There’s a new Texas-based non-profit group called “Changing the Face of Christianity” — their mission is “to reverse negative Christian stereotypes in the world.”
Well, that sounds all well and good. There are certainly many stereotypes about Christians… but they’re usually well-deserved, right? In the book UnChristian by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, the authors wrote about the terms people most often thought of when they heard the word “Christian”:
Having a “must-save-you-or-else” mentality.
Now, Changing the Face of Christianity is trying to fix all that and they definitely have an uphill battle.
Brad White is the founder and president of the organization. He answered a few of my questions about the organization via email. I know it’s long, but I urge you to read what this reformer is trying to do… and see if you think he gets it:
Are Christians aware that people think of them this way [with those stereotypes]?
Some are, but unfortunately many are not. There IS a growing movement in this country by like-minded people to take back the church, so to speak, from those that choose to live in an UnChristian way absurdly in the name of Christ.
There are many who feel like they are doing a service by condemning and ridiculing homosexuals. This is both homophobic AND hypocritical and their intentions don’t justify their means. Just like most people at least subconsciously know they are selfish to the core, I believe that many Christians subconsciously realize they are often hypocritical and judgmental. However, since it’s not on the surface, they refuse to see it or do anything about it. Our agenda is to change that status quo. We are shining light on the problems within our Christian faith, to convict believers to take action and work on themselves.
You’ll enjoy this. I spoke at a morning Christian devotional meeting last year and I asked people to tell me the first word that came to their mind when I said “Christian.” To my surprise, out of 20 or so people, 3 immediately said “hypocritical.” Another 2 said “judgmental.” And to be fair, many others said “loving,” “compassionate,” etc. My point being that there ARE Christian followers that acknowledge the problem. Our mission then is to help these people move from A to B, status quo to Christian transformation… to put aside judgment and bring their behaviors in line with their beliefs.
Have we earned the negative stereotype of having a “must save or else” mentality? Yes. This is a conflicting issue for most Christians. I loved what outspoken atheist comedian Penn Jillette says on this issue: “If you truly believe I’m going to hell, and you truly believe you have the answer, and you DON’T tell me, then you must really hate me.” That’s the difficulty. Many who have this attitude do care for you more than you know, and because they care, they are sharing the gospel with you. Now, as a former atheist, and someone who has discussed this issue with many current atheists, what these well intentioned Christians don’t understand is that you have heard it many times before. I admire those who are so convicted by their faith that they share it without regard for how they come across. What they don’t realize is that the “save you or else” attitude generally produces the opposite effect. Instead of a warm fuzzy feeling, it enrages you.
This is where Changing the Face of Christianity steps in with a strong message to Christians. STOP! For those Christians well versed in the Bible, we have to accept that whether anyone comes to Jesus Christ or not is truly out of our hands. It’s God’s job.
Here is what we recommend to these people: If you truly love and care about that person, then simply love them unconditionally. Don’t befriend them with ulterior motives just to try to save them. Just love them. If you can’t love them for who they are, then you don’t really love them. And be open to listening to them and their beliefs. Again, not with an attitude of trying to change their mind. People who truly listen and give their time to someone else with no strings attached… those are people who love others as God calls us to. Said in a way like Jesus likely would say it, If you truly want to save them, then love them, feed them, serve them, humble yourself before them, give your life for them. We don’t do that very well. Over time, we hope to change that.
On the Too Political and sheltered stereotypes, I don’t believe many in our faith see it at all. Let’s first define the terms. Too political in our context means using politics to force our beliefs on others through legislation. Sheltered, which we call “superficial” on our website, means that we live in a Christian bubble and rarely seek to engage with the rest of the world or learn new things like advances in science. Again, these are difficult issues to wrestle with. Everyone involved in politics is fighting for their own beliefs and values. Christians fighting in the political arena to end abortion are doing so because of strong convictions. Homosexuals fighting in the political arena for gay marriage are doing the same thing. Where Christian behavior needs to be more consistent with our beliefs is in how we treat those NOT in the majority. We must not use our political influence to subordinate or withhold rights from others that we enjoy. When it comes to being sheltered or superficial in our understanding of the world, again we are guilty as charged. Part of our mission is to help Christians understand advances in science, and learn how to integrate those advances into our faith. We may disagree, but I strongly believe that science and religion/faith CAN coexist. So instead of fearing what there is to learn there, we should embrace it and seek to learn more.
