I am a “born again” evangelical Christian. Please don’t hold that against me.
After years of mindlessly following examples of respected people in the church and believing that all they said MUST be based in scripture, I’ve realized that I have been mistaken. The church has absorbed much dogma and tradition that has no basis in the Word or in the example of Christ. My secular friends and coworkers have all had negative experiences regarding Christians and the church. They have been hurt, judged, deemed unworthy, cut off from family, yelled at, shamed, and brought to tears. Most of these Christian interactions have pushed them far away from ever opening the Bible to see for themselves what this whole God thing is about. Many others have left the church due to its perceived hypocrisy and hatred.
The meaning of Christian is “follower of Christ”. Or maybe we’d prefer “of, pertaining to, or derived from Jesus Christ or His teachings”. Or, “exhibiting a spirit proper to a follower of Jesus Christ; Christlike”. Perhaps “decent; respectable” and “human; not brutal; humane”. Or maybe,”a person who exemplifies in his or her life the teachings of Christ”. If we are truly what we claim to be then I would think we should try our best to know the teachings of Christ to the best of our ability and to strive toward living them out in our own lives.
But be forewarned, Jesus was/is a radical and controversial figure. He always put others before Himself (there goes the “what about Christians’ rights?!” argument often heard from church leaders and alarmist radio and TV hosts). He exemplified grace and forgiveness (uhoh, there goes the “tsk tsk, I can’t believe they have gotten themselves into that situation! It is not my responsibility to help them clean up their mess). He was completely silent on the issue of homosexuality (perhaps it shouldn’t be our number one concern if the Son of God Himself never chose to address it). He hung out with the untouchable and lower class of his culture (there goes looking down our nose at those people in Walmart and trailer parks). But, but, but… I would never look down on anyone! Please, we all have. We might as well admit it to ourselves even if we aren’t ready to acknowledge it to anyone else. And God already knows so there’s no sense trying to keep Him in the dark either.
Where does grace come in when a woman trying to enter Planned Parenthood has to walk the gauntlet of protestors declaring her to be a baby killer? Do the protest signs and gruesome pictures make her feel loved? Do these people demonstrate the love of Christ by shaming her? I’m choosing to not address the very real scenario right now that the above mentioned woman might be entering the clinic for routine care since that is the majority of Planned Parenthood’s actual function. What of the woman leaving the clinic after choosing to have an abortion? Do the pro life lobbyists make her feel welcome to share her story of what drove her to that difficult decision? Does she feel any sense of love whatsoever? Or simply judgement and shame? Would the church help her heal or simply deepen the wounds by repeatedly and mindlessly talking of the ugliness of abortion?
When is the last time you have messed up–I mean REALLY messed up–and needed someone else to remind you of how awful your choices have been? Yes, I realize that there is a time and place for us to rebuke one another for behaving contrary to God’s commandments. But I would suggest to you that most people heap plenty of guilt on themselves with absolutely no outside help. What most humans need is someone to love them, hold them, listen to them, gently guide them. Self loathing and guilt paralyzes us from moving forward. Guilt and self hatred does not come from God. It actually pushes us far away from God by telling us we are not worthy to even talk to Him, we are not worthy to seek forgiveness, we are not worthy to heal. We Christians would be far more successful at showing others what it is that we believe in by simply loving people and pointing them in the direction of Christ without harsh declarations. Why would anyone listen to us if all they hear is judgment, shame, and piousness? Isn’t conviction of sin the job of the Holy Spirit? What makes us think we should take on that role? Didn’t Jesus Himself say to the crowd watching for judgement of the woman caught in adultery, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”? (John 8:7 NIV) Jesus was pure and sinless. Surely He had the right to stone this woman according to the law of the time (well, that and that He was God). Instead He said, “Then neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:11 NIV, upon witnessing the crowd dispersing after the realization that they could not in good conscience kill this woman). What do you think that woman thought of Jesus after that moment? I suspect He gained a follower in that moment. He had literally saved her life. Not by force, not by scolding, but by love and grace.
But wait! Aren’t we judged and punished accordingly by a vengeful God? Isn’t all bad stuff due to our screw ups? No. Indeed some of our difficulties are brought on by our personal choices. Yes, someday we will all be judged. BUT, Jesus himself healed a blind man AFTER pointing out to the disciples that his blindness was not the result of sin. “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” (John 9: 3). His handicap simply “was”. Not punishment. Not judgement. Just reality. It was a circumstance allowed so that the grace and glory of God might be demonstrated. So why then do church leaders like to spout off that earthquakes, or AIDS, or floods, are judgements from God for our laws, or for homosexuality, or for our general sinfulness? Does it sound like the same God would send His son to earth to save us but then beat us with a big stick at the same time? Jesus said in John 10:14-15, “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.” If He was willing to lay down his life for us, why would he then proceed to punish everyone for the sins we all commit daily? Do good shepherds randomly punish their sheep for everything they do wrong? They care for them, guide them, feed them, and redirect them when necessary.
I chose to start this blog because it has become very apparent to me in the current political/religious/social environment that there are distinct camps forming around what is right and what is wrong. There are distinct and stubborn factions willing to pick and choose what parts of the Bible they follow based on their own prejudices and opinions. I see the church split into those who act like sin must be beaten out of everyone via laws, pronouncements, and separating ourselves from ‘the other’; and those who think that grace and love is the key to drawing others to Truth. I will tell you now that I fall firmly in the camp or grace and compassion. There’s a reason the old saying “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar” has endured.
I write not as an expert, but as someone encouraging us to question. Always question our own motives. Always question our own actions. Always question our own beliefs. Do they match what Jesus Himself called the greatest commandment? In Matthew 22:37-40, Jesus said: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” When I become pure and sinless, then I will have the right to throw stones. Until then, I live because of the grace shown me by God. And I have no right to show others anything other than grace.