One of the biggest obstacles according to Brennan Manning that unbelievers have from engaging with Christians is Christians “who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and then walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle …”
And I have to admit that as a Christian that loves the church and loves being a part of a community of followers of Jesus I also find myself struggling to believe sometimes.
It wouldn’t be untrue to say that I have a hard time believing in the same God that many outside looking in, can’t stomach either. The reason for this is largely down to many of the inconsistencies between many of the Christian faith and the way we act towards others. So often Fundamentalist Christians have been the ones accusing the more “Liberal” Christians for picking and choosing certain facets of Christianity just so they can line up with their worldview.
For example, the common accusation that some Christians speak mostly of God’s love but hardly ever speak about the wrath of God.
But it is not just Fundamentalists who are guilty of this. Liberals can just be as guilty of picking and choosing.
Now I want to make clear that I am not boxing every single Fundamentalist and every single Liberal into their respective boxes. Or suggesting that all Christians fall into one or other of these two groups.
Just as there are so many Liberals who offer a loving view of God that includes everyone and which works itself into how they treat the poor and how they fight for justice while proclaiming the Good news about Jesus, there are also a great number who are just as ignorant to those they disagree with and love nothing more than a fight, exhibiting very little Grace. In this case, faith becomes nothing more than a way to feel superior instead of a posture that opens you up to the Spirit in a way that causes you to not help but love about others.
It goes without saying (but I will anyway) that you could switch out the word Liberal in that last paragraph with the word Fundamentalist and it would also ring true.
The boundaries of faith are blurred, shape shifting and hard to define neatly. Which is a good thing.
But when there are such obvious discrepancies between what we say about our faith and how we actually act to those around us, it is a problem as we are not able to see how we are hurting our community and how we can love people better.
As I mentioned in my previous blog, it is not outside forces that are attacking our faith in the public sphere, it is us.
So for example, when we see some Christian politicians attacking ISIS for using inhumane methods on Western civilians all the while selectively forgetting that they themselves in previous wars, supported very similar methods used against their ‘enemies’, this is a problem.
Or, like one political activist who I follow on Twitter who identifies themselves as Christian and who recently attacked the Pope for apparently ignoring the authority of the Bible, but who themselves seems to have a problem ignoring the authority of the Bible on loving our enemies, evident by their behavior towards those that they view as evil.
This also is a problem.
And as most recently as yesterday, when at an announcement of a Bill which would allow those with deeply held religious views to be exempt from any service which would compromise their beliefs, the First Minister in Northern Ireland said “I want to see a Northern Ireland which is tolerant of everyone’s views”.
Presumably, a tolerant Northern Ireland where he would condemn one of his most senior members for making offensive remarks about those who speak the Irish language.
Except of course He didn’t.
Then this too, is a problem.
The issue isn’t where we stand on any of the issues above but when we say one thing but fail to implement it in another part of our lives.
When this happens we have an identity problem. Which is a problem for everyone.
Do we support torture only as long as it is carried out on our enemies?
Do we get outraged only when others don’t follow the Bible like we think they should, but live in denial when we fail to live up to the same standards we have set for others?
Or is our destiny a society where everyone has the right to not fear abuse because of their beliefs, religious or otherwise? But where our political leaders by failing to call out those who within in their own communities, don’t offer the same courtesy to others?
This is our problem and one that is making it increasingly difficult for those who have been burned or hurt by the Church and politics to take us seriously. Effectively we are saying to those outside, you need to behave in a certain way that we have prescribed and if you fail to do so we will come down on you like a ton of bricks. Willfully, ignoring all the ways we ourselves fail in our own standards.
Jesus spoke, or wrote very clearly, to be more accurate about this when religious leaders dragged to Him a woman who had been accused of adultery (not the man though of course).
When the religious Pharisees tried to catch Jesus out by asking what they should do with the woman, He slowly began to write on the ground with His finger, some scholars believing He was writing down the sins of those accusers. He then invited those who had never sinned to commit to throwing the first stone. (Stoning was a typical punishment for adultery).
Slowly and gradually, the sound of dropped rocks and feet rustling away was deafening as each and every accuser left, leaving only Jesus and the Woman standing.
We are incredibly free, yet many Christian political leaders treat others like they are in danger of being wiped out. You are not. You are called to something higher than defending faith. You are called to love. Do our Christian politicians do this? Not often enough. Are they hypocritical? Yes, occasionally. Do our Christian political leaders have a huge responsibility in helping to bring about light to everyone? Yes.
To those Christian leaders political and otherwise; please stop claiming to stand up for those who are different if you are only doing so selectively. Stop being afraid of those you call your enemies. Let love be the cornerstone of your decisions.
Seriously, even if you have to resort to cliches like W.W.J.D. then for everyone’s sake, please do.
You may feel like you need to stand up for Jesus but you don’t. He didn’t call you to lead our countries defensively and weary of your enemies. He calls you to love them without question. Stop bickering. Stop being rude. Be courteous. Stop being defensive. Not everything is an attack on the Christian faith. It’s survived much worse.
You are giving people outside a great reason to never want anything to do with the life and body of Christ.
We’ve heard you speak, now maybe you can listen.
To those outside, disgusted by what you see, know you are not alone.
I am sorry for those who say one thing and do another, simply when it suits them. I am sorry for those who have seen Christian leaders condemn you and treat you like second rate citizens. I am sorry when our leaders decide to attack rather than listen.
This is not Jesus. This is not what He wants. Please don’t think this is. There are communities that will welcome you without judgement or shame. They love you and not because they want you to join a club and conform to a set of rules. They love you because they have been opened up to the possibilities of life and they want to share it.
This is the sound we need to be making to our communities.
This is the message that needs to be resurrected.
Love, Grace, Peace, Hope.
None of which require laws, Bills or Governments to justify their existence. Leaders, we don’t need you to pass certain laws to keep faith alive. Love never needs a defense. If it does it’s not really love.
When love truly exists, faith can not be removed or quietened.
So it’s time our Christian political leaders opened their fists and let go of the need to control.
And grasp what matters.