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Wash, Rinse, Dry and Repeat: What Happens When Jesus Doesn’t Fix What Ails You

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Jesus told his disciples in John 15:5, without me, ye can do nothing, and in Matthew 19:26, Jesus said with men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible. The Apostle Paul told Athenian idolaters that one true God was he who gives to all men not only life and breath, but all things (Acts 17). In his New Testament writings, Paul, the founder of Christianity, advances the notion that God is the sovereign of the universe and that everything that happens is according to his purpose and plan. Paul cautions Christians about trying to live life in their own strength, that doing so will end in failure. He wrote in Philippians 4:13, I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. The negative inference is clear, I can’t do anything without Christ, echoing Jesus’s words in John 15, without me, ye can do nothing.

Evangelicals believe that humans are inherently broken, born with a sin nature, and at variance with the Christian God. According to Evangelicals, everyone, from fertilized eggs in the womb to infants and from children to centenarians, is predisposed to sin — sin being the transgression of the law of God in thought, word, and deed. Countless human behaviors, especially those of a sexual nature, are, according to the Bible — an ancient religious text supposedly written by the Christian God — violations of God’s law. Unbelievers — people who have not asked Jesus to save them from their sins — are told that God hates sin and those who do it, and the only way to gain God’s favor is to prostrate oneself before the thrice-holy God and confess that you are a worthless worm deserving of eternal punishment in Hell; that the only person who can save you from your sin is Jesus. If you humble yourself before God, begging him for deliverance from your sin, God will forgive you of your sins (but only if you are one of the elect, according to Calvinists). Once you have sufficiently humbled yourself before God and he has saved you, God, in the form of the Holy Spirit, takes up residence in your “heart.”

Once people have been saved, they are instructed to rely on God to lead and direct their lives. Their “sin natures” haven’t been eradicated, so Christians must rely on the Holy Spirit to guide them through a world bent on destroying them. Evangelicals are frequently reminded by their pastors about the importance of studying the Bible, tithing, praying, tithing, and faithfully attending church. Yet, despite all of these things, Evangelicals continue to sin, often at levels equaling or exceeding that of the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world.

Even those who are called men of God — people who supposedly have a close relationship with God — are not immune from sinning. These preachers of righteousness and holiness often commit the very sins they thunder against each and every Lord’s Day. And as the Black Collar Crime series reveals, preachers can and do rape, steal, molest children, and murder. While defenders of all things Evangelical will say that while such reports are disturbing, most pastors don’t do such things; certainly they would be right, but what is never addressed is the how and why these things happen. If God is who Evangelicals say he is and the Holy Spirit lives inside every believer, why is there so much sinning going on among Christians and their leaders? Why does rarely a day go by without one or more Evangelical preachers appearing in the news for some sort of sexual crime? And these are just the ones caught with their pants down!

Evangelicals practice what I call wash, rinse, dry, and repeat. These followers of Jesus are commanded to daily confess their sins. I John 1:8-10 states:

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

Weekly, daily, and hourly Evangelicals plead with their sin-forgiving God to wash their “hearts” clean. Without any proof besides feelings of relief or words found in an ancient religious text, Evangelicals believe that sincere prayers of repentance are met with God’s forgiveness. With their sins forgiven, Evangelicals return to a world awash in sin, promising God that they will not succumb to temptation and the snares of Satan. Yet, moments or hours later, Evangelicals find themselves yet again in need of confessing their sins and seeking forgiveness from God. It is for this reason that Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) luminary John R. Rice encouraged Christians to “keep [their] sin lists short.” Rice suggested that when Christians become aware they have sinned they should immediately stop and confess the sin and seek forgiveness. Since Evangelicals sin in thought, word, and deed, following Rice’s admonition would require them to continuously pray. If only the Bible had something to say about this. Oh wait, it does! 1 Thessalonians 5:17 states, praying without ceasing.

Several years ago, a person I know well was arrested for DUI and sentenced to ninety days in jail as a repeat offender. This man has had numerous arrests for a variety of crimes. Father to numerous children with several women, this man has spent much of his life battling drug addiction. Having had and lost countless well-paying jobs and having ruined his relationship with his family, his life, a tragedy to behold, is a screaming example of the failure of Jesus to fix what ails the human race.

This man was raised in an Evangelical home, attended a private Christian school, and was surrounded by extended family who were preachers of the gospel. His parents lived what is best described as up-and-down lives, in and out of church as they dealt with familial, marital, and employment problems. Counseled by pastors to GET RIGHT WITH GOD, they would return to the church, often coming to the church altar to confess their sin and renew their commitment to Christ. And for months or years their renewed devotion would give the appearance of a family happily in love with Jesus. And then, as sure as the sun comes up in the morning, Satan and the lusts of the flesh — according to their pastors — would trip them up, causing them to fall headlong into sin. Often they would remain in the pigsty of sin for months or years before one of God’s men convinced them to return to church to do business with God. This endless cycle of sin, confess, repent, forsake, repeat was played out dozens of times over the years, leading to untold psychological and physical harm.

