I sometimes wonder what my old friends and acquaintances think about my coming out. No, I’m not gay; I’m talking about coming out as a Christian. Which, given our current culture, may be much more radical. I can imagine them snickering or thinking I’ve gone a little soft in the head.
It’s been my experience that those who follow Jesus tend to make others uncomfortable. Sometimes, and especially when the new follower develops a preachy, holier-than-thou attitude, the aversion is wholly justified. But often it’s nothing more than the simple fact that you are a follower that repels people. I will confess that I used to think Christians were boring, naïve, ignorant, insular and judgemental. And the truth is, some are. But what a shame that Christianity as a whole has developed this reputation! Many of us see Christians not as spiritual seekers, but as a people who claim to have God all figured out and are quick to tell you (nicely) that not only are your own ideas wrong, but unless you get it right you’ll go to hell.
Even today I feel the need to offer an explanation for my beliefs and distance myself from the pro-war, anti-abortion, homophobic agendas of many Christian groups. A part of me is embarrassed to be involved with a religion that endorsed slavery, promoted racism, oppresses women (I really wish I didn't need to write this in the present tense), burned free-thinkers at the stake, stole children from their mothers and forcefully converted whole nations. It was often the secular world that fought long and hard for the safety and rights of women, blacks and gays –not the church. The Christian church has a history of child rape, violence and ignorance that is unparalleled. (I’m not saying the church wasn’t involved in social change –just that it was rarely a catalyst or united force for such movements. Nor am I saying violence doesn’t exist in other religions, but the breadth and scope of Christian violence is not easily matched in the histories of other organized religions.) Ours is a warring, blood-thirsty religion: we invaded, murdered, and persecuted whole cultures in the name of the gospel; we drink the blood of Christ and purify ourselves with it. And just look at what we did to God: we put the incarnate God on the cross, tortured and murdered Him, and call it His perfect plan for salvation.
Not only that, but Christians also seem hell-bent on keeping others out of God’s Kingdom. We resemble an old boys club in which you must meet certain theological standards and/or practices to be allowed entry. We seem to care less about how you express God’s love and more about what you believe. Do we really think that God is more impressed by our understanding and acceptance of the atonement than our goodwill and charity toward others? I think we are telling people just that when we say, “believe this and you will be saved.” It’s a cheap and cheerful (and wrong) interpretation of Jesus’ message if you ask me. It’s also a way to oppress independent thought and keep people in line. If a Christian questions church doctrine too loudly, or for too long, we tell them they are refusing to submit to the authority of the church; that they are proud and need to repent of their sin. We shame them into submission instead of encouraging them to wrestle with God for the answers.
It seems to me that most of us view God as a record-keeper who judges and redeems based on good works, or as a small God bound by His own law; helpless to save us unless we know and believe the story of Jesus. I have to ask if those of us who believe we are saved by grace through faith have ever doubted? If yes, at what point do we no longer pass the faith test? When our doubts occur more than 10% of the time? 50%? Isn’t having the right kind of faith or enough faith just another form of believing we can do something to earn our own salvation?
We Christians are somehow capable of twisting our brains into reconciling the belief that a) God is loving and merciful and b) sends good (Yes good! I do believe there are good people, even if they aren't perfect.) people to eternal damnation because they didn't believe in His forgiveness and ask for help. Talk about overkill! That sounds to me like a God who needs to get over Himself.
(And continuing down that rabbit hole, what about babies and children? Do they go to hell? If not then at what point does God not let them eat off the kid's menu and make them pay full-price for their sin? Hey, if we want a black-or-white religion we should at least have the 'facts' straight!)
Maybe we tell ourselves that God gives us free-will to decide whether or not we embrace Him –that we are the ones who reject Him not vice-versa. But can we really trust that all the men and women who reject the Christian religion (perhaps even due to horrendous abuse they endured from people in the church) have made fully informed free-will decisions? Does God not see that they are recoiling like a hand from a hot stove? Will He make them victims once again?
And what about theology –are we arrogant enough to believe that our interpretations of scripture and understanding of God is all correct and complete? If not, at what point does God label us as heretics rather than Christians? (And no, I don't believe God labels anyone Christian; these are rhetorical questions if you haven't already caught on.)
It seems we have to work pretty hard to say and do the right things to fit into God's Kingdom. I’m not saying Christians won’t accept the destitute and depraved: we love a good conversion story. We claim victory over Satan (No, I'm not going there; I've got enough on my plate right now.) when a former pervert or alcoholic gets up and shares their testimony (as if it were the good end to a bad story). But what about when that same alcoholic relapses? Are we more likely to show up at his door to help or to question his conversion in the first place? Maybe he didn’t really get it. His faith wasn’t strong enough. Do we sit in our homegroups and churches to pray for him to come back to Christ or do embrace him, sharing in his pain and bringing Christ to him? Maybe we’re too afraid his sin will rub off on us.
We like to go out into the streets and shelters to help the less fortunate, show them God’s love and teach them about Jesus, but do we invite them into our homes and build real, meaningful relationships with them? Or do they make better projects than friends? Do we build these relationships based on a hidden agenda of converting them to Jesus and then lose interest when it become obvious they really aren’t that interested in being “saved”? Do we look upon them with a mixture of pity and self-righteousness?
What about us? Are we not all sinners in the eyes of God? Or do we, like the pigs in Animal Farm, believe that some animals are more equal than others? Yes, I believe we all make mistakes (are sinners) and that He forgives us equally (His love and grace is enough to cover any sin), but that does not mean all sins are equal. It’s pure nonsense, in my opinion, to believe that telling a white lie to a friend who asks if we like her haircut is just as evil as rape and murder in the eyes of God. (I get that God is infinitely good so any sin, no matter how small, is infinitely bad but that is still not the same thing as saying all sins are equal in severity.)
That’s a long-winded way of saying I’m probably one of the most
argumentative reluctant incongruous Christians you’ll come across. If God is truth and love then I have nothing to worry about. I have no doubt He's with me on this journey. I can’t afford to wear blinders, act defensively or fear offending others with my observations and questions -that will only stunt my spiritual growth.I think it’s wise to discuss issues like these because they help us identify and understand our weaknesses, learn from our mistakes and dig down deep as we build the foundations of our faith.