From time to time, I read blogs by atheists and skeptics as a way of keeping tabs, so to speak, on the current image of Christians. This is one way I try to better myself so I’m not “one of them” – one of the believers that gives Jesus a bad name by my example.
One of the most common complaints I see, as a way of proving why Christianity is illegitimate, is that many Christians are terrible. They are nothing like Christ. They persecute those they see as “heretics,” they are violent, oppressive, etc. And in many chapters of human history, this is far from an inaccurate assessment:
During the 1209 siege of Béziers, the Christian attackers sacked the city and immediately ran into the problem that many within its walls were in fact proper believers. How could they distinguish the heretics from the faithful, so as to know who to massacre? The abbot in charge of the operation thought of 2 Timothy 2:19 and gave the order to murder the citizens indiscriminately: “Kill them all — God will know His own!” And so they did. Many thousand of innocents were slaughtered.
In the early 1500s, Sir Thomas More was so incensed by the disgraceful Protestants who dared read the Bible in English rather than in Latin that he personally arrested, imprisoned, and interrogated some of them. Six protesters were burned alive under More’s chancellorship. The Catholic Church made him a saint in 1935.
In June of 2014, news broke that near Galway, Ireland, the remains of 796 children had been discovered in a disused septic tank on the grounds of a former Catholic home for unwed mothers and their children. The home, which operated between 1925 and 1961, had a child death rate as high as fifty percent — a number also seen in other Irish Catholic institutions that purported to take good care of “fallen girls.” The 796 children whose bodies were stuffed in the sewage tank are believed to have died from the consequences of malnutrition, overcrowding, disease, and inadequate medical care.
I could literally do this all day, all week, or all month, and never run out of material.
I’d call such Christians “Bad Christians” or “Toxic Christians.” But more than that, I’d say such Christians prove Jesus right when he says that the way to life is narrow, but wide is the path that leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13-14).
How does that make sense? Because anyone can call themselves Christian. Anyone can “get saved.” But picking up your cross and living the life of a disciple? That’s the hardest thing that most of us will ever do.
It’s hard because it’s supposed to be! No wonder so many Christians (myself included) can’t do it, or at least, can’t do it perfectly 100% of the time. Some of us are too reliant on our own strength; others of us get too caught up in political games and personal desires masked as God-given directives.
The world may recognize Christians more so by their bad behavior because bad news tends to travel faster than good news. The ones doing God’s gritty, holy work aren’t out there seeking a name for themselves, so that could be why they’re harder to identify. But I know they exist- I’ve met them. I’ve been mentored by them. But I had to be committed to finding them, even when my cynicism and frustration with the church was at an all-time high.
My dear friend Laura says it best, as far as why she’s still a Christian despite the faith’s occasionally bad reputation:
I didn’t stay a Christian because of compelling intellectual arguments or miraculous proof or because the church has lived up to its calling.
If my faith had hung on any one of these things, I would be long gone.
I stayed a Christian because Jesus’ good news brings me life and hope and courage I don’t find anywhere else.
The good news that he is redeeming and renewing our broken world and invites us into that work.
The good news that we as humans are valued and loved immeasurably by our Creator.
And maybe most especially, the good news that our Creator became one of us, showing us He walks with us all the way- from life, through death, and into resurrection.
All the way. God in us, God for us, God with us. On the mountain and in the valley, through the peace times and through the fight. In the light and in the dark. God with us, all the way.
Next time you hear a non-Christian speak derisively of Christians as a whole, consider that a fulfillment of what Christ said would happen. But know that the “bad Christians” don’t get the final word in the end.