"I hate Christians."
One might be surprised to learn how many times in the course of a week I hear this sentiment expressed.
What is even more surprising is that it is most often the response I get when people ask me what I do or how I'm planning to spend my weekend. Because on Sundays, I have an internship in a church. Where I teach and preach and occasionally lead worship services.
This to me would be like walking into a vineyard and declaring, "I hate vintners!"
Or meeting an auto mechanic and expressing a disdain for automobiles.
Or meeting someone who breeds Irish Wolfhounds and exclaiming, "I hate dogs and their owners!"
Which, frankly, is really rude.
"Oh, this is your passion and something to which you devote your life? This is something that shapes and structures your life? This is a part of your identity in the world? Well, for that, I hate you."
And all because I answered the question, "What are your plans this weekend?" with an honest, "Well, on Saturday, I'm writing the sermon I've been kicking around my brain all week, and on Sunday I'm preaching. That's basically it."
Since when did it become appropriate or acceptable to declare worthy of hate a portion of another person's life that does not concern you or overlap with yours? At what point did it become okay to hate someone simply because they talk about the bible, in a church, on a Sunday morning?
Inevitably, this declaration of hate for Christians, which ostensibly extends to me as I identify as Christian, is followed up with, "But not you. You're different. The exception. You're not super-judgey and hypocritical like the rest of them."
The point of this post, however, is not about how inordinately rude any number of people I know happen to be when it comes to practitioners of the Christian faith.
Perhaps most surprising is the fact that I kind of agree with them. And I'm not alone.
When people say, "I hate Christians," I often nod and tell them, "Yeah. So do I."
There are few people I know in this world who are as judgmental, ungracious, unforgiving, mean-spirited, hateful, hurtful, hypocritical, and just plain cruel as Christians.
While it is true that all of those people I meet on a regular basis who declare their hatred for Christians are being judgmental, ungracious, unforgiving, mean-spirited, hateful, hurtful, hypocritical, and just plain cruel toward Christians, the problem is that the reason they respond to Christians in this way is because they've seen or experienced Christians behaving in this very fashion not toward a single group of people, but toward everyone who doesn't fit in their group of people.
My experiences with most churches and Christians is not that they are judgmental only toward non-Christians, but that they are judgmental toward everyone whose Christian life does not look the way they believe it should look.
I love liturgy. I love the corporate recitation of prayers. I love the corporate confession of creeds. I love old hymns. I love acolytes. I love vestments. I love ritual. I love the lectionary.
And most of the Christians I know hate all of this. They declare it empty and meaningless. They believe that people who attend these churches do not experience God and have no love for Christ. They insist that these churches are dead, that the Holy Spirit is not active and alive in these places. It's all about looking good on a Sunday morning.
These Christians attend churches with contemporary Christian praise music instead of hymns. They have forty minute long rambling sermons that touch on the text in a cursory fashion but which do not have any rigorous academic exegesis of the text behind them.
And the Christians who attend highly liturgical churches condemn these new religious movements as being interested only in putting on a show and making people feel good for an hour without ever teaching them anything of importance. These churches, they'll say, are frivolous and meaningless, without depth. It's all about feeling good on a Sunday morning.
The problem with this is that both groups are arrogant, prideful, egocentric assholes.
These groups attempt to universalize their experience. They take the expression of faith that is meaningful to them and they declare that all other expressions of faith are lesser or insincere. They believe their own experience is the only genuine experience of God, and if someone else does not experience God in that way then there is something wrong with that person. It never seems to occur to them that perhaps other people have different preferences and personalities, different passions and expressions of faith that are just as powerful and just as meaningful and just as divine to that individual as their own is to themselves.
This inherently sets up a situation in which we have "real" Christians and "other" Christians.
This is deeply problematic.
Because once we start cutting people out of the "real" faith based on their liturgical preference, we begin to cut people out of the "real" faith based on their income, their waist circumference, their hair style, their skin condition and color, their social skills or lack thereof. We become a community of individuals who declare that we believe in Jesus, and you should to! So long as your thin enough, pretty enough, white enough, but not too white, wealthy enough, popular enough, healthy enough.... And the list goes on.
The first problem with this is that no one will ever be enough anything to be worthy of the love of God. Rather, in the words of Desmond Tutu, "God loves you just as you are. God loves you not because you are good. No, God love you, period. God loves us not because we are lovable. No, we are lovable precisely because God loves us." We will never be good enough, lovable enough, worthy enough of the love of God or anyone, because love is not measured out by degrees that are dependent upon who we are and what we do. Love is given freely and unconditionally.
The second problem with all of this is that as Christians, we are declaring that we followers of Christ. We choose to believe that some Jewish man in first century Palestine was the Son of God, the Messiah, God incarnate, and that we are followers and imitators of this guy called Jesus. Except I cannot find a single passage in any of the gospels in which Jesus tells people that they have to be smart enough, thin enough, pretty enough, wealthy enough, clean enough, healthy enough to be worthy of being in his presence. At no point that I can find does he ever send anyone away from him who earnestly desired to know him more and to learn from him. When we turn away others because they don't look like the kind of Christian we believe is the "right" kind of Christian, we become really poor representations of Christ.
The last problem, and perhaps the most offensive to me, is that this kind of exclusion is incredibly damaging to those we are othering, and as such, it's incredibly damaging to God. Again, from Desmond Tutu, "Our partnership with God comes from the fact that we are made in God's image. Each and every human being is created in the same divine image. That is an incredible, a staggering assertion about human beings." If we are made in the image of God, does it not follow that in marring and wounding others, in excluding them for whatever reason, we are marring and wounding the very image of God? We are excluding an expression of the divine image from our presence. How can that not wound the very God who made and loves each of us? And if we truly are made in the image of God, how can that not wound and mar....us?
I see this happening all the time. And it angers me.
I see this happening all the time. And it hurts my heart.
I see this happening all the time. And it convicts me because I'm guilty of it at times, too.
Sometimes, more days than not in fact, I want to quit the Christian faith, to leave the church, to quit hanging out with Christians on Sunday mornings and the rare occasion in between.
But then I think, "If I do, I won't get to see the image of God in them, and they won't get to see the image of God in me, and we'll both be poorer for it."
A friend of mine called me recently who was dealing with this very issue. "I hate Christians!" he declared. "I don't want to work with them anymore!"
And who could blame him?
But I hope he continues. I hope resolution is brought to his situation. I hope he carries on. Because otherwise, no one will get to see the image of God as it's manifest in him.
And the image of God in him is a beautiful thing to behold.