What is “Christian”?

Rene Descartes talked about the color teal. You can tell someone what is blue and what is green, but they won’t understand what “teal” is unless you tell them what it isn’t. They need a boundary. You have to show them what is no longer blue enough but just green enough that it is teal. For instance, peacock green is teal. Emerald green is not.

The church is the same way. We have reached a point where it is important to draw the line between what is Christ-like and what is not.

There are people around today that are calling themselves Christians. They band together and say they are part of a church. Perhaps you know the group I’m referring to. I refuse to name them because I refuse to give them any more press. That is what they thrive on. They are like bad toddlers. They love attention and will resort to throwing a terrible tantrum. They throw their tantrums by protesting at military funerals. They carry signs that say things like “God hates (fill in the blank)” They are illogical in their actions. They are an embarrassment. There is nothing Christian about their actions.

Now maybe they are doing the rest of the church a favor. Let’s go with the idea of the Church as the Body of Christ. The apostle Paul talked about how each part does what it has to do and it is not for the other parts to feel jealous. The head can’t do anything without the arms and legs to take it where it needs to go. The arms and legs can’t do anything without the head directing them. All the parts of the body are mutually dependant.

Perhaps this group is the asshole. Every body has one, so why not this Body? It is important to get the waste out. It is important to remove the parts that are not helpful. Perhaps by their over-the-top actions they are showing us the worst we can be. Perhaps by viewing why they think they think that the term “Christian” applies to them, we can see how far off the track we have gotten.

The Christian church has gotten a lot of bad press recently, and it is its own fault. To many non-Christians, the word “Christian” is synonymous with self-centered, ignorant, and judgmental. This is entirely the opposite of what Jesus intended. He wanted us to be servants – to be His body in this world. He wanted us to do God’s will, in the same way that He did. He wanted us to be submissive to God and to treat everyone as if they are our neighbors.

Everyone. We are to treat everyone as our neighbors. Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, gay, homeless, drug addicted, mentally ill – you name it. Everyone who is not us. That is part of the meaning of neighbor – if they were part of our family, they would be living with us. Neighbors are everyone else, but they are close enough that they are still part of us. They aren’t necessarily friends, but they are fellow humans. We have a relationship with them, often by accident. We don’t choose our neighbors, we choose the house.

And here’s the biggest thing I want to try to get across. Not everyone has to be Christian, or follow Christian rules. WE have to be Christian. We have to serve them as Christ would. We do not have the right to impose our belief system on them, especially in the laws we create. To expect that other people follow a particular religious belief system that is not their own is exactly the same as Sharia law. Americans are deeply concerned that Muslim-influenced laws will begin to creep into our society. We don’t want to be forced to pray towards Mecca five times a day. We don’t want men to not be allowed to shave their beards. We don’t want women to be forced to cover themselves from head to toe.

Then why is it OK for Christians to try to make laws that push their belief system on others? Abortion. Gay marriage. The death penalty. These are hot-button issues. People are varied in their opinions. While one person’s viewpoint is perfectly valid according to their belief system, it is opposite another person’s also perfectly valid viewpoint. What I believe is for me to follow. I do not have the right to force you to follow my beliefs.

Take abortion for instance. I personally am against abortion. I see it as murder of an innocent. But – I will not take away someone else’s right to it. I feel that every child should be a wanted child. What I would rather focus on is better sex-education and better contraception. I believe that nobody ever wants to go through the ordeal of abortion – so I’m more interested in them never having to make that decision.

As for gay marriage, I’m for it. I’ve never understood the reasons that Christians have against gay marriage. If you don’t want to be married to a gay person, then don’t be married to a gay person. This seems simple enough. The same can be said of abortion – if you are against abortion, don’t have one.

I think what may be the issue with many Christians who are against gay marriage is that they are against homosexuality in general. They quote from Paul’s letters and from the Old Testament about injunctions against homosexuality. But they seem to miss the fact that Jesus, our Lord, says nothing about homosexuality, and says a lot about not judging other people. It isn’t our place to tell others what we think they are doing wrong. It is our place to do what we know to be right, and part of that is to show love. There is nothing loving about telling someone they are going to hell. There is nothing loving about excluding someone from your family or fellowship because of who they love.

Another issue is the idea of women in church. For many denominations, women cannot be ministers. This is following on the ideas of the apostle Paul, not of Jesus. Now, I’m not a Paulian. I’m a Christian. So if what Paul says adds to the message of Christ, then I’m for it. If it takes away from the message of Christ, then it is not helpful. I think it is important for people to read the Bible for themselves and to use the brain that God gave them, rather than expect their minister or their denomination to tell them how to think. When I read the Gospels for myself I found a lot about love and acceptance and not judging. I read a lot of stories about Jesus appreciating the service and ministry of women.
The bad part is that the loudest people get all the attention. They are hostile and rude, and are sullying the name of Jesus. They are bearing false witness to who Jesus is. But they are reminding us that we need to be able to think for ourselves and to make a point of countering their bad actions with good actions. We need to get out the word that Jesus came to show love, and we do that by showing love. I don’t hate the rude people who say they are Christians. I pray for them.