There is an article floating around on the Huffington post that has caused a bit of a stir among Church of Christ members because it is about the ugly side of Christianity and by that the author means the ugly side of the Church of Christ which is, in her experience, the vast majority of people in Churches of Christ are lacking in love, spiteful, and disrespectful.
At least that is how I read it.
I came to this article as I come to anyone who is disgruntled about faith. I came listening. I came to empathize. I came to learn. Defensiveness and posturing are precisely the wrong response because it only builds walls that make the assumptions of the disgruntled higher, not lower and the conversation stops dead in its tracks…impossible to get any traction.
I heard hurt. That was clear. It is sad to read experiences like that. It really is. It is unfortunate. It shouldn’t be excused but I believe it should be put in perspective, while learning what we can and not giving ourselves an automatic pass in the process.
I enjoy talking about faith with people. Sometimes I talk faith with other Christians. Sometimes with atheists and agnostics. There is something that I notice over and over again that this article reminded me of because I have heard this before. When people raise these sorts of objections about Christianity they are raising objections about people being stupid or being unkind…in other words…the complaint has nothing to do with the Church of Christ. It has everything to do with people being sinful who happen to be Christians or attend this or that church.
Let me give an example. If an atheist says Christians are horrible because of the Crusades or because Hitler used the scriptures to justify himself my reply is “but that has nothing to do with the actual teachings of Christianity nor would any actual Christian be actually living out the actual Christian faith by acting in such a manner.” Acting like that would be condemned by any Christian worth their salt. I wanted to say that throughout reading her article…any Christian worth their salt would agree with you that people shouldn’t treat others that way or speak or act that way. Christianity agrees with you that being mean spirited is wrong and that being belligerent or unkind is equally wrong. The problem is with a human being human not with something inherent in the Christian faith itself. I believe this article has very little to do with Churches of Christ and a whole lot to do with people acting in a way very much not in line with the core tenants of the faith they profess.
The second thing I want to address about the article is the approach. I hope this comes across as kindly as I know how to say it. Hypertext doesn’t give you that umph of warm fuzzies like sitting across from someone does. I was really hoping to read the article in not find sweeping generalizations. But there they were. I was hoping not to find general assumptions and extrapolations of isolated experiences treated as universal fact. But there it was. I was really hoping that the trajectory of the post wouldn’t be the old “what I have experienced in my limited experience should be considered normative of all people in all places” but that is exactly what I found. I have heard all of these things many times before. They aren’t surprising and they shouldn’t make us anxious but again…we should listen and learn what we can along the way because if she feels this way, a lot of people feel this way and that is important in its own right.
What I found in this article is what I find in most conversations that I have with people who are angry at God or angry at Christians or even angry at the Church of Christ. What people are angry at is not about Church or Jesus. It is about people doing stupid things. My rebuttal in these situations is usually something like, “You are angry at that person or that church of Christianity as a whole but the thing you are so mad about was exactly someone NOT living up to the standard they profess…it wasn’t Christian of them to act that way!” In other words, this isn’t actually a problem with Christianity because if you lived by the principles of the Christian faith it would totally prevent and disarm the problems addressed in the article. I don’t know any official teaching of the Churches of Christ that say we must be rude, obnoxious people. That doesn’t mean rude, obnoxious people aren’t in Churches of Christ. I know because like the author I have met a few and I have even been one myself in my worst of moments and I am sure she has been that way herself a few times. Again, this isn’t a Church of Christ thing just as much as it isn’t a “people who don’t like the Church of Christ” thing. It happens in Baptist churches and Methodist churches and Catholic churches…among atheists and agnostics…why? Because they/we are all people and we all very talented at goofing things up even on our best days.
On the flip side the vast, vast majority of people I have met in Churches of Christ are sweet, lovely people. I could flip her numbers around and make the same sweeping generalization in reverse based on my limited experience and be just as wrong about it as she was. Just because we have a lot of sweet, kind, people doesn’t mean everyone is that way.
We do have room to grow. So it is good to read articles like these. We should listen and we shouldn’t be anxious about it. So I hope this response doesn’t sound dismissive. That isn’t my point. I am listening but what I am hearing is all too familiar and it isn’t a “Church of Christ” thing. These arguments have nothing to do with the actual teaching of our faith…it is people doing sinful, stupid things that hurts people who then get angry with whatever type of church it was where this happened and that is then chalked up to “see how bad that church is” or “see how crazy Christians are.” I know I am biased but I don’t think that holds water.
We need to be challenged by scripture to live into the truths found there not because of this article but because that is our calling. The result will be a disarmament of this sort of experience because Christians shouldn’t be acting the way she describes and it is a real shame that they do at times act that way…starting with me. But that isn’t a problem with Christianity or the Church of Christ. That is a human problem.