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Being Christian and Meaning It (February 16, 2018)

There’s an old joke about a police officer following a car being driven by a most impatient woman. She honked angrily at some drivers, flipped other people the finger, yelled at pedestrians and other drivers. Finally, the officer pulled her over, and asked for her driver’s license and registration. Perplexed, she asked, “What did I do wrong? Why did you pull me over?”

He responded, “I saw your bumper sticker, ‘Honk if you love Jesus!’, and I saw all your rude behaviour while you were driving. It didn’t match up, so I figured the car must be stolen.”

A friend of mine recently wrote a column with a similar theme. Trevor is an Anglican priest who serves in Kelowna. He writes, “There are times when I don’t want to call myself a Christian. Not because I’m ashamed of my faith, but because the people who use that label are often people with whom I don’t want to be associated.”

I know the feeling. Pardon the language, but the thing I can’t understand is how you can call yourself a Christian and act like an asshole. It happens all the time, and it just blows my mind.

How can you call yourself a Christian and treat other people like trash? How can you claim to follow Jesus, yet treat others unkindly, aggressively, rudely, or roughly? How can you follow the one who calls us to love our neighbours as ourselves and belittle or dismiss those who disagree with us and try to intimidate and bully them?

Trevor continues by writing that to be a Christian means to be a “follower of Christ, and I want to be a follower of Christ. Christ loved when it was painful and called out the powerful for their abuse of those without power. He put away the gun and was executed. He showed that there are no boundaries to God’s love.

“‘Christian’ is a word that this world still needs. What it means is something this world desperately still needs. I don’t want this word to lose all its meaning. I don’t want to cede it to people whose primary agenda is resisting social change or reinforcing existing power structures.”

I can’t say it any better.

I understand all the debates about what’s wrong with Christianity. I get it! But seriously, isn’t this the biggest one? Isn’t the biggest problem with Christians today this disconnected sense between what Christians say and what they do?

I’ve written before about the terrible witness Christians make when we are stained with a reputation for being against everything—against the LGBTQ community; against women exercising free choice over their bodies; against women in leadership; against sex or dancing or drinking; against … well you name it. That’s not what Christianity is about.

Trevor reminds us that “following Christ means imitating Jesus. It transcends ideology, political party, ethnicity, or anything else. It means believing that God is at the centre of all things, and that the best expression of God’s love is the self–giving of Christ. It means that I’m called to act as the servant of all.”

Trevor begins a list:

  • “if you’re sacrificing the well–being of another for your own, you aren’t being a Christian;
  • “if you’re remaining silent in the face of cruelty and hate, you aren’t being a Christian;
  • “if you’re ignoring the poor and marginalized, you aren’t being a Christian;
  • “if you’re hurling vitriol at those you disagree with, you aren’t being a Christian;
  • “if you’re seeking worldly power, you aren’t being a Christian;
  • “if you’re seeking the suffering of any, you aren’t being a Christian.”

It’s a good start. What would you add to the list?

Like Trevor, I know that “I don’t follow as faithfully as I should. But my failures don’t change what it means to follow Christ.” Indeed, my failures spur me to confess, repent, and seek grace and strength to begin again.

And that, dear reader, is part of the reason I’m grateful for the opportunity and gift of Lent. I’ll have more to say about that next week.

Rev. Yme Woensdregt