I’ve spent both ends of my commute this week listening to an excitable recovering meth addict scream into my headphones about “sexual sin” and the dangers of “De-God-ing God.” If I had to summarize, every single person I know is going to hell.

This all started a couple of years ago when my brother was “saved,” as he (and no one else in our family) likes to call it, courtesy of the ironically-titled Hollywood mega-church Reality LA. This came as a surprise, to put it delicately, and I’ve spent the time since cycling through a makeshift, more uppity version of the Kübler-Ross stages on the issue — bewilderment, disdain, amusement (it can make a great story at parties), another round of bewilderment and disdain, and, finally, anger.

Though we attended church when I was a kid, religious groups that oppose things like the existence of gay people weren’t to be trusted or validated. When this whole thing first happened, I did what I instinctively do in tough times, and tried listening to the corresponding This American Life episode for guidance (I highly recommend it).

Unexpectedly, though, my problem has lasted longer than 58 minutes, and it certainly didn’t fade into soothing music and an epilogue about how he’d eventually snapped out of it and enrolled in med school. So, a week ago I did what any mature, concerned adult would logically do next — I picked a one-sided Gchat argument with my brother about gay marriage, which is about to be legalized in our home state.

At the time it went nowhere, but a few days later, the podcasts arrived. He sent me a sermon series his pastor had recorded, divided into three sections: “Image, Gender, Covenant,” “Sexual Brokenness,” and “What about Homosexuality?” His email said he hoped I would find them a good “resource.” As it turns out, liberal guilt and religious guilt don’t work that differently, and realizing that I had clearly brought this upon myself, I decided to listen.

The pastor of Reality LA, Tim Chaddick, has a massive cult (and I do mean cult) following among vaguely-trendy young people in Los Angeles — he was even featured in a Details profile that made heavy use of “hipster” as descriptor. A formerly promiscuous meth addict, Chaddick has since been born again and has not stopped talking about any of it since.

His is a brand of religion so startlingly “old time” that its doctrines more closely resemble those of the Spanish Inquisition than, say, a William Jennings Bryan rally. Still, I thought I owed my brother a favor and might even be pleasantly surprised. This didn’t happen.

After a few minutes explaining what made his brand of evangelism less hateful than your average politicized conservative Christian and a promise to “do away with stereotypes and lies,” Pastor Tim launched into ninety minutes of what amounted to total loathing for both the self and others. In a nutshell: anyone who watches pornography “should be slaughtered,” homosexuality is a learned behavior equally offensive to God as rape and pedophilia, and masturbation, along with things like re-marrying after the death of a spouse, is completely out of the question. “People have accused us of bigotry,” Pastor Tim explains, “but it’s only bigotry if what we’re saying is wrong.” Oh.

Even though volumes could be written about just what makes all of this terrible, I still couldn’t tell you why I hate my brother’s involvement with it quite as much as I do. Of course, having an immediate family member who thinks that you and everyone you hold dear is damned for eternity isn’t ideal. And, in general, I’d rather avoid thinking about religion at all if I don’t have to — truth be told, I don’t know what I believe, and I also don’t particularly care.

In spite of this, I feel guilty. While my brother and I both seem to think the other is setting themselves up for a wasted, deeply unhappy life (or afterlife, as the case may be), only one of us is unwilling to shut up about it, and sex podcasts aside, it’s not him. Maybe if I were as deadly certain about things as he is, I would.


 

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  • http://callumjameshackett.wordpress.com/ Callum James Hackett

    I think the fact that you’re not deadly certain and won’t shut up is a good thing, as annoying as it might be to reflect on yourself at times. It is inquisitiveness and self doubt that act as a buffer against ideologies like the one that has sucked your brother in.

  • Kat

    There are a lot of things that affect our views/opinions/beliefs. One thing I can promise you is that if you sincerely want to know what the truth is (about God, religion, sexuality – all of it), just ask God to show you and be open to what he has to say. Not easy, but simple.

