Hi and welcome back! Lately, we’ve been talking about all sorts of lies that Christians tell themselves–and others. Today’s lie has grated on me since I was a teenager. It’s always been popular, and it’s always been absolutely untrue. It’s the lie of bravery. Way too many Christians tell themselves that they’re incredibly brave and courageous–but they’re quite wrong. Here’s how they define bravery, and why it’s just another Christian lie.
An Old Lie.
When I was a teenage fundagelical, my friends and I loved to sing a very popular new-ish song by Carman. The lyrics went, “No way we are not ashamed/Of the gospel or his name/Holy hands are lifted high/To the name of Jesus Christ.”
I’m guessing he looks so tired-out in this video because at the time he was smack in the middle of a big battle with cancer. Incidentally, he did not pray the cancer away. He got reputable medical care for it.
I liked the song itself, but the lyrics troubled me.
When someone insists that an action or attitude is brave, that implies that there’s some danger being defied in doing or feeling that way. If song lyrics proclaim that “we’re not afraid to let our voices ring,” then what force is he implying might make someone afraid to do that?
What shamed other Christians that we refused to allow to shame us?
Nobody Shamed Christians, Though..?
As far as I (as Teen Cas) could tell, nobody ever shamed Christians. The out-and-out whackjobs got a lot of side-eye, but nobody actually pointed and laughed at someone for believing that Jesus was real or that Christianity’s various claims were true. That just never happened.
Even now, it’s hard to imagine how that kind of teasing would even have gone. Jesus swag didn’t really exist in my neck of the woods back then–to the point where Biff had to hand-make all his nutbar fly-or-fry T-shirts and pins–but if it had, I could have worn it anywhere without anybody pointing and laughing at me, much less threatening or hurting me. I don’t remember anybody doing that to Biff, either.
Nor did I face any government persecution for my beliefs, nor even any legal workplace discrimination. I never felt any need to downplay my beliefs in any way, nor to hide them.
As a Christian, I was far more likely to benefit from religious discrimination than to face suffering from it. In every single way, I was part of a vast majority of Americans as a Christian. So was Carman, and so were my friends, and so was everybody I knew.
Even so, it’s not surprising that he and many of his listeners bought into this lie.
The Lie in the Wild.
In 1998, near the peak of evangelical power in the United States, Rowdy John Piper believed that two things constituted real live persecution:
- Getting side-eye or mockery for behaving boorishly in public
- Being called out for intolerance, arrogance, and cruelty
To be considered brave in Little King John’s eyes, Christians needed to push ahead with boorish public behavior and never stop exhibiting the intolerance/arrogance/cruelty trifecta of evangelicalism. Anything else meant they weren’t brave.
Piper’s assertions would have been news to me when I was Christian. Back then, I thought bravery–for American Christians anyway–meant witnessing to people and inviting them to church. Those both entailed not-inconsiderable social risks. But the way I saw it, social disapproval wouldn’t land me in prison.
By college, I understood the rules about pushing evangelism on people who didn’t want to hear it. I accepted those rules without trouble. See, I still thought that the goal here was scoring sales. I knew I’d never buy something from a pushy, rude salesperson, so I didn’t want to be that way to anybody else and make myself a “stumbling block” for their faith.
Thus, when Biff got fired once for stating that he would proselytize his co-workers, I didn’t side with him or let him indulge in martyrbation around me over it. I think he got more pouty that nobody in our group sided with him than that he’d lost the job!
I used to think my tribe was super-extremist, but man, I can see now that John Piper outdid anything we were up to.
Long after I deconverted, evangelicals began their decline with an extended recruiting slump. That decline caught them utterly by surprise (though it really shouldn’t have). Nowadays, they can only play catch-up. But they still dream of finding the magical marketing strategy that will gain them back their former dominance without much effort or any change on their own part.
One of that crowd’s pastors recently offered up a renewed demand for Christian bravery, which he called “Gospel audacity.”
To Josh Moody, bravery means emulating some foreign Christians he met who claimed to have won a lot of converts in a majority-Muslim country’s prison. They’d been thrown in there briefly “for their faith.” That euphemism almost certainly means they broke their country’s laws.
