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Grace Eberly

Rethinking Religion: Is going to church stimulating or stagnating?

Columnist Grace Eberly recounts her father’s recent sermon and poses the question: “Why do you go to church?”

Recently, my father was asked to temporarily fill the pulpit for a United Methodist church whose minister would be undergoing minor surgery. That was not the first time my father had been asked to deliver a sermon. He is an excellent speaker, and his message is profoundly spiritual. Some, though, might find him to be an odd candidate for the task. My father does not go to church. My father is not a Christian.

Or, at the very least, he is finding it increasingly more difficult to call himself one.

Now this is not to suggest that my father rejects the teachings of Jesus Christ. In fact, it is quite the opposite. When he isn’t working as an estate law attorney, practicing his guitar or playing chess on the computer, I have often found him in his office hunched over any number of scholarly books about the historical Jesus, whom he believes was Justice incarnate. He finds profound spiritual fulfilment through intellectual study and discourse. Is this so radical?

Perhaps so. In the church, my father sticks out like a sore thumb.

Nonetheless, he accepted the invitation after some initial hesitation. And so, my father, the man who believes in Jesus but doesn’t believe in the church, chose to speak about Kim Davis — the county clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples because she believed to do so would be a gross violation of her Christian faith.

Several weeks ago in my column, I said that Davis was guilty of biblical cherry picking — the irresponsible practice of emphasizing certain convenient verses while categorically denying others that may be problematic. Kim Davis believes that homosexuality is an abomination per Leviticus 18:22, but she is conspicuously silent regarding Mark 10:11-12: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” Kim Davis has herself been divorced and remarried three times.

During his sermon, my father mentioned this very fact. Immediately, he was interrupted by an older man named “John.” “That was before she was saved,” he objected. My father replied, “Why then after she was saved did she issue marriage licenses to divorced persons contrary to the teachings of Jesus Christ?” 

John looked down, steaming, “I don’t know.” 

My father continued: “We are confronted with a host of issues. The traditional family is being redefined. Presidential hopefuls seem to have struck a nerve on the issue of immigration. As people are being shot and killed in Oregon and elsewhere across this country with frightful regularity, the issue of gun control looms. The debate over climate control rages on. With the events of Ferguson and elsewhere in this country, it would seem that race relations are strained. Abortion remains a hot button issue. Poverty and economic disparity demand our attention. We remain at war, the longest in the history of our country, and there is no end in sight. The list goes on and on. It is entirely appropriate that our faith should instruct us on the great issues of our day. But quoting a verse from the Bible, ignoring other verses and then telling anyone who happens to disagree with us that God will damn them to Hell is at best ineffective and unproductive, and at worst, contempt of the Bible and perhaps even a blasphemy of a loving and merciful God.”

My father’s final message? “We can do better than Kim Davis.”

After the benediction, some members of the congregation thanked my father for his provocative but respectful words. But many, including John, couldn’t get out of there quickly enough.

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I’ve got a question for John: Why do you go to Church? I’m not being facetious. I promise. It’s a relevant question that every church, temple or mosquegoer should ask him or herself. Why do you go? Do you go to challenge yourself and mature in your faith? Or do you go for comfort and reassurance – a pat on the back?

When I asked my father about this he said, “When I talk to people with whom I agree, it puffs me up. I become spiritually stagnant. But when I talk to people who challenge me, like John, then I have two options: I can refute or modify. Either way, I’m growing. I learn more about what’s important to them and what’s important to me.”

I do not mean to unnecessarily reprimand the Church. I have been admittedly accusatory, but my intentions are good. I, like my father, only yearn for a more mature, responsible, self-reflective Christianity – one that is at the forefront of justice in this world, not one that has to be dragged behind kicking and screaming.

Grace Eberly is a senior studying world religions and biology. Why do you go to church? Email her at

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