  • Chris

    Why do both religious conservatives and anti-religious liberals fixate on sexuality when talking about Christianity, as if that’s what the Bible is all about or the crucial issue on which our faith hangs? Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s actually all about radical love. I’d say listen to more of Chaddick’s sermons before judging, not just those on sexuality (including one titled, “When Jesus Criticizes Religion”) and keep an open heart and a searching mind, as Kat suggested below.

  • Isaac

    The point is not that you’re damned for your behavior. The point is that God loved you more than anyone could possibly have done by becoming a man, dying on a cross and taking the penalty that you (read: all humanity) should have paid. The problem is that we don’t think we need saving, so we give God the finger and do things our own way. No one wants you to be damned. But anyone who rejects what Jesus has done for them gets what they want in the end. For all who trust in Jesus, the end is just the beginning. Jesus defeated death when he was raised from the dead, and he offers new life to anyone who believes. If any of that resonates with you, please open yourself up long enough to talk with your brother and seek answers to questions rather than start an ideological debate.

  • Celeste McIntyre

    I remember before I understood the love of God (rather than just the judgement that made me feel guilty) I couldn’t stand Bible Thumpers. But what it really came down to is that I simply didn’t like the fact that maybe I was wrong in my views. As much as our society told me I had to look out for myself, build myself up, etc… I was miserable, confused and suicidal. Once I started taking God at His Word, and started loving Him and others, my life changed for the better. I have peace, I have joy… and I don’t miss one bit those things that used to make me feel guilty.

    Yeah, as humans in a very free country, we don’t like to hear that we’re sinners or that our choices go against God… so we get angry and say we don’t believe in God. We want what we want and nobody is going to tell us otherwise. That’s the nation we live in.

    I’m just thankful that God didn’t shut up, and that He finally got my attention.

  • Bummed

    Virginia,

    As someone who is very confused about what he believes, I find this blog post to be incredibly mean-spirited, undeniably ignorant, and generally inappropriate. I love philosophy and obviously value reason. It seems like you do, too. Your post is written with the presumption that conservative Christianity is all together unreasonable and vacuous. You don’t need me to tell you that you’re free to your own opinion and should be encouraged to express your emotions re: your brother’s conversion; however, there is a lack of emotional and argumentative balance in your diatribe. I mean, if you really think this whole Christian thing is setting your brother and every other person in the church on to a path of unhappiness and confusion, then do you think its most effective handle the problem with anger and hasty judgment? If you really want your brother to see that his beliefs and or lifestyle is destructive, it’s not a mean spirited blog post that will change his mind. You bring understanding to people by listening, empathizing, and supporting them in love. In order to grow, each one of us has to feel connected and comfortable with those teaching us or else we shut down and fail to listen. I admire your passion for knowledge and justice, but I was really saddened by this post.

  • Ken Chen

    God loves you. He died for you. He also loves gay people and died for them. Your brother loves you very much too.

  • Bob Carton

    I like this post. Perhaps it could have been presented in a more productive and less offensive way to the good people of Reality, but you know what…your anger and frustration is understood. The comments before mine are the evidence to a group of people – well meaning people – who refuse to listen and entertain a fair discussion. Christians just want to slam their dogma down your throat and refuse to admit they’re wrong. Their decision to ignore the reality for the good men around them increases the struggle for Christian churches to remain relevant with each passing year. Every Christian I’ve met is in denial and they think it’s the other way around – that the secular world has turned their backs to Jesus.

    It’s frustrating if your brother subscribes to any way of thinking that you see is flawed. It’s frustrating when the flaws are so obvious and people choose to ignore the flaws just for the sake of not having to admit they’re wrong.

    But rest assured, we all subscribe to something and often with stubbornness and even stupidity. Might as well be religion because I’ll take a hypocrite bigot who is sexually repressed with distorted views of science and sexuality who is at least trying to make the world a better place in other departments. Churches do so much for the community in a world where the secular world is filled with its own holes of a different sort than that of Christianity.

    The secular world thirsts for sermons and the constant reminder to choose moral paths. Religion isn’t the right answer but for so many people til this day – it’s the best answer for now for what it does for their lives.

    So be frustrated with your brother’s choice – but look for the good in his choice where possible.