If even most “liberal” Christians remain opposed to gay marriage, how can you really change the perception of Christians as homophobic?
To me, it all comes down to how homosexuals are treated by Christians one-on-one, either face to face or website comment to website comment. What’s my attitude toward homosexuals? When we address that in a positive, constructive way, over time I believe the perception will start to reverse.
Now, let’s talk about the issue of gay marriage. This is a HOT issue at least in the USA. I’m going to answer this the long way to explain my personal opinion.
I saw a comedy routine several years ago called “Defending the Caveman.” Google it. It essentially talks about why men and women have such as hard time relating and communicating. It’s because we speak a different language. Men speak to Men…and everything is ok. Women speak to women and everything is ok. When Men speak to women, WE speak as if we are talking to a man, and the women hears us as if they are talking to a women. It fails. Then we sleep on the couch!
Ok, so why the metaphor. I think the HUGE problem with this debate is a matter of language and interpretation. When Christians talk about gay marriage, we are talking about what we perceive as Right vs Wrong. When LGBTs talk about gay marriage, they are talking about dominance and control vs. equal protection and rights. When Christians oppose gay marriage, are we using politics and religion to dominate and control? Yes. And we (Changing the Face of Christianity) believe that such dominance and control is wrong.
Ok, so what is the big problem with language then? In our opinion, It’s around the term “Marriage.” This is going to sound contradictory but it’s truly not when you understand the language, from a Christians’ perspective. I support a homosexual’s right to a “civil union” but not to “marriage.” How can that be? Christians believe that “Marriage” is God-ordained and is DEFINED by God in the Bible as a sacred and holy act between a man and a woman. To allow “Marriage” to be redefined as an act between two men or two women, or to mandate that a Christian church or pastor officiate such Marriage as a sanctioned act of God, is simply unconscionable.
Now, am I ok with two men or two women having a civil union in a government sanctioned civil court? Absolutely! I’m perfectly fine with it. Would I prefer to see a homosexual couple in a committed civil union relationship or an uncommitted one? In a committed one. I’ve personally witnessed a lesbian couple who had a child through a sperm donor, bonded with the child, and then broke up, just like in heterosexual couples. The birth mom had legal custody of the child. The other lady had absolutely no rights under the law. Lots of issues there, but saying it briefly, it would have been better for the child to have both women with custody. They both heaped love on the child, and the child deserved better.
So why all the fuss over gay marriage? I don’t presume to speak for the majority of Christians on this. However, I strongly believe it’s because homosexuals are fighting for “Gay Marriage,” even if all they are really seeking equal rights to are “Civil Unions.” It’s incredibly unfortunate, but we simply can’t talk to each other any better than men and women can’t talk to each other after eons of trying.
Changing the Face of Christianity officially started in 2010. How we engage with homosexuals is one of 6-7 major issues we are bringing to the forefront within Christian churches and communities. We will certainly say more on this topic on our website over time. So stay tuned as we work within Christian circles to improve the dialogue and mutual respect between heterosexual Christians and homosexuals. And regardless of what we do, we will have strong opposition within our Churches. This is a mission that I expect will take an entire lifetime to see to completion and we’ve only just begun. We would welcome your support and encouragement.
Do you consider being gay a choice?
First, and possibly most importantly, I am a heterosexual and I can’t possibly walk in the shoes of a homosexual. So, all I can do is express my beliefs based on what I’ve seen, heard, and observed. I don’t claim to have any special knowledge in this area.
Short answer: I’ve seen conflicting evidence and passionate arguments from both sides. So for me, the jury is still out. That is, until someone can help resolve the conflicts or show me the irrefutable evidence. Until then, I’ll have to place my faith in what I’ve seen so far. I am very open to reading and learning more on the subject. So, if you have any suggestions, please reply back with your recommendations.
Long Answer: I’ve seen strong evidence that it is a genetic pre-disposition. That’s tough to debate. I can recall kids as early as age 10 [who] were stereotypically effeminate, and very likely went on to BE homosexual after puberty. I’ve also personally known several heterosexuals who later Chose to be bi-sexual or homosexual. I don’t know what you call them, so I simply call them “switchers.” Another person I’ve not met but I heard about a while ago, who was a very active and vocal PRO lesbian her whole life but switched later in life, shows evidence that regardless of any genetic pre-disposition, it can still be a choice. Here is the link to her site. You can read her personal story here.
