[Response #2 from SEATTLE – Part 5 of “A Conversation between Seattle and Mississippi”, a chronicle of honest discussion between two friends.]
Hahahahaha! You respond so quickly! It takes me weeks to have time to sit down and write an email like that, and before I wake up you have written back. =) So, I thought I would continue the dialogue—a little quicker myself.
And I think you must have been watching me write the last email because I really was smiling and laughing half the time! Of course, it was late at night and I get a little delirious when I’m tired. Well, and Jay Leno and Conan were on, so that makes me laugh too.
But, I also do appreciate a good friendly conversation that isn’t communicated through anger, meanness or general insensitivity. If you only saw some of the emails and comments that come my way! I don’t even show them to my wife, most of the time, because they are so full of anger and intensity. And sadly, they often come from “Christian” brothers and sisters.
I really believe that these are the types of civil and open conversations that more Christians should be having with each other. And I sincerely appreciate your views and the attitude with which you communicate them.
In regards to your last email, I think we probably agree in more areas than we realize. For instance, I agree that at times we will be persecuted by people for standing up for what is right. As you correctly stated, Jesus promises us that the world will hate us as it hated him. And in that regard, I am OK with not being popular or liked. Trust me, I have to have some thick skin to write blogs like that! As much as you might think there are many who would cheer that blog, there are three times more that would like to dis-fellowship me for it. I simply choose not to post their emails or comments because they are too rude and at times vulgar.
Here is the rub for me, though. I believe Jesus was willing to be hated and I should too. However, I just want to make sure that I am hated for the things that Jesus was hated for. I want to “stand-up” for what Jesus stood for. And as I read through the gospels, I can’t think of a single time that Jesus was hated because of his proclamation of repentance to people that were notorious sinners, unbelievers, non-religious or of other religious persuasion. His methods seemed different when it came to outsiders. He didn’t shy away from the problem, but he didn’t seem to start with behavior modification or correction either. I do think Jesus wants repentance, but I can’t find any story there that is similar in method to the [mega-pastor] event. Jesus lived love, and out of that love, spoke healing truth into people’s lives. His message was about the “Kingdom” available to all, not simply adjusting your behavior.
Honestly, I really want to have those conversations with people around me that are hurting. And I do engage in those conversations. In all my relationships with people that don’t follow Christ, I am longing toward one-day (in some cases sooner, others later) sharing the truth as I see it in God’s word that can set them free from oppression, self-indulgence, greed, hostility, loneliness, and despair. But, with so many of them I can’t start there or they’ll never hear it. I have to earn that right to speak into their life.
I approach it that way (and hopefully some of my other nut job Christian friends do too) not because I’m ashamed of the message, but because I’m not ashamed to love them regardless of whether or not they ever believe it.
Also, I agree that there are those apparently following Christ who appear “ashamed” of the relationship and of any standard that God calls us to. Whether this is more so now than at other times, I don’t know. It seems that truly following Christ has always been counter-cultural and the temptation exists to make His radical claims more palatable.
This, of course, is unnecessary. And those that distance themselves from the difficult parts of Jesus’ teaching in order to make Jesus sound more acceptable to hearers are not only fooling themselves, but really deceiving those they intend to attract. And at any rate, I think there are many well-meaning people that are lumped into this category that actually believe more of what I have described above than just “shame” in following Christ.
And, I’m not saying that there aren’t ever going to be times that non-believers disagree with us and even antagonize us for it. I think that happens too and we should be OK with it. But I think that happens for similar reasons when the world sees us caring for people it casts-off (i.e. drug dealers, sex offenders, terrorists, etc.). If people who DID BELIEVE think that Jesus loved too much, how much more those that don’t believe?
Interestingly, though, when Jesus talks about being hated, the reference—I believe—is more the religious people around them than the non-religious. In Jesus’ own context it was the religious leaders that always hated him. It was they who killed him. Not because he preached so much propositional truth, but because he loved too much. Or, if preaching, because he preached the truth about love.
In that way, I think [the mega-pastor] (if the illustrated scenario you described was accurate) misunderstood sacrifice. He could have still been unpopular in his belief on homosexuality (I think that is fine, in fact, theologically we agree), but found an equally unpopular way (in Jesus’ sense) of loving outsiders. Instead, it felt to me like he was willing to be unpopular with the world to in some small way be more popular with his church friends.
