Latest Article in Evansville Indiana’s Courier Press

Being Christian makes us part of an organization

* By Todd Linn

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Recently, a major news organization ran a story on a growing national trend that seems to evince an equally growing disdain for organized religion. The story reported on the rising number of Americans who identify themselves as "spiritual but not religious," also known by the popular acronym, SBNR.

The group has a website (SBNR.org) and a Facebook page with more than 3,000 fans.

The movement seems to have emerged largely as a result of a 2002 Gallup survey that found one in three Americans identified himself by the phrase "spiritual, but not religious."

With a sense of validation, the SBNR website recently boasts that it "now has an entry on Wikipedia." Indeed, the encyclopedic king of the Internet identifies SBNR as "a popular phrase and acronym used to self-identify a life stance of spirituality which rejects traditional organized religion as the sole — or even most valuable — means of furthering spiritual growth."

Of course, one of the more salient features of this burgeoning belief system with an aversion to organized religion is its own development into something so — organized.

The very fact that there is a group identifiable by a particular moniker with more than 3,000 sympathetic followers on a social networking site along with a website full of helpful articles and tabs titled "About Us" and "Stay Connected!" reveals a yearning within humankind for spiritual networking and organization.

This irony suggests that those who disparage organized religion may do so for a number of personal reasons, such as previous bad experiences, trouble with authority, spiritual idealism or an aversion to moral discipline. In any case, to decry organized religion on the basis of its organization seems a bit circular in reasoning. Where would other institutions be without organization? Imagine an unorganized family or an unorganized government.

Truth is, any time one chooses to craft a belief statement or design a logo, one has entered into the realm of organization.

One thing is certain: One cannot be a Christian and at the same time claim to be against organized religion.

Jesus says, "If two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them (Matthew 18:19-20)."

That's organization.

The writer of Hebrews says, "Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near (Hebrews 10:24-25)."

This, too, is organization.

In a real sense, the gathering together of the body of Christ each Sunday in corporate worship is a shared social networking event with a focus on Jesus Christ.

Christians are to love one another (John 13:34), serve one another (Galatians 5:13) and forgive one another (Ephesians 4:32). None of these things can be done independently and without organization.

The Rev. Todd Linn is pastor of First Baptist Church in Henderson, Ky.

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2 Responses to Latest Article in Evansville Indiana’s Courier Press

  1. Steve Frazee says:

    Hello Reverend Linn.

    Thank you for bringing attention to our new SBNR.org website and our SBNR.org Facebook page. Our site launched just last month and is still in the development phase through October 15th. We’ll be adding an enormous amount of content to the site through the coming year, including the launch of SBNR.TV. Over fifty million people in the USA identify as Spiritual But Not Religious; millions more world-wide. Our team is honored to serve then through our online outreach.

    Your assessment that “any time one chooses to craft a belief statement or design a logo, one has entered into the realm of organization,” is true at least for us. SBNR.org is absolutely an organization. Maybe you noticed the “.org” in our name? However, we are not a religious organization; we are a spiritual information organization.

    SBNR.org does not promote a single belief system. Our mission is to share helpful information and positive encouragement for the spiritual journey of being human. Much of that information comes from the wisdom traditions and the world’s religions. At SBNR.org we say that all religions contain some truth, but no one religion contains all truth.

    Please don’t confuse the beliefs/values of our organization with the beliefs of SBNR people. SBNR.org does not speak for SBNR people, we serve them. There is no one SBNR spiritual belief system. Each SBNR person is unique with their own spiritual belief system. I think that is true of all people. Every Christian I meet has a different opinion of what Christian theology means. I guess that is why there are hundreds of different Christian denominations. Doesn’t it makes sense that God would interact with each of his children pesonally. That just seems like good parenting.

    Since you brought up logos, maybe it will help if you think of SBNR.org like a spiritual Starbucks. They offer many coffee and tea drinks in varying sizes. SBNR.org serves up a full menu of spiritual ideas. And like Starbucks, our organization has a mission, vision, values and operating guidelines, but we don’t ask our guests to adhere to those. Come to think of it, organized religion seems to treat its community as employees, requiring they all adhere to the company guidelines. At SBNR.org we treat our community as guests and try to help make their experience in life a little better.

    I hope I’ve helped clear up your confusion about our organization.

    Blessings!

    Steve Frazee
    Executive Director, SBNR.org

    • Todd Linn says:

      Hello, Steve.

      Thanks very much for commenting. Thanks also for clearing up a few things. By the way, I love Starbucks so I really appreciate the analogy! You write well and have helped me better understand SBNR.

      I feel I can appreciate the general dislike some have for organized religion, a disdain that exists for a host of reasons. One of my points, however, is that those who express an aversion to organization seem nonetheless drawn to shared affinity groups that lead inexorably to organization at some level or another. I believe the existence of your organization illustrates the validity of this point.

      I also think I understand the distinction you are making between a “religious organization” and a “spiritual information organization.” One implication from my article calls for thinking Christians to consider what impact such an organization has upon a straightforward interpretation of New Testament teachings.

      For example, the phrase you have written in bold font states: “At SBNR we say that all religions contain some truth, but no one religion contains all truth.” While that statement is magnanimously inclusive insofar as it describes a spiritual information organization that exists to serve its guests, it is at the same time an essentially restricted statement of religious faith that necessarily excludes spiritual persons who may believe otherwise, namely those who believe all truth points to Jesus Christ (John 14:6). Indeed, one could argue that such a statement does, in fact, “promote a single belief system,” namely the belief system that “all religions contain some truth, but no one religion contains all truth.” Please don’t misunderstand. I am not saying SBNR should change any of their statements. As you correctly explain, SBNR.org is not to be confused with the beliefs of individual SBNR people. My concern is that Christians think deeply about how their faith intersects popular spiritual culture and to what extent elements of that culture are compatible with their faith.

      And this, Steve, really is my main concern as the article indicates in its concluding paragraphs (not to mention its title). My concern lies chiefly in the inconsistency of those who claim to profess faith in Christ while, at the same time, state they are against “organized religion.” I feel sure there are many who identify positively with SBNR who also claim to be followers of Jesus Christ. The teachings of the New Testament, however, necessitate organization; the sharing of one’s faith and the practicing of that faith among a gathered and structured community of Christians.

      Blessings,
      Todd

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