So, what do I believe? If I had to take an educated best guess, I’d say that homosexuality is something you are genetically pre-disposed to and yet it’s still a choice.
Let me give you a non-homosexual metaphor. I’ve heard that alcoholics are born that way (genetically pre-disposed to alcoholism). They don’t know it until their first drink. For most, you drink and you can easily take it or leave it. But for alcoholics, you take the first drink and you are hooked. It’s an addiction. You can’t stop. It becomes a part of you. Someone says, why don’t you just stop drinking? And the response is, “Do you think I would choose this? It’s not a choice. I can’t stop even if I wanted to.”
So, in either situation, whether it’s alcoholism, homosexuality, or anything else you want to compare it to, the question our organization would ask is: How should YOU as a Christian treat that person? And the answer would be: love them, support them, and encourage them. Do NOT reject them and for heaven’s sake don’t condemn them as if they are somehow worse than yourself.
You say you want to tackle Intolerance within the Christian community. What would be an example of a “tolerant” Christian? Are there examples of well-known Christians who fall in the tolerant camp?
Intolerance is one of the 6-7 major issues we are trying to reverse within Christianity. So, again, we welcome your support in our mission to reverse Christian intolerance.
Now, I hope this next part doesn’t disappoint you. Intolerance is a big word with many definitions. As we’ve shared our message of tolerance, we have encountered some reasonable backlash. For example, many people believe that “tolerance” means the same thing as “agreement” or “approval.” People that believe in that definition oppose us and for good reason. We aren’t seeking that kind of tolerance. That’s not how we define it.
Tolerance as we define it is more like “disapproving but not being jerks about it.” “Disagreeing without attempting to force our beliefs on you.” But communicating those distinctions [is] an uphill battle.
I don’t think (correct me if I’m wrong) that most Atheists want our agreement that God doesn’t exist, but [would rather we] just leave you guys alone to live in peace! E.g. “Tolerate you.” Just as we want you to tolerate us (not disrespect us for having different beliefs).
Certainly some radical atheists would rather see all Christians, all believers of any religion (and the lawyers, too) drowned at the bottom of the ocean (which is it’s own bit of intolerance). But the vast majority of Atheists I’ve encountered simply want to be left alone and to have respectful conversations about beliefs.
I’ve spent a lot of time on Atheist sites and having conversations with Atheists. Having been a former atheist myself, I empathize with you. I CAN and HAVE walked in your shoes on that one. Atheists don’t want to be “saved,” “prayed for,” or “preached to.” It’s sad that so many Christians are blinded by a desire to “save” someone that they end up irrecoverably pissing off the very people they are trying to “save.”
So, as an organization, we seek the kind of tolerance that will allow Christians and non-Christians, Christians and atheists, Christians and Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Jews, etc. to be able to sit in the same room together having a polite and sometimes passionate conversation with the other side, without disintegrating into rude, disrespectful, and demeaning, close-minded debate. Can’t we both share our beliefs, disagree, and still go have a beer afterwards as friends? Even if Christians are in the majority, can’t we allow other religions equal freedoms under law? I would hope so. The USA is not a theocracy, nor do mainstream Christians desire a theocracy. We just want the freedom to practice our religion, just as others want the freedom to practice their religion or lack of religion. That’s the kind of tolerance we seek. Tolerance even in the face of disagreement.
An example of a Tolerant Christian then, according to our definition, would be one that can engage in conversation with people who have strongly differing opinions, keep the tone civil, be open-minded to learning about the other person’s view, and not come across with an arrogant attitude. Not simply talking to someone with an agenda to convince them, but to have mutual sharing.
I know many tolerant Christians, most of which you probably wouldn’t know. And unlike “I am second,” we aren’t trying to compile a list of such people. So, the best I can do is suggest a few authors that have written great books that we really relate to that seem to have the attitude we seek. Drew Dyck, author of Generation Ex-Christian is one. Another well known figure is Rob Bell, pastor of Mars Hill church and author of several books. [Hemant's note: Rob wrote the foreword to I Sold My Soul on eBay]
May I ask you or your readers the same question? What would be a good example of a tolerant atheist, and who is your best known tolerant atheist? Who do you believe best represents the best of what atheism can be?
