When I originally got the idea for this post, I intended to write about the five worst things that happened in Christianity in 2013. Then I thought about how tired I am of all the negativity being spread by (and about) Christians in the media lately. After all, our message should be one that brings hope, not shame. That's why I'm turning the five events below into opportunities for growth in the coming new year.
Here are five things I hope for Christians in 2014.
5) They'll Stop Buying Books That Encourage Abuse
When I first read this incredible piece on Slate about the death of Hana Williams, I was shocked. How could people who claim to be Christians do such horrible, awful things to a child? As I read further, what disturbed me even more was that this wasn't a solitary case of abuse, it was a trend. Michael and Debi Pearl's book To Train Up a Child was found in Hana Williams murderer's home, and it has been found in the home of multiple other child abusers.
This has got to stop. Christians need to speak up about the dangers of child abuse, and how quickly a "harmless spanking" can turn into a beating by angry, tired, or ill-equipped parents. We can't get this book off the shelves (and censorship is not something I advocate for) but we can work to educate parents about the deaths this book is associated with, and the reasons its instructions are ones no parent should take.
4) They'll Pay Attention to What's Happening in Uganda
During The Reformation Project conference that I attended last fall, I attended a screening of God Loves Uganda with director Roger Ross Williams. The film was brilliant and engaging, but it was also terrifying. It showed how both the direct hatred of some, and the dangerous naiveté of other American evangelical missionaries, led to the infamous "Kill the Gays" bill in Uganda. From the slimy, evil Scott Lively to the innocent, well-intentioned, but misguided young missionaries of mega church IHOP,there were various levels of guilt for those Christians whose actions led to the death and imprisonment of the people of Uganda.
Christians who argued in 2013 for "free speech" and "their rights to follow what the Bible says" need to pay attention to what's happening, right now, in Uganda. The Parliament passed the bill. LGBT Ugandans, and their friends, families, co-workers, and acquaintances are all in danger now. As Christians, we should care about these people, and want to help them. We should also try to do whatever it takes to make sure we don't repeat the same mistakes that led to this bill ever coming to fruition.
3) They'll Raise Up More Leaders Like The Pope
I was wary of the Pope at first. As Michelangelo Signorile, the editor-at-large of Huffpost Gay voices pointed out, three years ago the Pope made statements (as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio) calling gay marriage the work of the devil and "a destructive attack on God's plan." However, the man has done a lot -- a whole lot -- of things that overshadow these comments (that hopefully he no longer believes.) In the words of Time magazine managing editor Nancy Gibbs,
[The Pope] has placed himself at the very center of the central conversations of our time, about wealth and poverty, fairness and justice, transparency, modernity, globalization, the role of women, the nature of marriage, the temptations of power," she said. "When he kisses the face of a disfigured man or washes the feet of a Muslim woman, the image resonates far beyond the boundaries of the Catholic Church.
In order words, he's been named the Time magazine person of the year because he's the first prominent Christian leader in a while that has become known for acting like a Christian. He's not all over the media because of controversial remarks, a sordid scandal, or a political association. The Pope is a leader being talked about for his love, and comments fueled by the desire to love others better. Wouldn't it be great if 2014 was filled with more Christians leaders like this?
2) They'll Pay Attention to Real Persecution of Christians
A few months ago, Maaloula, a predominantly Christian village northeast of Damascus, was seized by Syrian rebels led by al-Qaida-linked fighters. Reports have come in of deaths, church burnings, and violent, forced conversions to Islam, by extremist rebels. There are two important things that must be said about this. One, is that American, Western Christians have no idea what "real" persecution for their faith really looks like. Two, is that the answer to these reports should not be further islamophobia, but a rallying behind of our Middle Eastern Christian brother and sisters. Islam is not the enemy. Extremism -- of any kind -- is the enemy. Christian extremism takes lives as well.
These reports should fuel not our fear and hatred of another religion, but our determination to help out the believers who need us. We need to get just as worked up and vocal about Christians in real peril, as we do about Christians in "peril" of losing their jobs on reality TV. In 2014, I hope that Christians gain some perspective about the kind of courage it must take to practice your faith in a country where believing in Jesus can get you killed. Maybe paying more attention to this, can help us get back to the root of what our faith should be.
1) They'll Start Being Known for Their Love
In John 13:34-35, on the eve of His betrayal and crucifixion, Jesus says this to His disciples, "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."
Like the popular hymn states, "They will know we are Christians by our love."
Too bad that's not true anymore. Christians aren't known for their love today. They're known for who they hate. Or if hate seems too strong, they're known for who they want to use their free speech against. This isn't just one liberal, progressive Christian's opinion either. It's the opinion of an entire generation, skeptical and wary of Christianity. You know what's really sad? Today, the most common perception of Christianity is that it's "anti-homosexual." According to a massive study by The Barna Group, 91 percent of young non-Christians and 80 percent of young churchgoers say this phrase describes Christianity.
"Anti" should not be something that Christianity is most known for. We should not be known for what we are against. We should be know for what we're for -- loving God and loving others. Here's my biggest hope for Christians in 2014: that in the coming year, we won't rally behind the most popular celebrity Christian that gets in trouble for saying something idiotic against a group of people who have already been hurt by Christians. Instead, we'll rally behind those people who are hurting.
In 2014, it would be wonderful if they can know we are Christians by our love -- not for free speech, "traditional values," or bearded rednecks -- but our love for people who for too long, have felt hated by us.