A dear friend of mine told me the other day that in his mind I was a man of faith not a Christian. Why not? Because faith motivated most of my actions. Why not rather say my Christian faith motivates my actions? Because to him Christian is a negative term.
Christian as a negative term. I am reminded by the author Anne Rice who following a spiritual awakening that led her back to her Roman Catholic roots decided later not to be a Christian anymore. The reason she gave is that christians all too often tend to be bigoted, anti-science, etc. The book Unchristian is based on surveys of the negative beliefs many young people have about Christianity. Add to these impressions the obvious meanness and corruption of many of the churches and the denominations to which they belong and you will see why it is an uphill battle for christians in the US today.
Do churchgoers today merely wish for their clergy to confirm their prejudices? Are church members afraid that being taught to engage this world as a true disciple of Christ will be inconvenient? Are preachers who maintain their integrity at a disadvantage to those who merely please those who will reward them with attention and larger salaries. What about the obvious abuse of denominational rules and structures that punish the innocent and reward the guilty?
My friend meant it to be a compliment to say that I am not a Christian. I can understand why he would say so. I know some words are past redemption at the present time. Take for instance the word “discrimination.” It once meant a quality of being able to judge the good from the bad. But when people were being charged with discriminating against a person based on qualities that were inherently indifferent to the good then the word became bad. I hope the word Christian does not fall into that trap. Christian should a word that gives us aspirations to lovingkindness and holiness. I once had a teacher who when asked, “Are you a Christian?” His answer was “I hope so.” That is the right attitude in my mind. Yes. I am a man of Faith. I am a man of Christian Faith.
I am also a man who struggles every day with being let down by my church both lay and clergy. And – this is the most important point – I DO NOT EXCUSE the bad actions taken by such people. The prophetic admonition, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” applies to those of us who let evil and corruption overtake the church. It is also applicable to those of us who let these things happen without calling the perpetrators to task. If we continue to tolerate and even reward clergy and laypersons who do these things, we make the Christian faith of no effect in the world and make it a part of the world.
Christians who commit evil in the name of Christ are the very people we must take to task. Pastors who use the pulpit to advocate murderous violence against any person for anything should be suspended from their role until their spirits can be brought back into line with the spirit of Christ. We are letting too many people who fit the category of “good old boys and girls” get away with violating the churches covenants. Careerism and consumerism are corrupting our congregations, dissolving the knowledge of God, and causing our buildings to become hideaways for thieves. Would that the Lord could plait the rope again and make the word Christian worthy of our aspirations.