SCOURGE OF THE EARTH or compassionate lovers of human kind? Depending on where you live and what your experience is, Christians may be identified as either one, and, much to the chagrin of those who use the label to describe themselves, legitimately so. It all boils down to what you mean by the label âChristian.â
Regardless of what we think any particular word should mean, it actually means what society interprets it to mean. Linguistics 101. Like the word gay. Iâve been quoted as saying that I could have once properly been branded the gay author because, although I have always been heterosexual, I once wasâŚ well, gay. Twenty years ago the word meant happy. Today it refers to sexual orientation. So although I was once gay, I am no longer gay, not because Iâve changed, but because the understanding of the word in society has changed and it no longer describes what I am.
So it is with the word âChristian.â
Jesus summed up his message as follows: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself. Armed with this simple mandate of love, millions of his followers have forsaken the relative safety and affluence of a comfortable life to extend love and hope to the downtrodden over the centuries. Much could be said to explain how and why Christianity has embodied compassion in a world torn by war, terror, and heartache. Itâs all about love, my friend. They may hate you for your love because to the guilty love sometimes feels like salt in a wound, but they will still know that you are Christian by your love.
Unfortunately, in the eyes of many, Christianity is now far better known for much more and much less than love. Not all of the associations are bad, mind you, but they are a far cry from the message of love that ultimately cost Jesus his life. Ask any pedestrian and, depending on where they live, they will tell you who Christians are.
Ask the question in the Middle East and you might be told that Christians are killers whose bombs have killed thousands of innocent bystanders in Iraq; murderers who have brutally killed thousands of Muslims in Lebanon. Christian militia entered the Shatila refugee camp in Beirut in September 1982 where they raped, pillaged and murdered with impunity for three days during what became known as the Shatila massacre. The first suicide bomber in Lebanon was a Christian, blowing up Muslims. The scourge of the Crusaders is still alive in the Middle East. This is what âChristianâ means to many in that part of the world.
My father just returned from a town in India where Hindus have killed many Christians over the last 12 months. When he asked the pastors if it was because Christians followed Jesus, they surprised him by say no, it was because Christians means âWestern valuesâ to the Hindus. âSo then,â my father said, âif you are dying for a term that doesnât describe you, are you not dying in vain? If Christian means western to them, not follower of Christ, then to call yourself Christian to them is deceitful, is it not? To the Romans, become Roman, the apostle Paul says. Speak their language.â
If you ask a pedestrian in Seattle who Christians are, they will likely tell you that Christians are judgmental, insensitive, hypocrites who are out of touch with reality. Or worse, angry right-wing bigots willing to resort to hate speech and violence to protect their narrow way of life. That they are a political group committed to a particular platform, willing to take up the sword or home-made bombs to enforce that platform.
The last thing that will come to their mind is the concept of sacrificial love or Jesus who showed us that love. Just like the word âGayâ the meaning has changed, like it or not.
And itâs not just Lebanon or Seattle. According to a Barna Group poll, only 9% of those outside the church think Christians in America are nice, loving people. What every happened to you shall know them by their love? Throughout most of the world Christianity is simply no longer associated with the core beliefs of sacrificial love that birthed our faith. It has become like a large vessel of dirty bathwater, full of nasty associations and improper human behavior. Newsweekâs April 7th cover story cited the dramatic decline of Christianity in the United States. We live in a post Christian world, many would say. They might be right. And whoâs to blame them? No one wants to swim around in dirty bathwater.
But wait a minute. There is more than dirty bathwater in this vessel. There is something precious and live-giving! And there is a rising generation of thinkers who are as eager to protect and cherish that life as they are to throw out the dirty bathwater.
Donât throw the baby out with the bathwater, we say.
Itâs interesting that Jesusâ first recorded miracle was turning dirty bathwater (in this case water used to wash dusty feet) into precious wine, a beautiful portrayal of purification. My generation wants that wine back and many are willingâcheck that, eagerâto rid the vessel of the bathwater and replace it with that wine, that truth, that core message of love that Jesus gave his life for.
If Christian means judgmental or bigot to most or even many, than to them we are not Christian. We are neither bigots nor hate-mongers nor killers nor whatever else you might think a Christian might be, we are passionate believers in a person who came with a message of love, and his name was Jesus. Our identity is not stamped with any specific political party or ideology however good or bad it is, but to the man who avoided being identified by any political ideology whenever possible and offered only the sage advice to give unto Caesar what is Caesarâs.
We are not defined by any specific social agenda, however necessary or good, but by the love that embraces the downcast in need of a helping hand. We do not follow any moral creed invented by man however honorable, nor spit in the faces of those who struggle to put others before themselves however deserving, but we carry the burden of forgiveness and step aside so that he without sin may throw the first stone, if indeed such a man lives.
Our stories are not about pot-lucks and Sunday school playground squabbles, but about that monster called hate and his futile attempts to dash the hopes of the Great Lover. Perhaps you could call us post-Christian Believers, defined solely by the man we follow, not the institution that bears his name.
We believe that our first calling is to love God with all of our hearts and that our second calling is to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, and for us that is a difficult enough task to waste the rest of our lives on.
We are not partial Christians, not red-letter Christians, not a new kind of Christian, not non-Christian; we are far more and far less than Christian, children of an unfortunate but very real phenomenon that has dirtied our bathwater so now we want out, but out with the baby, please. The baby the whole baby, nothing but the baby, so help us God.
We are many, very many, millions of many. This is the way we roll and we are on the rise.
Does this describe you? Speak here, let your voice be heard. Then visit the poll on the home page.