It can be pretty hard to tell by our judgmental habits but Christians aren’t perfect. We aren’t perfect as humans, in our relationships with Christ, or as representations of the teachings of our savior. We fall short and project our insecurities onto a world that is, in our minds, persecuting us because of our faith. We’ve done some harm to our image and witness with the world but all hope is not lost. Here are 4 things Christians get wrong in our walk and what we can do to fix it:
Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin
We teach and believe this concept as if they are the red lettered words of Jesus. Christians love to evoke these words as a sign of tolerance for others, particularly the LGBTQIA community. These words, nor the sentiment behind them, never appear in the bible. Jesus calls us to love unconditionally. When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment of all was, His reply was clear:
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Somewhere along the way, someone added their own theology and interpretation of this scripture to mean that we are called to hate the very nature of a person while simultaneously unconditionally loving them. To love unconditionally means to love something as whole, regardless of their current or future state. If you love someone yet it comes with a “but” statement, you aren’t loving unconditionally. When we do this, we are going completely against what Jesus commanded in Matthew 22:37-40.
Yes, Jesus preached against sin. Yes, we are to fight against sin—OUR OWN SIN. Jesus’ teachings against sin were instructions so that we could work out our OWN soul salvation. Too many Christians have wrongly decided that salvation gives us the right to serve as judge and jury on the morality of the neighbors they should love. What the bible actually says about judging one another and not working out your sin is quite different:
How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
—Matthew 7:4-5 NIV
Love the sinner, hate the sin is a bullet that has inflicted many wounds and deaths in the spirits of LGBTQIA-identified brothers and sisters. We need to retire it and return to loving as Jesus instructed.
How we Speak to Those in Mourning
Last week I read a post on 12 Things Not to Say to Grieving Nonbelievers and realized just how poorly Christians handle the process of death and grief. I’ve been candid about my own experience in dealing with the sudden death of my beloved Daddy. In our well-meaning efforts to help people process and move out of the depths of grief, Christians can be highly insensitive to the emotional needs of the grieving person. A grieving person, religious or not, is not comforted by “they’re watching over you now” or “you’ve got a new guardian angel.” “God knows best, He has a purpose for everything” is not salve to the gaping wound of loss. For the believer, these sentiments do not give room to the human experience of emotion. It is almost calling for a grieving believer to forsake their humanity just so they can appear devout. For the nonbeliever, these sentiments are dismissive of their absence of a faith relationship. You cannot find comfort in a concept you don’t believe in.
Grief is not a time to proselytize (define: proselytize) or crusade for Christ. It is the time to love like Christ, regardless of the grieving person’s religious beliefs. Empathy is what is most needed in grief. Those of us who are grieving need to know that we haven’t slipped so far below normal functioning in our devastation. We need to have sincere, meaningful human connection in our experience. We need to be both heard and understood in the voicing of our pain. Empathy transcends religious belief. We do not need religious cliches to be of comfort to someone who is grieving. We need only think of how we would feel or have felt in their shoes. (Read more: What Do You Say to Grieving Nonbelievers?)
How we Deal with Human Sexuality
Leaving out the conversation around gay identity, how we teach sex and sexuality is one of the greatest miscarriages of the church. The church has made an idol of sexual purity. We’ve also made idols of Purity Movement leaders without critical examination of their teachings, but that’s another post for another time. We have become more concerned with the control of sexual behavior than the education of the how and why of religious ordinances around sex.
Instead of teaching consent, we teach women that if they only keep their legs closed and their minds on God that they will not be put in positions to be raped. We liken sexual women to used goods unless her body is being used by her husband, regardless of his character. We’ve taught women to believe that their worth as a wife is wrapped up in the single entity of her body count. We call women to come out of sex work and/or promiscuous sex lives to be forgiven by grace. Then we preach sermons that tell her she’s given away an irretrievable piece of herself each time she’s had sex. We refuse to hear any examinations of the religious text that make us uncomfortable in our views about sexuality. We’ve taught women and girls to believe that her purity is based wholly on her sex life. We’ve made sexual frustration in abstinence and celibacy an admirable accomplishment. We’ve used the beautiful act of sexual intimacy, created by God, to break women. And it’s not okay.
Yes, we should teach people to use wisdom in their sex lives including safe sex, consenting sex, discernment in his/her number of sexual partners, and the benefits of abstinence that don’t revolve around marriage. Above all, we should teach that the most important purity as a Christian is purity of spirit and heart.
How we Deal with Criticisms/Challenges of Faith
Granted, Christians do deal with quite a bit of open hostility and antagonism of our faith. However, we don’t always react with the loving kindness and grace that we should. We are openly hostile to what makes us uncomfortable in our faith. We are angry at constructive criticism from atheists and people of other faiths. We treat intellectual examinations of our religion as dismissive at best and demonic at worst. Not surprisingly, a University of Rochester study concluded that religious people are less intellectual than non-believers. I’d wager a bet that despite these findings being backed by decades of research from dozens of studies, some religious reader will see this and immediately dismiss it (and therefore prove its point).
For us, our belief in God is sustained enough by our personal experience. We’ve become selfish by failing to understand that not everyone has felt or experienced the presence of God—and barking at them that they should isn’t going to help them experience it any sooner. We are incredibly opposed to intellectual scrutiny. I’ve experienced this firsthand when I confessed that I was unsure celibacy worked. I’ve watched well studied people be attacked when they question the context of scriptures and its implications on theology. We as Christians are fragile when asked to go outside of our comfort zone and it is a slow suicide of the faith.
If we truly want to become more visible in a positive way in our society, we’ve gotta stop running from questions. When you’re secure in your faith, there should be no question tough enough to rob you of it. We have to answer these questions which makes us all, from preacher to parishioner, responsible for accurately studying and interpreting our sacred text. As the song says, “God don’t want no coward soldier in His band.” As Christians, we are commissioned to love, live, and accept challenge like Christ.