There are many folks out there who are dropping associations with Christianity as much as possible and using other labels or identifiers, like “follower of Jesus”. Lately I’ve been one of them. It’s a simple and surface-level way to dissociate myself from the evils and cultural crap associated with Christianity as a religion. Certain people and groups have made themselves de facto authorities and spokesmen in our culture for Christianity, the voice of the religion to the country. I can’t say I identify with many of them. Rush Limbaugh, the late Jerry Falwell, George W., Fred Phelps, and all those people who bomb clinics and pray at the gas pump. These are the more extreme, perhaps; these are also the most visible. Or Joel Osteen, The Pope, or any other national Christian figurehead for that matter. Also not folks whose faith I particularly identify with. Anyone heard of John Eldredge? Michael Spencer? Dave Schmelzer? These are people in the public sphere whom I would perhaps trust more to speak for my faith.
And yet as I was recently reminded, dissociation isn’t quite enough. Changing my language in order to say I am not like them is on the one hand only changing language, and on the other hand only an implied disapproval of them. It doesn’t do much beyond perhaps prompting someone to ask why. The Christian faith, as has been true in one form or another throughout its history, has been co-opted for other means by those who presume to represent it to the world while those who perhaps better represent the life of Jesus are silenced, or maybe just silent, and protest mostly by example if at all.
I had an exchange a while ago with a friend of mine who is an atheist, who himself was frustrated with this dynamic in modern American Christianity. “It is sad to me,” he said, “that people, who outnumber the enemy I think, give in rather than stand up for what is right. What I seldom see is public outcry by Christians against this co-opting. It is my hope that rather than run/hide/rename that more Christians would protest, fight, take back what they see as the tenets of the religion.”
He understands the personal and social values of Christianity, and agrees with many of them in principle, if not with the spiritual claims of the Bible. He might even agree with me when I say there is a need in the world for the sort of love and sacrificial lifestyle Jesus demonstrated. Not that the world needs conversion to Christendom – we’ve seen how that went over. But that there is something powerful and necessary in the life and teachings of Jesus that satisfies a need in humans at large.
It’s probably worth saying at this point that most churches and ministries and Christian communities would say this is what they are about – in one form or another demonstrating to the world the life of Jesus and teaching others to do the same. But is this what the church in general is known for, at least in Western culture? Are churches the places that people go looking for help and support in their deeper needs, and growth and empowerment in their lives? Perhaps those who grew up in the church. And many of them are looking elsewhere lately.
What message then are churches sending? What do people – again, people in Western culture on these terms – think of when they think of Christianity? Or Christians? Rush Limbaugh & co.? At the very least the general hypocrisy of Christianity is glaring. Those who get the most press seem typically to be the ones resisting, categorizing and generalizing, or worse, condemning, attacking, or murdering. “Are people fighting back against them?” My friend asked me. ” Is this a concern in the modern movements?” Actually, no. Not with any visibility at least. And of course there can be a fine line between genuinely protesting the hypocritical co-opting of the faith and becoming another internet watchdog calling foul at every latest outrage from someone who is clearly less Christian than them. That of course is not what I’m thinking of here. I’m thinking of the gap between what the church is and what it could be, to put it broadly.
Culturally modern churches have taken the cool and laid back approach. Come, have coffee, let’s hang out. Which I think is pretty helpful. People need Christians to put down their guns, so to speak. My friend had a different take on it though, which frankly floored me.
“The people at your church are marketers – they want to sell me, don’t just send me a postcard about music and a good time, send me one that says I am a Christian and I don’t kill doctors. Make it very pointed. I am a Christian and I am not so stupid I think Obama is an Islamic terrorist. I am a Christian and my Christ preached love, not shooting at holocaust museums. I am tired of getting happy feel good letters and postcards – Come visit us. I want to see where they stand. I want to see them take a stand.”
The church that would send his sort of postcard probably is not the church for everyone. Then again, who would that church attract? What kind of people would walk through the doors of a church that marketed themselves like that? Troublemakers, boat rockers, idealists, activists, and thinkers. Better still, what kind of Christians would speak of themselves that way? Or live like that?
Here’s one, for starters. A Georgia pastor who has offered to take in any and all unwanted infants. Are there others?
“If only we men weren’t such junkies for risk and success, if only we weren’t so aggressive, if only we could reign in our sex drives, if only we were more like women, the world would be a much better place, right?”
photo credit: redbubble.com
TV shows make a big deal of their 100th episode; it’s a milestone of a good long-running series. This here is my 100th post. I decided not to make a big deal of it.
(You weren’t expecting content were you? Go watch TV!)