If I didn’t know God; if I were among those who hadn’t tasted the Bread of Life and so knew the upside-down wonderfully crazy love of Jesus, I know I wouldn’t want to be a part of this religion. I see it just like everyone else—the hate and anger, the self-righteousness and illogically applied beliefs that counter what the bible actually says. I don’t see the Jesus I know in that stuff. I don’t experience the warmth of the fire that would draw me in from the cold, cold loneliness of the world.
So, it’s not surprising that a new Pew Report showed that people identifying as Christians is in decline.
It’s Just a Flesh Wound
To me, this study is like those expensive studies they’ll do sometimes to prove things like: yes, peanut butter does stick to the roof of your mouth. I didn’t need it to tell me our public image is driving people away. But it has caused some finger-pointing in the religious community.
It’s been said by various people I see no reason to point out here that this is just nominal Christians deciding it’s not socially worth identifying as Christians any longer. And while that may be somewhat true, that’s like saying the blood on the floor is mostly the other guy’s while ignoring that there’s a knife sticking out of my gut.
The question we should be asking ourselves is why people want to distance themselves from us Christians?
If it was because of Jesus, I’d be fine with that. If we were loving the unlovely, inviting the untouchables to the religious’ hoity-toity parties and the religious were having none of it, I’d be happy to be hated for that. But that’s not the deal. And it’s not because we’re being persecuted and folks are getting while the getting’s good. (Getting punched back for needlessly punching others is not persecution, it’s self-defense.) It’s because we’re, well, we’re kind of jerks.
I know, it stings. And I hate it if I’m the one breaking the news to you. But the fact of the matter is that those who called Jesus’ friend, those who invited Jesus into their homes and whom he healed and broke bread with, are the ones who think we’re pretty much jerks. …And they’re not wrong.
You may not specifically be the jerk, but we have allowed a noisy, small minority to speak for us and done little in return. We have allowed people calling themselves Christian to define us as hatemongers to an entire generation and it’s obvious to anyone not supporting the angry narrative that it’s our fault Christianity is in decline. And, yet, we point to nominal Christians or the weak values of society as if that does anything to fix this mess (except take the burden of responsibility off of us). I’d laugh if I weren’t so busy crying.
That Darn Sheep
Jesus tells a story about a shepherd having a hundred sheep, losing one, and going out to search for the one lost lamb when he’s got ninety-nine perfectly good lambs doing what they’re supposed to do. I think it’s important to note that the shepherd didn’t shake his head and castigate the lost lamb for his wayward ways, expecting him to find his own road home.
No, he went out searching for him.
The self-righteous are shouting down the lost sheep for his wandering ways, wearing their shaming ways like a badge of religious honor. And I’m too busy debating whether they’re right or wrong, trying to shame the religious wacko brothers and sisters of mine, to be a voice of love loud enough to be heard above the din.
And that sheep, having been shouted at, cursed and ill-fed, gets as far away from those angry shepherds as possible. And as we watch him go, faster and faster. We shake our heads and assure one another he’s running from God. We have to stop. As Scott Sauls said, “Anyone can throw grenades, who will build bridges?”
Rather than dig a trench between us and them, as we are currently doing, I’d rather build a bridge and run across to the other side, not to join in the waywardness, but to be a reflection of God’s great forgiveness, an agent of reconciliation.
God’s love is bigger than our sin. All of it. It forgives the angry atheist and the self-righteous blowhard. It unites us under a banner of love—an army singing love songs instead of carrying guns, feeding the hungry rather than taking back what’s ours, picking locks on the cages of our enemies instead of taking them captive. That kind of love is unstoppable in the face of sin, anger and even death, not because of our awesomeness, but because of God’s mercy.
When we know that we’re forgiven, we won’t be so worried about protecting our reputations. (In case you weren’t aware, they see right through that anyway.) Because, when we project a narrative that says we are less sinful than others, what happens when we do sin is that Christians scramble to justify their actions with lies and self-righteousness. And that self-righteousness is why our boat is leaking.
So, until we stop seeing ourselves as the righteous 1%, our truth trickling down to the beggars below, but rather see ourselves as still among the beggars, but having found a stash of endless, fresh tasty bread to share, we will fail to win the non-Christian. Because our witness is always in pointing to the Great Baker, not our ability to be full.