Why Relationshipism?

Other essays address what Reliationshipism is, and why it cannot be what God wants of Christians (see links below). Today I want to explore why it should be such a popular religion among otherwise conservative Christians.

Relationshipism is very simple. It is the advocacy of mutual affirmation, neither more nor less. "Be Nice." It is Everything Robert Fulghum Needed to Know, which he learned in kindergarten. Kindergartens (and almost all the rest of the American edu-factory establishment) are run by Relationshipists, and they make sure you know it very well. That's why the USA ranks first among all nations in self-esteem (which is about receiving affirmation), while dead last among industrial nations in math and science (which is about earning that affirmation). It's not hard to make a church that teaches primarily what everybody already learned in kindergarten.

1+2C (the First and Second Great Commandments, the religion taught primarily by Jesus and Paul and others in the Bible) is also pretty simple. Give first priority at all times to God and what God commands, then treat everybody else the same as you want to be treated. It gets a little tricky when the other person has different preferences or a different personality type than yourself, or is confused or illogical, because you really need to be doing for them what you would want if you were that personality type and thinking clearly. That takes effort, mostly to figure out what that is. It also goes against our natural selfishness.

So I guess a superficial Relationshipism is simpler and less work than honest 1+2C. Easy always has the advantage over Good in commanding our allegiance.

Relationshipism is even easier in American churches, which are run by and for the exclusive benefit of Relationshipists, because everybody there is already trying to affirm you back. 1+2C is also easier inside the churches, because when everybody is (or can be assumed to be) a Relationshipist, being nice to them is what everybody wants, so it's a no-brainer. Of course that leaves out the other half of the population, the Thinkers who never darken the door of a church because it's so hostile to their values (Truth and Justice), but mutual affirmation works better between people of the same personality type. The problem is that Jesus told the Church to go out and make disciples of everybody, not just Feelers. Oh, that's so disaffirming, let's not do that. Relationshipists don't read their Bibles very carefully, so discontinuities like that don't really bother them much. They affirm the pastor (by paying him and saying what a nice sermon it was when he told them of "God's unconditional love," which not in any Bible, but he doesn't get paid to preach what the Bible really says), and it's the pastor's job to go out and try to persuade people to become Christians.

So the preachers (Relationshipists all of them) preach all the more vigorously about "God's unconditional love," which they know is in the Bible somewhere, and the Feelers (sometimes bringing their reluctant Thinker husbands) come to church and feel good about themselves, and the Thinkers mostly stay away, which everybody -- including the pastor -- knows is because they didn't feel loved (affirmed), so everybody tries harder to affirm them gratuitously, and the Thinkers feel even more repulsed because it's not True. And nobody has a clue, because the only people the Relationshipists know are Relationshipists. The Feeler women know their Thinker husbands are different, but they assume it's because they are immature and "out of touch with their inner feelings." Which is nonsense. Thinkers have (and know about) feelings, but feelings are less important to them than Truth and Justice. If they'd read the Bible, they'd know that's what the Bible also teaches, but nobody convincingly urges them to do that, especially not the Relationshipists who really don't want to be seeing those things in the Bible.

The Church should be preaching Truth and Justice. The Bible teaches Truth and Justice. But mutual affirmation is so much easier than figuring out what is True and Just and making it happen. Especially for a Feeler (Relationshipist). So the pastors preach what they know and wish, and everybody feels good. And the Thinkers stay home, so nobody challenges the pastor to find what he just preached in the Bible -- after all, that would be disaffirming -- and everybody (inside the churches) feels good about themselves.

And half of the American people go to Hell, because nobody cared about them enough to figure out that if they heard a Biblical message -- not affirmation, but Truth and Justice -- they would become Christians. Three thousand people heard Peter preach Truth and Justice on Pentecost day, and three thousand people became Christians that day. Twenty times in the book of Acts, somebody preached to one or more unbelievers about Truth and Justice, and never once did anybody say "God loves you." [The word "love" is never mentioned to any unbeliever in any context in the whole Bible -- except Nicodemus, but Jesus never told him "God loves you, Nicodemus." God loved the world He created.]

But "God loves you unconditionally" is so much more affirming. It's easier for a Feeler to say -- hey, it's even easier (but somewhat dishonest) for a Thinker to say, but Thinkers have been trained their whole lives (starting in kindergarten) to lie to Feelers, and the Feelers accept that. They even want it.

God probably disagrees, but whoever cared what God thinks.

If the Bible teaches 1+2C (and it does), and if God is sovereign over the whole universe (and He is), and if Jesus Christ is Lord over his Church (and he is), why is the church dominated today by Relationshipism? It has not always been so.

Relationshipism is something like Roman Catholicism was 500 years ago: Important church doctrine comes from somewhere other than the Bible. At least the Papists were honest enough to admit truthfully where their doctrines came from, but where is the modern Martin Luther, to call the church out of its medieval heresy and back to the teachings of the Bible? However, both the Catholics and the Relationshipists confess Jesus as Lord, and believe in their hearts that God raised him from the dead, so according to the Apostle Paul, both are Christian believers. Maybe that's good enough for God.

Relationshipism is pretty close to the true Christian faith, just not spot on. The Relationshipist (most Feelers and church members are women) considers herself to be in a "relationship" with Jesus, wich is pretty close to the First Great Commandment, that is, the Triune God is important in her life. Relationshipism is self-centered, how the believer feels about the relationship in her own heart, so it misses the true supremacy of God, but it's close. I know a lot of Relationshipists who have grown in their own faith past the selfishness inherent in Relationshipism, so maybe God will and does get them to complete Biblical faith through the back door. Being Nice is generally a good thing to do for other Relationshipists, so when they do that, they also meet the requirements of the Second Commandment. Unfortunately, that misses the other half of the population, but you know how that line goes, "Half a loaf is better than none." Maybe that's good enough for God.

And then again, maybe not. God told His Prophet Ezekiel,

When I say to a wicked man, 'You will surely die,' and you do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his evil ways in order to save his life, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. Ezek. 3:18 (oNIV)
I wouldn't want to be in the shoes of the Relationshipist preacher on Judgment Day. They are not giving effective warning to half of the people, to all the Thinkers out there, the people to whom Truth is more important than a God who "loves" them.

Tom Pittman
2013 November 4


Why Relationshipism is so popular among conservative Christians (you are here)
The arguments (For and) Against Relationshipism
The Counterfeit Religion of Relationships, comparing Relationshipism to 1+2C
Relationships, concluding that people mean "affirmation" by that word
A Case Study in Moral Ambiguity
Relationshipism, defining the term (2008 October 31 blog post)
God of Truth, a draft of what might eventually become a book
Men Are from Mars, a list of specific Thinker/Feeler differences
The bottom of my home page, a challenge to do something about it
Getting Men into the Church through Apologetics, what one church is doing about it
Thinker/Feeler Distinction (October 27 blog post)