Dear Fellow Christians,
After giving it much thought, I think the message of the Good News is being threatened.
Many people are leaving churches and turning their backs on Christianity. Why? Because people who speak on behalf of Jesus the Christ are dismissing the most important part of Christ's message: love.
About 20 years ago, I found myself rejecting Christianity. When I was in college, I had experiences that led me to believe that Christianity was the religion of hypocrisy. In the name of Christ, some were misusing their power to control and manipulate others. When visiting churches, people were more concerned about their dress or socializing with friends than greeting others with Christ's love.
I could not see the presence of God in church or surrounding many Christians.
Fortunately, by my mid-20s, I began to find the light in the Body of Christ. I found my way back to church and began to see the presence of God in new and exciting ways. There were times I still found doubt in the goodness of Christianity, especially when my beliefs weren't "good enough" for people. But I knew that spreading the message of Christ's radical love was more important for me to focus on than negative remarks heading my way.
But not everyone has found the gift of Christian love under the piles of judgmental speech and exploitation of the Bible.
Many people think that Christianity is the religion of rules and perfect morality. People think all Christians care more about our individual souls getting into heaven instead of creating heaven here on earth. The message of Christ's radical, enduring love has fallen short because Christians misuse the name of Jesus the Christ to correct and control other people.
Mahatma Gandhi once stated "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ." Still today, this is the reputation Christianity has in our culture.
In the past year, how many stories have we read centering around hateful speech or actions by Christians?
We hear how Westboro Baptist Church wants to picket a variety of funerals because of sin in this country. In 2012, we heard various clergy blaming LGBT persons/allies for Hurricane Sandy and atheists for the shooting in Newtown, Conn. Do they realize how their hateful words ripple into our world? Do they realize their loud voices are drowning so many voices of love and compassion? Do they really think this is the message of the all-inclusive Christ?
Thinking back to 2012, I recall the story of the exclusion of a church in St. Clair, Missouri from a softball league because their clergy member identified as bisexual. Even though this pastor wasn't playing in the softball games, some churches in their area still didn't want to associate with the church in any capacity. Is this truly the Good News of Christianity that we see in Jesus the Christ?
While I am a straight ally, I understand that not all Christians are on the same page regarding gay marriage, ordination, etc. We may disagree on topics such as abortion, birth control, health care laws and the economy. We may disagree on our visions of salvation. But for the sake of love, can't we put aside our theological differences and eat together, laugh together and even play softball together? Love means crossing boundaries to embrace a person as a child of God, how they were born, what faith they practice or whether or not you agree with them. Jesus associated and ate with all people. He set "rules" aside as he healed people on the Sabbath. To Jesus, love and relationships trumped dogmas and fears. By connecting with people unlike ourselves, we hear personal narratives and learn to understand each other deeply.
Sure, maybe I'm being judgmental. But I'll be honest, the stories that I listed above may be why many people are turning their back on Christianity. Many of the messages linked to Christianity are not ones of love. Because of this, the Good News can not be heard. Thus, many people find no use for Christianity anymore. And from my personal experiences in the past, I can understand why they've reached that conclusion.
But I still believe in the inclusive, steadfast love of Christ. And so do many of you.
So for 2013, I challenge all of us Christians to be bearers of the Good News and break the boundaries of love. Let us love radically. If there is someone who you want to judge, try to talk with them and understand their story. If there is someone who you fear, pray and understand why you may fear them. You do not have to agree with them. But through love and escaping your comfort zone, you are being a witness to the greatest love of all time: the unconditional love of God that we Christians see in Christ. Let our voices be louder than those of judgment and hate.
Granted, I realize that no matter how hard I try, this doesn't mean I'm going to be perfect in the way. Unfortunately, there will be times I will unintentionally misrepresent Christ. I think all of us humans tend to make errors now and again. Sometimes these errors come out of misunderstanding or fear. As a person of the Christian faith, my goal is to continuously find ways to focus on the radical love of Christ. Allowing this steadfast love to trample any fears and to clear misunderstandings will bring us closer as humans. Embracing grace when we fall will help us back on the path to love.
All any of us can do as Christians is to keep on trying.
If Jesus, the one who knew God greater than any of us, was able to love outside of the box, then maybe we should give it a try. Because if we call ourselves Christians and do not love, what kind of witness are we to our faith?
Instead of hearing the ongoing loud messages of judgment and hate, what if people saw Christians feeding the hungry, visiting the sick and advocating for the voiceless? What if we told people who have been discriminated against, bullied, beaten, blamed and shamed that "God loves you just as you are"? What if we started a campaign to bring the louder voice of a loving Christianity to the world? What if people realized that this is the true Good News of Christianity worth sharing? The worst that can happen is that by Jan. 1, 2014, people will see more of Christ's love within Christianity.
If you have any additional ideas on how we can love more radically, post below. Let's go for it!