“I guess real religion is about knowing we’re not perfect, but trying to be better… together!”
The above definition of church might not pass muster in a seminary class, but it’s not bad, especially coming from one of my favorite Netflix comedy series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
In episode 9 of season 3, released May 19, Kimmy goes to church to learn about “real religion.” Her only experience of religion to this point is the 15 years 29-year-old Kimmy spent in an underground bunker as the prisoner of cult leader she calls “the Reverend.”
At her very first visit to church, Kimmy feels at home. She experiences a welcome she didn’t expect and learns all the good things the church does. She volunteers to serve the congregation’s annual Easter clothing drive and makes donations.
As she gets to know the members of the congregation, however, Kimmy becomes disillusioned. They are flawed, not all she thought they were during her initial visit.
In anger, innocent Kimmy interrupts the Easter worship service to confront the congregation, calling them “liars, and deceivers, and jerk-a-trons.”
The pastor responds, “We all make mistakes, sister Kimmy. Everybody in here is a born sinner.” Members of the congregation spontaneously confess to a variety of sins like stealing a coat from the clothing drive, practicing voodoo, and being a gossip.
That’s when Kimmy’s epiphany occurs and she gives her definition of church.
Kimmy’s really close
Kimmy, it turns out, is pretty Wesleyan.
John Wesley taught that the Christian life is about moving on to perfection—meaning we know we’re not there yet.
Sure, he would have wanted to teach Kimmy that we’re not “trying to do better” on our own, but it is God who makes us better. When we do the things God calls us to do—like donating to and serving at a clothing drive—we put ourselves in a position for God to work in our hearts . He called those activities “means of grace.”
Finally, I think Wesley would have loved the word Kimmy added after a pause. Church, real religion, is about being perfected together.
In his wonderful “plain truth for plain people” style, Wesley wrote,
Solitary religion is not to be found [in the gospel of Christ]. “Holy solitaries” is a phrase no more consistent with the gospel than holy adulterers. The gospel of Christ knows of no religion, but social; no holiness but social holiness.
Holy adulterers? That almost sounds like an Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt joke!
For Wesley, real religion is all about coming together.
What is church?
Lots of people seem to define church through the lens one of Kimmy’s initial experiences. For some, it appears to be an idyllic place where holy people gather—not people like me. For others, it appears to be a place where hypocrites — “liars, and deceivers, and jerk-a-trons” — come together to pretend to be something they’re not. I don’t want any part of that.
Instead, “real religion is about knowing we’re not perfect, but [being made] better… together!” That’s a vision of church that resonates with me, and I would guess a lot of other people too.