Jesus is ideal and wonderful,
but you Christians—you are not like him
– Mahatma Gandhi
I assume one of the primary reasons we join a group revolves around the idea that we gain some honor by associating with that group. We like its principles and objectives. And, generally, we like the people in the group. But often people in our group diminish the reputation and efficacy of the group. We find ourselves defending the group and/or the people in the group until eventually we just decide that it is not worth it and we wander out in search of another group. Belonging and community are important to us as humans.
When we separate from a group, we risk the almost automatic shaming and the proclivity to excuse away the faults of the organization. No group is perfect, they tell us. Maybe if you got more involved, you could change the group. No thank you! I’ve tried that approach and it only left me more frustrated. My recent departure from conservative, evangelical religion centered around my evolving beliefs and my frustration with the group. Many of the things I saw didn’t seem Christ-like. It’s like Gandhi said.
It is hard to argue with what Jesus taught and demonstrated by his life. I am confident that if I could understand and practice that simple theology, I would be at peace and my world would be much better. But in a world where the words and practices of Jesus are an afterthought to politics, nationalism and organizational religion, I find myself wincing when someone calls me a “Christian,” instead of embracing it with pride. Because of our history, I’m identified more with the baggage than the ideals and it makes me sad.
The anger I feel
Because many branches of Christianity have rigid dogma, it is hard to discuss openly why these beliefs may or may not be accurate. Actually, that is why we have so many branches and denominations of the faith—it’s because we can’t talk about it or accept that someone could believe a little differently than me. Where Jesus might be apt to ask a question, Christians are more apt to shout at me and call me stupid. I recently blocked an entire family after what started as one of them saying “this is stupid” to one of my Facebook posts. Pastors are more likely to minimize and belittle what I write than to encourage me. Why? Because it’s not what they believe and/or not what they are pursuing.
The evangelical church is America generally ties itself to the empire and whichever brand of politics fits best. It is hard to imagine a church that doesn’t sing patriotic songs and salute the flag. I should not have to mention that one of these songs, The Battle Hymn of the Republic, makes Jesus into a warrior God, yet we usually sing it with a tear in our eye. I don’t imagine Jesus would salute the flag or sing the National Anthem, but if you want to start a fight just bring this up in certain circles. Since we are accustomed to nationalism, patriotism, and exceptionalism, we assume it is right and acceptable for all.
What about compassion?
Currently, the United States in amid a pandemic called Covid-19. It might have been ending by now, but people were careless with social distancing and basic precautions and now we are still battling this virus six months later. People rushed out to demonstrate because they couldn’t do what they wanted when they wanted to do it. Right in the middle of these tantrums are the church people demanding to be able to gather even though most of what they want to do could be done in other ways without even having to sacrifice much. In my estimation, a pastor who ignores guidelines and rushes to gather is at the least narcissistic, but also very careless with the lives of the vulnerable.
During the pandemic, George Floyd’s death at the hands of the police sparked a National interest in systemic racism. Everywhere I turn, I see evidence that white people are interested more than ever at understanding this 400-year old issue. Everyone, that is, except conservative Christians. There are about a dozen deflections that people use like all lives matter and the riots are not good either to avoid dealing with the issue. Why wouldn’t a follower of Christ take some time to talk to a person of color and say, “help me understand?” I often remember that Jesus looked at the multitude with compassion, yet I don’t see many of his followers peering through the same eyes.
Our primary allegiance
No one sets out to be a person that dismisses suffering, but when we commit to political or religious system first, our allegiance to the group can sometimes cause us to ignore real pain in our fellow humans. When the institution or organization becomes primary then things like love, empathy and compassion suffer and we seem to miss the point of the whole thing. We want to win and we want our group to win, but the 2020 election really doesn’t matter if we lose our soul in the process.
I know people like to label each other and sometimes we like to label ourselves. So, if you want to categorize me, you might just call me a follower of the way of Christ or just an image bearer of God. Because of my roots, part of me still wants to be know as a Christian, but right now I can’t bear the weight of the negative images that come with it. I still love God and try to follow the way of Christ, but the label does more harm than good at this point.
You may recall as a youth being told to act a certain way to represent the group. What you do reflects on the group, etc. But what happens when the group morphs into something we can no longer identify with and maintain our integrity? I’ll leave you to answer that question for yourselves. For me, it was important to distance myself from the group and maintain the principles I see in Christ. Right now, I don’t want to rush into allegiance with any group. I simply am trying to be authentic and hope that is what changes the world.
Check out my friend, Jason Elam’s poast called Why I’m Still a Christian. It’s really not as different from this opinion as my might think. Plus, you’ll like Jason!