If there were such a thing as evangelical royalty, Anne Graham Lotz would be the crown princess. Billy Graham's daughter is an author and preacher who has led revivals for tens of thousands of people around the globe. But having a recognizable last name doesn't mean she always feels comfortable in church. In her new book, The Magnificent Obsession, Graham Lotz writes about feeling alienated at times from "religious people" and pursuing her own religious calling despite the disapproval of her famous parents.
You dedicated the book to everyone who has ever felt disconnected or hurt by organized religion. Given the growing numbers who have switched religions or left a church, that's a lot of people.
That's one reason I had to write this book. Even in my own life, I've found that religion can be one of the greatest impediments to finding God. And by "religion," I don't mean "faith." I mean rituals, creeds, traditions, and often leaders all of our means of trying to connect with God. They can get in the way of developing a relationship with God.
Are you saying that Christians are better off staying away from churches?
No, no. As burned as I've been by local churches and by people who call themselves in God's name, Jesus gave us the church. It's supposed to be a community of like-minded people who encourage and strengthen each other. But that's not how it always works. Religious people, often within the organized church, have been the most critical of and even hostile to my relationship with God.
There are several stories in the book about you being hurt by the actions of church members, such as when your husband was removed from a leadership position. How difficult has that been?
It's unfortunate. I feel my relationship with God is strong enough that when other Christians have treated me wrongly, I can sort it out and know that's not God. But I think it's more difficult for many people to make that distinction. When they're hurt by the church, they feel hurt by God as well. And so sometimes their tendency is to reject God as well as his people.
Why do you use Abraham to explore finding faith and God outside of the church?
Abraham is such a fascinating figure. Three world religions Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all claim him as a patriarch. He was raised in a religious home. And yet he rejected religion in order to pursue a personal relationship with God.
You write about the fact that God ordered Abraham to leave behind his family, a command that Jesus gave his disciples as well. Do you believe that's still a requirement for following God's will?
When Jesus says you must leave your family to follow him, he doesn't necessarily mean physically. He means leave your dependence on them, make an emotional break with them. For me, that meant I had to be willing to step outside the opinions of my parents when I started Bible Study Fellowship [a Bible school for laywomen in North Carolina].
I was surprised to hear that your parents didn't support your involvement.
You have to understand that the traditional role of women in my family had been to take care of the children and the home. Even my grandmother, who had been a businesswoman and a medical missionary in China, resumed that role when they returned.
So when I started stepping outside the home to start this course, it went against my family's tradition. Now, it didn't take long for my parents to come around. They showed up one day at a lecture without telling me, and they heard testimony of lives changed and they saw that my family was doing fine, that my house was relatively straight. They did an about-face, but I had to be willing to set aside their opinions if they had continued to disapprove.
You write that often instead of following God's will, people try to compromise by doing some of what they think they're supposed to while still staying within a comfort zone.
You know, God sent Abraham to Canaan, but Abraham didn't go to Canaan he stopped 200 miles out, in Haran. And it just didn't work. Compromising with God never does. There are a lot of people living in Haran. They call themselves Christians and they probably are, but they haven't gone all the way. It took Abraham 40 years to get to the point where he put his total trust in God.
What lesson do you draw from Abraham's story?
Abraham wasn't perfect. He failed a lot. He got into complicated situations because he did the wrong thing. But he never quit. Like him, I've made plenty of mistakes. There's this prosperity message out there today that tells people God blesses you by giving you a problem-free life. When life is good and we have no problems, we can almost let ourselves believe we have no need for God. But in my experience, sometimes the richest blessings come through pain and hard things.