It's not been a good week for evangelical Christians.
Last Friday, Gawker, no stranger to harsh criticism, posted an article declaring that "Christian Evangelical" is now an empty phrase. A few days later, a Barna Group study made the rounds on the internet declaring that the majority of modern Christians are more like Pharisees than Jesus. Ouch.
Responses to the Barna Group study varied. Some Christians posted it with a simple accompanying, "Amen." Others were defensive, and questioned the findings. But one response to this damning view of Christianity kept popping up in my News Feed.
"Good. If the Christian-bashing world hates us, it means we're doing something right."
No it doesn't.
Because while Christ did warn the world would hate us, He said it would do that because it hated Him first, and we were His followers. In John 15, Jesus said, "I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you."
What is the "world" that Jesus was talking about? Who hated Jesus?
It wasn't the sinners, tax collectors and sick, poor people that He healed. He loved them and they loved Him.
It wasn't the lower class, lower educated. He made those men His disciples.
The people who hated Him were the Pharisees. The religious. The rich who didn't want to share their wealth.
In Matthew, when Jesus warned the disciples of how much they'd be hated, and what danger they'd be in, He mentioned the threat of local councils and synagogues.
And in the end, the people who hated him enough to carry out his execution were the Roman government. Those who saw Christ as a threat. Who thought Christianity was something subversive that challenged the nationalistic pride in Rome, above all else.
That was "the world" who hated Christ then.
Now, if you ask a random evangelical what they think "the world" is, they'll say it's non-Christians. Sinners. People who don't go to church, or worship the same God as them. If you ask this person what it means to be "worldly," they'll probably tell you it means to be non-religious; drinking, smoking, sleeping around and not living a morally righteous life.
This view of what the "world" means doesn't really match up with what it meant in Jesus day.
Today, the government (at least in America) is no longer a threat to the small, radical religion of Christianity. That's because following Christ is no longer so radical. American government doesn't view Christianity as a threat; it starts every sanctioned meeting with a prayer. It's institutionalized the belief in Christ, and made it a part of what it means to be American. It's stamped God on it's money, and included Him in the pledge.
The other threat in Jesus' day came from religious leaders. The majority religion then, Judaism, included many who felt threatened by Christ; threatened enough to want him to die. But now, Christianity is the majority religion in America. There are more Christian churches, spiritual leaders and people in America than any other religion.
It's not the government or the religious leaders who are "hating" Christians today. It's non-Christians. Those who have been labeled, "worldly." Who have been treated as "other." Something to be separated from. Feared. Kept from having rights, or a say in how the majority lives.
These were the very people who Christ spent His life catering to, loving, respecting and eventually encouraging to follow Him. These were the people who loved Christ.
When you dive into that Barna Group study, or really any study that's come out in the past 50 years about the world's view of Christianity, you'll see that Christians aren't being hated because of the radical, faithful way they're following Christ. They're being hated because they've spent 2,000 years telling the world what Christ died for, but then doing the opposite. Often in His name.
It's time that Christians stop accepting this label of "hated" as a badge of pride, and start viewing it as a warning. It shouldn't be a chink in our armor against darkness. It should be a call to cause us to examine the weakness we have before we go into battle. Because it's true that if we're following Christ, we'll be hated. But it's important to pay attention to just who will be hating us -- and why.
It's only then that we can get back on track to doing what Christ sent us to do. Loving God, loving our neighbors, and following His example in how to do just that.