Depending on whom you ask, Christianity is either an impotent, dead religion or a frightening one. Jesus is either an anemic, namby pamby Sunday school hero with an insipid smile (“There, there, it will be alright one day.”) or an outraged avenger ready to turn to ashes everyone who sins.
The far right hasn’t done Christianity any favors in the United States. Christians have been lumped in, unmercifully, with the gay-hating, women-controlling, gun-toting racists, and I have to speak up and say: enough. Christians have enough baggage without all of that! We’re a mess, collectively, but we came by it honestly. Don’t blame us for hate or prejudice or bad fashion sense! Christians don’t hold the monopoly!
What is a Christian, bottom line? Aside from Westernization. Aside from politicization. Aside from denominationalizing. Take Christianity to its simplest terms, and what do you have? I submit to you, that you have nothing to fear at all. Nothing to hate. Nothing to despise or legislate against. Nothing to be intimidated by. Take away a Nativity scene on city property, and you only underscore the fact that it DOES mean something.
Christians started being called Christians in the 1st century. Christians, as in “little Christs.” People who followed Jesus of Nazareth, a.k.a. the Christ, the Son of God, the Messiah. He was, he said, God born of the flesh. He performed miracles. He taught tolerance, forgiveness, love, service, outreach. Scary, eh? Only to those who want to be intolerant, hateful, selfish, and exclusive.
Jesus taught that belief wasn’t enough. He asked people to follow. It wasn’t enough to think he had good ideas, not enough to acknowledge that he knew what he was talking about. Not enough to say he was a prophet or a good teacher. Put it in practice. Give the words your hands and feet and mouth. Anyone can say they believe, but will they follow? Historically, only a small percentage do. And they do it horribly. I say this from experience.
The problem with religion, any religion, is that the name and the practice can be far removed, but constantly united in perception. You’re a Buddhist, and I know what Buddha taught. If you say you’re a Buddhist, I may decide you’re a bad one, if you don’t adhere perfectly to Buddha’s teachings…or I may make the leap so many make and decide that Buddhism’s bad because YOU are.
That old saying, that bumper sticker of a saying, is actually true: Christians aren’t perfect, they’re just forgiven. Forgiveness is the crux of the matter. Christians believe that Jesus Christ, perfect man and God-made-flesh, died in place of all others, past, present, future. God bled for our collective sins, thus perfectly paying the penalty. We believe that, and rejoice that when we sin (which we do, all of us, with alarming regularity and varying degree) we have an advocate with the Father, the Creator form of God, the punisher. When we sin, Jesus steps up and says, “Wait…I already paid the penalty for that, remember?” and our lives are spared, eternally-speaking.
It’s not a license to sin, but when we do, we believe that there is forgiveness available. And because we have this wonderful news that we can be reconciled to God, that we don’t have to feel guilty and miserable in our wrong-doing any longer, we like to talk about it.
Which would be great, if that’s all we talked about. Unfortunately, over the years, Christians have become more comfortable butting into everyone’s business. It’s not enough to try and manage my own sexual temptations – I need to address yours! It’s not good enough to simply try and follow the teachings of Jesus; I need to tell you what is wrong with your life instead!
And so, there is a misconception, which is the fault of Christians, in my opinion. It’s unavoidable, given that every Christian is a sinful, wretched excuse for humanity living in a world of other non-Christian sinful, wretched excuses for humanity. People need the true message of Christ, the reconciliation available by simple belief and commitment. But the message has deteriorated into something different.
Biblically, Christians will be increasingly despised, until people will actually think they are doing God’s will to kill Christians (John 16:2), substantially more serious that prohibiting prayer at school or nativity scenes at Christmas. Hopefully we’re a few centuries away from that, but if we think, even for one moment, that it can’t happen? That it won’t happen? The only way to put off such a mindset would be a return to the basic teachings of the Gospel. Forget the Tea Party. Forget Pat Robertson. Forget misogynist racists who wouldn’t recognize an act of grace and mercy if it sat on their faces.
Jesus. He was either who he said he was, or he was a scam artist. There’s no middle ground. If you don’t believe, but seek real Truth, have the backbone to dig deeper. If he’s God, follow him. If he isn’t, find someone else who shares the same decency and holiness he preached. Stop the hatred and intolerance. For God’s sake. And your own.
(c) Ellen Gillette, 2012
Permission to reprint with acknowledgment of source.