A farewell column and a plea to Christian congregations: Look outward (COMMENTARY)

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Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the president of Morning Walk Media and publisher of Fresh Day online magazine. Photo courtesy of Tom Ehrich

Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the president of Morning Walk Media and publisher of Fresh Day online magazine. Photo courtesy of Tom Ehrich

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(RNS) My last two columns said what I needed to say: Christian congregations have inflicted pain on themselves. And better days lie ahead for those Christians who can think beyond inherited institutions.

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  • Thecla

    Good riddance. Like an increasing number of Americans, I live in a social and professional world where religious belief and practice are not socially acceptable. I am sick of being battered not only by my secular friends and colleagues but by clerical pundits like you who, hoping to get a seat at the Cool Kids Table, are running the same line.

    I like church and churchiness. I joined the Church so that I could go to church and so that I could visit church buildings, sing sacred music, read theology and church history and think: THIS IS ALL MINE! If religion isn’t fun I see no reason to bother with it. I’m fed up with puritanism according to which every grain of incense is bread from the mouths of the poor.

    If I were interested in helping people or making a better world, I would do it through appropriate secular institutions. So, Father, if you don’t like religion, why don’t you get yourself an honest job as a social worker, community organizer or political consultant?

  • WTG

    Hey Thecla, You sound like you are really “incensed!!!.” LOL!!!

  • WTG

    But I believe you are right. I agree with you 100%!!!

  • Jack

    Once it was said that the Episcopal Church in America was the Republican party at prayer.

    Thanks to the 60s generation of pastors and teachers, from whom Tom Ehrich evidently imbibed, the Episcopal Church has become the Democratic party at prayer.

    Perhaps this dying church will reverse its decline when it ceases being a rubber stamp for cultural conformity — either of pre-1960s conservative elites or post-1960s liberal elites — and becomes a truly prophetic church that courageously speaks truth to power.

  • Thecla

    Can’t have too much incense 😉

  • Tom Erich,

    Thank you for your stories at RNS and the work you have done. I’ll miss your point of view.

    When I first started reading your stories a few years ago I was still a Catholic.
    I believed in Jesus Christ and thought too many Christians were simply misunderstanding the Christian message – too many were “doing Christianity wrong.”

    It didn’t seem like Christians were loving enough, tolerant enough or inclusive enough – and I just didn’t understand why.

    Only when I came to Atheism in 2012
    could I finally see clearly (after 50 years of being a believer) why Christianity – and religion generally – is such a self-imploding blunder.

    The flaws in Christianity are well hidden – but built in.

    Thanks for allowing me to read and reflect on your articles. Best of luck.

  • @Thecla,

    “Good riddance……I like church and churchiness.”

    OTHER Christians always ‘do Christianity wrong’. Don’t they?
    Ever notice how you don’t agree with Pat Robertson? He doesn’t get it, does he?
    And the Pope – he’s not doing it right either. Am I right?

    And those Cardinals and Bishops – so puffed up. Right?
    The witch burning Christians were certainly wrong. The Irish Christians are wrong to accept Gay marriage.
    And the pedophile priests, they don’t understand how unforgivable their actions are – Jesus would never forgive them for THOSE kinds of sins.

    The liberal Christians are too inclusive and loose.
    The right wingers too fascist.

    But You, THECLA are the only one who is doing Christianity RIGHT!
    How solipsistic and deviously self-centered of religion to reward you so!

    Religion poisons everything. In ways believers barely realize.

  • Jack

    Yes, Max, “religion” has motivated people to do terrible things like help the poor (rather than rid the world of them through eugenics), invent hospitals to care for the sick, ignite social reform movements that abolished slavery, give women the vote, destroy racial apartheid, honor the dignity of labor through the Sabbath, draft the Declaration of Independence and other key human rights documents, and raise up leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Theresa, Pope John Paul II, Mahatma Gandhi, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, and the Dalai Lama…..

    And atheists have…….?