Now I’M being dangerous because I’m guessing at his motives! And maybe I’m mistaking his motives (which isn’t really my point anyway—I’m not criticizing his motives, he might be a fine man, just his methods that I don’t think are consistent with Jesus), but if he did feel like a prophet, he’d do well to remember that is was God’s people that were angry with the prophets, not outsiders. They existed, primarily, to reform God’s people, not convert others. (the only exception I can think of here is Jonah, and without going into another long email, I think the circumstances illustrate a similar point).
In terms of media, I think you are right here as well. They do often cast all Christians in one-boat as a bunch of wackos. Of course media has an agenda too. And very often they do choose the worst to represent us all. And in that way, they share part of the blame of the perception of Christians today. Although, I think we’d be wise to own up to our own fair share responsibility. The Church does do some weird things sometimes! LOL.
But, this comes down to several things for me too. 1) There is a difference, I think, between the “cultural Christianity” in America today and real Authentic Jesus-following stuff. The “cultural Christianity” (CC) is what makes the news. It’s the people that say they are Christian, go to church occasionally, but live lives that look nothing like Christ. Christianity isn’t so much a lifestyle to them, but a cultural definition of who they are. However, whenever there is something to protest (and I’m not lumping [mega-pastor] in with this group) that is different than their American-Christian worldview, they are the first to speak up. Not so much based on conviction about Christ’s transformation in their life or the world, but out of a sense of pride in their worldview they’ve always known being right. These are the people that news agency’s love because they are full of hypocrisy, contradictions and have volatile sound-bites.
Then, there are the many good and devoted followers of Jesus in this country that really live what they preach and love God deeply. And it is this group that I think you rightly pointed out are doing a great many things in their churches and communities that doesn’t make the TV. And to these people I am deeply indebted and extremely proud.
Now, I know for me personally, when I am found agreeing with the media about the Christian stereotype, it is not because I’m ashamed of what that latter group believes and lives, or that I find it easier to perpetuate the media’s skewed perceptions. But, rather, it is my agreement that the former group IS fraudulent and in many ways destructive. I want people to see through that type of commitment anyway.
Which brings me to the second point . . . 2) I often spend a great deal of time criticizing the former group because I have to convince people today that not all Christians are like that. To convince them that there are many followers-of-Jesus found in group 2 that are consistent, truthful and worthy of admiration. It’s why I often don’t even use the name “Christian” for myself anymore (because it is culturally associated with CC), but use something else, such as “follower-of-Christ.”
My thought is that many people our age have noticed this difference as well. Now, no doubt there are some that simply want to hide from difficulty, as you suggest, and it is easier for them to agree with mainstream thoughts about Christians. And shame on them.
But a great deal more may simply be trying to make the point that Christianity is not a cultural garment to be worn when convenient, but is a life-altering commitment that invades every moment of your life. It may be that this language we hear is an attempt at making that distinction in post-Christian culture that thinks they’ve heard everything there is to know about Jesus already—even though they probably haven’t.
Can it go overboard? Probably. I think it is a tough line to walk. You are trying to build credibility, while still showing the good that exists in the bride of Christ. Maybe I don’t always walk it correctly myself. But, I really do try hard. And I’m sure people of both good and bad motives go overboard in this area and that is regrettable.
At any rate, while not all helpful or purely motivated, some of what I hear today actually gives me hope that things can be better, not worse.
Ok. Long enough for email #2. See you got me all thinking today, when I should be working! LOL.
Grace and peace,
Some deep thoughts from both you and MS. I appreciate being given permission to listen in on this dialogue.
I have to admit that i’ve been wondering myself for quite a while about how we are really to live in this world in regards to issues and practices around us. Having read some of the books you’ve mentioned, i was convicted when i realized that i’ve been guilty of assuming that the Christian way should be the American way. It’s almost like thinking Americans are the “new” chosen people. Pretty arrogant.
I’ll continue to pray and seek God’s teaching for how He wants me to be. I like the type of humility you mentioned in your 1st Seattle letter. It reminds me of Tony Campolo’s quote “we’re never as right as we think we are and we’re never as wrong as we think we are”. May we all strive to walk humbly with our God.
Thanks for the comment, Delores.
Another really cool book to read that i picked up recently is called, “UnChristian”. It is put out by the Barna research group and discusses some of the same subject matter. Not as much commentary, but really gives a good picture of culture and how it sees “Christianity” right now. I like it because, again, I’m not arguing that we don’t stand up for truth, I’m simply saying we need to speak truth in a way that transforms the lives in this culture not alienates them further.
“Myth of a Christian Nation” is one of my favorite books, by the way. I’m glad you read it. I think it is a MUST-READ for Christians in our culture.