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The drug-addict son, following what has been modeled to him by his family, has run from Evangelical church to Evangelical church, hoping to find the forgiveness of sins and victory over his many addictions. At these churches, he is met at the door by preachers who promise him that Jesus can fix whatever ails him. GET RIGHT WITH GOD, he is told, by Evangelical family and strangers alike. If he will just confess his sins and seek forgiveness, Jesus will swoop in and give him victory over crack, PCP, meth, alcohol, and his love of sexual immorality. His devoutly Evangelical grandparents continue to pray, encouraging their sinful grandson to get back in church so he can get the help he needs.

This rolling train wreck has been going on for over a decade, with no end in sight. Those closest to him continue to encourage him to cast all his cares on Jesus, telling him that if he will do so, Christ will give him victory over his addictions. No one dares to suggest — I am not within his circle of influence — that Jesus and his deliverance peddlers are the problem; that Evangelical beliefs concerning human nature, sin, and forgiveness are actually hurting this man, not helping him; that the best thing he could do is get as far away as possible from Christian family members and preachers who are trying to “help” him; that the church and Jesus are in a codependent relationship with him, and are in no position to offering lasting help.

Those of us raised in the Evangelical church know well the wash, rinse, dry, and repeat way of living. Frequently reminded of our sins by preachers, evangelists, Evangelical writers, and the Bible, we spent countless hours confessing our sins and seeking God’s forgiveness. The churches we attended would call for special meetings where revivalist preachers would come in and stomp on our feet with old-fashioned hellfire and brimstone preaching. Countless time was spent on our knees crying out to God, pleading for forgiveness and deliverance from sins of commission and omission. Sufficiently revived, off we would go, ready to slay our adversary Satan, tearing down strongholds by and through the mighty power of God.

Over time, worldly complacency would set in, and we would need yet another reviving, another impartation of God’s mighty Spirit. Is it any wonder that many Christians weary of the sin, confess, repent, forsake, repeat process and give up or practice the time-honored Evangelical spiritual discipline of “fake it until you make it”? Spend enough time in Evangelicalism and you will learn expected behaviors, complete with a language code to be used to give the appearance of living life as a Jesus-loving, Satan-hating, sin-forsaking Christian. The Apostle Paul himself approved of this approach when he told the Church at Thessalonica to, abstain from all appearance of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:22).

It is evident, at least to me, that Evangelicalism stands in the way of people truly dealing with and overcoming negative behaviors. Over its long history, the Christian church has used fear of judgment and punishment to keep people dependent on God for the forgiveness of behaviors deemed sinful by the church. Over time, the sin lists changed, but one fact remains: Evangelicals cannot find victory over sin in their own strength, and only God can forgive and deliver them. Failure to seek forgiveness results in God chastising (punishing) them for their sin. Want to avoid the punishment of the BDSM-loving God? Evangelicals are told to prostrate themselves before God and beg for forgiveness.

Perhaps it is time for Evangelicals to tell God to take a hike. What has he done for them anyway? Instead of granting them victory over sin, he keeps them dependent on him, often allowing temptations that cause them to fail. What we would think of a person who left meth on the nightstand of his guest room while his recovering drug addict friend was staying with him. Yet, this is exactly what God does. He tempts and tries, and even causes people to fail. Why? Because he wants Christians to love him more and seek his forgiveness. In other words, he is the abusive husband who beats his wife so she will love him more. As is often the case in matters of domestic abuse, removal from the immediate circumstance and divorce is often warranted. Perhaps Evangelicals need to tell God See ya later and turn their attention to finding lasting solutions to issues such as drug addiction. Not only is Jesus not the solution, but he is also the problem. As long as Evangelicals refuse to see this, they will remain trapped in a constant state of wash, rinse, dry, and repeat.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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    dale m.

    But here’s the thing. They don’t believe. Actions speak louder than words. So how come not one evangelical preacher tried to bring serial child-killer Clifford Olson to Christ ? Fear! The fear that it wouldn’t really work and they would be tainted with trying to get a serial child-killer released. They really do know what works and what doesn’t, don’t they ?!?

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    I feel bad about that drug addict. It’s devilishly (heh) hard to overcome such a thing, but without real rehabilitation, through serious programs and counseling, it’s got to be nearly impossible. Okay, I’ve heard of a handful of people who did overcome drug addiction by turning to God. Maybe they then made God their addiction? That would certainly explain their zealous self-righteousness.

    Anyway, very sad. And complete ineffectual.

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    “It is evident, at least to me, that Evangelicalism stands in the way of people truly dealing with and overcoming negative behaviors.”

    yep it does. It promises help and then when help never comes, it blames the victim.

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    Evangelicalism tells us all that we were conceived as pieces of filth that can’t trust our own understanding and that all our works are garbage. It poses as a solution pledging fealty to a God that devised a system whereby it became human, lived as human while conducting supernatural miracles, but was beaten and killed and rose from the dead. This supposedly omnipotent deity could only come up with that system because it loves itself some blood sacrifice – that the burning of sacrifices is pleasant to its nostrils. Instead of saying, my bad, I made you guys and you didn’t pass my fruit-eating obedience test, I FORGIVE YOU and will set you to rights, it said, now you have to suffer and go through this whole belief in my devised solution and pledge your eternal obeisance and fealty to ME!

