If the Church Were Christian

Where did the church go wrong? For Quaker pastor and author Philip Gulley, it’s not heeding Jesus’s central message: compassion.

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Where did the church go wrong? For Quaker pastor and author Philip Gulley, it’s not heeding Jesus’s central message: compassion.


I think a lot of Americans are disillusioned with religion because religion has been often, especially fundamental religion, a poor advertisement for the reality of God. It has been too deeply concerned about its own power, about its own wealth. It has insisted upon a level of respect it has not earned, and it has been woefully silent in critical junctures of American history. It has far too often aligned itself with the powerful and the immoral, and it has in the process neglected its responsibility for the outcast.

If the Church Were Christian

My name is Phil Gulley. I live in Danville, Indiana which is about 20 miles west of Indianapolis. I’m a Quaker pastor and a writer and pastor of Fairfield Friends Meeting, which is about 3 miles south of the Indianapolis international airport. Been there since 1826. The meeting has, not me.

I don’t think Jesus intended to start a religion. I think Jesus intended to make the religion he was in more faithful. I think Jesus understood himself as a teacher and perhaps a prophet in the line of the 8th century prophets, but this notion that Jesus came and was intending to start a new religion because Judaism was corrupt, I think that’s a poor reading of history.

The Focus of Jesus’s Ministry

If we say that Jesus did not come to start a new religion but that he understood himself as a faithful Jew who went about saying yes to the presence and work of God whenever he encountered it–and it’s clear that he did this–then we begin to look at his message, and we ask ourselves, “What were his priorities?” And it’s clear: compassion, compassion, compassion. Everywhere he went. So I think that’s the heart of Jesus’s message, and consequently I think any church which doesn’t practice compassion, which instead encourages division, separation, isolation, has lost the point.

It was just recently that Robert Jeffress, the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, informed us that God had given Donald Trump permission to use nuclear weapons against North Korea. It’s clear that once you say that, you have lost all understanding of the compassion of Jesus Christ.

If the Church Were Christian

If the church were Christian, it would welcome the other unconditionally. It would not say to gay people, “If you repent of your lifestyle, you are welcome here.” If the church were Christian, it would lose its fascination with doctrines and creeds, which to me always seem to confine the will of God to a sentence. I think if the church were Christian, it would listen deeply to the poor and to the marginalized who were the friends of Jesus. There are a few instances of Jesus befriending the powerful—the Roman centurion—but far and away more often, it turns out Jesus seemed to really seek out and welcome those whom the world had rejected, and I think if the church were Christian, it would be following that model.

Why I Stay

When someone tells me they’re disillusioned by the modern church, I totally get it. I tell them, “I am, too.” The only reason I stay in it is because I’m fortunate enough to have found a community of Quakers who are committed to being the church in their care for others, in their commitment to justice, and in their love for the underdog. If I didn’t have that, I would probably not remain in the church.


It has been an honor to serve Friends as the founder and director of QuakerSpeak. Now I am pleased to announce my next endeavor, a Quaker media project for the modern era. Find out more at TheeQuaker.org

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