While imprisoned, they gained some converts in the usual way of toxic evangelists:
“We tell them [the vulnerable prisoners there] they are sinners until they believe it. And then we tell them that Christ died for sinners.”
Moody doesn’t realize that he’s actually just outlined a great reason to reject his predatory, alternative-facts ideology. Instead, he lauds these foreign Christians–while lamenting that his own countrymen can’t go forth and do likewise.
We see this yearning everywhere in Christianity now, but most especially in the segments hit hardest (emotionally speaking) by the slump: the hardliners–fundagelicals and extremist Catholics, who are functionally indistinguishable by now.
Gettin’ Tedious for Jesus.
The vision these leaders have can exist only in Christian Fantasy-Land:
Behold the spectacle! Brave, bold evangelists striding forth in all walks of life, accosting anybody they please with the “Good News” of a god who stands ready to set them all on fire forever after they die unless they bend the knee during this lifetime (and give their leaders a lot of money every payday). Their bravery–risking social censure and mockery–impresses EVERYONE, always, forever, everywhere. Everyone sees, and marvels:
Oh my gosh, y’all, who in the world are these brave warriors? Who are these people willing to risk such stakes just to make sure that everyone hears for the zillionth time about a fictional character we already knew about? They’re just so, I dunno, DIFFERENT, y’all! We’ve never seen brave people before willing to act this way for their beliefs! Never!
Well, not since we walked past a mall cell-phone seller’s kiosk.
Or passed a perfume lady at a department store who’s working on commission.
Or had a multi-level marketing scheme (MLM) shill invite us to partake in a “bUsiNeSs OpPoRtUniTy.”
Turns out these Christians aren’t so different at all from all sorts of other salespeople we dislike. And we dislike them all for many of the same reasons.
Breaking the Rules For a (Terrible) Reason.
All of the salespeople I mentioned above do the same things. They leap upon unconsenting victims, hold us captive by the rules of social courtesies that we observe but that they do not, slap at us with sales pitches we don’t want to hear, and finally refuse to take our rejections with grace.
If salespeople get desperate enough for sales, they’ll be able to rationalize just about any antisocial behavior whatsoever in the interests of scoring those sales. Their leaders will be pushing them to do even worse.
Such salespeople take ruthless advantage of our unwillingness to behave rudely or discourteously. If we imagine society to be sailors on a ship at sea, they are the dillweeds actively jeopardizing our trip by rocking the boat, throwing supplies overboard, and lewdly mocking the captain’s wedding-tackle. They count on the rest of us to maintain the ship’s seaworthiness despite their behavior. And they hope that their antics will score a sale from someone too reticent to resist before we finally throw them off the ship.
When we finally do that, of course, they’ll loudly claim that we just didn’t like their Jesus Auras. We rejected them cuz of “their faith!”
Except that’s not at all why.
Separating Belief From Behavior.
Belief itself is not a choice. We can neither choose to believe nor choose to disbelieve. When the faith pool fills–or empties–then belief itself flickers to life or fades away accordingly. I don’t see belief as being either brave or cowardly. It’s just our reaction to the inputs we’ve received up till then, combined with how we processed them.
That said, how we act upon our beliefs represents a very real choice.
Count on Christian martyrbation enthusiasts to mix-and-match causes and effects, though.
When an Episcopalian bishop declares that “genuine Christian commitment takes courage, now more than ever,” and that non-Christians are “more and more suspicious of genuine religious commitment,” he’s being completely dishonest. Nobody is suspicious of “genuine religious commitment.” He’d be very distressed if he even understood 1/10 of how little anybody cares what he thinks or believes. We don’t care what he believes; we just want to know if he’s a good neighbor.
What we’re suspicious of–and rightly so–is a religion that increasingly stands for extremely intolerant, arrogant, and cruel behavior.
Any other time a Christian leader talks like that, he’s trying to push Christians into antisocial culture-war muck. So yes, of course we get suspicious when we hear another call for “bravery.”
(A little digging reveals that at one time, this bishop was at some point an anti-gay culture warrior. He might be changing on that count. I hope so.)
The Outward Sign of the Inward Heart.
