This is my personal blog. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the congregations I serve.

Friday, January 18, 2013

"Christian"


            Last week I was asked to write a reference for someone in my church.  For the first time in 31 years of ministry I actually hesitated in saying in the letter that they were “Christian.”  Of course, I am a pastor and these folks are faithful members of the church.  The fact that they are Christians is at least very strongly implied.  However, actually using the term “Christian” made me think for a moment.
            What will the person reading this, who will probably be a secularized American, think when I say these people are “Christians”? 
            Polls are showing that an increasing number of Americans, especially younger people, associate the word “Christian” with gay-hating, gun-toting, flag-waving, climate-change-denying, anti-choice, pro-war, pro-torture, pro-death penalty, judgmental, creationist, hypocrites.  By referring to my parishoners as “Christians” I wasn’t sure I was doing them any favors.
            I understand that in many secular universities what they learn about Christianity is basically reduced to the Crusades, the Inquisition, and witch-burning.  But it doesn’t help that many people calling themselves “Christian” today continue to embrace the same demented, demonic spirit that produced those very atrocities.  Thus people can look at the violence, small-mindedness, hatred, fear, and rage exhibited by many “Christians” today and have what they were taught about historical Christianity’s inhumanity confirmed.      
            In the historical-fantasy film King Arthur, Arthur and his knights start out as Roman soldiers in Britain.  They are given the assignment of protecting some “Christians” from the attacks of barbarians.  When they arrive at the “Christian” household they discover in the basement a torture chamber for heretics and infidels.  Because, of course, no “Christian” home would be complete without a torture chamber for heretics and infidels.
            We who follow Jesus today can complain that such depictions are ridiculous and even bigoted… except that, judging from their words and actions, so many “Christians” today seem to be nostalgically pining for the days when there were torture chambers for heretics and infidels.
            My view is that those whose debased version of “Christianity” is antithetical to Jesus Christ are denying him far more profoundly than those who simply decline to believe in him.  It is far worse to worship and advocate a false Christ whom you project in order to sanctify your own hatreds, fears, and rage.  It is that untrue and defamatory cartoon of Jesus Christ that many people understandably reject.  It even closes their hearts to receive the real Jesus, which is a great tragedy.
            How do we rescue “Christianity” from the rabid, paranoid, hate-filled fanatics who are giving it such a bad name? 
            Now that I think about it, this situation isn’t even that new.  Even back when “Christian” was an unequivocally good thing to put on your resumé, it was often for not so good reasons.  In those days, being called a “Christian” meant you were an unthreatening supporter of the status quo and all its institutions.  I have benefitted from this personally, like when the police-officer lets me off from issuing that speeding ticket because I am “clergy.”  And of course the police and the clergy are supposedly “on the same side” in supporting andn upholding a stable social-economic-political order. 
            If we’re going to be suspect because we bear the Name of Christ, I would hope that it is because we are faithful to his revolutionary vision and mission, not because we have managed to slap Jesus’ name on our own corrupted institutions, or our pathetic neuroses, or our imperialism and bigotry.  Many saints have run afoul of the civil authorities because they took seriously Jesus’ call to identify with and bring comfort to the needy, the sick, the prisoners, the underprivileged, the outcasts, and the aliens, or because they reflected Jesus’ non-violence to the point of opposing wars, guns, torture, slavery, and capital punishment.
            Someday, when I write on someone’s reference that they are a “Christian,” I hope I can be confident that I am communicating that they follow Jesus by demonstrating goodness, gentleness, generosity, honesty, simplicity, faithfulness, inclusion, and love.  I hope I am witnessing to their commitment to bring these values, along with justice and equality, into the world for everyone, no matter what the cost.     +++++++

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