Tuesday, 21 June 2016

"Christians Are Intolerant Bigots"

Now that I've got your attention, let me ask you how that title made you feel? Are you angry? Do you feel like hitting out at me? Do you want to blast me to hell in the comments section for saying something so outrageous? Well before you completely write me off, please listen to what I have to share...

Because for as long as I can remember, the church has targeted one group or another as being the very exemplar of the anti-christ. Hippies, musicians, new-agers, feminists, gays... the list goes on and on. Even the growing number of those leaving the institutional church are coming under fire from the gatekeepers of religious morality.

The trick is take a bunch of people who have something vaguely in common, speculate wildly on their motivations and then make outrageous generalisations about them. Pretty soon you've convinced yourself (and all those who also live in fear) that the end of the world is nigh and that you are the only true defenders of the faith!

Whatever the group, christians seem to have a knack of creating a solid conspiracy (often, out of very little at all) to defend against to their dying breath. Gays: well they're obviously all out to pervert our children. Feminists: they all want to emasculate men. New-agers: they're all hell bent of subverting every religious icon we have.

We seldom ask questions, and we almost never stop to listen to or engage with the 'other' because we're so busy 'knowing' how evil, nasty, and otherwise threatening this group is, and how detrimental to our way of life is their 'agenda'.

These are not individual people we are talking about, each created bearing the very image of God. No! They are part of an amorphous, malevolent perversion of God's word!

And any person who even comes near to associating with the feared group is automatically viewed as a minion of some vast and terrible attack on "everything we hold dear".

The problem with this is, of course, that we are doing to others exactly what we vociferously reject when it is done to us.

Just the other day, I had an online conversation with a woman who was very quick to defend herself and let me know she was not like her "American Christian friends".

Another guy was equally vocal about disassociating himself from "those type of christians".

And of course, I'll never forget the time I was berated by my boss (as my sister lay dying!) when he assumed I was making bitter generalisations about "all christians".

These are not isolated incidents, but regular occurrences. Stand in any group of christians and use the term "all christians", or talk about the "christian agenda", and you'll soon have a taste of it.

But is it appropriate to do to others what we hate being done to us? More specifically, is it loving and Christ-like to invalidate and dismiss a whole people group just because they are different - or worse, because we have judged them to be 'sinful'?

The truth is that nobody likes to be de-humanised and condemned by other human beings. Nobody appreciates being judged "guilty by association". We are individuals with our own unique ways of seeing the world and our own motivations for doing or believing the things we do. The last thing we want is to have others assume things about us based on what company we keep (or even who we choose to defend against injustice).

So here's a suggestion, let's stop judging and assuming the worst about 'the other' and actually engage with people instead. Let's follow Jesus's example and take time to sit with the 'outcasts'. Let's listen to those who see things differently. Let's stop labelling and demonising, and unmask and disarm our own fear.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Learning To Love The Other

The other day I came across an online profile piece on a professional christian lobbyist. Among the questions put to him by the interviewer, was one asking what it was that made him nervous. His reply? Speaking to people who do not agree with my values.

Now I know it wasn't intended as a serious or in-depth article, nonetheless, a man’s words will always express what has been treasured in his heart.

And this is a man who makes a living speaking and debating others in the public sphere, and who sells himself as a spokesman for christians generally.

So, although many people (who obviously do agree with his 'values') commented on how good and brave he was to still speak out in public, despite his self-confessed nervousness, I was quite horrified by his remark.

Maybe it is just me, but the thing that screamed out to me was that this was a man who was only comfortable speaking to those who agreed with him! What does that say to you?

Speaking from personal experience, this attitude too often finds expression in arrogance and a refusal to see the other person as being in any way acceptable. It sends a message, loud and clear, that you are just plain wrong!

Now try to imagine you are someone who sees things differently from this man, and you are called upon to discuss a particular issue with him (whether in public, or not). You know that he feels very uncomfortable with you, and in fact, sees you very much as 'other'. How do you think that would that make you feel?

Would you feel that you were seen as a valid and legitimate contributor to the debate? Would you believe that he was interested in how (and why) you viewed things differently? Would you imagine that he viewed you as an actual person? Or would you wonder if he saw you as just another wrong opinion that must either be overborne and silenced, or converted to his way of thinking? What impact do you think it would it have on how you approach him?

At the end of the day, you'll never find anyone who subscribes 100% to your own pet doctrines and religious foibles. So maybe it's time that christians stopped seeing anyone beyond their own inner circle as outsiders... other... wrong.

This is the way I was taught to operate by the institutional church. I lived in fear of the other. And I was always dreading the thought that I might inadvertently do something or believe something that would make me 'other'. I was taught that safety was only to be found in uniformity and groupthink, in conformity and performance.

But eventually I learned the truth that I was really only acceptable if I toed the party line and submitted to the control of its 'leaders'. When I could no longer live that way, I was cast out into the wilderness of pain and rejection. And I was labelled a dangerous 'other'.

Since then, I have been on a journey which has taught me the value of engaging with the other.  Questioning it. Challenging it. Embracing it even. But never running in fear from it!

And instead of it being something that stunted me and robbed me, I have grown and been enriched in so many ways. My faith has both deepened and broadened, even as I've become less 'certain' of so many things. My trust is no longer in a set of doctrines, but in a living, loving God. I'm no longer afraid that I'll step over some arbitrary line and be 'lost'. (I know some people who think I'm beyond the pale, but God doesn't and he never will.)

So this is an invitation to the nervous lobbyist and all his equally nervous friends. Why not give up the fear and the deathly 'certainty' and actually start listening to the 'other'. Like me, you just might learn something. We are ALL created in God's image, and we each have something worth giving and something worth receiving. Let's walk in humility with everyone, and learn how to love!

Because that is what Jesus taught us to do!