On a not-too-infrequent basis, Christian commentators will rant and rail against secular and non-Christian forces conspiring to destroy our faith. Any given day, the Muslims or the scientists or the atheists or the Jews or the secular humanists or the liberals or the homosexuals or Planned Parenthood or the… you get the point. Google the subject and you will find articles citing each and every one of those I listed as a threat to the Christian faith. Yet, as I listen to the hate and bile being spewed by those governed by fear and violence rather than by faith, it occurs to me that the greatest threat to the Christian faith are Christians.
If the Christian church in the United States is destroyed any time soon, it won’t be because an outside force conquered it. It will be destroyed from within. Science can’t disprove faith. Atheists aren’t that impressive. There are as many liberal Christians as conservative Christians, so you can’t call them an “outside” threat. And Muslims and Jews and Hindus and Buddhists and dozens of other world religions have no power over Christians. No, there is only one group on earth powerful and influential enough to destroy our church — and that is Christians. Christians who would rather battle and argue with each other than find ways to get along. Christians who would rather debate “truth” in order to ignore things like “justice.” Christians who attack and condemn each other while spouting that “God is love.” Christians who are more concerned with how we differ than what we could become if we were united by our faith.
What’s so important about being right? Why are our conflicting beliefs worth hating each other over? How can our differences completely undermine our responsibility to act with love, peace, kindness, gentleness, and self-control? Do we really believe that God approves of our judgmentalism and derision? Is there any more necessary demand on our current situation than the need for reconciliation, unity and healing? Why is it that a faith defined by mercy, grace, love and justice leads to such hurtful, hateful, unkind and unjust behavior?
I know that some will see me as the problem — wanting to love the unlovable and accept the unacceptable. I confess that this IS my reading of the gospel. I am as bothered by sin as the next person, but I simply don’t see sin as a reason to argue. We’re all sinners, we all need God’s grace, and we’re better off together than we are split apart. I would much rather exert my energy to love someone I disagree with than to waste my energy trying to hurt or alienate them. It bothers me that so much of our faith language is about behaviors in which we refuse to engage. Righteous indignation seems more appealing than unconditional love. Hating gays gets more play than amazing grace. Misunderstanding other people’s beliefs is more important than making sure we understand our own. But to what end?
Where will this all end up? We’re not attracting many more people than we are alienating and repulsing. We are losing credibility with younger, more educated people. We are often viewed by Christian believers outside of our organized churches as contentious, divided, and hypocritical. These views aren’t merely about theological differences, but our inability to navigate theological differences. Holding different beliefs isn’t the problem. How we behave about our differences is the bigger issue. Certainly patience, peace-making, grace, mercy, compassion, tolerance, forgiveness, inclusiveness and forbearance are challenging, but come on… are we even trying? Many don’t see it.
We need to be better. We need to stop listening to those who want to divide us, to segregate us, to put up walls, to ostracize and alienate, and we need to seek a better way. We need to allow the fruit of the Spirit to define us — as the way we live in the world, and not just nice ideas to which we pay lip service. I am tired of hearing one batch of Christians bad mouth other Christians as if it is their God-demanded duty. Humility. Self-control. Civility. Respect. Servanthood. These things are all more acceptable than judgmentalism, condemnation, self-righteousness, and contempt. Yet, many preference the latter list to the former. Things need to change, and they won’t change for the better if we tolerate the dividing walls of hostility and continue looking for the specks in the eyes of others while ignoring the logs in our own. We need to learn to get along.