They Will Know We Are Christians by Our …
I saw one too many Christian post, saw one too many Christian comment and heard one too many Christian giving their perspective on world events. And now, I’ve got to respond. You don’t have to read, but I can’t hold this in.
I grew up going to Sunday School. If you don’t know, this was a time on Sunday mornings and sometimes Sunday night and Wednesday night when kids would be brought to a church building and divided by age to learn about the Bible and about Jesus. Only years later did I discover that I was actually learning what good hearted volunteers had been told was important in the Bible and about some of the things that Jesus said and did. Those are both fairly important distinctions as it turns out.
In Sunday School I learned a song where the chorus was “they will know we are Christians by our love, by our love. Yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love.” It’s simple and catchy and I could still sing it for you today. “Love” is actually a very common theme and topic in the Bible, but this song likely draws its lyrics specifically from the book that Jesus’ follower “John” wrote which describes the life of Jesus from his perspective. The book of John is actually one of many different writings referred to as “books” found in the Christian Bible. In the 13th chapter of that book, Jesus is about to be betrayed by one of His disciples and already knows it and is sitting having one of His last quiet evenings with his closest friends. He knows He is about to die. No doubt understanding better than anyone else could the weight and importance of the moment, Jesus chose this as one of his final teachings. And this quintessential message, passed down for more than 2000 years by people who have followed Jesus was this:
“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.”
It would be fun to play around with why Jesus described this as a “a new command” given that it was in fact one of the earliest commands in Judaism and in fact Jesus had already given that teaching many times, but I’ll leave that for another day. The point is that Jesus chose, at the very end, to tell His disciples yet again to love each other….to the point where that is how they would be known. That’s clearly what He wanted.
Now the chorus of that song, echoing Jesus’ words to generations of Christians seems only to haunt and taunt me with how far we have missed the mark.
Many, many Christians are in fact very loving. But could any of us really say with a straight face that you will know you have encountered a Christian by their love?
I am fortunate that my social community does not contain a large number of people who are overtly racist or biggots or mean-spirited or unloving. But to my constant shame and bewilderment, every single person in my orbit that I could describe that way identifies as Christian. Why is that?
Why does modern Christianity attract or create so many people who are obsessed with protecting their own power and privilege? Or protecting their right to own guns? Or protecting their choice to turn our flag into an idol? Why are Christians so commonly determined to force their views on sexuality on everyone else, preferably through the legal system? Why are so many of the same people attracted to Christiantiy and to the idea that our borders should be completely closed at all cost? Why are so many people inclined to follow Jesus and completely disinclined to examine their own racial and gender biases?
The Christianity presented by Jesus was a path to be in relationship with our creator built around love, mercy, faith, hope, kindness, forgiveness and humility. The Christianity presented by so many Christians today is a gate on the path opened only by strict adherence to the very human preferences of very exclusive groups built around, ancient purity codes, nationalism, individualism, anglo-superiority, patriarchy, fear and shame.
The modern Church has not only failed to live up to its calling to be the incarnation of Jesus to people in need, it has become the most identifiable human institution standing in opposition to Jesus’ mission.
That, my friends, is heartbreaking.
It is (past) time for those people who care about Jesus to start turning our world upside down. It is time to become famous for our gentleness. It is time to become so associated with love that people couldn’t imagine a Church as a place that was not welcoming or safe. It is time to be known as people who are constantly seeking to restore humanity to every person that has been told the lie that they are less.
As Christians we should be perfectly positioned to speak to the horrific issues facing our society but we have ceded the moral authority to speak by consistently showing a disinterest in unity and a disgust for those who we view as different.
If you agree or are even curious and want to help, I would love to hear your suggestions for how we do this. We need every mind and heart we can muster if we are to see a different tomorrow.
While you ready your wisdom for dispensing, here are some suggestions of my own.
Listen. Christians have done plenty of teaching. God is everywhere. God is in prisons and street tents. God is in hospitals and schools. God is in the trafficked, the poor, the diseased, the addicts, the weak, the immigrants. We have tried to help these people in our Churches by telling them how they ought to be. Let’s start looking for how God is already reaching out to them and let them teach us for a while.
Befriend. Make friends with someone who people hate. People tend to hate people who are different if that helps you find someone. Jewish people, Islamic and Arabic people, imigrants from non-white countries, people living on the street, non-heterosexuals or someone who sees gender differently than you do, any racial minority and so on. Don’t try to help. Don’t try to teach. Don’t try to rescue. Try to befriend. Ask them their story. Find out what they love, what they fear, what they do to cope with the hate. If you ever truly want to learn to love your enemies, first try to learn from someone with a lot of enemies.
Elevate. Find a way to amplify the voices of women. For too long, men have refused to accept a view of God that does not support our holding on to power. The male voices have been so loud for so long, we have deprived the world of half of what it means to be human (or divine). To find the peace that God offers is to find wholeness. You cannot be whole by allowing one half to dominate the other. And you cannot be the face of God to the world by only ever showing one half of that face.
Forgive. Start with yourself. You are beautiful and wonderful and so much more than a collection of your worst moments or doubts. Try to let go of your shame. Every little bit you find a way to release will give you room to help someone else release thiers.
Be uncertain. Allow for the idea that even your most fundamental views were meant to evolve.
Be emotional. Give your emotions all the room they need and allow them to inform what you have been calling logic and reason. Revolution requires passion which will require us to untether our emotions so they can give power to our reason and strength to our purpose, not to mention compassion to our everything.
Be VERY different. We do not need tweaks around the edges. We need wholesale change. Leave your church buildings shuttered, leave your liturgies and ceremonies, leave your traditions and your hymns and your public prayers and your symbols. Leave it all out until you can be sure that they will amplify your ability to be loving and bring belonging and inclusion and grace. Be creative and don’t stop until you are certain that every person feels love.
Right now, our leaders are tear-gassing people so they can be seen holding a Bible in front of a church. Our churches are teaching that you are less if you are not white or male or heterosexual. Our faith is attracting people more interested in their “right” to own an assault rifle than their calling to stop people from being shot by the people we need to bear arms. It needs to stop.
“They will know we are Christians by our political party, our worship of the flag, our subjugation of women, our inhumane treatment of immigrants, our grandstanding about sexual purity and our righteous indignation at anyone who thinks differently than we do” makes for a truly terrible children’s song and it is an anthem we need to run out of our temples like Jesus did to the con-men in the temple courts.
To be clear, I am very much still learning these things. I am no expert and only summon the confidence to write these words now because I believe in the grace I have received. So I am here not to teach but to pass along a new command from my teacher: