- Westboro Baptist Church — a hate group unworthy of the name “church.”
- Creationists living in utter denial of the value of scientific inquiry.
- Sexual predators masquerading as priests.
- Homophobic and jingoistic rants in the name of Jesus by pastors with bad hair and 900 numbers.
- Delusional people waiting for the (non-Biblical) "Rapture."
Or put another way, if you went up to a bunch of non-church-going strangers and asked them what came to mind when they thought of Christians you’d likely hear:
- Holier than thou.
- Out of touch.
It's easy to understand how people outside the faith might come to such conclusions. I mean, the hits just keep coming.
This past week there was a story about a group of Christian legislators in Mississippi pushing to get the Bible named the official state book. Now, I love the Bible as much as anyone, but when it’s used as a cudgel to whack those who disagree with you, you might just be missing the whole point.
And lest you think I’m ignoring the Episcopal Church, you're likely familiar with the tragic episode that took place two days after Christmas in the Diocese of Maryland where the newly consecrated assistant bishop hit and killed a 41-year-old cyclist. After a few days sitting in a jail cell, she’s out on bail facing charges of manslaughter, leaving the scene of an accident, drunk driving at three times the legal limit, and texting while driving. I doubt anyone in Baltimore tentatively thinking about returning to church heard this story and declared, “Yup! That’s the denomination for me.”
Recent studies show that negative views of religion in general and Christianity in particular are on the rise which makes following Jesus increasingly counter-cultural.
So what do we do about this? How do we change this perception? Well, we can become defensive and start pointing accusatory fingers of judgment at those who don’t believe what we believe. We can rail against the forces of secularism and hunker in our stained glass bunkers and just ignore everything that’s being said “out there.”
Or we can take a few simple steps to chip away at the fossilized Jesus and restore the transforming Jesus; the Jesus who loves us with reckless abandon and calls us into the fullness of community.
Here are three suggestions:
1. Know Jesus. It all starts with relationship, which only happens through an active and engaged prayer life. "Pray without ceasing" is the ultimate goal which doesn't mean you have to walk around on your knees all day but rather that your entire life becomes an act of prayer. To truly know Jesus is to be spiritually plugged-in, something that happens through spiritual discipline (the root of the word coming from disciple, not pertaining to punishment). Read the Bible regularly, pray daily, worship weekly and you will come to know Jesus.
2. Follow Jesus. It always comes back to discipleship. Model your faith in the way you live your life. Be mindful of your relationship in your interactions with others; in the way you treat those in any need or trouble; in the way you treat strangers and loved ones alike. Use your hands and heart to make a difference in the world in ways both great and small. Participate in your community of worship as an active participant not a passive observer.
3. Share Jesus. You have likely experienced moments of grace and transcendence in your own life. Have you hoarded them in your heart or have you shared them with others? We need to get over our ecclesial reticence in order to be part of the conversation. Otherwise, the harmful Christianity of the headlines wins. If we keep our faith locked up within the decorative confines of a heart-shaped box, we're not being truly faithful Christians. If you can't "Go tell it on the mountain," at least go tell it on social media.
We know and proclaim a God of love and justice and inclusion; a God who is accessible and inviting and compassionate. A God who is full of joyful surprises and absolutely nothing like the God of the headlines.
Know Jesus, Share Jesus, Follow Jesus. It's time to take our faith back.