Politics and Love, Spirituality and Love

A Christian Reflects on Why Christians are the Very Worst Sometimes

This is one of those posts that runs the risk of alienating a lot of people. I think it may alienate some people who are not Christian and who might wonder why I am bothering to write the post at all. And I think it may alienate a lot of Christians who don’t like being told or who don’t like thinking that possibly Christians might be the very worst sometimes.

I don’t like alienating people.

I like to make peace and not war if I can. I am also committed to writing blog posts that are generally constructive, even if they contain social critique (which I think is an extremely important part of any healthy society).

So, let me briefly explain why I am writing this post, and hopefully you will decide to read it, even if the title of it is initially offensive to you. And if you decide not to read it, peace to you anyhow.

I am writing this post because I have consciously and intentionally been a Christian since I was eight years old. I think God and Christianity are amazing, but Christians are often a big pain in the posterior.

This is disappointing because at the heart of Christianity is a message of world-transformative love. This isn’t the kind of love that tries to rule the world through domination, force, and political manipulation (I don’t think that’s true love). It’s the kind of love that heals the sick; finds the lost; feeds the hungry; mends the broken; breaks the chains of death and sin and oppression; and throws the biggest parties and feasts for everyone–both now on earth and forevermore.

All photos in the post are courtesy of Unsplash, except the drawings below, which are mine.

I think if Christians, myself included, really understood that message and lived it, we could solve a lot of problems in the world and bring God’s kingdom here on earth, which is what God intends for us to do.

But instead, Christians tend to get caught up in worrying about following rules; in judging other people; in freaking out about sex and social change; in proving to everyone that we are very good and right about everything; in concocting weird conspiracies about how the government and all the non-Christians are out to destroy us; and in trying to keep political leaders in office who periodically hold up Bibles in public and probably throw them in the trash can in private (literally or figuratively).

What a squandered opportunity.

But I have hope.

I don’t think we (Christians) must behave this way. I believe we can change and start living from love and not fear. And I think many Christians are. So that is why I write this post: to encourage those who have already started on this journey of love and to encourage those who need to start.

I am also writing this post for Non-Christians as, I guess, an apology. I’m sorry that Christians are the very worst sometimes. I am sorry that we have failed to live up to the love and radical creativity displayed by the life of Christ. You are often very quick to point that out. And you are right to do so.

I don’t know what else to say to Non-Christians. Perhaps I will figure out what to say later. But right now I will start with “I’m sorry.”

And mainly in this post, I want to write about several reasons why I think Christians are the very worst sometimes. I want to write about common mistakes Christians make. It’s not going to be pretty. If you are a Christian, it may make you feel angry or uncomfortable. It makes me uncomfortable. I don’t really like doing that, but I think it is necessary.

I also want to say that I certainly have the expertise to write about these matters because I have made all the mistakes I am about to write about and still make them sometimes. So, in writing about Christians in general, I am writing about myself.

I hope that if we can talk more about these mistakes, we will be able to avoid getting stuck in them, and we will be able to grow in love towards ourselves and others.

Here are five common mistakes that I think cause Christians to behave like the very worst. Also, there is some cussing in this post, but I think it’s appropriate.

One: We (Christians) mistakenly believe that being a Christian means we are right about everything or most things.

I have bad news for you. Being a Christian doesn’t mean you are right. About anything. All it means is that you have apparently made a commitment to follow Christ. So, it is important for you to understand that you could be a Christian and be wrong about just about everything.

You could be wrong about science. You could be wrong about the Bible. You could be wrong about relationships. You could be wrong about sex. You could be wrong about abortion. You could be wrong about politics. You could be wrong about money. You could be wrong about race. You could be wrong about love.

It is possible for you to be a Christian and be wrong about everything except for your desire to follow Christ.

I’m not telling you that you could be wrong so that you worry and fret. I’m telling you because it’s important that you remember that nowhere in the Bible does it say that people who claim to be Christians are automatically right about anything other than the desire to follow Christ.

 

Reality ^

 

What we think reality is. ^

And in fact, quite frequently in the Bible Christ’s followers (like his disciples) or religious leaders (like the pharisees) were the ones who got it most wrong about Christ and what it meant to be a Christian.

The Bible often shows people like prostitutes, tax collectors, thieves on the cross, lepers, and sick or destitute women with incurable bleeding problems understanding Christ much better than either the disciples or the pharisees. Why? I think it is because “social outcasts” or suffering people like this lived in a state of vulnerability.

