Author's note: This post was inspired by the documentary "Lord, Save Us From Your Followers". I highly recommend it.
I'm a person who likes to debate. Actually, "like" might not be the right word. I don't really enjoy debates, and yet I often find myself participating in them. I feel urges to be heard, to be right, to let my opinion be known.
In other words, be totally annoying.
Part of this is personality. I'm strong willed. Part of it is sin. I'm prideful. Part of it is inherited. Have you seen some of my Dad's facebook statuses?
Debate has become a huge part of American life. No matter what the issue, this country is pretty much split down the middle. Healthcare. Economics. Foreign Policy. Gay rights. Abortion. Education. You name it, we've all got an opinion on it. Liberals blame everything on conservatives. Conservatives blame everything on liberals. Politics in this nation has literally severed relationships, sometimes before they even start. Personal opinions have become more important than human decency. We yell, we riot, we ridicule and belittle. Somehow, it's honorable to believe in something so dogmatically that we must mock the opposing side.
And we Christians can sometimes yell the loudest.
I'm no stranger to this. I know what it's like to feel so angry and frustrated that someone could actually believe in something I find so illogical and loathsome. It makes me want to fight for the truth I believe in, especially when Scriptural principles are attacked. After all, if Christians don't protect truth, who will? What will happen to our society if we stay silent? We are God's mouth, right?
It's so easy to forget that being a Christian does not make you a super-American. And being American is not as important as being a Christian.
Unbelievers are taking notice. So many people have heard only judgment from the church. Somewhere along the way our message turned from "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved" to "You are going to Hell, you filthy sinner."
Now, it's true, anyone who doesn't have a personal, atoning relationship with Christ will go to Hell. But somehow, we've decided that the world's sin is worse than our own. And we yell about it, from pulpits, from stages, at protests, in books, in blogs and social network sites.
And somewhere in our yelling, the love of Jesus is lost. No one ever sees it. Instead people see arrogance, a people prone to judgment and ostracizing, a people consumed with their own "rightness".
Is that really how we believe Jesus was?
I'm hard pressed to think of a passage where Jesus was argumentative with unbelievers. I can think of times when he rebuked his followers and the religious leaders of the time. But over and over, Jesus showed compassion to the "sinners". The tax collectors. The prostitutes. The demon possessed. The liars and cheaters. The unlovables. Jesus was not too good to be associated with these people. He ate with them, hung out with them. Spent time with and took interest in them. He broke social barriers that made the religious people cringe. Think of the story of the "sinful woman" we are told about in Luke 7. She was sinful enough for every Pharisee in the room to know they were above her. Yet she anoints Jesus' feet with perfume and tears. Jesus doesn't judge her. He doesn't list her sins. He doesn't say to everyone else in the room "Don't be like this woman".
He forgives her. He tells her that her faith has saved her and fills her with peace.
Now, on the surface, that story doesn't bother us very much. We've heard it hundreds of times before. So many times that we can breeze right through it without so much as a second thought to what was actually happening.
Imagine that same story, but instead of a sinful woman, it's a gay man. An abortionist. A socialist or even communist. A drug addict. A child molester.
Did it make you flinch a little bit? Jesus wouldn't have.
You could argue that Jesus was compassionate because this woman was showing repentance for her sins. But there are numerous accounts of Jesus showing or encouraging love without first demanding repentance. Read Luke 8:1-11. Matthew 5:43-48. Mark 12:28-34. Luke 10:25-37. Romans 5:8.
I think we have several problems as a church. One is that we see varying degrees of sin. We like to think that homosexuality is a worse sin than gossip. Or abortion is worse than bitterness. Or alcoholism is worse than gluttony. But I don't think Jesus looks at each person with a list of each sin. Certainly, he could. He knows our every thought and deed and would have no trouble recalling them. He would have every right to judge, since he is the one who paid for all those sins. Yet, instead of keeping tabs on our every sin, he sees us plagued by the result of sin as a whole. He sees us struggling with the burden of sin, suffering under the oppression of that overwhelming darkness. To Christ, sin is sin. It's not big sins and little sins. There aren't varying levels of depravity. And there aren't varying levels of forgiveness.
Another problem is this isolation mentality we are getting as believers. We exist in Christian "bubbles". We have taken "in the world but not of the world" to mean that we should not have relationships with unbelievers. We shouldn't go where they go or spend great amounts of time with them. After all, we've all heard how it's easier to be dragged down in a relationship than to be the one lifting up.
The older I get, the more I see my bubble for what it is: Shallow faith. Selfish faith. And a clear lack of love. I've got to get past this "us vs. them" mentality that is so easy among Christians. The unbeliever is not my enemy. The liberal is not my enemy. The lesbian is not my enemy. These people are just like I am, victims in a war Satan wages against God. Instead of being repulsed by their sin, I need to take a good look at my own behavior. It is more repulsive for a Christian to act nothing like Christ.
A while back, my husband was working a second job as a valet in a hotel downtown. Right across the street was a bar. One of his co-workers from his main job would frequent that bar on the weekends, as his girlfriend worked there. Seth felt a strong pull to spend time with this coworker outside of work. To get to know him on his terms. And since Seth was working two jobs, the only time he had to do that was when he would get off from valeting at midnight. He'd stop by the bar as he left and spend a little time chatting with his friend and girlfriend.
Scandalous, right? It frustrated Seth that he had this residing hesitation just to enter a bar. That it had been ingrained in him that such a thing was not a form of acceptable witnessing. That somehow, walking through the doors of a bar made him less of a Christian.
But we've both come to be convinced that personal relationships is by far the best way to share Christ. Handing out tracks in a park, not so much. Knocking on strangers' doors and asking survey questions, please. Shouting "Jesus saves!" at a political rally, uh-uh. In fact, I'd argue that these things actually harm our testimony for Christ. We aren't showing personal interest in these people. We aren't sharing a meal with them, learning the names of their kids, or hearing about their struggles. We aren't seeing them as people with heartaches, joy, frustrations, and questions. This drive-by witnessing has got to stop. Personal relationships require time, investment, and sometimes, putting aside our personal opinions. It's about Jesus looking good and shining through, not about being right.
We also must remember to keep our political opinions in perspective. As much as we were taught otherwise, America was not founded as an evangelical nation. Most of our forefathers were deists. They believed in God. They knew a lot of Scripture. But that doesn't mean they were born again. We spend a lot of time fighting for "our" country. I'm not saying we shouldn't stand up for what we believe in. But how we do that is important. We can vote. We can work on being people of quiet integrity so that those we come in contact are willing to listen to us when we share our convictions. We can stop vilifying anyone who doesn't share our beliefs. We can get to know people who disagree with us. We can't control our government or how others vote. But we can control our words and actions and make sure they aren't doing more damage than good.
"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." Matthew 5:43-48