The following is reprinted (with my own permission, of course) from a note I posted on Facebook, which was in response to a question I posed there last week. If we are already friends on Facebook, feel free to comment in response there. If you're not on Facebook, well, I must ask, "why not?". And if you are on Facebook and we are not already friends, well, I'm feeling a little hurt.
In the original thread, I tried to reduce down the responses I got to some common themes, eventually picking up five to try to respond to. So this response is the first installment in what will, eventually, be at least a five part series of notes/posts in the discussion. I'll post them as notes on Facebook and also here, and you can feel free to respond in either location.
So last week I asked a question on my status update to try to do my
best to see what issues might be in the way of people showing up at a
church like mine on a typical Sunday. Here was the question: "If you
are NOT a churchgoer, would you be willing to share why not?
Particularly if you were at some point, and then stopped, I would be
interested in what led to that decision."
I got a lot of feedback (you can read the thread if you'd like), so I
tried to distill the responses into a few key points. I thought I'd try
to address some of the concerns one by one this week. So, if this
works, it'll be a five part series of posts. While I'd love to write
one a day, I think that may be biting off more than I can chew. So
we'll start here, and see where it goes.
(1) Christians are judgmental and self-righteous which turns people off from the message of Jesus.
I'll start by admitting this up front. I concede the point that there
are some Christians who are both judgmental and self-righteous. Often,
much to my chagrin, those are the ones who seem to speak loudest and
garner the most attention. There are certainly some who seem to turn up
their noses at people who are not like them, and who don't conform to
their image of what a Christian should be.
On its face this seems to be a reasonable reason to avoid churches
then. But I think that may be somewhat misleading. First, I think you'd
have to demonstrate that there is a higher percentage of self-righteous
and judgmental people inside the church than there are outside the
church. And before you jump at it and say that's a slam dunk, I'd urge
you to consider the tone and tenor of our political discourse, our
media outlets; even the films we watch and the music we listen to.
Self-righteousness and judgment are not exclusive to the church.
They're everywhere and have been for a long time. While religious
people may have perfected the art, there's no reason to think you'll be
any less likely to find a judgmental person in the cubicle next to you
than you will be to find him in the pew next to you.
Second, I think you'd have to say then that the self-righteous,
judgmental follower of Jesus should keep you from finding out if there
are others who follow Jesus who may be more humble, more gentle, and a
more accurate representation of who Jesus is. You can choose to paint
everyone with the same broad brush that you are comfortable using, or
you can take the time to appreciate the distinctions and differences
that exist within each person. For instance, I could choose to reason
something like this:
(1) I watch Keith Olbermann on MSNBC and find Keith Olbermann to be obnoxious, arrogant, self-righteous and condescending.
(2) I could not imagine having a meaningful conversation with Keith Olbermann.
(3) Keith Olbermann is clearly a liberal democrat.
(4) All liberal democrats must think like and act like Keith Olbermann.
(5) Therefore I will avoid meaningful conversations with other liberal democrats because they are like Keith Olbermann.
*My liberal democrat friends may feel free to substitute Glenn Beck,
Sean Hannity, et al for "Keith Olbermann" and "conservative republican"
for "liberal democrat" in the preceding example and appreciate the
Of course there's more than just reasoning involved, there's emotion
and passion and hurt that happens when one is on the receiving end of
such judgmental and self-righteous attitudes. And in that sense, I
cannot reason my way through to you. I can't begin to apologize for the
missteps of the Christian faith over centuries. I think most of us can
own up to the fact that things like the crusades, inquisitions,
witch-hunts and the more recent sex scandals within the church are an
inadequate representation of what Jesus lived and taught. As much as I
wish those would go away, they will not.
Of course the danger in always pointing out what others have done is
that we will never get the opportunity to confront what we have done,
and who we are, and the missteps that we have made and people to whom
we have done damage with our choices. To use Jesus' terms, we point out
the speck of dust in the eye of our friends, and willingly choose to
ignore the 2×4 that clouds our own vision. The danger is that, in our
rush to point fingers at those hypocritical, self-righteous christians,
we become something worse.
While much has been said and made of Jesus' acceptance of all people, I
think the point is often stretched beyond its breaking point, or at
least beyond the point of the records we have of Jesus' life and words
(I know, we'll eventually get to the question of the Scriptures and
their reliability). Jesus certainly embraces all kinds of people that
were not embraced by the religious leaders of his day. He spent time
with those labeled "sinners" and took a good deal of grief because of
it. But Jesus' modus operandi was not mere tolerance of these societal
outcasts; instead he took the more demanding path of grace with them,
offering them not platitudes about how they could just "be themselves",
but daring to direct them to "go and sin no more". That probably won't
win him any awards for political correctness, but it indicates that his
desire was for a transformation in the lives of those he encountered
that would dramatically alter their course.
It is this transformation that I think a true follower of Jesus has
experienced, and continues to experience daily. There is no sense of
arrival, or sense that one has somehow managed to achieve perfection
with the corresponding ability to look down one's highly-developed long
religious nose in disgust at others who are less righteous than he.
There is humility, and a willing acceptance of the kind of grace that
No, we have not always managed to pull that off as well as we should.
I'll admit that with humility. But it will not prevent me, and many
others with me, from seeking to live it the right way. The past
failures will not limit my ability to see my life, and the lives of
those in my church community, from seeing genuine transformation that
invites everyone in, and sees everyone transformed by grace.