Christianity has a bit of a PR problem.
As I type that, I want to laugh (except of course that I’m so sad I want to cry), because it’s just about the biggest understatement I could possibly make.
Christianity has a really really huge, colossal PR problem. The word – and concept – of Christianity has become such a marred and dirty word that I don’t know that it’s likely to ever recover. In fact, many God-loving people are abandoning the word altogether, because they’re sick and tired of having to follow the statement of “I’m a Christian,” with a hastily uttered addendum of “But not one of those Christians.” I actually started calling myself a follower of Christ a few years ago, because I felt like it more accurately described my position.
And really, who wants to be associated with… well, those Christians?
People hear the word Christian these days and they think of people like Phil Robertson. They think of people freaking out about coffee cups. They think of people freaking out about bathrooms in Target. They think of people freaking out about the phrase, “Happy Holidays.” (Are you sensing a pattern here?) They think of people petitioning and boycotting and generally spending their collective time and energy on being negative. They think about people withdrawing their funds for starving babies – literally taking food away from hungry children – because of an administrative policy that wouldn’t discriminate against gay people. They think about bakers refusing to make wedding cakes. They think about hatred. They think about prejudice and bigotry and judgement.
And as of this week…. they think about tow truck drivers proudly taking a stand and refusing to tow the car of a disabled young lady who’d just been in accident… all because she had a Bernie Sanders bumper sticker on her car.
People hate Christians.
And not because, as some would have you believe, they’re doing God’s work à la Matthew 10:22 (“You will be hated by everyone because of Me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.”) No. They’re hated because too many of them have been behaving like horrible, horrible people – and it could stand to be said: not at all Christ-like – and then proudly claiming God as their justification.
And I get it. I struggle with my love for my fellow Christians too. I want to cry. I want to scream. I want to desperately yell, “We’re not all like this!!” Yes, 98% of my writings on Christianity have been born of straight-up frustration. No question.
But I realized something.
In the time it took me to decide to write about this, to find the perfect picture, and to brew the perfect cup of coffee, it dawned on me:
This is not about Christianity at all. It’s really not. It’s about select individuals making bad decisions, and using “God” as their cover. I’d like to believe (really, I need to believe) that people are smart enough to see the difference. That anyone with a working, thinking, rational brain can recognize that a Christian, as in a follower of Christ, is NOT synonymous with a “Christian”, as in “I’m going to leave an innocent girl stranded on the side of the road BECAUSE GOD TOLD ME TO.”
Am I horrified by this behavior? Yes. Do I find it absolutely disgusting that anyone would bring God into something so ugly? Yes. But my ranting and raving and general defensive word-spewing only serves to bring me down to their level. I’m not the spokeswoman for Christianity at large. Beyond that though, I can’t control what anyone else does. I can’t control what anyone else thinks. If someone wants to behave like a complete and utter jackass and delude themselves into thinking it’s what God wants them to do, it’s their choice to make. If someone wants to lump all Christians together and label them all as horrible, bigoted, self-seeking sycophants, so be it.
None of that changes my faith. None of that changes my God.
Have you met my God?
(Ack, I just heard the way that sounds. Please don’t stop reading. I do NOT mean that in a door-to-door, “Brother, have you accepted the LORD JESUS as your personal savior??” kind of way. What I mean is… do you know who it is that I – and others like me – personally follow? Because let me perfectly clear: It is not a deity who would ever… ever ever ever… ask me to turn my back on someone who needed my help. In fact, my God is very much the opposite)
My God has more love, and grace, and patience than humans can even comprehend. Love and grace and patience for ALL people …. Black people and white people. Gay people and straight people. Christians and atheists and Jewish people. Sanders supporters and Trump supporters. Able-bodied and disabled. People who spend Sunday morning at church. People who spend Sunday morning at Target.
My God wants me to feed the hungry, to clothe the poor, and to stand up for the oppressed. It’s kind of the whole reason I’m on earth. I really believe that. All this other stuff… it’s just noise and distractions. And make no mistake; I miss the mark, a LOT. (More on that later) But what I strive for? This is it.