    Yikes…..Mao…..Stalin……Pol Pot…..Castro…..


    A hate parade of genocidal dictators spouting blood-curdling political insanity and spreading it like cancer.

    No thanks, Max. I prefer not to rely on the arbitrary whims of rulers who believe only in themselves and their mad fantasies.

  • @Jack,
    “Max, “religion” has motivated people to…help the poor (rather than rid the world of them through eugenics)”
    ” invent hospitals to care for the sick,”
    ” ignite social reform movements that abolished slavery,”
    “give women the vote, destroy racial apartheid, honor the dignity of labor through the Sabbath,”

    Human beings invent reasons and ideas to do various things. Congratulations. Not very insightful of you.

    Hamas, Hezbollah, Al Queda and Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam do some nice things too. None of it means their God real or their racist, bigoted religions are good.

    “They are dogs” – JESUS
    Clearly such nonsense inspires many things, not much of it very good.

  • Jack,

    “human rights documents”
    IN SPITE OF GOD’S LAW – Yahweh and Jesus never gave any rights to anyone.

    “Martin Luther King, Jr.”
    Used the pulpit to SPITE God’s laws commanding slavery, rape and repression.

    “Mother Theresa”
    An example of an evil atheist – deeply dishonest about her lack of belief in Jesus – a lover of evil, women’s repression and lover of poverty. The sickest of all your examples. She supported the poverty of untold millions.

    “Pope John Paul II”
    Personally responsible for the deaths of 20 million African AIDs patients.” ‘AIDS is bad, condoms are worse’ – an immoral shameful person.

    “Mahatma Gandhi”
    He was a good ATHEIST

    “Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel”
    In spite of God’s teachings! Not because of them!

    “The Dalai Lama”
    Another Atheist.

    You are batting 1000. Got anymore?

  • Thecla

    @Max, I couldn’t care less whether other Christians are doing Christianity right or wrong, so long as they don’t interfere with other people, promote poisonous political ideologies and harmful social agendas or, above all, rain on my parade.

    I have no problem with Arians, Monophysites or Nestorians—or atheists: metaphysics is harmless. I do have a problem with people, whatever their theological views, who promote racism, sexism or homophobia, who engage in holy war or abuse little boys or otherwise do harm. It’s really very simple: believe in Platonic Forms or not, Filioque Clause or not, God or not: who cares? I fail to see how metaphysical claims, about the existence and nature of God or anything else, could poison anything.

    I am, of course, self-centered like everyone else. I enjoy religion, and I expect priests like Father Necktie, whom I have paid with my time, talent and treasure, to support it.

  • Be Brave

    Max, you poor anti-Christ . . . Pliny the Younger (61-113 CE) Letters: (as governor of Pontus & Bithynia [northern Turkey] from 111-113 CE, Pliny corresponded with the emperor on various administrative matters;
    here Pliny seeks counsel on dealing with Christians)

    “none of which those who are really Christians, it is said, can be forced to do–”

    That was written 1900-years by another anti-Christ, Pliny the Younger. There are real Christians and fake ones. Whether you like it or not. You should take the time to read the New Testament. I did when I was an atheist and knew it better than all of the born-againers in my school. Start with Jude:

    Dear friends . . ., I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people. For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality.

  • Be Brave


    Give the anti-Christ routine a break once in awhile. You’re becoming a cartoon character.

  • Thecla

    How ‘bout religion—not political agendas of the Left or Right but the radical idea that religion, the Church, Liturgy and Sacraments, matter and are important.

  • Greg1

    Take care Tom. But in volatile times such as these, my suspicion is that it will get much worse, before it gets better. I cannot help but be reminded of the words of Pope John Paul II just before his election, when he said,
    “We are now standing in the face of the greatest historical confrontation humanity has gone through. I do not think that wide circles of American society or wide circles of the Christian community realize this fully. We are now facing the final confrontation between the Church and the anti-Church, of the Gospel versus the anti-Gospel, between Christ and Antichrist. The confrontation lies within the plans of Divine Providence. It is therefore, in God’s Plan, and it must be a trial which the Church must take up, and face courageously…” (Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, Eucharistic Congress, Philadelphia, U.S.A. 1976).
    His words were emphatically prophetic.