Will your organization call out specific examples of Christians who are guilty of perpetuating the stereotypes? I see atheist blogs doing this all the time, but it would mean a lot more if the same criticism was leveled from other Christians.
Absolutely. That is definitely part of our plans. There was a “Pastor” of a church in the Dallas, TX area who was recently arrested and charged with the theft of property from one of her former church members. It’s scandalous! At this point, she is “alleged” to have committed the crime, and I’m sure at some point will be convicted. But until the ruling is made official and she is found guilty, it would be irresponsible of us to come out publically.
Enough press has already been given to the Catholic bishops and arch-bishops charged with pedophilia and their subsequent attempts to cover it up. Both are regrettable examples of hypocrisy. Another great example is the folks at Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas. They are the group that protests the funerals of USA armed forces personnel, because they believe their deaths are signs of God’s judgment because of rampant homosexuality in our country! They are the ones that take the position that “God hates fags.” There are two words in their name that I have great disagreement with: Baptist and Church. They are a very intolerant, hypocritical, homophobic, and judgmental bunch. I hesitate to even call them Christians. I believe on God’s judgment day he will look in their faces and say “I didn’t know you.”
How will your organization address popular pastors who are guilty of being homophobic, overly political, etc.?
Over time, I can see us taking positions against parts of their ministries which are too political or homophobic, etc… But to be clear, we are not a “witch hunt” organization. We will first and foremost accept them and love them, and seek to offer them a different way of looking at the situation. If you want to provide us with a list of such pastors and what problems you see, we would be happy to investigate the issues and come out with a formal stance on them. It may be hard to see, but many of these pastors are also doing very positive things. It would be hypocritical of me to say to any one of them that they must step down because of a moral failure or because I disagree with their approach. All humans, including pastors, are broken and need compassion and mercy on an ongoing basis. So, the opportunity I see is that we could approach these pastors, share our mission and passion on the topics, help them see the damage that they sometimes cause, and ask them to move in our direction. Change would be a long term goal.
If your vision comes true, what do you hope to accomplish with your organization? (I ask this because, even if Christians were “true to Jesus” and not guilty of the stereotypes, most atheists I know wouldn’t be any closer to accepting Christ. We aren’t Christians because there are intellectual reasons against it, not because Christians don’t live up to Jesus’ standards.)
Our mission IS what we hope to accomplish. We are working to reverse Christian intolerance, hypocrisy, homophobia, judgmentalism, and other negative Christian stereotypes, by helping Christians to be more like Jesus Christ. Christian maturity is defined as becoming more and more like Jesus Christ. To mature takes desire, education, and assistance. By pointing out the damage we sometimes cause in the world, we hope to instill the desire for change. We seek to educate Christians on HOW to live and love others as Jesus calls us to. And we will work to assist Christians in this change.
Now, here are few byproducts of that change we welcome and expect over the long term, but again to be clear… this is not our purpose. When someone hears the word “Christian,” we want that to be a sweet sound to the ear. Truly! If the majority of Christians you encountered lived lives you appreciated and respected, because of the love they directly showed to you, we would hope the image of Christianity in your mind would be changed for the better. Just like Atheists don’t like being looked at with disdain, neither do we. We don’t like a “bad” Christians giving a bad name to Christianity, and so it would be nice to have a positive reputation.
I don’t believe that WE can convince an intellectual atheist to become a Christian. As a former atheist, I can tell you that no argument could ever convince me. It’s God’s job to do that in His own timing. However, given the stereotypes we are trying to reverse, our lives don’t often offer a very compelling example of what Christ can do in the life of a believer. So, why would you even be interested in the first place?
I don’t have to tell you that there are many types of Atheists, just as there are many types of Christians. Some atheists would be convinced of the existence of God if they truly “saw” God working and moving in people’s lives in a good and positive way that defied all “human” reason. If we can help in that area, as a byproduct of our mission, then we welcome that. For those atheists that need undeniable evidence, we could only pray and ask God to provide that evidence for those who are truly open and willing to see it.
How will your organization reach out to atheists? (I think a lot of atheists distrust Christians because there are usually ulterior motives at play when Christians say they want to work with us.)