    Is it any wonder that evangelicals think the problem is them? Evangelicalism teaches them to go down front and seek forgiveness, and you’re all good. You don’t need therapy or behavior modification or coping skills, a dose of Jesus will fix you for awhile. Just come back for a crying repentance session when you mess up again. Catholicism isn’t better – go confess to the priest and say the magic chants (Hail Mary or Our Father) and you’re forgiveness until the next time you screw up. And forget about the whole law thing, we don’t want outsiders to think Christians do bad things – let’s just cover this up quietly….

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    I am going out on a limb here…
    I spent over 20 years with an alcoholic/addict and during this time is when I officially de-converted. I always questioned my religious upbringing, or rather, the various ideologies I was brainwashed with, but officially “lost my religion” during this time period.
    I prayed so hard for this person to “see the light”. I prayed for his safety and prayed he would be “cured” of his addictions by this “all-knowing, loving and compassionate god” that never existed. Nothing happened. Nothing of substance. He would go to rehab, get treatment only to relapse again and again. Wash, rinse, repeat.
    Again, I would ask myself and exclaim to this “loving deity”, “why don’t you cure him”??!! Help never came. The AA always came to the realization that he needed help as a very last resort, usually under the threat of jail or because he was out of money or resources-or he was in dire straits with his health and safety; not because some arbitrary god intervened. Over and over and over…FOR YEARS.
    During this period of time is when I seriously asked the hard questions and let my guard down and decided I needed to know if there really was a cruel deity orchestrating this whole torturous event or not. This is when I had to take a long, hard look at my indoctrination and belief system and was no longer afraid of the “damnation” that was coming my way, per the Southern Baptist way of reasoning, because of my doubt. I needed to know and I needed to know, fast. This man I cared about was dying and this so-called “god” wasn’t doing anything about it.
    I call the night of reckoning, “my midnight gardening”. I was physically in my garden pulling weeds in the middle of the night, with spot lights I had set up, crying out to this fake entity. You know, the one who never answered me back in my entire life. The one I called upon as an innocent child-the one I called upon during the worst parts of my life but help never came. The very one I couldn’t get to intervene in this man’s life to save him from his addictions. You know; THAT one.
    This particular night was a pivotal moment in time-one that allowed me to drop the guilt and shame for questioning my brainwashing and go back to reason and science-this man has an addiction that he can’t control and isn’t caused by “sin” but by genetics and brain chemistry. It can’t be cured by merely “praying” it away and science hasn’t come up with any solid answers, to date. I came to realize. on that particular night, that there wasn’t a mean-spirited, hateful god that just liked to fuck with people. That was the night I realized this cruel abuser didn’t really exist and I wasn’t born to be tortured and abused by some deity and all its followers and that this man I really cared about was in a world of trouble; not because of some stupid notion of a. “sinful nature”, but because he drew the short straw in life and had an incurable and uncontrollable disease. This was the beginning of the end of religion for me. l can truly relate to this particular message and felt compelled to comment.

    I am in therapy and have been for some time. The AA is currently in jail and awaiting trial, as of this writing.

    I hope these words can impact someone else and help them along in life when they love and care about an alcoholic/addict. “God” isn’t a be-all-end-all because he doesn’t exist and until we de-stigmatize addiction and get religion out of the equation, I don’t believe modern science can make advances to help the addicted.
    That’s my two cents.

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        Thank you so much for your kindness. I’ve come to realize the kindest, most compassionate people who leave their judgement and egos at the door, are always those without religion. It gives me hope in humanity. It’s a real shame Christianity can’t see the error of its ways and I typically have to rely on complete strangers for comfort and comradery. I am in Texas and I am surrounded by the religious right who think everything negative in life is caused by sin and a devil and therefore-I(we) need Jesus instead of friendship and kindness. It makes for a lonely existence.

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      Thank you very much for the courage to share your story, Lacy. I’m really really sorry that you had to struggle through all of that, while waiting for a divine help that never came.

      I haven’t got any loved ones with addiction issues. One distant uncle is an alcoholic but I never really talk to him. He apparently turns violent every time he gets drunk and my dad once had a traumatic experience witnessing this man’s outburst, something my dad remembers to this day. And to this very day, my dad thinks that the solution is Jesus – if only this man accepts and believes in Jesus, he will be sorted. In the past, I used to believe the same thing, but now I’m not so sure anymore.

      After all, during my loneliest nights, when I cried out to God for help, nothing ever happened. Christians never came to help me either. When I needed concrete solutions, they offered me pious mumbo-jumbo.
      When I needed human touch, friendship, and companionship, they asked me to visualise the warm embrace of Jesus.
      I’m sick of the non-solutions – which they themselves could not put into action, anyway.

      Thank you so much, Lacy. Your story touches me.

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Bruce Gerencser