But in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. (1 Peter 3: 15-16a)
I have a problem. I wondered if you would mind taking a few minutes and reading about it?
Last Friday night as I got ready to leave work, one of my coworkers looked at the schedule and asked me why I had asked for Thursday-Sunday off this week. I was a little surprised because my faith is not a secret at my job. I don’t generally bring it up in conversation unless somebody asks me, but I wear a cross and carry a small Gideon Bible in my back pocket all the time. Plus, most of my coworkers have seen me studying the lessons I use to teach adult classes at the local United Methodist church while I’m on my lunch break.
So I was a little surprised at the question. Anyway, I explained that this was Holy Week and that I was attending services on these days at the end of the week. (I work nights, so I had to ask for the days off.) Another one of my coworkers, who happens to be Jewish, then asked in a rather skeptical voice: “Oh, so you go to CHURCH?”
Before I could respond, a third coworker (who is not religious at all) spoke up and asked: “You’re not one of THOSE PEOPLE are you?”
So there I was, with three coworkers looking at me and waiting for my answer to these questions. First I asked “Who are THOSE PEOPLE?” She replied that she had seen the popular documentary “Jesus Camp,” and that THOSE PEOPLE were the type of people she was wondering if I was.
I laughed, clearly relieved and told her no. I am definitely not one of the Jesus Camp people. She said “Good, I call those people Christian Crazies.”
I turned my attention to my coworker who asked if I went to CHURCH. *cue scary church organ music.* I told them I did, that I went to the United Methodist church up the street. He then asked me what I thought about this new law in Indiana that allows discrimination against gay people. I told him that I thought was it was horrible and that I didn’t think Jesus sanctioned discrimination against anyone.
He just smiled, relieved, and all of my coworkers seemed satisfied.
Some of you will no doubt be shouting at the screen at this point saying, “You should have invited them to Church!” You missed an opportunity!”
No. Just, no.
First off, I see people as people, not “opportunities.”
Second. do you see the problem here? These individuals obviously hold a net negative opinion on Christians and Christianity. In my mind, to turn on them right that second and say “Yo, come to my church” would probably just have reinforced that opinion they have. I believe that at least at this point they know that not ALL Christians are one of “those people” and maybe that will be a start in changing their opinions somewhere down the road.
But how did they form this net-negative impression of Christianity to begin with? Don’t they know about how much Jesus loves everybody? Haven’t they heard about Mother Theresa? Did they miss the story in the news about our church putting together 10,000 meals for hungry kids in Haiti? (Go Us!)
No. They haven’t heard about any of that stuff.
And do you know why? It’s because the loudest voices in American Christianity aren’t shouting from the mountain tops about the grace and love of Jesus Christ and The Way of a life of peace and service to others. They’re passing laws that make it legal for people to discriminate against gay people. They’re picketing soldier’s funerals and holding up signs proclaiming that “God Hates F*gs.” They’re calling right wing radio and stoking the fear and the urge to go to war against Muslims and Islamic countries. They’re going to political conventions and telling hypothetical stories about the rape and the murder of atheist teenagers.
In short, the voice of Christians in America is usually this guy:
When it really ought to be this guy:
Christianity in America is broken, and it’s our fault. Even for those of us who don’t put ourselves in with the Duck Guy crowd bear some responsibility. We have let these guys become the loudest voices in American Christianity. While we’ve been sitting in our pews and occasionally having missions weeks and special trips, these guys have been out on national tv shouting down anybody who even looks like they might disagree with them. They’ve been out advocating laws that allow discrimination against others that disagree with them. We ought to be appalled that there’s a picture of smiling Christians standing behind a governor as he signed a bill allowing this discrimination. The same people who worry about religious Muslim laws are out passing discrimination laws ostensibly based on Jesus.
We need help.
I believe we need to pray for our brothers and sisters that push these things on others. We need to pray for the people who are victimized or put off by these actions. We need to pray for ourselves that we would be given the strength needed to repair what’s been broken.
But that’s only the first, tiny step.
We need to be louder. We need to speak up to these “professional Christian trolls” and say no, that’s not what the message of Christ is about. We need to seek to divorce our Christian traditions from ultra-right wing agendas.
But we need to act. We need to SHOW others that yes, Jesus Camp is a very real, and unfortunate thing, but there are many, MANY of us who don’t participate in that kind of thing. We need to be out working in our communities and being the hands and feet of Christ, showing others that there’s an alternative to this loud, bombastic version of Christianity.
We need to come together in respect with people of other faith traditions, or people with no faith tradition, and earnestly seek to make the world a better place. It will take all of us to get it done.
We need to actively seek to end racism, to end discrimination against LGBTQ people, and to make this world an equal place in all areas no matter if you are a man or a woman.
It sounds like a very tall order, doesn’t it?
But as Christ himself said “Nothing is impossible with God.”
My fellow Christians, as we enter Holy Week and come upon the most important celebrations and rites of our faith, can you join me in working to fix what is broken? Will you help spread the love of Christ instead of the judgement of “religion?”
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15: 12-13 (NRSV)