  • BB,

    “Cartoon character”

    I’m not the one selling cartoon characters:
    “Many Zombie saints rose from their sleep and visited with everyone in Jerusalem” – (Matthew 27:52)

    These cartoons must be laughed off. It is about time people stop taking this stuff seriously.

  • Be Brave


    It is far past time that the lunacy and egomania of atheism is confronted for what it is. That you seek out to insult and denigrate others that have made as much a free choice as you have, but just opposes your demands on everyone on earth, showcases the disease that is atheism.

    Nothing as foundation and nothing as future . . . and no one has to wonder why a godless society is from what the western world has become, where vice and violence is not only common hourly but accepted and celebrated daily and “culturally.”

    Your typical negativism is what the world can expect from a godless emotionalism. Suicide and hate are what is defining the materialism you peddle. Now, of course, social darwinism that follows the self-labeled elites taking advantaged of the poor and needy, the weak, the frail and the disadvantaged, also shows us all what we’ll continue to garner from the godless taking control of the populace. You can’t hide the idiocy of atheism from everyone.

  • Be Brave


    Until The Church gets back to standing up for the revealed theological structure detailed well in the New Testament, and cleaning out the logs in the eyes of the body of The Church, we will continue to have any whackadoodle individual or purely evil groups, proclaiming they are Christians, when they openly practice utter contradiction of the structure of the Gospel and Apostolic witness of the New Testament.

    In plain words, some people are “real” Christians, as Jesus preached they’d be, and some are purposely not.

    The world” is “the world” and The Church is not. Until “real” Christians start defending and defining that again, we will continue to have “the world” and its ways (heresy and heretics) that have found social and political power and control within a Christian framework (though utterly foundation-less). And I am charging that both the Left and the Right (and common citizens) have these heretics pretending to be Christians. Of course.

  • Mike

    Regarding the “sunny days of the 1950s,” read “One Nation under God” by Kevin Kruse for a historical expose of how the notion of the US being a “christian nation” was created in the 1950s with the full embrace of the Eisenhower administration. Those days weren’t so sunny looking back now as religion is killing politics and politics is killing religion. That marriage was doomed, should have never been permitted and we’re all paying a heavy price.

  • @BB,

    “you seek out to insult and denigrate others…”


    If I don’t like licorice jellybeans that doesn’t imply I am criticizing the people do like them! I was a Christian myself!
    Stop making connections where there are none.

    I read RNS stories to study religion as a doctor studies a cancer. I’m trying to find safer ways to help people reconsider these disastrous notions of reality.

    Today 50 more people were blown up needlessly in Nigeria because of religion. 65 people died in Baghdad yesterday. And dozens of children across the USA are not getting medical care because their parents believe in prayer.

    Cemeteries are full of people dead because of religion.
    And don’t give me your Stalin speech! Messianism is such as Stalin’s and Jesus are the worst kinds of religion.

  • @Mike,

    “should have never been permitted..”


  • @BB,

    “Max…the Anti-Christ”

    Yes. I’m rather inclined to think Jesus Christ is not only unreal, but is bad news.

    But if you refuse to examine the doctrines and the claims, you doing no better than making a sucker’s argument.

    “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool.” – Richard Feynman

    THAT is what humility looks like.
    Not the sucker’s punch you are selling.

  • Shawnie5

    Of course you would say that Max. You spend half your time coming up with apologia and excuses why people who do horrific things in he name of their atheism aren’t, “real atheists”. You have a vested interest in disassociating yourself and your atheism from them. All the while playing the ad hominem and guilt by association game when it comes to others.

    The whole “no true scotsman” argument is one of the least honest tools of a very sketchy toolbox of frequent arguments used by atheists.

