We’ve missed it.
As a Christian, I’m becoming more and more convinced that, by and large, we’ve missed it.
Who is the ‘we’ in question? Christians.
And if you’re reading this right now wondering, does this have any thing to do with me? … well, chances are it does. Because if you don’t consider yourself to be a Christian, then you probably know one. If you know one, then somewhere along the line you’ve probably felt offended by one. That being the case, you’ve probably witnessed a profound failure on the part of one or many Christians, a failure so egregiously antithetical to our core beliefs that it has probably distorted your view of who Christians are supposed to be.
A friend of mine, someone I’ve known since the seventh grade, once called me out of the blue last year. He was incensed – no, that’s too gentle a word – he was pissed about the results of the 2004 presidential election. His burning question was basically this (I’m paraphrasing): how do Christians justify electing a man who has made so many morally questionable decisions?
Not About Politics
Now, before I go any further, let me get a few things out of the way.
First, I’m not a political pundit, by any stretch of the imagination. By and large, I can’t stand politics, mostly because I think they end up being more divisive than constructive.
Secondly, (I can’t believe I’m admitting this publicly) I’ve never actually voted. Through a combination of poor planning, unforeseen circumstances and general apathy, I’ve managed to make it into my late twenties without actually casting an official vote of any kind. So I have no official (or even unofficial) political affiliation. So being a Christian doesn’t make me a pawn of the conservative right any more than being a fan of Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing would make me a radical leftist.
(And for the record, I only got into The West Wing after being completely and totally addicted to his previous series, Sports Night.)
But had I voted in the 2004 election, I might have strongly considered voting for Bush, so when my buddy from back in the day suddenly called me up to get an authentic Christian’s take on ol’ Dubya, I was taken aback. I didn’t know what to tell him, exactly. As our conversation progressed, I had to admit that I felt strongly enough about the same-sex marriage issue that I might have swayed to the right on that issue alone.
This, as you might imagine, set him off in a big way.
“So what you’re saying,” he seethed, “is that you would put a sorry S.O.B. like Bush back in power because God doesn’t like a** f***ers?!”
Lacking no other response, I conceded.
“Well yeah,” I essentially said.
Stinging Attacks Hit Home
I’ve valued my relationship with this guy precisely because we’ve never been afraid to venture into emotionally explosive territory. It’s probably one of the reasons why we don’t talk more often, but when we do, it’s always interesting. And this was no exception, because when I answered his question, he proceeded to tear into me with a series of scathing indictments of short-sighted, narrow-minded judgmental Christians. And in a general sense, even though I disagreed with a lot of his underlying suppositions, his attacks were right on.
And it hurt to hear it.
Not because it was news to me. I’ve heard most of those arguments before. It hurt because it was coming from someone who knew me. It hurt because I could hear years of angst and frustration seeping through my cell phone. It hurt because essentially what he was saying (even though he didn’t explicitly say so) was, yeah… well if that’s how He works, then this God of yours is full of crap.
I flashed back to that moment this morning, more than nine months later, after reading this portion of the apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans (15:1-3, NIV):
We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.
Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.
For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.”
In this passage, Paul is quoting from a psalm of David, which was written during a time of intense personal trial (69:5-9, NIV):
You know my folly, O God; my guilt is not hidden from you.
May those who hope in you not be disgraced because of me,
O Lord, the LORD Almighty;
May those who seek you not be put to shame because of me,
O God of Israel.
For I endure scorn for your sake, and shame covers my face.
I am a stranger to my brothers, an alien to my own mother’s sons;
for zeal for your house consumes me,
and the insults of those who insult you fall on me.
Whoa, Whoa… On Me?
This idea that the insults of those who insult God could fall on me… this is not a comfortable idea. And I would venture to say that most Christians don’t embrace this idea. This is something we run from, especially in the public eye.
There are many Christians in high-profile positions… head coaches of sports teams, high-ranking public officials, popular musicians, actors, etc. When Christians in those kinds of position are confronted with scandal on their doorstep, the popular responses are name-calling, and grandstanding speeches that divert attention away from the real problem. You would almost never hear a Christian say, in a press conference:
“Yup… I messed this thing up so bad, all those bad things that people think about God because of me… I’ll take all of those things. I wanna hear ‘em.”
Why is this?
My guess is because it takes a level of strength and humility that’s hard to achieve by scratching and clawing your way to power.
And that’s how I think we’ve missed it.
Because for some Christians, especially ones in the public eye, the general response to genuine conflict with unbelievers looks like this:
Bring it on… we can take it, and we’ll dish it out, too… We’re not afraid of you. We’re gonna get our chance, and when we do, you and your Godless agenda are toast.
What ever happened to loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us?
One of the biggest mistakes we Christians make with people is the assumption that they will change their beliefs if we can argue our position well enough. But people are complex, multifaceted emotional creatures, and we respond in a plethora of ways. Often our motives for arguing our “side” are rooted in our aversion to emotional pain. When someone comes at us with beef about our Christian beliefs, we would rather try to shout them down with our intellect and our rhetoric instead of trying to understand where they’re coming from – because to do so would require us to receive their insults and take on their pain. Our subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) message is, look… you don’t have a right to feel this way, so I don’t wanna hear it.
My man Donald Miller expressed this in his book of memoirs, Blue Like Jazz (italics mine):
My most recent faith struggle is not one of intellect. I don’t really do that anymore. Sooner or later you just figure out there are some guys who don’t believe in God and they can prove He doesn’t exist, and some guys who do believe in God and they can prove He does exist, and the argument stopped being about God a long time ago and now it’s about who is smarter, and honestly I don’t care. I don’t believe I will walk away from God for intellectual reasons. If I do walk away from Him, and please pray that I never do, I will walk away for social reasons, identity reasons, deep emotional reasons, the same reasons that any of us do anything.
What Does This All Mean?
So here is where it all comes back to you.
(No, I don’t mean “you” as in me, or the generic “you” that means anyone or everyone, I’m talking about you, directly, whoever you are.)
If you’ve been angry with a Christian over something… anything… just know this – you have a right to be angry.
Now hear exactly what I’m saying, and don’t get twisted.
I’m not saying your anger is always going to lead you to the correct conclusions. A victim of child molestation who carries the emotional burden of that crime for years and years might ultimately decide that the only way to be free is to perpetrate the same act on someone else. That decision would be an illegitimate solution to a legitimate problem. And there are few things that we Christians do more than denounce illegitimate solutions to legitimate problems. That’s something that all of us, myself included, need to work on.
So back to “you” and my previous claim:
Even if there are compelling, logical reasons for a Christian to disagree with you on whatever subject you may have beef with us about, you still have a legitimate reason to be upset. It may have nothing to do with the person you’re dealing with, someone may call him or herself a ‘little Christ.’ But it’s legitimate, nonetheless.
And I believe God loves you so much, and wants so desperately to reveal Himself to you, that He doesn’t want your perspective to be screwed up by a portion of His followers who don’t quite totally get it.
So I’m going to do something that I’ve resisted for a long time.
I say, go ahead. Let the insults fly.
Because there are some Christians out there who’ll take it. And some of us not content to miss the mark any longer.
I’m G*Natural, and thanks for mixing it up with me.