“We are against Halloween,” one minister recently told me. This is a common response I get from folks in the church. That, and: “We are against homosexuals, abortion, environmentalists, liberals, social-gospel types, postmodernists, illegal immigrants, people-who-worship-like-that, health-care reform, and redistribution.” As some Christians follow in the footsteps of partisan politicians, it remains an easy habit to become known for being against something instead of being for something.
A recent Barna poll asked people what contributions they think Christians have made to American society. The pollster divided the answers between positive and negative contributions.
The results are telling. Although 34% of people under the age of 25 stated that Christians have contributed something to help the underprivileged in society, a larger percentage of people could not think of a single positive contribution that Christians make to society.
Contrast these figures with what people say are the negative contributions that Christians make, and we get a clearer picture of what kind of message the church is sending in the public sector. One out of every five respondents say that the most negative contribution that Christians make in society is a “vitriolic attitude.” That’s followed closely by the fact that Christians are known for being very, very anti-homosexual. (Only 6% claimed that Christians made a positive contributions to marriage, by the way.)
For the most part, all this survey tells us is that people on television–those who get airtime for being the most sensational in their speech, including Christians–influence how people view Christians. We are so busy trying to fight culture wars and drawing lines in the sand that we have basically isolated ourselves from becoming culturally relevant whatsoever. That line in the sand ended up being a circle in which very few can stand.
But becoming relevant for its own sake also misses the mark. After all, Jesus did point out that, “wide is the gate to destruction, but narrow is the gate that leads to eternal life” (Matthew 7:13-14). The Gospel is good news for people in need of salvation, but Jesus makes no apologies for calling those same people to live under the lordship of a holy and righteous God.
Yet, Jesus also tells us that he, not us, will be the one to separate the sheep from the goats. He will judge the “living and the dead.” Jesus told us not to spend our time judging others “lest” we be judged too.
When we define ourselves by what we are against, we usurp Jesus’ place as ultimate judge and try to separate sheep and goats on our own, without considering the very myopia of our own perspectives. We assume that we know God so well that we will choose for Him whom we let into the wider fellowship of faith.
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus tells his audience to welcome people that a majority in society doesn’t welcome. This includes people who have no resources of their own (Luke 6:27-36) and people who are deemed “unworthy” or are ridiculed in society (Luke 14:12-24).
Not only do we welcome people without reservation or preconceived notions of judgment, but we are to define ourselves by our relationship with them too. Jesus is our example: “And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them'” (Luke 15:2).
My prayer is that we are a people known for being passionate, sold-out, Jesus-freak followers of Christ who spend so much time with sinners and saints alike that no one will fail to recognize the positive contributions we make in society. Not only will this further the Gospel, but it will harness the energy of people who stand ready to inaugurate God’s agenda for the redemption of all creation. Go and be the Good News of inclusion, not the bad news of rejection and vitriol.
Christians are called to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jer. 29:7). Our American Babylon needs our prayers. And it needs from us not thoughtless participation in partisan combat, but a uniquely Christian moral witness of commitment to the common good and love of every neighbor.