    What it comes down to is, your opinion does not define who is atheist and who isn’t. That is merely atheist delusion speaking.


  • Jack

    That’s partly what I mean, Thecla. The Episcopal Church has always been simply the handmaiden of the establishment…..When the establishment tilted right, it did likewise. Now that it tilts left, so does the Episcopal Church.

    Church isn’t supposed to be about being conformed to the world….it’s supposed to be about being transformed by the renewing of minds, to paraphrase the apostle Paul.

  • Jack

    Mike, any Christian who understands original sin and the Gospel realizes that there was no true golden age from the past, except before the Fall in the Garden. Thus, most Christians today do not look back on the 1950s or any prior era with nostalgia. We don’t look backward — because there’s nothing to look back upon. We are forward-looking and futuristic….We look ahead to a time when Christ will return and eventually bring a genuine golden age. And in the mean time, we seek to extend His Kingdom here and now by bringing people the Gospel and meeting human needs on every level — from material to spiritual.

  • Thecla

    True. My very radical idea is that churches should get out of the ethics business altogether. We’re grown-ups in a ‘world come of age’ (Bonhoeffer) and can figure out the right thing to do on our own. And as educated people we can figure out what political agendas are most likely to promote a good life for people.

    So my idea here is that churches shouldn’t deal with ethics or politics or social improvement at all, or do charity work, but should confine themselves to doing churchy stuff—ceremony and metaphysics.

  • Jack

    Max: “God is man-made.”

    God: “Max is God-made.”

    Somehow, I believe God over Max.

    Maybe it’s because, apart from this question, I’ve caught Mad Max in far too many factual errors on more mundane questions…..and in lying and obfuscating when caught making such errors.

    People who are inaccurate and unreliable on smaller issues tend to be inaccurate and unreliable on bigger issues.

  • Jack

    Max, are you trying to break your own record for number of factual inaccuracies in one post?

    “Human rights” emerged out of a theistic natural law tradition……Think Declaration of Independence.

    Dr. King believed God was the author of liberty and rights and was behind his work. Read his speeches, sermons, and letters. Mother Theresa’s struggles with her own religion is hardly proof that she rejected belief in a deity, but nice try. And her serving the poorest under awful conditions speaks for itself. As for Mahatma Gandhi, his use of satyagraha, a Hindu concept, plus the early influence of Christian teachings (as opposed to Christians) on his life fits with his theism. Pope John Paul II — freed hundreds of millions from your atheist monster friends who killed at least 100 million. Rabbi Heschel — do you even know who he was? Dalai Lama an atheist? Only if you believe all Buddhists are atheists, in which case you don’t know Buddhism.

    Give it up, Max.

  • Jack

    Becoming a cartoon character?

    Max IS a cartoon character, a clownish man who grows more foolish and befuddled with age.

  • I think your problem is that you’re addled by the illusion that you’re a serious person.

  • I do have a problem with people, whatever their theological views, who promote racism, sexism or homophobia,

    These are nonsense concepts.

  • What is needed in these last days are not “fresh ideas, and fresh words”, no not at all. We do not need to re-invent God and His Word. We already have all we need. We need to preach the Word! We need to preach against sin! We need to offer the true gospel of salvation which is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ as our only hope for heaven. No, we don’t need fresh ideas. We need to abide by what God has commanded of us. God will give the increase, or God will allow the condemnation. Both are a result of preaching the truth. Not all will receive God’s truth, but the elect surely will. We are to do what He has commanded, He will do the rest. Receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, turn away from sin and rebellion. Follow the Lord as He leads through His Word and by His Holy Spirit. Then we will know the true path of righteousness and peace. God Bless

  • dave werner

    Wow! All these comments without too many simple “thank you notes” to Tom for his commentaries, which i’ve appreciated. Thanks, Tom!

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  • Fred Garvin

    Mainline Protestantism is about as diverse as cream cheese; it’s Stuff White People Like. Middle class, middle aged and middle brow; NPR at prayer.