JOHN PEARRELL: God commands us to love our brothers and sisters

Author Anne Rice, in "Called Out of Darkness: A Spiritual Confession," has a powerful personal story about her relationship with Jesus. She grew up in the church, but left it as a young adult. In her 50s, she rejected her decades-long atheism and returned to church, for 10 years.

Then she made this announcement on her Facebook page: "Today I quit being a Christian. I'm out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being Christian or to being part of Christianity. It's simply impossible for me to 'belong' to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group" (Source: Andy Stanley's Christian DVD/Small Group Study Curriculum).

Ouch. I am sure that there are a whole lot of Christians who, after reading that statement, question Ms. Rice's faith. But the truth is, we Christians can be quarrelsome, hostile and disputatious, so it is no wonder people like Anne Rice are driven away from Christianity as it is commonly practiced today.

Some of you reading this article may be identifying with Ms. Rice saying, "That's me!"

I am one of those increasingly rare people who have been in church all their lives. So what I am about to say I say from an insider's perspective. I am convinced that when most Christians use the phrase, "I'm only speaking the truth," what we are really saying is, "I am using this excuse to be mean!"

It's no wonder then that people like Anne Rice write, "It's simply impossible for me to 'belong' to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group."

The story is told of Alexander the Great who was conquering the world of his day. We are told that Alexander had a particular hatred for cowardice in the face of battle, and any soldier shirking his duties at such a time automatically earned the death penalty from this great conqueror.

After one heated battle, people were being brought before Alexander and one after the other the pronouncement of death was given. During this procedure a young man was brought before the king with the charge of fleeing in the face of battle.

For some inexplicable reason, the king was moved with compassion toward this young man, and instead of giving him the death penalty, Alexander counseled the boy, received assurances from him that his failure would not be repeated, and dismissed him to return to his unit.

As the boy turned away, the king inquired, "Young man, what is your name?" The boy emboldened by what he had just experienced turned back to the king and said in a loud clear voice, "Sir, my name is Alexander."

Historians tell us that at that moment the countenance of the great king changed, and leaping from his throne, he grabbed the boy by the throat lifting him off the ground, and screamed, "Young man, either change your conduct or change your name!"

I wonder if the Lord of the church doesn't often feel like doing that to those of us who call ourselves Christians yet live in ways that are so un-Christlike.

Here's the test: "If we say we love God, but hate our brothers and sisters, we are liars. For people cannot love God, whom they have not seen, if they do not love their brothers and sisters, whom they have seen. The command that Christ has given us is this: all who love God must love their brother or sister also" (1 John 4:20 21, GNB).

Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church in Covington. For more information, visit the Gateway website at www.gatewaycommunity.org.