Too Religious To Be Spiritually Mature

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

I have been reading and thinking a lot lately about the concept of spiritual maturity in preparation for co-authoring a book on the subject and its relationship to racial identity development. Based on information from a May 2009 Barna Group survey, spiritual maturity is a concept that even faith leaders struggle to define. For many who are religious --that is, grounded in a particular belief system with prescribed doctrines-- the definition is simple. If you are moving toward God (i.e. in the right direction), you are becoming spiritually mature. Spiritual maturity is framed from a right and wrong perspective. For Christians, (who have a lot to say on this topic), this means one has to be like Christ and respond as Christ would to life's situations. Other faith traditions share a perspective that spiritual maturity is goal-oriented behavior consistent with the tenets of the faith. This generally translates to a purpose-driven lifestyle and being socially responsible.

As a nation characterized by a high percentage of Americans who identify themselves as religious (76% Christians and 4% non-Christian religions), one might assume that we would witness less signs of spiritual immaturity than we are experiencing lately. I can't imagine Christ refusing a funeral for Senator Ted Kennedy or angrily protecting health care benefits for some, even if it means that thousands die because they have no coverage. I cannot reconcile how treating others who are gay or Muslim with disdain trumps treating people with compassion. I am confused by how denying people basic human rights such as marriage or the right to serve in the military as an openly gay person are consistent with valuing equality. I do not understand how Goldman Sachs CEO, Lloyd Blankfein is "doing God's work" by creating more wealth for the wealthy. What might seem like a simple complex has become really complex in lived reality.

Maybe we are just too religious and not spiritual enough. Intolerance and greed are, by any religious standards, signs of spiritual immaturity. As a nation characterized by faith and its accompanying values, being spiritually mature should support us to have transformative dialogues that would result in what we pledge-- one nation under God. I pray that my faith will support and not deter me from my journey toward spiritual maturity.