They were searching; they were hungry for love and connection; they weren’t trying to prove anything. This made them especially able to understand truth and love, rather than determined to prove their righteousness to everyone.

Stories like this should remind us (Christians) that our goal is not to be right. It is to seek, to love, to be humble. And, very likely, if we are convinced of our rightness, we are probably already behaving like the pharisees or like the disciples who often missed the point of Christ’s message.

Christ reminds us in the New Testament that the Kingdom of God belongs to children or those with childlike faith.[1] Children aren’t interesting in being right. They are interested in curiosity, love, and adventure. We should go and be likewise because these attitudes connect us with the heart of God.

Two: Christians mistakenly think that it’s Christians vs. Non-Christians.

Christ certainly makes a distinction between good and evil and between those who or for him and against him in the Bible.

He also makes it very clear in several places[2] that there are a lot of people who claim to be righteous, Christ’s followers, prophets, miracle workers, and his disciples who are not actually any of these things.

He also makes is clear that there are folks who are followers of Christ whom we might not realize are such initially.[3]

Christ continually warns us against judging who is or is not his follower, but if we (as Christians) want to make sure we are following Christ, here’s how we know: “By this everyone will know you are my disciples, if you love one another.”[4]

And if you are wondering what love looks like in action, here is what Christ says it is: “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”[5]

So, we need to understand that it’s not “Christian” vs. “Non-Christian”. It is folks concerned about love teaming up with anyone who is committed to love, to feeding the hungry; to giving the thirsty water; to healing the sick; to visiting folks in prison; to working on behalf of the oppressed; to caring for folks in need.

And it also about still trying to reach out to folks being jerks, as much as possible (whether they claim to be Christians or not) and trying to convince them that they are living in a self-destructive manner, destructive both to themselves and others. (And of course, we need to respect our own boundaries in this because that is how we love our neighbor as our self.)

Three: We think that being a Christian is about having certain views about sex, politics, and abortion.

In the last few decades, I have read a lot of books and heard a lot of people speak about a Christian worldview. If you are into Christian worldview stuff, I have bad news for you. There is no such thing as THE Christian Worldview.

Or if there is, it is very basic and goes something like this: God created the world, and it was awesome. People did dumb shit and the world got broken temporarily. Love remains, and Christ has promised that all shall be reconciled, healed, and redeemed. Let’s work together to make it happen.

Christianity has been around for thousands of years, and there are literally thousands of different views about what it means to be a Christian. And while there are some of these views that are more right than others, God and the truth is also bigger than any of those views.

Given what I have stated in #2, there are some views antithetical to the Christian message. For instance, if you decided you were going to live a life of hate, that would be antithetical to the Christian message. If you decided you were going to reject, ignore, and mock the poor and the sick and destitute and oppressed[6] and incarcerated, that would be antithetical to the Christian message.[7]

But there are many different views about how to love and to care for people, especially in our political lives together. People can be committed to love and care and have differing views about certain issues—even about issues like sex, abortion, and politics.

We (again, we here means Christians) need to work less at forcing everyone to have the same view about these issues as we do, and we need to focus more on pursuing love, care, and authentic dialogue with people committed to these same values, even if they conceive of them differently than we do.

Four: We are emotionally immature.

Being emotionally mature means that you recognize that you live in a world with other people and things that often oppose you, and you must figure out a way to work together with them, which often entails managing painful emotions like frustration, ambiguity, fear, and perplexity. An emotionally mature person recognizes such emotions and regulates them for their own good and the good of others. This is what morality and ethics helps us work on. You can read more about morality and ethics here.

There are many marks of being an emotionally mature person, but here are a few.

Emotionally mature people realize that there is good and bad in everyone, including themselves, and they continually engage in self-reflection to address their dark side and emotional limitations. You can read more about this here.

Emotionally mature people realize that life is full of ambiguity because we are finite human beings who have significant limits to our knowledge, and we must figure out a lot of things as we go along. This necessarily entails mistakes and error. It also calls for ambiguity tolerance and forgiveness (while still protecting our own personal boundaries).

Emotionally mature people realize that it is possible to be a moral, responsible, loving, and Christian person and have legitimately different views on certain topics. Therefore, emotionally mature people seek to build bridges, to understand, and to work constructively towards solutions with people who are committed to truth, love, goodness, and morality. They are also able to work with people like this who have different views than they do.

