Long ago I dated a man who had two kids who—to put it diplomatically—were not exactly well-behaved. On the occasions that we all went to a restaurant, I received looks from other diners that communicated “control your screaming banshee children.” Of course, our relationship was young enough that it wasn’t my place to discipline his kids, so I endured the judgmental stares uncomfortably.
In those situations, I wished I could have worn a shirt with the words “these are not my kids!” boldly emblazoned on it, but that probably wouldn’t have gone over so well with my beau. For reasons other than his kids, we eventually parted ways, but I remember well the feeling of being harshly judged as a mother when I had yet to become one.
These days, with actions that include the likes of Indiana’s and Arkansas’ “religious freedom” laws, among many other things, I wish I had a shirt to wear that proclaims “that’s not my Christianity!”
I’m sure I’m going to tick a few people off here, but I’m really exhausted—and ashamed—with so-called Christians who spend their time denouncing others and drawing lines of hate rather than opening arms of love.
Historically, we can look back to the Crusades, the Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan, and more to see that the apostle Paul’s words from 1 Corinthians 13:13—“But the greatest of these is love”—is all too often very far from the core of some people who identify themselves as Christian.
And there are plenty of examples in our recent history, as well. Westboro Baptist Church. Abortion clinic bombings. A “Christian” congressman defining “legitimate rape” where a female’s body “has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” (“Thing” meaning pregnancy—thereby, according to him, eliminating the need to allow abortions for women who, apparently, are “illegitimately” (???) raped.) And, of course, the very current issue of marriage equality and whether or not people should be able to discriminate and deny services to those whose behavior they deem a conflict of their faith.
I just can’t see these kinds of actions as anything that would make Jesus give a thumbs up or smile. He warned against the Pharisees, saying “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.” (Mark 12:38-40)
A 2013 study by the Barna Group assessed self-identified Christians to determine whether their actions and attitudes were more like Jesus or more like the Pharisees. The findings? “[M]ost self-identified Christians in the U.S. are characterized by having the attitudes and actions researchers identified as Pharisaical…characterized by self-righteousness.” This, sadly, didn’t surprise me.
In my own faith walk, I’ve always believed that if I’m going to err on either the side of law or love, my heart and soul choose love. The notion of coming before Jesus at my judgment and being told “I’m afraid you’ve loved too much” seems so inconsistent with the Jesus who loves me in spite of all my flaws and sins—and who commands me to do the same for others.
I’ll risk it.
Given this belief, do you know what is the hardest for me? Loving the very people who I’ve spoken of here—the ones that make me so mad because I see them alienating people from the love of Jesus. If I wasn’t already a believer and instead I only knew of the faith through the prominent actions of those who are intent on putting themselves in a righteous circle and pointing fingers at those who are not, I wouldn’t want to know this Jesus guy, either.
Still, I am called to love them. (I am not, however, called to agree with them. The two are not mutually exclusive. Hint, hint.) When I do fall short in all the ways I continually do, God has thankfully given me abundant grace and mercy, and I keep striving.
And so I will keep striving to love those I believe are hypocritical and divisive to God’s love. It’s not easy for me, but that’s the point. It’s easy to love the lovable, but much harder to love those you would like to punch in the head.
So…I’m working on it…
…and I’m so very thankful for that grace…and mercy…and love.