  • Does it matter?

    I am sorry that you feel that reality LA is a cult. That couldn’t be anything further from the truth. I wish that people who did not like religion of any sort..take Christianity, for example, would lay off the “homosexual” topic. Sin is sin. Why doesn’t anyone ask the biblical view on gossip, slander, abuse, over-eating, or greed… how about pride?? Something that every single human being is guilty of. God says more about pride in the bible, than He does about homosexuality. Maybe you should spend some time reading the bible from the first page to the last page and find out what God thinks or who He is for yourself. As opposed to listening to a few podcasts and then determining that throwing Pastor Tim’s past on a blog and falsely accusing him makes you sound intelligent. It doesn’t it makes you sound very judgmental.. which is kind of ironic. Isn’t it? Considering that you feel judged by God’s view and man’s sermon sharing God’s word..
    The thing that people don’t understand is that God is God. Period. You can argue that until your last breath. However, you WILL have to face Him. We all will. And no matter how cool, intelligent, funny, sarcastic, or undermining we are… He sees and hears everything. The beautiful thing about Pastor Tim is that he OPENLY shares his past and he is the kindest pastor I have ever met. Being raised in LA you meet a lot of dark souls. He brings light wherever he is. I suggest you go out to church with your brother and challenge this once non-believer yourself. Many of my friends have. He talks with anyone who wants to ask questions and he does not get offended. He has more compassion for people who don’t believe than anyone I know. Some of my friends still don’t believe BUT they have a lot of respect for Pastor Tim because he was not abrasive to them after service. They really liked him and look up to him because he is an intellect. I hope you find your way out of judgement and confusion..

    • Sir Jorge

      I’m sorry that you don’t know the meaning of the word cult, or how to properly decipher it when it is alive and well. Perhaps Walter Martin’s book on the topic may shine light, or “Churches that Abuse” or read about the churches like “The Door” that seem to really like to push this notion of superior doctrine out of a drug overdose pastor coming to the “light”. Sadly, people love the fallen rockstar that springs to life as a “new” person with bible in hand.

  • Ed from Oakland

    Virginia – I was moved by your blog entry. I wasn’t able to find the exact tapes you heard, but I did listen to one of Tim Chaddick’s sermons on homosexuality. I understand your concern for your brother, but I wouldn’t call Reality LA a cult. It seems to me to be a pretty mainstream evangelical church, and Pastor Tim is preaching what most evangelical ministers have been saying for years. Evangelical leaders find themselves in a tough position right now. Society’s views on homosexuality have changed dramatically in just the last decade. I know many pastors who struggle deeply with how to interpret the New Testament’s teaching on homosexuality without alienating gay members or attenders. A pastor’s job (especially if he or she is evangelical) is primarily to point the way to Jesus as the savior of humankind. (One can believe that or not, but believing it doesn’t make one a cult follower.) It’s true that sexual orientation has nothing to do with whether God loves us or not, but when the Bible says that homosexual behavior is not something Christians should engage in, it’s a pastor’s responsibility to teach that. Then again, no one is off the hook. The Bible speaks just as strongly (and with great clarity) against greed, sexual abuse, violence against women, injustice, and any number of unloving behaviors, many of which you are probably against as well. I hope I don’t sound like I’m preaching to you. You might, however, want to do a little more research on Reality LA before writing it off as a dangerous cult.

  • Sir Jorge

    I loved this post. You’re spot on. People defending the notion that Reality LA is not a cult, didn’t read Walter Martin’s book “Kingdom of the Cults” or didn’t learn anything from things like Jonestown. I see this type of church spring up here and there, and was even involved with The Lighthouse Church in Santa Monica, and people swear up and down that they aren’t cults. Then when the spiritual abuse subtly starts, they just assume it’s part of the “sanctification” process. Everyone seems to miss the point at these churches, mainly that part about “Love one another”, “Love your neighbor”. I can assure you, if you’re not a “hipster” you get no love from this sect, as I would know after visiting a service and getting the cold shoulder from everyone. I should’ve worn plaid, I knew it.