For the purpose of this post, it doesn’t matter how you voted last week. It doesn’t matter whether your Facebook feed is mostly red, mostly blue or mostly cat videos. This post is about perceptions.
Here’s the plain fact of the matter: the perception of most of the American public is that American Christians (specifically Evangelicals, but unfortunately we all get painted with broad brushstrokes) are anti-gay, racist, sexist, xenophobic and mean spirited.
Now, I know lots of you who claim Christianity as your faith. And I know plenty of you aren’t any of those things, but, sorry to tell you, that’s the perception. I know it makes many of you uncomfortable. It probably should. And it probably feels a bit unfair to many of you. And it may anger you a bit.
However you feel, though, Jesus said,
“Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.”
Sadly, the perception of Christianity in America is not “those people are radically loving,” but rather, what I outlined above.
Now, at this point in the conversation, it would easy to start pointing fingers at other people and point out the ways they aren’t loving to us. But if we’re going to love well, we don’t get to let ourselves off the hook simply because “they did it first.” The text doesn’t say, “love the people that are easy to love.”
Also at this point in the conversation, it is easy to climb a moral high horse and demonstrate how we are “right” on all the issues. I know you think you’re right. Newsflash: we ALL do. The text also doesn’t tell us to lead with “right” or “stand for truth” but rather to love one another as Jesus loved. (Context: he said this right after he washed their feet. Even Judas’ feet. Hmmm.)
To be clear, I’m not saying you should change your political views. Sure, I probably disagree with many of them – Christians have been disagreeing with each other about nearly everything for over 2,000 years now!
What I’m saying is this: even if you have “the truth,” and you believe it’s given straight from God’s mouth, it’s not an excuse to stop being loving. Period.
So, the perception is that Christians aren’t loving although we are called above all to be loving. The question is what are you going to do about it today?
How are you going to demonstrate the love of Jesus to the LGBT community? To immigrants? To people of color? They know your condemnation and discomfort with them. You’ve been pretty clear about that. But how are you going to demonstrate love? Hint: because you hold the beliefs you do, you’re probably going to have to go above and beyond the normal demonstration of love. I know that doesn’t feel “fair,” but that’s just kind of the way it goes.
All of this intersects, of course, with my life as a pastor. I have conversations all the time with people who are leaving churches because they increasingly feel the church is out-of-step with them. They don’t feel welcome in our houses of worship. They don’t feel loved.
And it breaks my heart. I don’t think this is what Jesus had in mind for the church.
I grew up evangelical. But these days, the perception of what “evangelical” is isn’t something that I can relate to. My friends in the OPEN network are working to recover evangelical by adding the word progressive to it. I think we’re doing some good work together, but it feels right now like a drop in the bucket. I mean, I know of all kinds of churches trying to live out a “just and generous Christianity,” but there’s not enough of us to change perceptions – at least not on a national scale. At least not yet.
What I do know is that at my church – Imago Dei Church in Peoria, IL – everyone is welcome. We don’t believe that agreement is the pathway to relationship, but rather love is. So whether you’re gay, straight, republican, democrat, immigrant, rich, poor, Catholic, Baptist, or however else you identify yourself – you’re welcome to worship with us, to enter in and become part of our faith community. And you’re more than simply “welcome” – as you enter into our community we will do our best to love well and move towards you in relationship. We won’t just tolerate you; we will embrace you as fellow seekers of Jesus.
Yeah – we’re not perfect. And sometimes our best intentions fall flat or are misunderstood, but that’s our goal. In the words of the late Leonard Cohen – who died late last week:
“Love is not a victory march. It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah.”If you liked this post, please share it!