Do I Want To Be Called a Christian?

Recently I had an encounter with a Christian couple when the conversation briefly turned to politics. Upon hearing the name of one politician, all of a sudden the woman became quite huffy, and quickly degraded the man in a way that just felt mean. In that moment, I experienced a desire to disassociate myself from the category known as Christians. The lack of tolerance, grace, and civility expressed by some people in the evangelical faith – especially when discussing certain political and moral issues – quite honestly embarrasses me. I am not at all surprised that the young people interviewed by Dan Kimball for his book, They Like Jesus, But Not the Church, listed intolerance as one of the primary reasons they avoid communities of faith. Christians are perceived to be those who hold tightly to a quite narrow set of beliefs, and then cast anyone who disagrees as immoral, evil, and not worth listening to. Like it or not, we are cast in this light, and I, for one, am so very tired of it.

When challenged by the label intolerant, many Christians become defensive, saying that we must hold strongly to our beliefs, that Jesus promised us we would be persecuted for taking the narrow way, and that only wimpy people who don’t stand for anything are really called tolerant. I find myself wondering if there can’t be another option, somewhere between intolerance and not standing for anything. I think that place must include the skills of listening, really listening, and genuinely loving others who may hold different points of view, who are continually asking questions, and who should matter to us because they matter to God.

If we step back and look at the bigger picture, the name Christian was given to those early believers because they were Christ-ones, men and women who were known as followers of Jesus. It is a name that we should be able to wear with dignity and pride, and with a sense of awe and responsibility that we would have the privilege to be associated with our leader, Jesus Christ. The whole idea of spiritual growth is to become more like Jesus, which includes his primary characteristics of love, joy, peace, patience, justice, grace, humility, kindness…If we play the word association game with non-believers today and ask them for the first words they think of when they hear the word Christian, many if not most of them would not list those fruits of the Spirit-filled life. Sadly, they might be more inclined to say words like intolerant, mean, haughty, exclusive, and selfish. Our reputation is not at all what I think we want it to be.

So here’s my question in all of this – how can we become more tolerant without letting go of what we firmly believe? What is required for our reputation to be transformed? What would tolerance look like in our communities of faith, both in our individual encounters throughout the week as well as in our weekly gatherings? We must face the reality of how we are perceived…and then seek guidance for how to forge a different path. I think all of us want to bear the name Christian proudly, and recapture its meaning among those who look at us from the outside. What do you think?

For a link to Dan Kimball's book, They Like Jesus, But Not the Church click here.


timheerebout said...

I'm not 100% confident that it's Dan that says this in his book but I think so. If not, whoever said it is brilliant...that is "We [Christians] need to be known for what we stand for, not just what we stand against".

It's kind of like when I was younger I'd hear many preachers telling people that church was more than just a list of don'ts...that there was freedom in following Christ, not just restrictions. It seems the church has gotten there and understands that now (for the most part) but that perhaps the new message needs to be "let the world know about all the things we love and support, not just those we condemn and hate".

Anonymous said...

I have no problem being called a Christian - no matter what others may think. I don't berlieve that anything Christianity stands for needs to be watered down - or taking a middle stance. Definately explain what Chirstians are for - what we believe. Christianity isn't for debating. After all, how can one debate anything with the Living God?
Just explain what you are for - not what you are against.