For years I have felt uncomfortable with a growing emphasis in certain Christian circles. No doubt this happens, to greater or lesser extent, in all religious groups and nonreligious organizations: an intolerance to those slightly or markedly different from your group's ideology, philosophy, theology, doctrine, principles, call it what you will. I have seen political clubs act this way, gatherings of atheists, left-wingers, right-wingers act this way, so I know it is not just a Christian failing, but a human failing, and not just others' failings, but mine as well.
I began, over time as a Christian, to tire of feeling I had to make enemies in the cause of Christ. That if I disagreed with others' beliefs, not only could I not be close to them, but that, as a general rule, I needed to remind them, from time to time, that I was opposed to them. Nor could I like them. Of course I had friends that believed differently from me. But if they really believed differently from regular evangelical Christian beliefs, if they were gay or sexually promiscuous or partied hard or voted wrong or supported a woman's right to choose, I actually should not have them as good friends in any way, shape or form. Part of this was my take on it, part of it was what I was taught. Then, one day, I thought: How is this attitude like Jesus?
He was not the one who went around shutting others out of his life. He was not the one who said, "Oh, no, I don't talk to those people, I don't love them, I don't heal them, get them out of here, stone them, call down fire on their village." Quite obviously, he was the kind of person who did not do or say those kinds of things. So, if I was supposed to be a Christian, why wasn't I allowed, or why wasn't I allowing myself, to be more like him and less like what happens in certain churches and certain denominations? If I believed in Jesus, why couldn't I act and talk and include and embrace like Jesus - even to the point of touching those with leprosy?
I had grown weary of having to hate to call myself a believer in Christ. Sure, the word hate was never used in various evangelical circles, the whole idea of hatred was denied, but the way we were encouraged to act or dispute or put up a wall, to my mind, amounted to the same thing. THEY were the enemy - homosexuals, abortion clinic doctors, women who promoted abortion and the men who supported them, people who voted for politicians and parties that supported the gay revolution and a pro-choice platform - and nobody talked about loving those enemies or befriending them. They were to be opposed, resisted and, inevitably, shunned. You didn't go to their social events, you didn't attend their rallies and listen to what they had to say, you did not hang with them.
This cold shoulder was not the Jesus way. But a certain kind of church-taught Christian way.
I was never comfortable with it. I felt un-me, un-myself, restricted in who I could like and who I could love because of doctrine, philosophy, theology. But I thought, for a time, it was the way to go.
Now when I see this becoming increasingly more of a trend, not less, when people are being driven to adopt a kind of tribalism of sticking with and defending their own kind and not having anything to do with those whose allegiances are to other and often opposing tribes or factions, essentially at the expense not only of love and peace but also of truth, I realize it is well past time to stop taking sides and stand where Jesus stood - which was with everyone.
He had a freedom fighter who was opposed to Roman occupation among his closest companions, but he healed a Roman soldier's servant.
A Jewish man was not supposed to be alone with a woman, let alone a woman with a reputation for sexual promiscuity, but he did it anyway at the well in Samaria.
Biblical law said to stone and kill a woman (or man) who had engaged in extra-marital sex. He wouldn't do it. Instead, he defended the accused and saved her life.
He made the enemies of the Jews, the Samaritans, the heroes in his story about a Samaritan saving a Jew's life when other Jews wouldn't even save it.
When people rejected him and his teaching his friends wanted to call down fire from God and kill them. Jesus not only vehemently said no, but was upset with them for even suggesting the idea.
He forgave the people who killed him, a mix of Italians and Israelis, and not only them, but all of us, the whole human race replete with kindnesses and replete with cruelties.
So when you look at Jesus you see something and someone completely unlike intolerance or shunning, utterly unlike unfriendliness, unkindness, nonacceptance, a lack of openness, a lack of empathy, a lack of love.
Christian teaching, based on the New Testament, says to look at Jesus is to look at the face of God.
If that is what Christians believe, perhaps Jesus is the one who should be telling us how to treat those who are different than us and who oppose us rather than church groups and religious organizations and denominations. Not that they can't point us to Jesus. It's just that, in this day and age where there is such a sense of warfare between different faith groups and political parties, when there is so much polarization within many of our nations and communities, it seems to be harder to find those who make Jesus more important than their human leaders and their agendas.
For myself, it's time to stop flirting with intolerance, unkindness and hatred that goes under other names (commitment, devotion, faithfulness) and get back to the Jesus way, the Jesus stance, the Jesus heart.
Not wanting to call myself a Christian because the word means very little in terms of Jesus himself anymore, I have in the past called myself an incarnational theist, admittedly a mouthful of a phrase, and a Christwalker.
Time to walk the walk again.