Recently, people of faith all over the world celebrated the resurrection of their Lord and Savior. They celebrated the God who loved us all so much that He was willing to take on a human body, suffer more than anyone has ever suffered, and die the most horrible, unspeakable death for us because He loved us and wanted us to be free. You’d think this would inspire these same people of faith to try to live more closely to the teachings of the One in which they have put their faith, but that doesn’t always happen.
Recently, I listened to a member of the clergy speak publicly with such venom and hatred for people who were different, believed differently, or God forbid, were “them old sinners.” When it started, it was almost humorous, because it seemed almost like a caricature of what the media portrays Christians to be. But as I continued to listen, humor turned to surprise, then to disappointment and finally to disgust. All I wanted to do was to shout out, “You are the problem!” Because the truth is that God loves ALL the world and every single person in it. He loves those we would classify as “good” as well as those we would say are “bad” (eg. Hitler, Bin Laden, Manson, etc.). It makes no difference who you are, because in God’s eyes we are all the same. No matter what we do or engage in, or how we choose to live our lives, He loves us with everything He has. In John 3:16, we are told that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that WHOSOEVER believes in Him, will not die, but have everlasting life.” And then it also tells us that “God demonstrated His love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8). He loved everyone while we were still rejecting Him. He loves us before we are “cleaned up.” He loves us so much that He died for us WHILE we were rejecting Him. That’s pretty amazing!
In today’s society, there seem to be more attacks on Christianity, but the truth is we bring much of that on ourselves. If we weren’t so bitter and mean, maybe it would be a little different. If we discussed our beliefs from a heart of love and lived the way Christ wants us to live, maybe so many people wouldn’t be so angry. Make no mistake, Jesus told His followers that the world hated Him and as a result, they would also be hated at times. (John 15:18-25). So rest assured there will always be opposition to Christ and those who follow His teachings, but my point is that Jesus was about inclusion, not exclusion. Jesus was about love not hate. He never spoke with venom. He never screamed at people. He wasn’t about pride; He was about humility. He wasn’t about condemnation. He wasn’t about prejudice of any kind. He was about love. And yet I sat there listening to this clergyman shouting loudly and passionately how proud he was that he was raised knowing that abortion is sin and that “homosexuality is an “abomination!” (Yes, that is a quote!) He shouted about how we all need to “hold fast to the doctrines of our fathers!” And inside, I was screaming, “NO, we don’t!!” What we need to do is to hold fast to the truth of God’s word, not simply what our fathers or grandfathers taught us, or even what we have heard out of the mouths of pastors. We are to hold fast, true and strong to the truth of God’s word, not man’s. God has promised that if you seek the truth, you will find it, and you may even do so without a preacher. I know that statement will be considered heretical to some people, but it is God who reveals the truth to you. A preacher (or anyone else) can only share scripture and live an example before others, but if you are seeking the truth and you ask God to reveal to you what His word means, then He will. We must study His word to gain knowledge, but the wisdom and revelation associated with it is a gift. “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God who gives to all generously and without reproach.” (James 1:5)
Every person’s relationship is between that person, God and no one else. Do our spiritual relationships affect other people? They most certainly do, and to hear such passionate ignorance delivered in such an unloving attitude – and to hear people actually cheer out loud – was one of the most disturbing things I have ever witnessed. God is love, and to sit there listening to someone who claims to be one of His representatives shout in ways that declared certain types of sinners were less holy than him, made me sick to my stomach. We are ALL sinners and equally guilty and I kept thinking of the story in the Bible (Luke 18:9-14) of a very religious man that was similar. In a nutshell, this religious, faithful, church-going man prayed out loud so everyone could hear him, “Oh thank you God that I’m not like these other people! I thank you that I’m faithful. I thank you that I follow you. I thank you I’m not like these robbers, evildoers or other terrible people like this man over here!” The other man he referred to had been standing a distance away by himself and wouldn’t even lift his head and look up toward Heaven. He beat on his chest and cried out, “Oh God be merciful to me because I’m a sinner!” Jesus said it was the SECOND man that was justified and honored. It was the terrible sinner (in the eyes of the religious man) who GOD recognized and honored. Every time I hear a Christian speaking from a place of prejudice and anger or hate, I think, “How is it possible that people can’t see why their churches are dying?” People wonder what’s wrong and wonder what they can do or what program they can start to get people to come. We try all kinds of things. We keep trying to make people want to come and worship with us, and the biggest thing we are missing in all of it is love.