My God wants me to use my powers for good, not evil. I realize I’m a person and not a superhero, but it’s far more interesting to think of our skills, talents, and gifts as super powers, don’t you think? I like to think that my super power is writing, but, you know, I’m not God, so…. A few years ago, I thought I heard God to tell me to get trained to teach yoga, so I did. And I’ve spent many moments since then wondering if that was the right decision. I had two shoulder surgeries in two years. I have had chronic physical illness, chronic pain, and the worst anxiety and depression I’ve ever experienced. I’m clearly supposed to be learning something from the experience, and I’m still not sure what it is. Maybe one day I’ll go back to teaching. Maybe I’ll shift my focus elsewhere. But I digress. We’ve all got powers, and we all get to decide how we use them. My God wants me to use them for good, whatever they ultimately end up being.
My God wouldn’t ask me not to bake a wedding cake. If wedding cakes were the way I brought to the world my skills and my heart and my love of Christ, He would ask me to bake two. He would ask me to make the best damn gay wedding cakes that ever existed, and to do it with love. He would ask me to throw in some free cookies too. Not the day-old ones that were sitting out in the case and starting to get dry around the edges, but fresh cookies. Beautiful cookies, made with the finest ingredients I could get my hands on.
My God wouldn’t ask me to spend my time and my energy and my blood, sweat, and tears on picketing, petitioning, and boycotting. My God tells me that my time is so much better spent doing the work I need to do on myself so I can live out my faith to the best of my ability. So I can show people what Jesus actually looked like; so I can show people how Jesus actually behaved.
My God wouldn’t ask me to leave anyone stranded on the side of the road. The entirety of what I feel, and believe, and know to be true about my God and my faith tells me that the moment someone is in need is in fact the very moment that we’re here for. As a follower of Christ, as a person with a heart and a soul, as a human sharing this earth with other people, I am here to help my fellow man. This is it. This is what it’s about. Forget the fact that it was his job as a tow truck driver to tow his car. Forget that. He was there to do a job, and he chose not to do it. And I don’t know… maybe he hates his job. Maybe he’d had a bad day. Maybe he had a traumatic Bernie Sanders bumper sticker incident in a past life. Setting all that aside…. no matter who or what he may believe in, or why he was there, or why the woman needed help in the first place: as a human being, with values and morals and a sense of right and wrong, there was only one thing to do. And he didn’t do it. And then, he blamed God.
Which brings me full-circle to the beginning of the post, and the agony of people behaving badly, and the sadness and frustration of people lambasting Christians as a whole for believing in a God (except they usually words like “imaginary sky ghost”) that would ask them to do something so awful.
Let me say again that my God wouldn’t want me to leave anyone stranded on the side of the road. Whoever or whatever those people are talking about is not my God.
And I’ll be perfectly clear (and honest). God knows, I don’t always do the right thing. I want to; I do. But I’m a fallible human. Sometimes I let fear, or pride, or ego, or laziness, or just plain selfishness keep me from doing what I know in my heart is the right thing to do. I’m a work in progress, like everyone else. But when I drop the ball, when I do something unkind… IT’S ALL ON ME. And when you drop the ball and do something unkind, it’s all on you too. Not God.
My God wants me to love my neighbor. He doesn’t want me to be an asshole. Full stop.
I’m tired of having this discussion over and over. I’m tired of people behaving badly. I’m tired of the emotional gymnastics I always go through when people rail about how horrible Christians are… when half of me wants to agree with them, and the other half is cut to my core at the hatred, wanting to curl up and cry, “But… but… we’re not all like that!!!”
Mostly I’m tired of all this ridiculous noise, distracting us from doing what we need to be doing, and what we need to be focused on: Doing the right thing, loving our neighbor, and standing together to say we won’t tolerate bad behavior. I don’t care who you are or what you believe in. If you stand for love and kindness, I’ll stand beside you.
I’ll stand beside you, with my God, and work on me. Work on my patience, work on my compassion, work on my love…. both for the person on the side of the road, and for the person who left her there. Both for my fellow Christians, and for the people that aim to hurt us. It’s hard sometimes. But I’m working on it. I want to work on it. God wants me to work on it. Because my God? He only wants goodness, not bad. Lightness, not dark. Love, not hatred. Anything else is not God. It’s user error. It’s humanness. It’s the dark side of humanity.
But I’ll work on me. And you (if you choose) can work on you. In the meantime…..
If you’re going to be a bigot; If you’re going to do something disgusting and inhumane: At least own up to the fact that you’re doing so out of your own moral shortcomings, and leave God out of it.