FOUNTAIN: A ‘square peg’ questions institutional religion

SHARE FOUNTAIN: A ‘square peg’ questions institutional religion

John W. Fountain writes often about the black church. (AP File Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

It was a simple Facebook post for square pegs, like me:

“Forgiving does not mean forgetting. Sometimes we must move beyond dysfunction,” I wrote. “Choose safe people and safe environments and to not keep knocking our head against a brick wall for approval or tradition’s sake.


“Christ accepts square pegs and does not require they fit into round holes. God has uniquely designed each of us, and truth is: Some of us don’t fit in the round hole of today’s institutional church. Yet, we spend a lifetime of misery and pain trying to.”

A “friend” responded: “What has caused such a jaded view of church?” he wrote, also questioning my “brotherly love.”

My response:

What’s “jaded” about my view? And what is scriptural about yours?

Is it jaded for the church to be an isolated island or an elite social club, barely even speaking, if at all, to the poor and indigent, lying in the ditch of life, even as we good church folk make our way through the sanctuary’s doors?

If Jesus were walking the streets today, preaching about hypocrisy among church leadership, about the expenditure of tithes and offerings on opulent temples and the puffy salaries of some pastors, would He be welcomed or excommunicated?

If the Lord pointed out within the House of God — the absence of brotherly love, the presence of cronyism, classism, racism, sexism — would He be criticized, crucified?

This is not the first, nor, I suspect, the last time that I stand accused of being “bitter” or jaded about the church.

Except I love the church. And I still can’t figure out what’s so jaded about my view? Nor what is scriptural about the current paradigm in which church as institution, for many, trumps the church as living organism — not confined or restricted to a building, place or denominational affiliation.

The love of God was extended to me by my grandmother and the saints. They urged me to work out my soul salvation “with fear and trembling.” To search the scriptures. To “hold to God’s unchanging hand.”

Nowadays I hear so many willing to protect the institution, even amid the rape and sexual abuse of children. Amid the pillaging of poor neighborhoods. Amid verbal, emotional and spiritual abuses as church leadership too often sits complicit and silent.

All the while, far too many contend that if you choose not to belong to the church as institution because you have been in some way brutalized, victimized or marginalized by it, then something must be wrong with you.

“Jaded,” you say?

Now, that’s jaded.

I hope that my mind will not “be changed” someday, as you suggest. I hope that I will remain an advocate for the poor and disenfranchised, a seeker and speaker of truth.

I am hardly perfect, not without my own mountain of faults. But this I know: I never need to be part of some religious status quo to secure eternal salvation. Jesus is my savior. Not church.

I also know that my writings about my testimony and my belief in God have appeared across the country and abroad. That many people have written me over the years to say, “Thank you…”

For letting them know they are not alone in their feelings of disconnection from the institutional church. For helping to restore their faith. For sharing the truth that even beyond the institution’s walls we can have blessed assurance of being part of the body of Christ.

The truth that worship central is in spirit and truth, as Jesus said, “where two or three are gathered together in my name.”

Even square pegs.


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