The trouble with being a good Christian
In a blog post on CNN, Dean Obeidallah goes searching for the good Christians. After cataloguing a series of American Christian activists with extremely bigoted views, on homosexuals, especially, he quotes the deeply disturbing recent statistic that “65% of [college-aged voters] view Christianity as “anti-gay.”" He concludes,
The longer that mainstream Christian leaders don’t even bother to counter the rhetoric from the far right, the more likely that radical Christians will come to define Christianity.
It is time, in other words, for good Christians “to stand up to those who give your religion a bad name[.]”
I don’t want to imply that these categories are absolute, because it’s a fundamental Christian insight that no one is good and no one is bad. We all fall short of either one, floating somewhere between those poles. But exaggerating for the sake of the clarity of the argument and following Obeidallah, let’s divide Christians into two groups: Good ones and bad ones.
The bad ones are the ones for whom Christianity isn’t a transforming force for good in their lives and community, but rather a means for selfish power-grabbing, whether in personal relationships, in the church or in society at large. It’s a fiercely guarded social and psychological identity marker, to be defended at all costs. And it’s an unceasing source for self-righteousness. Bad Christians have no shame. They are loud. They elbow their way to the top, unfailingly confident in their own personal utopian agendas. They don’t hesitate to step on other Christians, especially the good ones. And, worst of all, they think they’re the good Christians, completely blind to how tragically wrong they are and to the damage, revokable only by the grace of God, that they are doing.
But most Christians aren’t bad Christians. Most Christians are good Christians. They live quiet lives, trying to be as good as they can. They try to embody the Christian virtues of neighbour love, forgiveness, humility, peace and long-suffering. They love Jesus and try to be like him. And that’s the problem. The problem good Christians have is that they follow the crucified Messiah.
This is the man who told his followers to turn the other cheek, to rejoice when they were hated and persecuted, to love their enemy and to forgive all. He not only taught this, but lived it out fully, and it got him brutally killed.
So, returning to Obeidallah’s question – Where are the good Christians? – one is confronted with the bitter, but holy irony written into the very DNA of genuine Christian faith: Just as Jesus didn’t resist those who sought to hurt him, even to the point of death, so good Christians because they are good Christians are ripe for the picking by bad Christians. Good Christians are silent when bad Christians take to the pulpit, the soapbox or the airwaves to spread their agendas of shameless self-righteous power-grabbing, thinly veiled as holy platitudes. To a significant degree, that’s what it means to be a good Christian.
I’m divided as to the extent to which what good Christians do is right. There’s a time and a place to clean out the temple, so to speak, and to stand up to those who take the Lord’s name in vain, using the faith to further their anti-Christian agendas. And I’m reasonably sure it’s something good Christians should do more of. To the extent that good Christians fail to identify those times and places and fail to do something about it, their non-action might not be wrong, per say, but it is certainly unfortunate and harmful. But on the other hand, what good Christians do and don’t do isn’t motivated by cowardice or apathy. The deep truth of Christianity is that for every cross, there’s an empty tomb. That’s the motivation – and the reason why non-violence and non-resistance (in all its forms) makes sense to good Christians: Things may look bad at the moment, but as sure as Jesus rose again, God will turn them around.
So, where are the good Christians? They are where they’ve always been: Filling the pews and humbly serving the Lord in all of life’s circumstances. You can’t miss them if you just scratch the surface and ignore those shameless and bigoted self-styled übermensches, who in no way represent genuine Christianity.