Unfortunately, as I explained in #1, some Christians mistakenly believe that being a Christian means that they are right about everything. If you believe you are right about everything, you will 1) be unable or very defensive about seeing your dark side and working on it; 2) have troubles accepting ambiguity and working on tolerating it; and 3) struggle a great deal with working with people who have different views than you do.

When you get entrenched in these patterns, you fail to mature emotionally, and you focus instead on surrounding yourself with people who look and think like you and who do not challenge your view of the world.

The good news is that if you recognize yourself in these descriptions, it is never too late to commit yourself to the path of emotional maturity. This will help you, not hinder you, from sharing God’s love with everyone.

Five: We equate Christianity with white, middle class, U.S. values.

If you are white, middle class, and live in the U.S., good for you. I am, (and do), too. You are awesome. I also want to remind you that white, middle class, people in the U.S. look at the world in a certain way because of their race, ethnicity, and social conditions.

And while there is nothing to be ashamed of per se in being white, middle class, and a U.S. citizen, the world is much bigger than that view. Christianity is also much bigger than that view.

Another part of emotional maturity (see #4) is realizing that your view of the world is only ever a partial view of the world. There is nothing to be ashamed of in that. In order to have a total view of the world, you would have to be able to view the world from the perspective of every gender, socioeconomic class, race, ethnicity, age, etc.

No one has that view of the world except God, and God’s view is much bigger than all of that.

When we fail to realize that our view of the world is only ever a partial view of the world, we assume that everyone’s life is just like ours; that everyone has the same resources and opportunities we do; that everyone’s moral intuitions are the same as ours; and that everyone interprets the Bible the same way we do (if we are Christians).

If we are not careful with these assumptions, we will end up trying to make everyone think and act and live like we do, and this can cause serious problems in our interpersonal and political relationships.

Because white, middle class folks in the U.S. have been predominant in our country pretty much since its inception, we have been the loudest and often the most powerful. We have often assumed our views of the world and the U.S. and the Bible are the right ones. We often get upset with people who challenge these views and suggest they may not be the whole picture of the world. We especially get upset when people suggest maybe we are being unjust to them.

The good news is that it is never too late to start listening to other people. When we do so, we will not only become more emotionally mature and loving, we will understand God and the world better.

Christians, if you are a white, middle-class North American, this means that you need to start listening to people who are black, Asian, Latino, queer, and poor, just to name a few of the views you need to listen to. You need to listen to their needs and how they interpret the Bible. You need to listen to ways they may have been treated unfairly, and you need to value their views as much as you do your own.

A Parting Note

I could keep going on in this post about why Christians often fail to live up to the message of Christ, but I think that’s enough right now because we can only process so much at a time, and this post is getting very long. Also, I chose to write about the reasons in which I have the most expertise because they are all reasons I have failed to live up to Christ’s message in the past. So, in writing about this post, I am writing about my own failures.

Perhaps this post is a challenge to me, as much as it is to anyone else.

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[1] Luke 18:16

[2] Matthew 7, Matthew 25:31-46

[3] See Matthew 25:31-46 and John 10:15-16

[4] John 13:35

[5] Matthew 25:35-36

[6][6] The Bible has a lot to say about oppression, too. Read here.

[7] And, of course, there are more views than this antithetical to the heart of Christianity, but these are the main ones.

 

4 thoughts on “A Christian Reflects on Why Christians are the Very Worst Sometimes”

  1. I think your point about our world view only ever being a very partial view is very helpful. Your post is relevant for Christians and non-Christians alike.
    I listened to a brilliant talk from Ravi Ravindra on my Yoga Anytime app, which I can possibly share with you (I will try to). He talks about how he as an Indian immigrant to Canada found himself constantly questioned on the Indian world view or on religious matters and how he realised he knew nothing about them. He suggests the same might happen with Christianity; that you might have to move outside your comfort zone to learn more about your faith. And in so doing you expand your knowledge of the world and god.

    1. Ali, this is so good! And I think that is right. I know the times I have moved outside of my normal circles and interacted with people really different from me, the more understanding and love I gained for my own religion. But in those times, I often went through a period of thinking, “I don’t know if I really understand what I believe very well.” I would love to hear your podcast!

  2. I love, love, love this post! You have somehow managed to encapsulate all cognitive dissonance I’ve been working my way through as a Christian over the past several years. During this incredibly hard and painful process (which occurred simultaneously with another incredibly hard and painful process), I had to face up to each of these mistakes and own them. Honestly, I don’t think I’m quite done yet.

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