This is the book by theologian, Matthew Fox. Fox is a pioneer in the movement called Creation Spirituality. Fox has been able to help a lot of people, including me, clear the spirit of toxic residue and find a liberating spirituality.

See if you resonate with his 95 theses for a new reformation of the church.

I plan to attend a conference this year marking the 25th anniversary of this book. Check it out. The 25th anniversary edition of Fox's work will be launched at this conference. You can read about that here.

I am not suggesting that Creation Spirituality is the only way to go, by any means. If you are like me, you have probably heard enough of people proclaiming something is the only way. But I have learned a great deal from him, as has my predecessor, and you might, too.


  1. Yes, Yes, Yes! I read “The Coming of the Cosmic Christ” in 1994. It brought me back to the church. It just tied it all together and made sense. I then went on to “Original Blessing” and bought a tape of one of his workshops. On the tape, he tells the story of a priest in a large city who puts an ad in the paper asking all those who have been hurt by the church to come to a gathering at 7PM next Sunday and "we’ll talk about it." Over 500 showed up.

  2. "Over 500 showed up."

    I hope he supplied enough punch and cookies.

    Thanks for that, John! The Coming of the Cosmic Christ is an excellent book.

    We are trying to find ways to integrate Creation Spirituality in our worship and practice in the church. I am hoping this conference will provide some ideas.

  3. Thanks so much for sharing this with us, John. In turn, I had to share this with some other people, to show that there are some ministers like you out there.

    On LiveJournal, I'm in a community where the focus is on healing from various religious abuses through mutual support. Many of these people are walkaways from very heavy-handed dominionist churches. This was refreshing for at least one person who commented. Thanks again. :-)

  4. John, you know that I would have made my way here eventually, but Doxy pointed out your post on a comment at this post on my blog.

    This is brilliant John, as always I love not only to read your words, but to know that many of us long for the same thing.

    Toxic Christianity knows no bounds or denomination and is around in many forms. My own denomination has been cruel to the prophet Matthew Fox, although he is a saint in my eyes.

    The Cosmic Christ book is fantastic, I have read that too.

    What a joy, what a gift to be in community with you John and so many others.

    Thank you as always.

  5. Hi John,
    I'm sure you noticed my absence yesterday 6 rows back on the left, ;-} but I had the opportunity to join in celebration at Jubilee! in Asheville.
    They mentioned the conference and plan to load up 2 buses of folks wanting to attend. You will be in great company, and you might even be able to catch a ride! Looking forward to your creative ways of infusing our service with your new learnings.

  6. Thank you so much for this. You have said what I have been thinking for so long. (And glad not to be alone.)

  7. There is a phenomena known as the Red Letter Christian movement which may be of interest to some here. It is composed primarily of
    Christians who hold leftist/progressive social views, but are theologically more conservative than, say, my good friend Pastor Shuck (although Bob Jones III would surely still brand them as "liberals.") Representative members would include Jim Wallis and Tony Campolo.

    Here is a link to a good introductory article on the movement:

    Campolo just published a book on the movement in fact. The title, appropriately enough, is "Red Letter Christians."

  8. Thanks for posting this John - this is a good overview of toxic religion. The new wineskins encourages this type of stuff and here is some of their toxic views:

    It's ok to go along with people who don't want women in ministry. Just watch on the sidelines when people are crucified because of gender.

    If you don't agree with the new wineskins, you must be possessed by a demon and we will lay hands on you and do an exorcism. I am not exaggerating - I have seen this with my own eyes. It's fear tactics and some of it may be staged to scare people into being against the pcusa.