Many in the Christian community have become familiar with the book, “unChristian: What a New Generation Thinks About Christianity…..and Why it Matters” by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. After surveying young people ages 16 – 29, the authors found that 91% of those outside the church perceived Christians to be anti-gay. Of all the negative perceptions, including judgmental, hypocritical, old-fashioned, too involved in politics, out of touch with reality, insensitive to others, boring, not accepting of other faiths, and confusing, this anti-gay perception was most commonly held.
This goes much deeper than an image problem. As the title of the book suggests, the perceptions held by a younger generation, including those within the church itself, are inconsistent with what many would view as the character and ministry of Jesus. It brings us back to Ghandi’s observation, “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ.”
So the problem is not just image or perception – the problem is the tragic disconnect between our representation of Christ and Christ himself. I say “our” because as much as I hope and pray that the way I engage with people is reflective of Jesus, I am all too aware of my limitations and short-comings and that whether I like it or not I am part of the Christian community – the good, the bad and the ugly of that. It would be far too easy to distance myself and with a sanctimonious piety say, “Well, I’m not like THOSE people who just don’t get it”. I need to posture myself to listen to the perceptions, the critiques. But even more, I need to listen for the hearts behind the critiques – because God may be speaking to me through them. That requires that I really do embrace a humility that is teachable, that acknowledges that I have much to learn, and that in so many ways I could be wrong. The measure of my faith is not in my certainty – the measure of my faith is trusting God to keep drawing me to himself and helping me to relate to others as he does.
Despite my intentions in embodying generous spaciousness, I am perceived by some as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. In a Box Turtle Bulletin post that references the Toronto bus ads, a reader of this blog suggested in the comments that people take a look at the post I’d written about it. In response someone commented:
“The person who suggested we look at Wendy Gritter’s post clearly doesn’t get it. Don’t waste your time!! Wendy Gritter, and Andrew Marin, and the various people who are advocating a kinder, gentler brand of Christian Supremacy (look at some of the names of the people who are either on the Board or on Staff at NDM – there is at least one person affiliated with NARTH, another two people who spoke at a national Exodus conference in the last two years, etc.), are exactly the kind of people this article should speak to. But it won’t. They’ll keep trying to be more subtle. Unfortunately, this kinder, ever more subtle, seemingly gentler brand of supremacy is indeed appealing to so many people. I think it is MORE dangerous than the overt condemnation of Fred Phelps in some ways because people actually get sucked in by this stuff.”
(Just a quick note to clarify: I’m not sure what they are referring to when they suggest that board or staff at ND are affiliated with NARTH or spoke at a national Exodus conference – this is not the case. I would be curious to know to whom they refer. Bruxy Cavey, who is on our board of reference, spoke at an Exodus Global Alliance conference last year. Additionally, I spoke at an Exodus leadership conference a few years ago – the podcast is available on the ND site and a follow-up conversation can be found on exgaywatch here)
While I believe in the importance of listening to critique, it’s not easy. Your knee-jerk reaction is to defend yourself, to explain the motivations of your heart, to wear the opposition you endure like a badge of honour and proof of your advocacy ….. but at the end of the day, none of this really matters. It’s just words. It can just foster people talking past one another. The proof of the pudding is in the conversations that happen. The relationships that develop. The investment of time to be present in another’s life. The evidence of embodying a posture of presence and learning rather than indoctrination and proselytizing really only emerges as people really get to know one another. I can protest that I don’t engage in people’s life with an agenda to control the outcome of their decisions and journey – but that may be meaningless unless someone actually experiences that in relationship with me. (And of course, no one truly has no agenda – we all have agendas to some degree – perhaps the difference is in how much weight or emphasis we give them. I feel free to not try to control the outcome in another’s life because I believe God can be trusted to lead and direct and guide people. I don’t have to do his job for him in the way that I interpret is best. And I find freedom in the messy reality that people embrace faith and live it out differently – and I don’t have to judge or control that.)
Some of us have to engage very personal critique and to choose to respond in a manner that is consistent with Christ – who chose not to be offended, to not defend himself, to offer his life to all (even though all hurt and reject him in some capacity). But in the bigger picture of faith in our culture, I hope that the Christian community will really wrestle with and consider the kind of reality we are bequeathing to this generation (if indeed perception is reality – then I think this is appropriate wording).
Consider these comments that were left on a facebook page. (The context: a group of parents and students, many who identify with the Christian church, planned a secret ‘prom’ in order to exclude a lesbian student who wanted to bring her girlfriend to prom. Read more about that story here.)
Are you people SO terrified of gay people that you could do something so cruel to another human being… and then feel proud about it? I’m sure all of you are extremely religious (which would explain your irrational intolerance and hatred of gay people). Do you actually think that Jesus would approve of what you’ve done? The entire country pities all of you.
And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” -Luke 23:34 All of you are disgusting filth, and you should hope that the bible you so adamantly defend is real enough to protect you from your conscience ten years down the road.
This is so incredibly disappointing. If you truly accept Christ as your Lord and Savior, then I hope you’re prepared to answer for your bigotry and hatred when you meet him. As far as I’m concerned, nothing is more shameful than a hateful, spiteful, deceitful Christian. It’s the total antithesis of what he stood for and taught.
Hi, I just wanted to say that you guys were such amazing examples of Christians. Bigoted, cruel, close minded and fucking ignorant. I hope the whole world hears about the stunt you pulled. i hope they see you for the worthless sacks of shit that you are. Because really, you disgust me. You are such poor excuses for people that I really think your ‘God’ must be proud. “Love thy neighbor”? “Treat as you would be treated”? DID YOU EVEN READ THE GOD DAMN BOOK YOU PREACH BY?!? Because right now, I am doubting it severely. Just know that you are disgusting. The world will not forgive you for your childish, cruel actions.
We can’t just distance ourselves from the negative perceptions. We can’t just get offended by people’s strong condemning language. We can’t make this about “us” and “them”. When you read these kinds of comments, are you really listening? Do you hear God’s whisper through their outrage? What will you do to bridge the gap(s) of perception? How will you represent the person and ministry of Jesus to a generation that has plenty of reasons to justify their cynicism? And how will you extend hospitality to your gay neighbours?
Before you formulate your answer …. I challenge you to consider this post written by Timothy Kincaid. You may disagree with Timothy on many points – but consider what he is saying.
… a new face of conservative Christianity is arising calling for more tolerance and seeking to share a loving God with their gay neighbors, to welcome them and love them rather than loudly condemn them. And almost without exception, they get it entirely, completely, and miserably wrong.
Then I invite you to reflect on a statement made to me in my earliest days with New Direction by a man who was awarded the order of Canada for his work, as a follower of Jesus, in the arena of social justice. He said, “Wendy, never forget that the ministry of Jesus was never coercive – it was always invitational.” If we actually lived this out, if we actually worked for the shalom of the common good ~ we might make some headway in dismantling the unChristian perceptions of so many of our neighbours.