“Some Christians Give Christianity a Bad Name”
Some Christians give Christianity a bad name. This is not a new thing.
Skip a stone across the ripply surface of history and we are likely to hit so many shame-filled incidents starring Christians as villains that will make us cringe, blush or run to the closest confessional box to repent from guilt-by-association deferred for generations if not centuries. Certainly we aren’t the only guilty religious people in the world. But I can’t confess somebody else’s sins, only mine.
Crusades that were an excuse for rape, vandalism, murder and theft on a large scale; inquisitions aimed at preventing variety in thought or belief, science or faith; violence and torture used to reinforce an ecclesial grip on power; witch hunts, the real kind, in which superstition is yoked to violence in the service of greed and petty revenge; and warfare, bloody-mindedness and pride dressed-up in holy garb: these are only a start.
We remember the question asked by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, as he was driving in a car through a white neighborhood a few decades ago. Dr. King looked up and saw a magnificent church steeple rising above a beautiful, carefully manicured campus. He asked, “What kind of people worship here? Who is their God?” This Question has haunted me since I first read it in Dr. King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”
It sometimes feels as though Jesus is standing between the famed “woman caught in adultery” and a band of Christians as self-deluded as self-righteous as anyone he faced in his time, saying, “Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone.” But instead of dropping their rocks and going home in shame the way Jesus’s ancient audience did, these Christian folks say, “You heard him boys! Fire away! Kill that sinner!” Then, stepping down from their moral high ground, they gather somewhere in a dark room to coordinate schemes to support whatever disreputable leaders will further their goals no matter what other damage their policies might do.
Some Christians give Christianity a bad name, to the point that many Christians these days are hesitant to own the label of their faith. It is not that they are ashamed of Jesus Christ, just his fan club.
Again, this is not a new thing. But old or new, it isn’t so good.
I recall driving one day through East Texas, my childhood neck of the woods, and passing a church with a message board out front. The next Sunday was Easter, so the preacher had chosen an apt Bible verse for the sign. Apt, but unfortunate, given the unintended message. The sign in front of the church read: “Why do you look for the living among the dead. He is not here.” (Luke 24: 5)
Preaching at a Presbytery meeting in the Midwest a few years ago I said something that has gotten quoted a lot. It was in a moment of frustration. I said, “You don’t have to be mean or stupid to follow Jesus!” Even though I’ve simmered down since then, I still believe what I said is true.
I know we Christians can do better. It’s the reason I haven’t given up hope in us. I sure hope God hasn’t.