One of the topics I've written on again and again in this space is my consistent frustration with what the word Christianity means in the 21st Century, and with what church has become in this era. I'm sure you've read and heard and witnessed many of the same things that I have...churches condemning the entirety of the gay community in a debate over what the word marriage means, religious leaders acting as though Jesus wants us to vote for one political party over another, and so on. I don't want to bore you with examples. Available by request, I'll say.
Anyway, it makes me sick. I believe in a God who wants to help orphans and widows and love the marginalized and outcast, yet often I feel like I have to defend or placate Christians who say and do things I couldn't be against more. My passion as a Christ-follower is to love the world and find ways to make it better, not to judge the world and try to make it conform to my beliefs...yet I see the latter happen so much more than the former. I've been told time and again (both directly and implicitly) that it's my duty as a Christian to defend marriage (a great use of war metaphor), to disparage Islam and other belief systems, to vote Republican, and so on.
I was reading Rob Bell's Velvet Elvis tonight, and he makes an absolutely fantastic point on this issue. Like I was saying before, it was a punchmeintheface kind of truth, the kind which leaps off the page and forces you to take notice. Rob writes that:
The church doesn't exist for itself; it exists to serve the world...When the church loses sight of this, it loses its heart. This is especially true today...when so many people are hostile to the church, many for good reason. We reclaim the church as a blessing machine not only because that is what Jesus intended...but also because serving people is the only way their perceptions of church are ever going to change. This is why it is so toxic...when Christians picket and boycott and complain about how bad the world is. [This] isn't the kind of voice Jesus wants his followers to have in the world. Why blame the dark for being dark? It is far more helpful to ask why the light isn't as bright as it could be. (166)Growing up, I was told time and again by all sorts of people that it was important for me to spend me time around "the right kind of people", which pretty much always meant other Christians. Even at church last Sunday, I was talking with a group I'd met and a woman asked me if I was spending my free time with friends who were also Christians. Don't get me wrong, there is absolutely nothing wrong with spending time with other believers. I'm not trying to talk it down. But the problem is that I was always taught that these were the only kinds of people I should spend time with...the rest of the world was off-limits, so to speak. Here's the problem: I love the world, and I love the people in the world. I enjoy meeting people who believe different things than I do and learning from them. I also believe that you cannot affect the world unless you are in the world, and that if I really am called to change the world for the better I damn well better be spending time in it. If I want to know why the dark is dark, don't I need to step out of my comfort zone and find out what's missing?
I love what Rob said because this truth changes the mission from defending Christianity to serving the world. It removes the onus on me to judge others and replaces it with a calling to go out into the world, seek out the disheartened and marginalized, and love them. This is such a freeing idea, something that only in the last few years I have been able to accept and embrace.
This truth changes the way by which we expect positive change to happen, in such a beautiful way. The reject-the-world way of thinking, which leads to protests and war metaphor and so on, creates an us versus them mentality within the Christian community, as though the way to make the world better is to stop it from doing bad things. This is the way of thinking which has given Christianity such a bad name in the world, and the way of thinking which we must reject. The beauty of what Rob is talking about is that it changes the catalyst from "stop them from doing" and replaces it with "we need to start doing". Instead of using our time and efforts to thwart everything and everyone we disagree with, we should use our time and efforts to serve the world. I can't express how much better of an idea this is. I love it. And I want to make it part of who I am. Will you join me?
And so on...