Wanted: someone to join this exclusive club I’m in. You don’t have to be perfect; you just have to pretend you are. You must attend at least one weekly meeting, usually on Sunday morning, and buy a new wardrobe so you look the part. You don’t have to change your life, just be good during the meetings. You can talk about other people (use the code phrase “I think we should pray for so-and-so because she’s ____”). You can be closed-minded and judgmental, because of course you must be better than they are because you’re in the club and they’re not. It’s a great club because it comes with its own music and terminology and guidebook, which you don’t have to follow but you do have to tell others to follow. And we can divert attention from our own failings by quoting “well-meaning” pieces of wisdom from this really great book we have to help “others”. Warning, though: if you mess up, we’ll throw you out on your hiney.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want any part of a club like this, a club in which people are insincere, in which they are hypocritical, in which they exclude others not just like them.
So how do I say this without coming across like a member of the aforementioned club: Many Christians are like this. They’d be horrified to hear you suggest such a thing, and the ones who need to hear it will deny that they’re part of that group, but their lives tell a different story. I’ve run into so many people who have told me stories of appalling, stupid, and hurtful things people have done to them and then said, “If that’s Christianity, I don’t want any part of it.” That’s the thing, though: it’s NOT Christianity, or at least not what it’s supposed to be. How many people are turned off by what they think are “club” rules and requirements? How many people won’t show up at events because we’ve said to them, directly or indirectly, that they don’t belong? And how many don’t want to learn more because they’ve seen the way we live and treat people and they don’t want to be like us? Ouch.
Have I done every one of these things at some point during my “membership”? I’m sure of it. But when I do, nobody wants to come with me to the meetings and nobody is inspired to change. Help me, Lord. I want to live authentically. I want to follow the rules, not just tell others what to do. I want to belong, yes, but I also want to be the one who brought in the most new members. I don’t want to just carry a membership card. I want to be transformed. I don’t want to cause anyone to stumble, or turn anyone away. I want to be on the inside what I am on the surface. I want people to look at me and see not just a follower, but through me, see the One who started it all. I want to help and pray and take care of people, not condemn them for their actions or values or the situations that brought them to my attention. I want to accept them, even if they have different beliefs and morals. I want to love them. I want to be everything Christians are called to be. Authentically, sincerely, eternally.
NOTE TO MY READERS (all three of you): This is an issue that has been troubling me for some time. I would love your responses to these questions. Not that this is an easy task, but is living authentically enough? Without being judgmental ourselves, what can we as Christians do to change the perceptions non-Christians have about our religion? How do we show people what Christianity is supposed to be about? How do we convince them that many of those who shout the loudest that they are Christians really do not live by the true principles of their faith (especially since we all mess up and none of us are perfect)?