There is an incredibly well-earned amount of distrust between atheists and Christians. For most Christians, it’s hard to put down the desires to “save them” long enough to just be in relationship with atheists. So, we lead with our agenda and you can see it coming a mile away. Beyond the question of “does God exist?”, if we actually took the time to get to know each other, we might find out that we actually like each other in spite of our differences. To be fair, my experience is that most atheists lead with their own agenda of deconversion when talking with a Christian.
So, the way we would prefer to reach out to atheists is in the form of open-minded, agenda-free dialogue. I ask you questions about what you believe, you respond, you ask me questions about what I believe, I respond. If we can leave our agendas at the door, we might actually learn something about each other. That sounds simple, but you’ve got to know how incredibly difficult that proposition is. From my experience, everybody wants to be right, and everyone wants you to know they are right.
On most blogs, I see believers and non-believers fighting it out. Everyone is doing a lot of talking and not a lot of listening. Someone famous said “you can’t learn anything while you are talking,” and I agree. So, we would aim to talk with you, but do a lot of listening.
Again, I KNOW you won’t be convinced by anything I could say. So, why waste my breath and your time? We either must learn to just leave each other alone, learn to talk about everything BUT God, or learn to listen and learn from each other with civility and mutual respect. We’re working on the third option… engaging you with civility and respect, and seeking to learn from you, not to convert you. Is that tough? Yep. But I believe it’s worth enduring through the lack of trust long enough to repair trust, build bridges, establish areas of agreement, and simply talk as friends who truly care for each other.
So, with that in mind, It’s my turn to stop and listen. How would you WANT us to reach out to you?
And one more question. Will you support what we are doing?
Do I support what they’re trying to do? Sure… I applaud anyone who can hold a mirror up to the church so it can see itself the way most of us do.
But it’s clear that, in some cases, Brad just doesn’t get it. And if that’s true, then I don’t think he’ll get very far.
Like the gay marriage thing. It’s really not just a matter of different definitions. “Married” couples simply have more rights than couples with just a “civil union.” All states recognize marriage, but not all of them will recognize a civil union from another state. There are tax breaks married couples get that those in civil unions do not. There are hospital visitation rights for married couples but not domestic partners.
Christians don’t have dibs on the word “marriage.” If marriage is truly Christian-God-ordained, as Brad said, then I guess all non-Christians should be stripped of their right to marry, too. (Sorry, mom and dad.)
But. I don’t think any of this is what Brad intended to say. I think his intention was that he’d be fine with gay couples getting equal rights under the law. As long as they refrained from the word marriage.
Again, this is a problem. I don’t care at all if some church pastor refuses to marry a gay couple. He doesn’t have to and I wouldn’t want him to. No pro-gay-marriage initiative has *ever* mandated that a pastor officiate a gay wedding. But the government should not be in the business of defining marriage in a Christian way. They should not be saying, “You can marry this person, but not that one.”
Gay couples (and straight allies) are fighting for equal marriage — with that term, because separate but equal isn’t truly equal — under the law. No one’s telling your church what to do or how to act.
Also, please never compare being gay to being an alcoholic. You’re never going to win any arguments with us that way.
As for the Christians Brad “calls out”… it’s a nice start, but going after Westboro Baptist Church is like shooting fish in a barrel. Going after a pastor who may have stolen from her own church? Easy. The Catholic Church? Really? (Are any churches defending these people?) I’m not interested in Changing the Face of Christianity calling out jackasses, alleged criminal, and pedophiles. That’s easy to do. None of that takes any real courage.
What about the statement that “some radical atheists would rather see all Christians, all believers of any religion (and the lawyers, too) drowned at the bottom of the ocean (which is it’s own bit of intolerance)”?
None of the “radical atheists” — I presume Mr. White’s referring to people like Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and PZ Myers — have ever said we’d be better off if the religious people were dead, or anything even remotely close to it. Seriously, give me a citation for that…
We don’t need to resort to that because logic, evidence, and all of reality is on our side. “Radical atheists” want to convince you you’re wrong with our arguments. (Radical followers of religion, however, have no problem killing abortion doctors or flying into buildings in the name of martyrdom.)
By the way, not all the “radical atheists” would get rid of religion if they were given the option, either. We don’t want to “force” people into atheism any more than we want to live in a theocracy. They have to come to that decision on their own.
That was an irresponsible thing to say, and I hope Brad understands why.
Bottom line: Brad still has a lot to learn. But I sincerely think Brad seems to be open to getting educated about it. That’s a good first step.
So let’s educate him.