A couple of years ago, I wrote an article for "Interfaith Voices: about the difficulty I had with using the word “Christian” in describing myself. The word had become loaded in the secular world to the point where I felt the need to always offer further explanation of what that word meant to me. I referred to myself as an “uncomfortable Christian.”
Over these past two years, my discomfort has grown exponentially.
Now, my greatest fear is that when most folks who aren’t “church people” hear the word “Christian,” they picture petty people who are more concerned about the phrase “Merry Christmas” then they are about the fate of Dreamers, refugees and immigrants. Or, they picture a privileged class more interested in endorsing political candidates through the church, than in working for those in need of housing, basic health care and equal protection under the law. They see Christians as those hateful, ignorant people who believe gays and lesbians (through their “sin”) are the cause of unprecedented hurricanes and other natural calamities, all the while denouncing the realities of climate change. Christians are those, from any walk of life, who will excuse racism, misogyny, nepotism and even child molestation, hoping to gain personal benefit or to somehow elevate our nation’s status through arrogance and isolation.
The values lifted by this kind of Christianity — values that have captured public attention and seem to hold sway in our government — these in no way represent the values I have learned as a Christian.
I know I stand with many other Christians who denounce these views. I hold that this misuse of the Christian faith has distorted and trivialized the life and teachings of Jesus.
Jesus did not walk the Earth trying to help comfortable people be more comfortable. His message of care for the hungry, the naked, the imprisoned and the sick was and is a radical message challenging the comfortable to share generously from their bounty.
Jesus did not walk the Earth offering teachings that would divide people of goodwill. He did not build walls that would cut off relationships, figuratively or literally. Instead, he tore them down. And he constantly shocked people by defying socially acceptable divides by choosing to build relationships and show others how to do likewise.
He did not walk the Earth to make America or any other nation great. In fact, his efforts frequently had to do with confronting power and its abuses. Jesus’ teachings to love one’s enemies and neighbors were and are at the heart of a radical way of facing down injustice. A careful read of scripture would lead many followers of Jesus to see that, oftentimes, what brings forth the best in how humanity can live (the Kingdom of God) runs contrary to the interests of earthly, institutional powers.
Jesus would not have given his slightest attention to who would or would not say “Merry Christmas.” He would have been too busy loving people with the gift of his time and talent.
.Churches like the one I serve are trying to do the same. We are learning to be faithful followers of Jesus by focusing our time and talents on what matters — caring for those who need it most, sharing our lives in ways that bring people together, trying to let our words and actions speak in the interests of justice and peace.
So I write this column, feeling that I cannot be silent; doing my best to give voice to what I believe lies at the heart of Christianity and what it means to follow Jesus; hoping to bring some integrity back to the word “Christian.”