As someone who strives to follow the person and character of Jesus in all areas of my life, I've really been challenged lately on how Christians (myself included) do a crappy job at loving the poor and oppressed and those different from us, and how we as Americans are so inclined to want to show the door to those who oppose us in any way. Recently, a good friend of mine sent out a mass email forward stating that Australia's former prime minister had declared Australia a Christian land and that whoever didn't like it should leave. The email lauded this attitude and stated that President Obama ought to take a similar stance with the U.S. by declaring it a Christian nation and offering the boot to anyone who disagrees. Not one to usually pay any sort of real attention to email forwards, I felt that this sentiment was one that's become all too pervasive in our society and was in desperate need of being addressed. So I responded to the whole email list in hopes that I could generate some discussion on the topic. Some have told me that it was simply an email forward and should have been deleted and ignored. Others have told me that the email forward was indicative of a bigger picture that we need to continue to confront head on. Below is my response to the forward. Chime in and comment if you feel so inclined.
Thank you for bringing up this important and relevant topic. First, as to the validity of the forwarded email, I highly doubt its accuracy since John Howard is no longer the Prime Minister of Australia as of December 2007, nor am I convinced he actually said those things since internet forwards often attribute false thoughts and statements to high profile people. That said, I have an extremely hard time believing that the "if-you-don't-like-it-then-get-out" mentality is one that exemplifies the nature and character of Jesus in any way. Unfortunately what it does do is feed the growing monster that 21st century Christian culture has become, especially in America. During Jesus' ministry, he was faced with obstacles at every turn; in essence, Jesus' detractors were criticizing Christ's own criticism of how the people of Israel should be loving and serving God with their lives. The peoples' general collective response to Jesus? "If you don't like it, get out." Jesus' response however is striking because (while I personally struggle with the negative and sinful compulsion to write off people and shun them for being different from me) he actually stopped to look at people individually, listened to what they said, and responded in compassion. His responses fly in the face of what our society tell us to do because they look at the person with love, not in attempts to solidify a group of like-minded, stubborn people.
This email forward was speaking specifically of Australia, but the same general concepts are true of America as well. We are blessed to live in a land that does offer us the freedom to come and go as we please, but pridefully raising the Christian flag and showing outsiders the door has as much to do with the person of Christ as the New York Mets do with winning the World Series (sorry, couldn't resist). Our nation wasn't founded as a club of people who said "we love Jesus and if you don't, bleep you!" (And even if it was, there would be nothing biblically Christlike about that). Our country was founded to be a place where people who come from all different worldviews can actually come together and find common ground. (This country was also founded by men who thought slavery was a great idea -- but that's a discussion for another day). What an amazing blessing and privilege it is for those of us who are followers of Christ to be able to engage in meaningful dialogue, partnership, and service with those who don't understand what it means to have a relationship with Jesus.
Most of the reasons Christians have a bad reputation is OUR fault and most of the reasons people have written off Jesus because of us are well justified. Our faith perspectives grate against a morally relativistic culture and when the world challenges us, our response is to react by saying in essence, "our house, our rules." Is this the newfound Jesus we've created to appease ourselves as the world suffers around us? Is this the Jesus who commands us to kick out the outsiders rather than love and pray for our enemies and our neighbors as ourselves? Is this the Jesus that has forgotten the poor, the widowed, and the oppressed as we continue to live in fattened luxury and play the Sunday charade? We're surrounded by a young generation that's finding it easier and easier to walk away from even considering following Christ because of our swagger, ego, and pride. We have MUCH to learn from a generation that feels like we don't give them the time of day, because the truth is we don't care to stop and listen to their struggles for even a moment. As Christ's representatives, we have to lovingly articulate the reality that there is a holy and loving Creator who holds us to a standard that exists beyond our finite and broken lives. Our awareness of a transcendent being should drastically alter who we are and how we think for the better.
There are approx. 25 million people in this country under the age of 30 who have rejected a life of following Jesus. When we consider the "if you don't like it, get out" mentality, we'd be ignorant to disregard the fact that this number of people is growing exponentially. Young people who reject Christ and the church are by no means a fringe segment of American society. Each generation contains more than the last. And yet, the Christian traditions in our society permeate most aspects of our country. In a nation of about 300 million people, the vast majority identify themselves as Christians and many are even active churchgoers, so it's clear that Christianity leaves an enormous footprint in American culture. However, the depth of most Christians' faith and lifestyles leaves much to be desired. Our task is to be effective agents of spiritual transformation in peoples' lives, no matter what that may cost to us in time, comfort, or image. We ought to realize that if the enormous amount of Christians in this country has not achieved anywhere near the level of positive influence hoped for, then it's certainly not the fault of a justifiably skeptical and jaded culture of people, but the fault of those of us who fail to make the person of Christ real to others in our words and deeds.
Some say Christianity is under attack in America. I'd say it's been under attack throughout the whole world since Jesus came and shook up the things that needed to be shook up. What do we want, more comfort in our lives? As Americans, are we not living in Disneyland every day as it is?
The 10 commandments are not allowed in courtrooms. I ask, so freaking what? Would keeping them on the wall change hearts or simply fuel the collective Christian ego that we've won some kind of silly victory?
More and more people don't want to say "Merry Christmas" and stores want to display "Holiday" trees instead of Christmas trees. I ask, why is this such a blow to your pride? If you are a redeemed son or daughter of the risen King, what do pine trees have to do with it? If everyone and everything went back to simply saying or displaying the word "Christmas" will that make everything better? Will that end poverty? Injustice? Racism? War?
Some say we should tell outsiders to get out. I'd say, we should be begging outsiders to come in.
The truth is, yes Christianity is under attack, and most of that attack is due to our provoke.