The Christian is now the Elephant in the Room
As a Christian, I’ve thought long and hard about stepping into this debate. The most useful piece of information anyone ever told me before I embarked on this publishing game was, “Protect your brand.”
She was right. I should. I have. I do.
And it’s the reason I’ve never got into it before, not publicly anyway. I’ve tried to listen to people online and in person who trespass into the Christian bashing room but to no avail. I’ve learned to be quiet because they really don’t want to hear. But I walked into a discussion yesterday, sauntering in online like we’re apt to do, noticing a blog article which I’d seen before about a vicar who dressed up as a tramp and watched how his congregation behaved towards him, before and after the grand reveal. All fine. I’ve seen it before. The articles – and variations of it – have been around since 2008. The vicar in the article below had been performing that particular stunt for 20 years, in different churches with varying results. Good on him. Sometimes we need a change of pace to spot our own shortcomings, wake us up and set us on a different course.
The article on the news feed I saw was a different one, but the gist of the original is HERE.
The first few times I read it in its differing forms I was intrigued and heartened by a church in the process of attempting to learn and heal itself. As this article has done the rounds in the ensuing years, becoming embellished and gaining more glamorous headlines and heart wrenching pictures, being re-enacted and mimicked across the world, the reception it receives has changed.
The discussion I wandered into the back of, began yet again with an article just like the one linked above. Within as few as six comments, the tone turned on Christians, filling the thread with examples of how rubbish we all are, how bigoted and two faced, lumping us in with those who have fueled wars and banged our tambourines over the deaths of others. Now, I’m not picking on particular people. I like them all otherwise I wouldn’t have them as online friends. But what I saw there is sadly indicative of the world’s view of Christians. It’s as though the cross gets thrown into the centre of a room like the proverbial bone and everyone jumps on board for a chew. The only acceptable result is one in which the Christians concede they’re pretty rubbish and everyone leaves happy.
I became a Christian aged 30, in the little English town of Market Harborough. Nobody came after me with a bible and hit me until I submitted, but on the contrary, the people I encountered were lovely, enfolded me in friendship and I stayed there until my family emigrated to New Zealand in 2006.
Christians aren’t perfect. It’s one of the first things I learned because a swift glance in the mirror will show most of us that neither are we. We’d all agree we’re on a journey, striving for a perfection we’ll never achieve in our own strength. Most of us resemble blindfolded soccer players in a premiere league game, stumbling around the pitch without a clue but giving it our best shot. Own goals are an unfortunate consequence of playing but occasionally someone scores an absolute peach at the right end and everyone goes mad with congratulations.
A church in Leicester I attended back in 2002 ran a soup kitchen on a Friday night and the homeless were more than welcome to sit in the Sunday services. To the best of my knowledge, they still are. I helped out serving coffee and food for a while and their stories broke my heart. It was the first time I’d ever seen someone dressed completely in black dustbin liners and I learned some hard lessons; give a homeless woman a warm winter coat and someone will beat her unconscious and steal it in the dead of night. Give her a dustbin bag and she’ll thank you from the bottom of her heart and tear holes in it to put her head and arms through. There were good people who worked until late in the night, washing up and watching men and women they’d grown fond of, stepping out into the snow because there was nowhere else and sometimes all we have to help the world with, is what’s in our hands. Perhaps the armchair critics have done that with their Friday evenings occasionally and speak from a position of knowledge.
I have friend in Burkina Faso whose work I’ve followed for years. He and his wife have done more in one lifetime for humanity than anyone else I’ve shaken hands with. One of the things which brings most joy is the free dental care his wife provides, standing out in the baking sun under the village tree, pulling teeth until her back hurts and still they come, walking miles in agony seeking help. They’re Christians, ordinary good people just doing their best. Do they judge, put people down or see others with a different set of beliefs as somehow lesser than them? Obviously not.
So my complaint is this.
Are all patrons who attend pubs, drunks?
Is every football fan a hooligan?
Do all Christians unanimously agree with the Crusades, the siege of Granada, the Troubles in Ireland or every single killing in the name of Christianity everywhere?
