“I once heard someone say there are only two reasons people are not Christians. #1, They've never met a Christian. #2, They've met a Christian.”
Ran across this quote among some user reviews for a book I’m looking to buy (more on the book - Jim and Casper Go to Church - in a future post). I think there is a great deal of truth embedded within that statement. It reminds me of Gandhi’s famous quote: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
Is Gandhi's quote fair? Honestly, I think it is. Without question, the Christian community (myself included) does many things that do not fit with the message of Jesus. We ostracize the homosexual community, ignore the homeless and pretend that going to church once a week makes us good people. And that just encompasses the most recent generations. I could go on and on about the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Protestant-Catholic conflicts in Ireland, countless televangelists caught up in fraud and embezzlement. I do not mean to attack the entire church and claim that I am perfect; rather, I recognize my imperfections and hope for the church (as a whole) to do the same. It should not be acceptable for Jerry Falwell to say "If you're not a born-again Christian, you're a failure as a human being", just as it should be unacceptable for the pope to try and brush child molestation by Catholic priests under the rug. To be fair, the majority of people I know who call themselves Christian (or Catholic) are as fed up with these sorts of actions and words as I am. I cannot think of any friends who support Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell or take Benny Hinn seriously.
But even so, the Christian community is much larger than the small communities I am a part of. We would not know what Falwell and Robertson have to say if there were no audience that wanted to hear them. There should be no audience for James Dobson when he says that homosexuals (through gay marriage) "will destroy the Earth", yet Focus on the Family has 2.3 million monthly magazine subscribers. Are we, as the body of Christ, really willing to listen to and even support these individuals?
As Gandhi said, we Christians are so unlike our Christ. I know I struggle with this problem daily, sinning and judging despite my sincerest attempts to avoid those things. If the central message of Jesus is to love, to love God and love others (as I believe it is), then any message of morality or repentance must exist as a result of love, not of judgment. But instead of making love our first priority, it seems that the Christian community wants to make people change who they are as a prerequisite for being treated as human beings. I am embarrassed by opponents of gay marriage who slander entire communities of individuals and then wonder why LGTBQs aren’t attracted to the church. Shouting "God hates fags" at a ballgame does not send a message of love. Neither does holding up gruesome signs of aborted babies or protesting outside of Planned Parenthood. And so on. But I don't want it to sound like I am only speaking to the "radical" crowd. I know plenty of self-proclaimed Christians who voice their hatred of gays or liberals or Muslims on a regular basis; it may be subconscious and it may seem harmless, but spouting hateful rhetoric delivers a very different message than one of love - it sends a message of judgment and hypocrisy. And yet we wonder why young people are leaving the church in record numbers.
Certainly I am not arguing that Christians should support gay marriage or abortion or whatever, nor am I arguing that Christians should oppose them. Those are issues that we must all choose our own positions on, and we should be free to do so without the threat of being slandered by Christians who might think differently (on both sides). We are called to be Christ to the world, and that means that we are to love the world…even despite the world’s imperfections and flaws. Or maybe because of the flaws. But regardless, we are to love the world first. If we were all to do that as an entire body acting in the name of Christ, perhaps leaders like Falwell, Robertson and Dobson would be forced to consider their words more carefully, perhaps the pope would have to get his hands dirty and fix the problems of child molestation within the Catholic church, perhaps gays would feel welcome on Sunday morning. And maybe even Gandhi would begin to like our Christians.
And so on...