In studio with me, once again, sitting in for my dad is Executive Producer of the e2 media network, Joel Fieri with Real Stuff My Boss Says.
Now, as a news junkie and video professional, I LOVE Media! When I started my career, I set out to be an investigative sports broadcast journalist, and a daily dose of watching ESPN and CNN was as regular to my day as breakfast cereal and coffee, and I’ve watched more hours of television and movies than any sane person would recommend. Therefore, for decades, I have not only been a fan, but even a proponent and defender of the media at large.
But, Joel sees a problem occurring in regards to what is largely reported these days and the Church at large.
Too often, the Church falls into the habit of believing our own bad press.
There seems to be a conflict between today’s news media and today’s Western Church. As Joel puts it, there’s a caricature out there of Evangelical Christians being nothing more than Bible-thumping, right-wing nut jobs. You see this in television, movies, and even in news reports and commentaries. Now, while anecdotally, this caricature may have some merit to it, since there are idiots everywhere – both in and outside of the Faith. But, as Joel always says, God works to save our souls, not to miraculously change our personalities or make us smarter.
But, today, the very idea that somebody would choose to be a Christian, to believe in a God that we are all accountable to, to follow God’s word as an animating force in their life, and to have the nerve to tell the rest of our culture that they need to get in line with God… it’s all very offensive to those who are in darkness.
Now, in the real world – besides the fictional caricatures Joel described – we have the Westboro Baptists protesting slain soldiers funerals, street corner preachers screaming “The end is neigh!” at the top of their lungs, or Young Earth Creationists who claim that dinosaurs didn’t really ever exist. As a rational, thoughtful, caring, compassionate, and loving Christian, sometimes I just want to approach them and say, “Shut the heck up!”
Joel admits that these extremes do exist, but they are the minority on the fringes, not the masses when it comes to representing Evangelical Christianity today.
But, what about earnest, well-intentioned Christians who are simply outside of the “norm” when it comes to sharing their faith with others? I remember hearing a message several years ago from Kirk Cameron when he said that he would sometimes drop Christian tracts into occupied stalls at public restrooms, taking advantage of the “captive audiences” that were there. While many people hearing Kirk’s talk admired his boldness, one pastor friend who I was sitting next to was cringing at every word. “Why Kirk? Why encourage these things? We’ve already got enough bad press out there!”
Yet, if Kirk were to toss out 5,000 tracts and only one person actually reads it, is engaged by it and changes their eternal destination because of “Radical Kirk’s” actions, isn’t it worth it? And, as Joel says, if the worst thing that “Radical Christians” are doing is tossing tracts into bathroom stalls, is that really that bad, especially compared to the atrocities to humanity that so many other groups are carrying out across the globe these days?
But, either way, the world is not going to understand pretty much anything that committed Christians are doing these days. That much is even promised in the Bible in Matthew 10:22,
“You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.”
But, the truth is that the vast majority of Christians aren’t Kirk Cameron – in fact in most cases across western culture, Christians go largely incognito when it comes to expressing their faith.
Yet still, the bad press remains prevalent in today’s culture. Dating back to the ‘60’s, when Time magazine put “God is Dead” on its cover and the culture started telling Christians to keep their religion to themselves, inside their homes and churches because it’s not welcome in the public arena. Even twenty years ago, there was a prevailing thought in the U.S. that if you were born in America, then of course you were a Christian, since we are a Christian nation. But not anymore.
Today, Evangelical Christ Followers are branded as being bigoted, intolerant haters.
There simply appears to be forces moving faster than ever to not only be neutral to Christianity instead of supporting it as before, but actually working against today’s Christians, depicting the Church as evil.
So, how should we effectively present what we view as the Bible’s definition of God, men, women, how we all relate and where we all come from without compromising? Why is it that when we, as a culture, used to be able to hold differing opinions and even humanely debate these issues, but now Christians are broad-brushed as “haters”, “bigots”, or “…phobes” if we dare hold to Judeo-Christian, Biblical values?
Or, the better question may be this: Why does the Church, at large, fall in step with this broad-brushing bad press instead of digging their heels in and saying “NO! THAT’S ENOUGH!”?
According to Joel, it’s because we all want to be liked. Very few of us really like to make waves. In fact, if we would listen to renown atheist Penn Jillette, we might be filled with more conviction.
(Jillette has been famously quoted as saying, “I’ve always said that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life. … How much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? … If I believed beyond the shadow of a doubt that a truck was going to hit you, and you didn’t believe it and that truck was bearing down on you, there’s a certain point at which I tackle you.”)
Also, too many Christians approach their non-believing community timidly, with the thought that if they just let their loving actions speak for themselves, then maybe the culture would learn to like them… then maybe down the road somewhere, after gaining credibility, it would be okay to express what the Bible says about certain things.
However, this goes against what Jesus Himself said:
“If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first.” (John 15:18)
Another factor, according to Joel, is that in America, Christians have never been the “outsiders” before. Yet now we are. So we are historically unprepared to deal with this perspective toward Christianity and the Bible.
The truth is that Evangelical Christians are by and large the most generous people in our society, they are the most likely to volunteer in their communities, they are most likely to help their neighbors in need, and most likely to help at their local schools and youth organizations. In fact, most health care in the U.S. was pioneered by people firmly rooted in Judeo-Christian values.
So, in light of all this, how should we respond to the bad press of: We hate women since we are against abortion; we hate gays because we believe marriage should be only between one man and one woman; we hate Muslims because we believe Jesus is the only way to God?
The truth is that some of this press is warranted. There are some Christians out there who have handled these issues very badly. But we shouldn’t allow these imperfect slim minorities to define who we – the masses of Evangelical Christianity – are. Nor should we wait until someone can come along to perfectly dictate our message before we say anything.
If you think about our message at its core: “We are imperfect, fallen people. But God has sent His Son to redeem the world and make us perfect”, then by definition, we’re not going to communicate our message to the masses perfectly on this side of eternity. We’ve just got to do the best we can. But the key word there is DO. Don’t sit idly by and allow the bad reputation that is developing silence you if you are a follower of Christ.
And definitely, don’t fall into what Joel sees as the real danger heading the Church’s way: Not persecution from our culture. Not even a “caging in” by our local governments. But, the real danger is the coming days when our desire to be liked becomes so strong that many Christians will align with those who are doing the persecuting, caging, or silencing.
So, where does the solution to all this begin?
Prayer. Understand that this bad press is actually what the Bible promises. So, just because we are receiving opposition, bad press, and even lies told about us, and even though some Christians do behave imperfectly, realize that this doesn’t delegitimize our message or change our mission or responsibility to be “salt and light” in our culture.
As Joel puts it, if we take the Biblical example of Lot – someone who tried to live near the city of Sodom, but not be “of Sodom”. But before he knew it, he was living inside the city, and was eventually on the City Counsel. Then, when God sent His messengers to the city and the people wanted to attack them, Lot had no credibility when he attempted to stand up to them. Meanwhile, Abraham stayed away from Sodom and instead interceded for the city, begging God that if there were only ten righteous men living there that the city would be spared.
Well, there are many more than ten righteous people living in our culture today. So, we are definitely not too far gone and definitely worth the time and effort to pray for a redirection and change of course in our culture.
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