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So this is what I’m thinking about today.

How Christians treat each other effects, as much as any other factor, whether or not someone stays in the faith. I wish that weren’t the case, but that at least is my experience.

I have known many over the years with stories of being badgered, beaten down, betrayed, and pushed out the door and over the edge by fellow Christians and Christian leaders.

I’m not talking about disagreements, debates, or arguments among basically good-willed people, where things might have gotten out of hand, everyone feels bad, and they eventually work it out.

I’m talking about people of ill will, for whom plain old nastiness as a game plan, a strategy, a badge of honor, evidence of strong piety that protects “the faith” at all costs and takes no prisoners.

It may have happened to you, or someone you know—caught in the sharp-cutting machinery of church and institutional politics, the dark underbelly of Christian organizations that looks more like House of Cards than the Sermon on the Mount.

Under the high-lofted banner of “defending the gospel,” backroom politicking, gossip, maligning the character of “enemies,” lying, vengeance, and even destroying people’s livelihoods are excused as regrettable yet necessary tactics in their holy war (battle metaphors abound) to root out traitors harboring “unbelief.”

I have heard with my own ears such sub-Christian behavior defended as “just business, nothing personal.” That’s what they say in The Godfather movies . . . when someone is about to get a bullet to the back of the head. Ah, but such casualties, though truly unfortunate, are deemed necessary when “truth” is compromised and “the gospel is at stake.”

But it seems for some the gospel is always at stake—whether with elections or Starbucks coffee cups.

They have mistaken their own thinking about God, their theology, with the real thing.

They have become so enamored of their own self-referential God-talk and believe their own propaganda that they can’t tell the difference.

When Christians feel crushed by such “people of God,” faith is exposed as something that just doesn’t work here and now. And if something doesn’t work, staying loses its appeal over time. Why bother? That’s why they leave.

A faith that eats its own not only drives people out but also sends up a red flare to the rest of humanity that Christianity is just another exclusive members-only club, and that Jesus is a lingering relic of antiquity, rather than a powerful, present-defining spiritual reality; a means of gaining power rather than relinquishing it. And who needs that?!

I’ve heard said that the end goal of the New Testament story is the formation of a new people of God, the church, the ekklesia, made up of people from every tribe and nation.

That makes a lot of sense to me. And that also drives home the travesty—the sin—of those who put fine-tuning their theology over the purpose for which their theology exists: to build Christian community, to be a light on a hill, salt of the earth, and a haven for the weary.

So that’s what I’m thinking today.

Pete Enns, Ph.D.

Peter Enns (Ph.D., Harvard University) is Abram S. Clemens professor of biblical studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. He has written numerous books, including The Bible Tells Me So, The Sin of Certainty, and How the Bible Actually Works. Tweets at @peteenns.