never hearing our voices

it should not amaze me, but it does; it should not cause me to be concerned, but it does; it should not sadden me, but it does. what can do all that? the reality that the church is simply not hearing the voices of those who are calling for change - and what amazes me the most is how the church puts its collective head in the sand and never even notices that things have changed - and yea, i have to admit that it hurts a little.

recently a friend or mine, bob carlton, posted some very interesting information via my facebook account - he was quoting some recent barna research done on "non-church" people between the ages of 16-29. the servey asked, "what is your current perception of christianity?" here is how they responded:

91% said antihomosexual
87% said judgmental
85% said hypocritical
78% said old-fashioned
75% said too involved in politics
72% said out of touch with reality
70% said insensitive to others

think about this, churches are all that, and more, to those outside the church - man, do we need better pr.

think about this for a second, with the exception of the homosexual issue [and we can debate that at another time - even though some will only focus on that topic] none of those things are "doctrinal" - they are how christians treat others, how christians are seen treating others and how christians interact in the culture at large - with the exception of one thing, this has nothing to do with what christians believe, but how christians act - or does it have something to do with what christians believe? think about that. if you believed in love, how would you act? if you believed in forgiveness, how would you act? if you believed in grace, how would you act?

the idea that christians are seen as judgemental and hypocritical is amazing to me because as a follower of jesus i know he told us not to be either. we are boldly told to not be that way in scripture - jesus, you know the guy we claim to follow, tells us over and over to not judge others and to stop being so hypocritical - but those in the church simply ignore that call and say, "well, we are only human and not able to change" - if that is the case, if there is no change from what you were before you started to follow, why should anyone follow? what value is a faith that does not call us to change, and change us? what value is a faith that simply seems no different from the world around?

what the church fails to notice is that people see those who claim to be christian as "little christs" - when they treat people like crap, others think then that their god is telling them to treat people like crap - it's a reality. if you claim to follow the teachings of jesus, and you treat people like crap then the teachings of jesus must tell others to treat people like crap. how we act is how others define our God - christians do it all the time with muslims, and other faith traditions. even if you don't like the idea, if you call yourself a christian you are an ambassador of God, and people who see you and how you act define God in those terms - if you are judgemental, so is your God; if you are hypocritical, so is your God; if you are old fashion, so is your God; if you are anti-anything, so is your God; if you are out of touch with reality, so is your God; if you are insensitive to the needs of others, so is your God.

well, the stats are in and the church will do as it has done in the past - they will ignore them, deny them, and argue them as meaningless; they will take their collective heads out of the sand for just a moment and then they will close their eyes and pretend it never happened - and as they do, churches will close and the faith will become more and more irrelevant to those it is trying to reach.

what i believe will be the most amazing to me is that many in the church, many in the evangelcial church, will not read any of the stats and they will go about their day as if nothing changed - they will ignore the world around them and in their own way, in their own world, they will think they got it right - while those outside the church are laughing.


Holli said...

While I would agree with most of what you said, I also would add an idea: to put one's head in the sand may not only be done out of fear, but also out of calling.

Let me explain. On my own journey as a creative leader, there are moments when I need to listen, and listen well. There are other moments when I need to "lovingly ignore" input that seems right, and is well meaning, but will prove to the detriment of the long haul vision that burns within.

I would consider myself one of the most tolerant Christians that I know, and regularly reflect on the tolerances of ancient Christians and cultures, and present Christians and cultures, in my own studies.

While judgmentalism is a toxic -ism, when one stands for something in a contrary environment, the assumption is judgmentalism.

We don't want to be laughed at, as you say at the end of your post, because we're silly, blind and narrow. That is agreed.

But I would also contend that to stand for anything contrary to an age necessarily welcomes laughter, unacceptance and hatred.

To be laughed at for the right reason; this is a noble quest. Jesus way is indeed not always clear in the mind of the beholder, but to love ceaselessly, and care deeply about culture, one must both celebrate its beauties and challenge its brokeness.

To challenge brokeness with love, rather than vitriolic believism, is the task presented to today's follower of Jesus.

Dan Wilt said...

The above comment is noted as being from someone named Holli - it's actually from me, Dan, so there must be a glitch in the system.


Dan said...

I think this is a reasonable complaint, and a fairly safe prediction of what church leaders will do (or not do).

Recognizing, acknowledging and accepting the reality of people's perceptions is a good first step, and all too often we fail before we start. But, given this first step, what should happen next? I know you're not suggesting churches hire a PR firm (yuck!). How can we "ordinary guys in the pew" help to counter these perceptions?

Yes, we need to change and be transformed by Christ - we need to reevaluate our priorities and our treatment of the people around us. Any specific suggestions?

I also want to say that, based on my experience, the perceptions in that survey are largely inaccurate - it's a stereotype that reflects the behaviors and attitudes of loud minorities and media portrayals.

Obviously you've encountered (and been hurt by) a larger percentage of these people than I have, and I'm sorry that stuff happened to you. My experience has been different. I've known a whole lot of very nice, friendly, accepting, loving, sensitive christians (and not just people who were nice to me - people who were nice all around)

Yes, there are hypocritical, judgemental, unloving christians out there... Nobody denies that. Yes, the church needs to change radically. But just because 87% said the church is judgmental doesn't mean 87% of Christians are judgmental. That 87% of people in the survey might be thinking aout the 10% of obnoxious, mean christians...

Al said...

I think many people agree with Mohandas Ghandi:

"I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."

Society at large doesn't see Christians as "little Christs" but they certainly doubt, dismiss or reject the value of the church. While the upside is that Christ is not being dragged through the mud (as much) by these perceptions of his followers, his "bride" the church is certainly a mess.
Not only are the societal opinions of professed Christians bad but the "fruit on the tree" is not much better. Also according to Barna, divorce rates and addictions (substance, porn, etc.) are indistinguishable for Christians as they are for non-Christians. The question from those outside the church - "what's the value in believing in someone/something if it doesn't have a positive impact on your life?"
While, as Dan suggests, it may be that only 10% of Christians are obnoxious, they're newsworthy and I suspect that the 87% number represents people who would say "*most* Christians are . . ." If we try to rationalize the data ("well, we're not all that bad") churches will not take action to solve a perception problem that they don't believe is accurate.

So what to do?

A friend once pointed out to me that you cannot pour the air out of an empty glass. The only way to get the air out is to fill the glass with something else.
Along these lines, I believe that PR or even attempts to try to tell church members to not be so judgmental, hypocritical, etc. are the equivalent of trying to pour air out of the glass - it's already there and society at large is not likely to see (or admit seeing) a difference. What has to happen is that the church (that's us) needs to be filling up the glass of society with the real things of Jesus - love, compassion, justice, healing and the good news that the kingdom of God is at hand.
When we can exhibit more of Jesus' behavior than those of the Pharisees the societal perception of Christians *will* be that of "little Christs"

J said...

Christians just have to do more showing and less telling.

Belief is not enough. Intellectual assent is not enough.

People don't want talk about Jesus,
they just want to see his face.