Anne Graham Lotz, the second of Billy and Ruth Graham's five children, says it's all right: as long as you have a personal relationship with Jesus, church doesn't really matter. Neither does denomination. "Religion is an impediment to knowing God," says Lotz, who is promoting a new book, The Magnificent Obsession. "Procedures, rituals, creeds: how in the world can they help you connect with God? … If you're sprinkled when you're baptized or dunked when you're baptized, it doesn't matter as far as your salvation goes."
Given her maiden name, you would think that Lotz, an evangelist who travels around the world urging people to come to Jesus, would embody old-fashioned, conservative evangelism. Her father has always strongly advised Christians to attend church; the Billy Graham Evangelistic Asso-ciation Web site tells new Christians to make church a regular part of their lives: "Whatever it meant to you in the past, going to church can now become a rich and rewarding experience."
But like so many other Christians, Lotz, 61, had too many bad experiences in church to believe that God dwells there—and only there. She was kicked out of one church, she says, for insisting on the inerrancy of Scripture. She left another more recently in a fight concerning a new pastor. She soon came to realize that she was a "believer in exile," she says, and for more than a year she wandered from church to church looking for a home. "I've had Christians treat me in a way that is so wrong and so vicious, I realized there's a difference between God's people and God."
Still, conservative Christians have always distanced themselves from progressives by insisting that church—and the adherence to a strict set of doctrines—is a way to derive meaning. And, ultimately, Lotz found her way back there with help from her husband, a strict Southern Baptist. Church may not be necessary to knowing God, she says, but it keeps the relationship going: "You can really love the Lord, but after a while, if you're all by yourself, the fire goes cold."