“I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” – Mahatma Gandhi
It used to be that I thought being a Christian was the best thing a person could be. I assumed the meaning of life was to follow Christ, by going to church every Sunday, trying to get “more in touch with the Holy Spirit,” that if you “spoke in tongues” or were “a prophet” than you must be an amazing Christian and God’s favor must be on you. The goal of life was to be more like the good Christians that I saw every week worshipping, becoming angry at the injustices that Christians were experiencing, and enjoying pure and holy fellowship one with another. I thought that becoming awesome at my bass guitar so I could play in great worship bands or that becoming a “praise and worship leader” was much better than having to endure the traditional music of the church.
I was messed up 🙂
Seriously, I do want to be careful here. I understand that there are great people who have come before me and many more that will come after me that will disagree with much of what I say. I understand that there is value in the church and that much of the “bad” often overshadows the good.
However, I also want to be clear in a statement that I’ve made on this blog before: I’m done with the traditional church.
I side with Gandhi. In my version of the statement “the traditional” could be substituted with the typical, the archetypal, the stereotypical, etc, etc. I have found both personally and through the testimony and experience of others that there can often be a disconnect between what is said or preached by the church and what is actually practiced by the church.
Christian? To be like Jesus?
First, let’s figure out some of the hallmark characteristics of Jesus.
Compassion: The first thing that comes to mind when I think about the life of Christ as it’s described in the Christian Bible is that he always showed compassion. To everyone and in every circumstance: from the healing of the Centurion’s daughter to the Samarian woman, to the blind men who were healed, to the women who would have otherwise been stoned for her adultery, compassion is present in all of these circumstances.
Acceptance: Until a couple of days ago, I probably would have used the word tolerance here. But as has been appropriately pointed out to me in a Facebook conversation I’ve been having recently, tolerance is offensive. Jesus accepted all people regardless of their race, gender, beliefs, social status, criminal history and I feel strongly that these same acceptances would continue to include other characteristics such as sexual orientation. He touched lepers. He ate with tax collectors. He drank wine at parties. He requested pardon for his murderers. He did more than simply tolerate the fact that “sinners” existed and should be “loved” despite their “sins” – Jesus accepted people. Period. Obviously he never claimed that murdering was right, or taking more money than you should was ethical. But regardless of their baggage and bad choices he partied hearty and pardoned fully. I would also argue that it is approaching impossible to both love and tolerate.
Anger: Jesus anger and outrage was always founded. Interestingly, anger has been described as the “emotion of judgement” and it has further been argued that we as non-Jesus are sinning when we become angry (Bruxy Cavey, The Meeting House Podcast – 10/04/2009) because it is judging which we as Christians are told not to do. Also interestingly, the angry moments of Christ all deal in some way with religion – those who purvey rules over relationship and compassion, and those who have denigrated the value of God’s house . . . that is, those who have made it about themselves, self-gain, rather than about God and his plans.
Fellowship: Jesus recruited a following who stuck with him through the good times, at least. I believe that Jesus understood the value of relationship and cherished it.
Faith: Jesus had faith in God. Jesus also had faith in people who others seemed to have no faith in. To paraphrase many who have spoken about Jesus’ disciples, the fact that he selected people that had been established in professions, meant that he chose not the culturally defined “best of the best” but people that were deemed “not good enough” to continue with studies to become a Rabbi, for example. No, instead, Jesus chose the not-so-goods, the sloppy seconds, etc, etc.
Grace: Jesus was grace incarnate. To quote a friend’s lyric “this is grace. to be held like you never made mistakes.” C’mon now.
With these characteristics identified we see a church culture that ranges from mildly differing to blatantly opposing these values….
Instead of compassion for others we see a level of self-interest that I, personally, feel is evil. As the church, we allow millions and millions and millions and millions to be spend on facilities and programs as if it’s all about us. We need larger, more compelling facilities so that we can get more people to come as if the act of coming is superior to the act of going.
We speak about being welcoming and accepting, and yet condone vehemently protesting abortions with hateful words and imagery. We condemn homosexuality and homosexuals for wanting to have a legally recognized form of their love in marriage. Somehow we’ve forgotten the years of careless treatment, and defamation of this sacred institution. Until fairly recently, my spiritual history had until left me thinking that certain significant people in my life were “bad” because of the choices they made. Is it OK to live as though Jesus had double standards?
We’ve decided that it’s OK to be angry – that “righteous anger” is justified, except that anger is never condoned by Christ. Bruxy Cavey discusses this at length in the podcast linked above it’s a great listen. Essentially, my take away was that becoming angry is similar to casting the first stone, and we have no right to it. But in church culture we’ve almost glorified righteous anger as a sign of heightened holiness.
I think you get where I’m going.
In short, I feel as if I have denigrated what it means to be a little Christ. I feel as though I’ve given Gandhi justification to say what he said. We Christians tend not only to not live like Christ, but seem to be missing him on many of his major point.
Which is why I’m not ashamed to say that I love Jesus or that I want to be like him, but I never enjoy claiming to be a Christian. It has come to be affiliated with characteristics that Jesus never aligned himself with. Trying to live like Christ and trying to be a Christian are two different things . . . and I think you know which I’d like to do.