I’ve been visiting with my family, and it has been a refreshing time for my intellect. My family has given me a lot to ponder, a lot to discuss, and a lot to throw around with friends in conversation–asking what they think and bouncing ideas off of them. I believe both of my parents would proudly wear the title of “Serial Reader,” and I also ravenously devour books and search for more. We have been talking and talking for much of my stay here, and it is wonderful. We talk about our reading often, and I feel accepted in my nerdiness.
One day, my dad walked into the kitchen toting a book which he held up with a bit of a grimace: “When Bad Christians Happen to Good People,” which I looked at and of course, met with an equal expression of distaste on my face. I could not get this idea of Bad Christians out of my head, and have been thinking about my perceptions of it since. I have had many encounters with some I’ve deemed bad christians, and I think a dialogue about them is in order. Something that I want them to hear, that I want other people who are “good Christians,” to hear (what does it even mean?? We’ve all fallen far short) and those who wish to stay the heck out of that entire conversation because they are anti-religious, religion-wounded, or something else–also to listen to. To me, a Bad Christian may be anyone. But what are they doing that makes them so? It’s not that they are evil people, it’s not a personal jab at their character. It is, though, a direct statement that they are not representing the Christ of the bible accurately or positively. This is my own definition.
My “Bad Christian” history
I remember specifically in High School, having friends who would apologize to me when they cursed. “Damnit!” they would exclaim with animation, and then look over to me with a really guilty and semi-embarrassed expression on their faces. The response that would come out of my mouth might be something like, “Don’t apologize to me,” with a masked “You should be apologizing to God,” hiding somewhere in the equation & my tone of voice. Whether those friends understood how I meant this or not, I’m not sure… but I do realize a stark contradiction between my beliefs back then, and my somewhat matured ideas–come from living life a bit more.
Years later, I am known to utter a profanity among close friends or family. I think that words are very important, but I am not a strict penny-pincher on this one. Some of my best friends are people who will let fly a few words in my presence, and I love them all the more because of it. They are comfortable in that, they know that I am not judging them as “lesser Christ-Followers” on account of it, and they are expressing themselves deeply and with feeling with those certain words. And I will do the same thing. It’s not often, but it’s not something I’m scared to admit–those people know me, and know that I love God. They know that I care what he thinks, and know that I am sincere about that. However, I would be more cautious if I’ve never met someone and don’t know what they think about me, or about God. I want them to know Christ, and for my words to reflect that I do. Why would I let curse words be my first expression of who I am, if I can let more kind or, better still, listening words be my first impression?
I want to make a distinction here between my old self, and who I see myself as now through growth and by seeing good examples. My ideas about God and about behavior and all of that back in highshcool were pretty childish. You HAVE TO BE GOOD, you HAVE TO DO WHAT’S RIGHT, you HAVE TO LOVE WORSHIP SONGS, and you HAVE TO SPEAK CHRISTIANESE …and so on and so on.. in order to follow Christ. Essentially, there are a lot of expectations and follow-throughs that you must exceed and perform well on before you are deemed “holy.” And if I walk into certain churches or within certain circles of people, I immediately cringe at hearing what I remember I was also like: “Oh, let me tell you all about what the Lord spoke directly to me when I was worshipping to hillsong yesterday, for an hour, in my quiet place.” Okay… Um. Yes. I get it, and I am not making fun of anyone who is sincere in this. AT ALL! I want to make that clear. I know that God speaks. I know that he talks to us, truly. I have never been one to ”hear him speak,” but I have been nearly pushed to actions by him, and I hear him in my heart daily. But I do also want to say, that I feel a lot of the conversations and outward behaviors that Christians engage in are all about appearing holy, being “good enough” for God’s love, and being the “GOOD Christians.” They butter up their actions and words, smother them in goodness, righteousness, and a garment of praise, and think that they’re doing juuuuuust fine. The problem is, so many of these people are not the good Christ-followers they may intend to be.