Why are our churches dying? They are dying because of US! They are dying because we don’t love and forgive as God loves and forgives. They are dying because of men like this who stand up and scream against one particular sin or another. They’re quick to shout about homosexuality, abortion, drunkenness or drugs, but they don’t shout about gluttony or selfishness. They don’t shout about the person who overeats or is a workaholic. They don’t shout about the person that gossips, which to me is one of the most divisive and damaging sins of all. They only shout about the things they haven’t done as if that somehow makes them holier than those who have done them. And then they look down on those people as if to say, “If you will come crawling over broken glass and hot coals to Christ, then you can be saved, but you’ll never be as good as me.” Like the mob in the Disney movie, the battle cry of many Christians is, “Kill the beast!” when our battle cry should be, “Love them to death. Love them above all. Prefer them above all. Love as God loved!”
We hear all the time, “Hate the sin but love the sinner,” but God does not give us permission to hate anything or anyone. We are supposed to forgive the sin and love the sinner. THAT is what Christ does. As people of faith, there are certainly things and behaviors we should not engage in, but there isn’t one perfect person on this earth. And the moment you start thinking more highly of yourself than you ought (Romans 12:3), you will fall. If someone is engaged in something that is wrong or harmful, then it is our duty to talk with them to help them understand God’s word and the forgiveness in it, but not out of condemnation. We are to do it (and everything else) out of genuine love. I can think of nothing more wonderful than a church where everyone is truly welcome. We need places where anyone and everyone are welcome to come and learn the truth of God’s word. We need places steeped in neither legalism nor emotionalism, but steeped in truth – truth spoken from the most loving hearts. Apathy is not killing our churches, hate is. Apathy is not what is causing former Christians to turn away and say they want no more of church as an organized religion. It is hate and meanness that is causing it, because no one has experienced more Christian hatred than those sitting in the very same pews of the very same churches.
As I sat in that room recently, listening to hatred and condemnation being spewed, I saw in my mind’s eye, picket signs, megaphones and people shouting “Onward Christian soldiers marching to war!” When what I really longed for was a very different battle cry – one that says, “Come to me. Love your neighbor. Love as I have loved you. Forgive as I’ve forgiven you.” We must remember the battle is not between people of faith and atheists. It is not a war between good people and bad people. It is not a war between us and “them old sinners,” because you see, WE are “them old sinners.” It is a war between me and myself. It is a war between who we are and who we should be. We must stop spending so much time crucifying everyone who is different or those who may disagree with us. We must start tending our own garden and pulling our own weeds instead of mowing down crops we don’t think should exist. We need to simply turn our own hearts to God instead of trying to turn someone else’s, because we CAN’T turn someone else’s heart to God. Only GOD can do that. All I can do is to live my life the way Christ would have me to live, and that means to love and forgive above all else. It means to stand firm on the truth of His word and not just what my parents taught me or what preachers have said from the pulpit. I must stand on what God himself has revealed to me through prayer and study, by verifying for myself those things that someone else has said.
There is a Christian battle cry today and it is ignorant and idiotic. It is bitter, hurtful and mean. It is condemning, and Jesus was never any of those things. We need to start loving more. We need to stop hating the sin but loving the sinner. It is time to forgive the sin and love the sinner. That’s what we are called to do. That should be our true battle cry.
I pray that all of us, especially people of faith, will have our eyes and hearts opened to the truth that love builds bridges. Love tears down walls. Love allows people to listen and softens them so it is easier for that “still, small voice” to touch them. I pray that we will finally stop trying to scream the truth and just simply start living it.