Christians’ behavior is not their religious belief itself, nor their actual commitment to Jesus. Behavior is just an outward sign of it.
It’s simply notable that toxic Christians only wish to display signs that they know the rest of us will see as intolerant, arrogant, and cruel. They have conflated these behaviors, these signs, with belief and commitment themselves. They could have picked anything that Jesus actually told them to do: feeding the hungry, comforting the widowed, clothing the nekkid, you name it. But instead, they’ve chosen intolerance, arrogance, and cruelty as synonyms for belief and commitment.
That bishop’s blog post itself makes that conflation crystal-clear. He wants his flock to stop letting social disapproval stop them from behaving in ways that bring repercussions upon them. If any of that happens, though, he assures them that it’ll be because of their genuine Christian commitment. Oh no, it won’t be because they’re dillweeds who egregiously acted out and got slapped down for it.
Piper made this exact same equivocation, and so did that Moody guy.
Just about all toxic Christians do it.
It’s All About the Non-Sales.
When toxic Christians act out, they already suspect that they won’t make any sales that day.
Despite their boasts to the contrary, soulwinners’ actual success rate ranges from zero to laughable. Even Biff, regarded as a golden child of evangelism in my local group, made no more than a couple of sales in our entire time together–and only one of his converts stuck around for more than a year. As that Rice Christians missionary pointed out, claims of success even in overseas mission fields (“BUT BUT MUH CHINESE/AFRICAN/SE ASIAN REVIVAL”) do not come anywhere near reality.
Rare indeed is the toxic Christian who ever makes a sale.
But that’s not really why they do it–
–and it’s definitely not why their Dear Leaders encourage them to do it.
The Rejection IS the Sale.
Their Dear Leaders don’t draw a paycheck from outsiders. They get paid by their flocks. So they want to keep their flocks right there in the sheepfold–and paying into the kitty. What better way than to push them into behaviors that will get them castigated and mocked by outsiders, thus drawing them further into the group’s sordid embrace? In that sense, every rejection the evangelist receives is another sale their leader makes.
Even if the evangelist is only there because they feel obligated, that benefits the leader. When they get rejected, that theoretically drives them closer to their group.
“Beach Reach,” that hilariously awful Southern Baptist Convention (BC) evangelism event, is a perfect illustration of this concept. Its amateur college-kid evangelists make next to no sales at all, but new crops of them persist year after year. This venture ain’t cheap, either, even if participants do pay their own (very expensive) way. Very clearly, the payoff isn’t in conversions.
So where is it? Why, in the firming-up of participants’ devotion to the denomination! We could say the same stuff about so-called short-term mission trips.
Between those sorts and the abusive Christians who behave boorishly specifically to feel powerful at others’ expense (see: Biff), you can bet that evangelists and their leaders are getting exactly what they want and need from this show of “bravery.”
The Lie of Christian Bravery.
If Christians actually behaved like they even halfway believed in their imaginary friend, what a different world this would be! Instead, we get intolerance, arrogance, and cruelty as expressed through toxic Christians’ actual behavior. That’s the recipe for a craven, narcissistic, backbiting, sniveling, nasty little lickspittle, not someone “brave.”
It doesn’t take bravery to be kind to people, nor to do charity work–both of which Jesus commanded his people to do. I guess Christians think that’s boring nowadays.
Sure, it takes bravery to stand up to tyranny and oppression, but evangelicals and extremist Catholics are the last people we should look to if it ever comes to such a resistance. They’re far more likely to be the source of both than the victims of either.
If genuine tyranny and oppression came to America, toxic Christians would be the first to run from it or to suck up to it–and then to rat out the actual ones resisting it in hopes of currying favor. They’d switch from one Dear Leader to another without batting an eye! All they’d hope was that in the transition they could scrabble together more power than they’d held under the last one. And hell, maybe that’s exactly what’s been happening in America these past few years.
I don’t call people like that “brave.” Their imaginary god is welcome to them.
NEXT UP: The Toronto Blessing fascinates me. Most people don’t even know what it is or what happened. And yet to a lot of evangelicals it represents a huge big moment in their recent history! I touched on it recently, but let’s dive in a bit deeper–next time. See you soon!
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