Words are not Actions
I cannot tell you how many times I have met a person who proclaims very loudly how devoted to Christ they are, speaks highly of Joel, Joyce, and every other popular modern evangelist, and never misses their three church service a week quota–and then turns a deaf ear and a blind eye directly to real suffering and real pain that they could do something about. Have you met someone like that? I don’t think that these people mean something intentionally bad in this–they are doing what they believe to be right! They believe they are serving God. They believe they are doing their part. But I do think there is a deeper issue here that encompasses our human condition, and also the church. We are very, very comfortable “fitting in,” and learning a certain language that only a certain group of people use. Christianese. We are very happy to be engulfed in a social appointment that makes us feel like we are the center of the universe. And I think that a lot of people get those needs, which all humans want, filled through church. But then they treat non-believers, semi-believers, and on-the-fence open-minded people as though they are dirty, dumb, and perhaps even unpopular! They use a litany of holy and powerful words or catchphrases throughout the week in their circles, but then they encounter someone on the outside who does not speak the same language, who may not follow Christ at all, and who doesn’t “get” that sort of thing. This does a number of things to that person who is receiving the “bad Christian” behavior, but here are a few: 1) It makes them feel like an outsider who has no clue about something, and they’re missing out in a negative way. 2) It makes them feel inferior. 3) They are not truly experiencing Christ’s love from mumbo-jumbo scripture and jargon that they are hearing and not receiving. They simply are not in a place in their life when they can understand it and use it. Furthermore, many times I feel that fanatically holy and over-religious individuals could care less about the very important (to God) aspect of faith, which is relationship. It seems they wish to quickly convert and “save” as many as possible, without stopping to get to know their stories. This matters deeply, I think, and is also an opportunity where that person may grow and have an equal epiphany in their life–by interacting with another person who they never knew deeply before. Nonbelievers are not trophies to collect, “winning over souls,” by the dozen. It sickens me to think some people more or less operate in this fashion. But they are real people who God loves very much.
What does matter? (IMHO)
So here’s my own approach & my response to super-religiosity and hyper-spirituality. When I say that words are not actions, I am trying to get at a very basic, important psychological principal: Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs. The graph looks like a triangle, and at the bottom is that person’s absolute basic needs. Food, shelter, fresh water, and that sort of thing. Next are emotional needs, and so on, until at the very top is Self Actualization. This is like being personally enlightened, I believe. I didn’t go into great detail and I may have gotten a bit of it off, but that’s the basic theory. Maslow is trying to tell us one thing through this, as Christians: If someone we see has a very basic need, which we can meet, and we are not meeting it, then our holy words are NOT going to do any good–they will be meaningless to that person. I absolutely believe that people need to hear that God loves them. I completely know that the message of the Gospel is transformative and it can change lives instantaneously. But most of that sort of thing is very rare, and change takes time. I think many of those stories are encouraging, but also they are dramatic and attention-grabbing. Real life doesn’t usually happen like that. We need to meet people where they are. And we need to meet them there with compassion, an earnest gaze in our eyes, and less religiosity and judgment.
I feel like these bad Christian types are also very full of fervor, energy, and are just all around zealots. Many times, they are so excited and happy that they have found the truth, that they trample upon other people’s feelings and beliefs when it is just not necessary. For example, lets talk about speaking in tongues. Perhaps someone has been very weirded out, or even wounded in a church that spoke in tongues, and feels ill emotions towards the whole thing. To this, some zealot bad Christians may say that they need to fully recognize the gifts of the spirit and that person needs to get this for their faith to be made real. I disagree–and think that the issue is a fringe issue in the faith, and not a central one anyhow. Following Christ, the real Christ and not the churchified, Americanized, etc. Jesus that we see often. In their fervor, some of these zealous people may drive others who are on the borders of their faith journey away.
Lets work on loving people more, and worrying about what people think about us less. Lets be counter-cultural, yet also culture-relevant. Lets seek truth, follow the Gospel, but also have discernment about when we are supposed to be so outspoken about our certainties in this life. There are many things I will probably never understand, and many people in whose shoes I have never walked. I am not going to judge things that are not for me to judge, and I am going to try to focus on the central important things. Christ died as my replacement. This world is broken. He has risen, and with him comes the glorious hope of a new heaven and new earth which will be as they were intended. Untarnished, fully realized.
All my love,