My latest for the Longview News-Journal
Being an ordained minister (and a Christian for many years), I am acutely aware of the perceptions of Christians in society, media and entertainment. There is a wide range of interpretation when it comes to the those who follow the teachings of Christ. Too often Christians are heralded as Bible toting, literalist whose sole God driven and directed purpose is to point on the flaws, indecent acts, immoral conduct and heredities that are being propagated in the world around them. Christians are portrayed as “soldiers in God’s army” with the mission of conversion by telling others that they are not living correctly or by God’s standards. They come off as with a “holier than thou” complex because they have ridden themselves of such impure and un-God like things, thereby making them superior to those who have not heard the gospel message. Every time I see a movie or TV show with a character based on this stereotype I think “is this what people think of the church?” “is this what people think being a Christian is all about? No wonder the church is shrinking”. This isn’t the view of Christianity I proclaim.
To be honest, it makes me sad to think that this is the way that the Church and the followers of Christ are being perceived, thus it hurts all of us. I get mad to think that other voices that do not believe that brand of theology are not being heard, by anyone. Sure, it is easy to blame TV and movies, but it does not stop there. Whenever there is a moral or social dilemma, news organization and outlets seek out the “Christian opinion.” Everyone from Joel Osteen, Franklin Graham and Kirk Cameron, have taken to the airwaves to pronounce what the Christian response is for all of those who follow Christ. Often I disagree with them because they simply do not speak for me. Their answers filled with unnecessary political rhetoric and lack of empathy of the other is why, in my opinion, we see the basis for just crude and untrue caricatures of Christians.
Our society has become one of “lumping.” We have decided to find one imperfection or stance that we disagree with and thus discredit entire groups of people. We see this in churches where entire denominations or theologies are cast as “immoral” or “non-Christian.”
We don’t have to look too far outside the walls of the church to see this in action. News commentators contribute to this by categorizing entire groups of people as “liberal” or “conservative.” Social media is filled with generalizations of the “other” trying to discredit their thought pattern and belief system.
Sadly, in recent years this “lumping” has been applied to the religion of Islam. Followers of Islam from all walks of life in the United States have been subjected to misinformation passed along as truth. Because of this an entire religion is seen a harbor of evil and destruction based on the actions of a small number of people. Many Christians do not want to be lumped together with the hateful actions and speech of Westboro Baptist Church or the Ku Klux Klan, so why do we continue to propagate this false understanding of Islam?
The problem with “lumping” is that we only surround ourselves with people who think, look, act and believe that we do. There is no growth, no new learning rather there is an assurance that we are right and the “other” is wrong. Churches that practice this limited theological practice only reinforce what they already believe; any outside or differing perspective is seen as an attempt to thwart the plain teachings of the Bible or the minister.
The denomination I am apart of (the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)), we have on essential of faith: Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior. That’s it, no creeds, no book of rules to follow, no swearing your allegiance to anyone or anything. Just that Jesus Christ is the Lord and Savior of the world; “Persons are free to follow their consciences guided by the Bible, the Holy Spirit, study and prayer, and are expected to extend that freedom to others.” (taken from disciples.org).
Personally, it is a completely liberating and extremely powerful statement. Fellow Christians are able with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, their relationship with God and the church community, to read and understand the teachings of Christ and God found throughout the Bible.
If you believe that Creation happened in six, twenty-four hour days that fine, but if you don’t that is fine too. If you believe that Bible predicts the end of the world in 2017, that’s fine, but if you don’t that is fine too. Just as long we are to speak with one another about our faith in a way that is constructive not destructive. We learn and grow about God throughout our lives; we need others perspectives to help us see a fuller and complete picture of who God, what God is doing and what we are called to do in the world around us. We don’t have agree on every theological construct, rather we need a unity in Christ.
The point in the end is not who is right or who is wrong, rather its more about how are we living faithfully with each other and with Jesus the Christ; nothing more, nothing less.
Maybe if all the followers of Christ modeled this type of behavior, the opinion of Christians and Christianity will begin to change in the media and in the world.