Saturday, July 3, 2010
Last week a popular blogger raised a pressing question: why are Christians such jerks online? He cited the sheer offensive nastiness of some and the whiney defensiveness of others. If you have visited the blogosphere on a regular basis you know what he is talking about. Some avowed followers of the Prince of Peace seem to relish violent, abusive attacks on their theological, political, and social opponents. Of course, Christian jerks are found everywhere: from the calculated anti-gay ugliness of Kansas’ Fred Phelps, to the anti-Obama screeds of fundamentalist preachers, to the borderline anti-Semitic rants against Israel by “social justice” Christians. Cringing at such misrepresentations of our faith, many of us resonated with the “Confessional Booth” story in Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz. Like those Reed College students we would like to tell non-Christians we are sorry for the misbehavior of the church and many individual Christians.
All of this raises another question: Why aren’t we better? If we have been transformed by the Spirit of God and are to radiate the love of Christ, why are we so often characterized by foaming-at-the-mouth nastiness? It is too simple to say “Well those folks are not true Christians.” We are not the first generation to suffer from “Christian jerks.” We must acknowledge centuries of cruelty and violence, verbal and otherwise, done in the name of Christ. Recently Pope Benedict admitted, referring to the sexual abuse scandal, that the real “persecution” of the Catholic Church was from within. Or, as Pogo would put it, we have met the enemy and he is us.
Some years ago a North Park Theological Seminary student wrote a paper arguing for a “discipline of silence.” He argued that Christian mistreatment of Jews over the centuries was so horrendous and inexcusable that Christians had lost the right to speak to them of Christ. He suggested that Christians put a moratorium on evangelizing Jews until they had earned the right to speak through love, generosity of spirit and sheer humanity. Last week members of the Marin Foundation, a Christian organization ministering to the gay community, followed the example of those Reed College Christians. They donned t-shirts that read “I’m Sorry”. On behalf of the Christian community they expressed sorrow and shame at the shabby way the gay community has been treated by Christians, particularly Evangelical Christians.
Neither my student nor the Marin foundation would suggest we no longer bear witness to Christ. But perhaps both would suggest that we once more earn the right to speak of Jesus by living like him for a change. A Christian ideology (I chose the term advisedly) without a Christian identity is a potentially deadly thing. We are not called simply to believe things about Jesus, but to follow him.
John E. Phelan, Jr.