Attachment to God, Interlude: Why are the Churches of Christ so Fearful? Updated!

This post is an interlude in the Attachment to God series. It will be of particular interest to people who know a little about the Churches of Christ, the Christian tradition I am associated with. I you don't know much about the Churches of Christ you can read more about us here. Regardless, I think this post will be of interest to anyone interested in "denominational personalities."

In the paper which published the Attachment to God Inventory (AGI; Beck & McDonald, 2004) we wanted to validate the AGI across some different Christian denominations. So, we, along with Joe Toren who used some of this data for his Masters Thesis, administered the AGI to three different denominations in the Abilene community. The first group was Church of Christ. The second group was Catholic. And the final group was a non-denominational Charismatic church. So, three pretty different churches were compared.

Recall that the AGI gives two scores: Anxiety about Abandonment and Avoidance of Intimacy. Also recall that High vs. Low scores on these two dimensions creates one of the four attachment styles: Secure vs. Preoccupied vs. Dismissive vs. Fearful.

We ran an analysis comparing the AGI scores across these three churches. We found (and this is reported in Beck & McDonald) that the Catholic and Charismatic church were comparable on the AGI scores. Interestingly, however, the Church of Christ group differed from BOTH of these churches on BOTH measures. Specifically, the Church of Christ was higher on both Anxiety about Abandonment AND Avoidance of Intimacy. Referring to our attachment styles:

We see that this means that the Church of Christ displayed the Fearful attachment style relative to the other churches.

That is, the Church of Christ group reported two basic things (relative to the other groups):

1. They did not experience or appear to need emotional "closeness" with God.
2. Yet, they appeared fearful that God would "abandon" them or that God didn’t “love” them.

(For a more detailed insight into the dynamics of Anxiety about Abandonment and Avoidance of Intimacy see my last post for content from the AGI on each of these two dimensions.)

Okay, so here's your homework assignment: If you know the Churches of Christ, why does this group appear so Fearful relative to other groups? I'll leave this question up for a day or so to see if anyone would like to post some speculations.* Feel free to send this to other CofC friends to get their speculations as well. To non-CofC people, feel free to join in this psychoanalysis. Let’s put this denomination on the couch to see what’s going on.

When we first submitted the Beck & McDonald article I had given my own theological/ecclesial hypotheses as to the root causes of this CofC difference, but the editors made me cut it as they thought it too speculative. After a day or so I'll post my speculations that never made it into print.

Here is the deleted passage from Beck & McDonald speculating on why the Church of Christ participants were Fearful relative to their Catholic or Charismatic counterparts:

"Since the two primary authors are familiar with Church of Christ practice and theology, and many readers may not be, we can offer some tentative explanations for these trends. Specifically, the Church of Christ is both conservative and fundamentalist in theology and has traditionally de-emphasized experiential and mystical interactions with God. (By contrast, these experiences are common in both Roman Catholic tradition and Christian charismatic worship services.) Thus, due to a general suspicion about emotional or experiential interactions with God, Church of Christ members might appear more avoidant of intimacy with God when compared to other Christian groups. In addition, the Church of Christ has, historically, had a salvation theology deeply rooted in the Protestant work ethic. Consequently, Church of Christ members may express greater anxiety over abandonment and lovability in that their perceived affection from God is linked to ethical performance, leaving the believer vulnerable to thoughts of 'not being good enough'."

This analysis is basically the one posted by Steve and Jason. So, prizes for all! Do we know this tradition or what?

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3 thoughts on “Attachment to God, Interlude: Why are the Churches of Christ so Fearful? Updated!”

  1. Distance.

    Emotion is seen as a bad thing in the C of C. Emotion only gets in the way of objectivity. Objectivity places the object of investigation at a distance. It is hard to control the doctrine soundness (orthodoxy) of the emotional. One who is led by emotion might get the incorrect idea that instrumental music is OK or that their Methodist grandparents might be "scripturally baptised" after all. Where other evangelicals can always rely on the Holy Spirit to get them out of a bind when in a theological argument, it is not an option in the C of C. If one gets too close to God, if feelings start to get involved, things get all mushy and emotional and that is seen as dangerous. People like that tend to wander all over doctrinally speaking.


    In the everyday world in some situations, a miscalculation can lead to disaster. Information inaccurately recorded and instructions imperfectly followed, however sincere, can get someone killed. The scriptures are seen in the same way. The scriptures contain explicit instructions, a blueprint even, and they must be followed or doom can result. Its part of our lore, we were warned about the young prophet who believed a lie and God sends a lion to eat him. Uzzah reaches up to stabilize the Ark while its shaking on a wagon and he gets zapped. Nadab and Abihu burn the wrong kind of fire and God sends a fire to burn'em up. Israelites complain and thousands die. David takes a census, and, of course, God sends a plague. So, the message is clear to the early and mid 20th century raised Church of Christer, one little mistake and you'll fry on the griddle for ever.

  2. I tend to agree with Steve's synopsis. Personally, I can trace a spiritual development in my own experience where my faith transitioned from security found in concurrence with a set of doctrinal positions (Church of Christ) to security in a relationship with Jesus Christ. My faith is in Jesus Christ rather than the Church of Christ, although I happily attend a Church of Christ. My confidence is sustained by keeping my focus on the righteousness of God rather than the rightness of the fruit of pattern theology.

    The difference (as I can see it) is between a faith rooted in God's power versus the intellect of men. I will always doubt the fruit of my mind but I can sustain confidence in a dependence upon God's mercy, love, and power.

  3. Wow,
    As one who spent most of my life in the CofC (17 years in ministry), I see this. What a great analytical tool. It was helpful to me to "get out of the house" more. Thanks.

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