Is every Christian faulty? Absolutely, but they’ll admit it when pressed and sometimes under no duress whatsoever.
So, why must every discussion defame us as though we move with one voice and one mind like collective zombies? Is there no room for individuals in this?
We travelled to London in July 2005, a few days after the bombings. Our tickets were booked weeks beforehand and the appointment made at New Zealand House for us to pick up our immigration visas. We had one chance to co-ordinate the thing and it was now or never. My parents accompanied us and with four small children in tow, we entered the underground. It was just as packed as usual only now, armed transport police watched everyone and everything, with good reason. After standing for over half an hour nose to nose with other people, we noticed an Indian man sitting alone at the end of a carriage. He clutched his rucksack to his chest, isolated and ostracised because people still justifiably horrified by the bombings, had made a judgement call about him.
He looked relieved, when exhausted from standing, my father plonked onto the seat next to him and pulled my middle daughter onto his knee. We all nodded to him and 8 of us sank into the bliss of the seats after a day walking around London. When he got off, everyone else filtered back into the carriage and normality resumed.
They judged him and he hated it. He was on his way home from somewhere with a rucksack and had no more intention of blowing up the train than we did.
And I’m judged for the fact I believe in Jesus and attend a tiny church on Sunday night in a town most people can’t pronounce. Ironically, I’m judged for being…yeah, judgmental. The critics have never met me, but with the label of Christian everyone expects I will be, so just go ahead and believe it.
We’ve all got examples of bad behaviour where whole churches have attended a family weekend in Lala Land and come back a bit strange and we’ve all rolled our eyes and muttered, ‘Bloody Christians’ under our breath at some point.
But I wouldn’t state that all blue eyed people are liars just because a blue eyed man once gave me directions and I ended up in Frankton instead of Flagstaff. And you can’t say that all women are bad drivers just because I cut you up last week on the way to work. Every rational person knows that generalisation is pretty short sighted.
Until it comes to Christians. Generalising Christians is apparently ok as long as we’re given a sporting chance. One of me against ten of them. And of late, the discussions inevitably turn to them quoting scriptures which highlight my failings as a Christian and…bashing me with their bibles because I never got mine out.
I typed a long comment on the thread in which ‘my kind’ were being denigrated, blamed and lumped under the title of ‘all organised religions which cause trouble.’ Then I deleted it. I seriously like the guys who contributed to that thread and backed out gracefully having said nothing. I value them as people, even though their comments made me want to head a concrete ball with my face.
Then I walked into another debate, again by accident. It started with a moral question related to a novel someone had written and then yeah, pretty much got onto the subject of Christians and around it went again. Only I’m noticing now that believers no longer defend themselves. They do like me and walk away, leaving the ranters to rant harder and louder about how rubbish we are, until everyone’s in agreement and the gavel hits the bench. Condemned.
Nobody said life was fair, certainly not the bible. Yet really good people get lumped in with whack jobs, cults and fundamentalists who claim to sit underneath the banner of Christianity.
I’m not suggesting you change your views. You have good reason for thinking the way you do. All I’m asking is that you don’t whitewash me with the same brush you use to paint anyone who did anything wrong, ever. Give me a chance and consider those others who are already hitting gold medal status in the Goodness Awards, while I’m still scraping together enough for the plastic one. Yeah, I’ll probably upset you at some point or fail to meet expectation or swear, or frighten you with my fifty eight point reverse manoever but hey, I never said I was great at anything, lease of all being a person.
Returning to the article about Derek Rigby, the reverend who dressed as a tramp. There’s one little line in the original which gets glossed over when the critics are waving their gavels at the Prestatyn congregation and judging their un-Christian-ness with glee.
“This task was made even harder when the unwanted guest joined them on the pews, surrounded with syringes and drinking from a can of lager.”
A very wise man once said, ‘Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults – unless, of course, you want the same treatment.’
I’m a Christian, I’m probably pretty rubbish but I don’t hate you. Please be more careful with your words because you need to know they hurt.