By Norris Burkes March 13 2020

Who Made You Stop Going to Church?

Are you among the few who are planning to give church another try during the Lenten season?

There are many reasons you might have taken a sabbatical from church. Perhaps you took offense in something the church did. Or maybe you were put off by a church scandal related to money or sex. Or maybe you can’t sit still for the sermons.  

If this happened to you, I can identify with you. I could have easily made the same decision on the day I left for college.

My high school church youth group was co-led by a petite woman in who flashed a bright smile while pitching her loaded question, “Have you received the gift of the Holy Spirit?”

The question is not unlike asking, “Have you stopped beating your wife?” the query was  was impossible to answer. If I said, “Yes,” she’d lay out her Bible like a religious yardstick to determine if my Holy Spirit measured up to hers.

If I said “No,” I confirmed her first impression that I wasn’t a very good Christian.

Worse yet, a “no” answer brought more questions such as, “Aren’t you interested in the filling of the Holy Ghost?” or “Don’t you want to be healed?”

Her most loaded question was, “Do you want to speak in tongues?” (Now, if you don’t know about “tongues,” read the New Testament book of Acts. But it’s still unlikely you’ll understand — neither did I, really.)

However, judging by her ecclesiastical syntax, I believe she was referring to an ecstatic and unintelligible language spoken by thousands of people in charismatic churches. The language wasn’t the problem. The problem was that this was the Southern Baptist Church my dad pastored – not a charismatic church.

If you’ve ever been turned off by religion, you were likely the victim of one of these or other similarly loaded questions – fired by the sanctimonious into innocent bystanders with much the same insensitivity as the infamous drive-by shooters.

These inquisitors reduce spirituality to some kind of test that only they can pass with questions such as: “Don’t you believe in Jesus? Don’t you want the spirit in your life?” or “If you were to die tonight, did you know you’ll go to hell?”

How do you answer questions like that? My best answer was to use a quote from a more moderate pastor of her tradition. When asked whether these kinds of spirit-fillings were a requirement of faith, the Rev. Jack Taylor simply responded, “Somebody might, nobody must, and I haven’t.”

However, this woman could never hear that answer. She thought, “Everybody must!” and she never abandoned her attempt to make me bilingual with her Holy Spirit. Honestly, I think she believed that the ecstatic language could cure everything from depression to my raging acne.

Fellow columnist Carolyn Hax has suggested that we search for people’s “nutritional label” and ask if they are worth the time. If not, she says, “Friends with a low decency content need to be treated as junk food.”

I think the same problem occurs in our efforts to find a spiritual community too. Some people and places are just gonna be junk food, but we can also find quality people when we make the effort to look for them.

At the end of the day, spiritual junk food doesn’t “fill” you any more than this woman’s version of the “holy” spirit. You only encounter God through a spiritual relationship. And as in all relationships, you ask questions, converse, you can even lose your temper, but you will also learn to laugh at yourself and forgive others.

In the meantime, if you are tempted to use this column to affirm that old assertion that “The church is filled with too many hypocrites,” I say give it another chance. I did. And you know what I found? There was plenty of room for one more.


Contact Norris at or 10566 Combie Rd. Suite 6643 Auburn, CA 95602 or voicemail (843) 608-9715.