What makes a Christian a Christian? Does going to church make one a Christian? Does simply calling oneself a Christian make it so? Is it merely a matter of believing that Jesus is the Son of God? Or is there anything more? Does being a Christian demand any kind of behaviors? Do Christians speak differently, think differently, act differently, engage differently than those who do not profess to be Christian? A number of things have happened recently that have made me reluctant to claim membership in the Christian contingent. Here are a few examples from just the past couple of weeks:
In Tennessee, a Christian woman’s group threw garbage on health care workers for “promoting the myth of COVID,” and “trying to make people feel sorry for you.”
During the horrendous storms in Kentucky, some “good Christians” felt it necessary to say that the people died as “God’s punishment for the election of Joe Biden.”
A number of good Christians felt it humorous to send family Christmas photos of the whole family wielding semi-automatic guns.
Members of a Christian youth group beat and hospitalized an eleven year-old girl who they suspected “might be a terrorist.”
Literally hundreds of thousands of “Christians” are engaging in some of the most hateful, divisive, and irrational support of conspiracy theories, violent rhetoric, and bigoted behavior in our history. Now, granted, all these people are human beings, children of God, less than perfect, “standing in the need of prayer,” but there is an uncontested assertion that gun violence, name calling, assault, attack, spreading misinformation, mistrust, and judgmentalism are all acceptable characteristics for Christians. Does anyone else see this as a problem?
I received an email from an angry woman the other day that broke my heart. I am so sad that anyone feels this way:
“You wrote in your blog that we shouldn’t judge, but then you went on to judge just about everybody and anybody who disagrees with you. You say people should accept each other. I am a good Christian and I accept everyone, but I don’t accept sin and I don’t forgive sinners who don’t want forgiveness. Faggots and baby killers deserve everything they get and as Christians it is our duty to stay righteous and faithful. People like me shouldn’t have the teach the Bible to people like you, but you obviously have no idea what it means. You twist it all out of shape to make it about saying sin is okay. And I bet you think all gun-owners are going to hell, but Kyle Rittenhouse is proof positive that God is on the side of the people with guns instead of the people trying to take them away. If people don’t want to get shot, then they shouldn’t do bad things, and if they try to take guns away from the people who own them, then they should expect to get shot. This isn’t judgment, this is just true.”
There was more, but you get the drift. Is there such a thing as “objective Christianity” or is it all subjective? Is Christianity whatever the individual decides to define it to be? Can I do anything I want to and hide behind the banner of my own personal beliefs?
The woman who wrote me is correct on one level – to say that hate and violence and bigotry and murder and hostility and lying and harming are wrong is to make a judgment. I do say these things. I also say that love is better than hate, forgiveness is better than revenge, peace is better than violence, mercy is preferable to judgment, and justice should be offered to everyone equally and not reserved for some and not others. These are all judgments, so I have to own this. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that some would prefer hate, violence, hostility, anger, and selfishness, but it still stuns me that such people think that these things are “Christian.”
A lay speaker from our Wisconsin Conference wrote me a note when I left my position as Assistant to the Bishop. I share it as one more example of what some people think it means to be Christian:
“Good riddance you f****** a******; I hope you fail miserably before you burn in hell forever. You are a f****** s*** who has tried to destroy our church. Go love your gay friends, but go knowing that God hates you for your lack of faith.” Sigh…
This of which you write has been a growing concern of mine. There have always been those willing to condemn others of being bound for hell. However, with the escalation in violence–especially among “christians”– There is a clear willingness on the part of some to expedite the process.
With regard to the question of being judgmental, Clarence Jordan (Koinonia Partners) had this to say: “While it is true that we are not to judge one another, we are called to be fruit inspectors.” I have had to lean on that quote over the years to keep my perspective clear[ish] on this topic.
I can relate. I have often in the past 4-6 years been reluctant to classify myself as a Christian because I see so many people who call themselves Christian do and say such un-Christ-like things! I don’t want to be tarred with the same brush.
Wow, thank you for continuing to make us think my friend!
Oh, my. I am so sorry you are subjected to such hatred and bigotry, Dan. What is even more disheartening is that such bigotry, hatred and violence masks itself as “Christian”. I was unchurched for going on 50 years — mostly because of what I saw good “Christian” people doing and saying. I came back to the Methodist church mostly because my mother and sister belonged to a church and I thought to myself, well, at least I might find a community. And I have. Having lived for 33 years in San Francisco, I don’t agree with a lot of what my fellow church members in Indiana believe, but I have found that they are basically good, kind people. I think they have blind spots in some areas, but then, I’m sure I have too. It baffles me, though, that people can say that all of us human beings are Children of God and then hold forth that some of God’s Children are better than others and some — well, not really God’s Children at all because they are gay or black or Muslim or have had an abortion or even believe that a woman should have the right to choose or…well, you get my drift. It makes me so sad and I too hesitate to say that I am a “Christian” even though the Christ that I believe in I am sure would disagree with those “other Christians”. It breaks my heart what is happening to my country and to my fellow Americans. We are a sick society and I don’t know what to do about it. Thanks for your wonderful insights. A church friend of mine forwards your essays to me and they always enlighten me. I just wish they could also lighten my heart. Sigh…
Oh my! I am appalled at the language and twisted logic that people use! I agree with you completely that there are things that are unChristian represented here. Following Jesus? Too many people don’t even seem to have ever read the Gospels and yet they have “accepted Jesus into their hearts”. It’s too bad they don’t let the love of Jesus into their hearts and his teachings guide their actions. I guess that I am judgmental because I said that, but saying that people only get shot for doing bad things is just a lie. I have read your work for years and never have found anything to get angry about. Sharon McCart, Deaconess