Home > Church, Faith > If This Was Jesus

If This Was Jesus

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.political-pictures-pope-benedict-xvi-jesus-poor

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?

  1. July 24, 2009 at 9:53 am

    This is indeed a problem for Christians. As an atheist, I do not take this as evidence against the truth of Christianity (I have enough sources for that elsewhere), but it is part of the evidence showing that being religious doesn’t really affect population behavior. People are people.

    Sam Harris pointed out something very important that you are touching on here, that moderate Christians give a legitimacy to the Fred Phelps and Pat Robertsons of the world. What Christians need to do to is marginalize these people mercilessly. Right-wing Christian politicians have abused their trust and injected religion into secular institutions. And the moderates just watched in tacit approval. A lot of damage to the shiny exterior of Christianity has been done.

    The first step is simple. Remove all discussions of religion in politics. This is exactly how it works up here in Canada. The media never ask questions of a candidate’s belief. What on earth does it have to do with running a country, anyway? Belief is personal, and it should stay that way. As PZ Myers says, religion is like masterbation. It feels good. It should be done in private. Whether a person does it or not has nothing whatsoever to do with running for public office.

  2. Dennis
    July 24, 2009 at 11:46 am

    I like “Shamelessly Atheist’s” term: “shiny exterior of Christianity.” It reminds me of Jesus’ excoriation of the Pharisees (Today, Pharisees would be called ‘right-wing Christians.) He called them “whited-sepulchres” in the KJV. I like that term, but here it is in “The Message:” Matthew 23:27 (The Message)

    27-28″You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You’re like manicured grave plots, grass clipped and the flowers bright, but six feet down it’s all rotting bones and worm-eaten flesh. People look at you and think you’re saints, but beneath the skin you’re total frauds.”

    I agree with the atheist quoted in ‘a hundred visions.’ We (all) need to fight hypocrisy. I for one start looking inside and give several others who I trust the authority to challenge me whenever they catch a hint of it in me. They can smell it faster than I can. Then I look to fight it in others. That way, I have a better chance of getting the beam out of my own eye before I try to call my friend or enemy to get the splinter out of theirs.

    Love your post!!

  3. August 2, 2009 at 9:59 am

    In my opinion the lack of Christian grace in most people who profess the faith is rooted in the gospel they were exposed to in the first place. How can a building survive a faulty foundation? Read the New Testament and compare it with the gospel preached by our great men of God in this generation, you’ll wonder if Jesus has sent down a new improved Bible. Instead of preaching Jesus as Saviour and Lord, we point people to things. We encourage them to seek self-actualisation, success etc. How can people become the light Jesus intended them to be if they do not have the Holy Spirit in them to transform their lives? They don’t have the Holy Spirit because they did not receive Him from Christ who is the only Baptiser. Until we preach the true gospel of Christ, we can’t expect people to be translated from the kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of God.

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