- Be opposed to science
- Be hypocritical
- Make racist or sexist comments
- Treat people with different beliefs in a mean-spirited way
- Know less about the Bible than you do
- Take dreams, numerology, angels, demons, or “signs” way too seriously
- Loudly share abrasive political opinions
- Speak about Jesus every other minute
- etc., etc., etc.
If the Christians you know act like this, it is probably enough to drive you a bit crazy too! There are at least three reasons for this:
- Crazy is bad.
- Expectations are high.
- We’re fed up.
Crazy is Bad
As a general life principle, crazy is bad. If you are outside of the mainstream and, worse, not even aware of it, that is a serious obstacle to making friends and influencing people. It can be hard enough to get along with relatively reasonable people sometimes, but putting up with crazy folks is honestly exhausting.
Expectations are high
Most of us (the crazy people aside) have some basic standards of what it means to be a decent human being. Don’t be a jerk, clean up after yourself, treat people with respect, use common sense. If you’re going to claim the moral high ground because of your religion, ok, but we’d recommend that you under-promise and over-deliver.
We’re fed up
We’re done. We’ve heard Pat Robertson claim the Haitian people are suffering because they “swore a pact to the devil” and Ted Haggard, former president for the National Association of Evangelicals, saying, pre-scandal, “I don’t want surprises, scandals, or secrets from my church leaders.” Whether Protestant or Catholic, we’re tired of outrageous moral failure from Christians and churches. The moral credibility of “the church” seems like a quaint memory from the good old days, which, when you think about it, were times when Jim Crow laws or slavery prevailed in ‘Christian America.’
If this has been your experience, you are likely, and justifiably, pretty closed to the idea that Christianity is a force for good. In some ways, I recognize that almost anything I could say might sound pretty empty and hollow, especially in light of all the craziness you’ve already had to put up with.
In an effort to address head-on the frustration that you’re justifiably feeling, here are three brief points:
I’m sorry. And we’re sorry. Seriously. Three quick examples:
- Donald Miller, in his bestselling book Blue Like Jazz, tells the story of setting up a “Reverse Confession Booth” during a college’s campus-wide party. Students wandered into it, wondering who in their right mind would set up a confession booth in the midst of such a hedonistic environment. They were surprised to find that Donald and his friends were looking for an opportunity to apologize to them for the sins of Christians!
- UnChristian, by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, received tremendous amounts of publicity for sharing the results of some unsettling public polling about Christians. Namely, they found that Christians are often hypocritical, too focused on getting converts, anti-homosexual, sheltered, too political, and judgmental. Not only did the book speak honestly about these six problems, but it also offered practical solutions from a wide variety of Christian leaders for bringing about spiritual and moral transformation in these areas.
- Most importantly, consider these words by Jesus: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matthew 23:27). And, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:43-44). It should be encouraging that Jesus agrees with your critique of bad religious people!
As ScienceDaily.com defines it, “Confirmation bias is a phenomenon wherein decision makers have been shown to actively seek out and assign more weight to evidence that confirms their hypothesis, and ignore or underweigh evidence that could disconfirm their hypothesis.”
The point is, when you’re already jaded towards Christians, scientific research tells us that you’re more likely to seek out more negative information about Christians. Over time, this builds on itself to the point that, psychologically speaking, you could develop a globally negative view of Christianity, a view that goes beyond what’s supported by the evidence.
A few counter-examples
Let’s see if we can identify even one Christian who you respect. Some starting suggestions:
- Martin Luther King, Jr.
- Mother Teresa
- C.S. Lewis
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer
- William Wilberforce
These people didn’t exist in a vacuum. They’re more or less well-known precisely because they had such a positive, global impact. And they are incredibly well-respected by many Christians too.
Some final questions:
- Could there be some really decent, even inspirational people in your life who are Christians, but are just quieter about their faith?
- Even if every Christian you know is crazy in some way, what do you make of the fact that Jesus also opposed religious craziness?
- Are you open to the idea that Christianity could still be true even if Christianity, as you’ve experienced it, has been weird or hurtful?
I recognize that there are a lot of crazy Christians out there. I have to admit: far too often, my own actions and attitudes are miles away from the example of Jesus’ humble love for others. But you wouldn’t have read this far if you weren’t interested in seeking truth and coming to honest conclusions.
There’s no justifying the craziness. And yet, even as we oppose the craziness that Christians sometimes represent, it is important to recognize and affirm that there still just might be something to Christianity. I encourage you to keep an open mind, even as the crazy Christians in your life tempt you to close yourself off to the relevance or vitality of Christianity.
For hope and a fresh vision of what some Christians are like and what all Christians could be like, I strongly recommend The Next Christians by Gabe Lyons!
This post was originally posted at Reasons for God.