1. They aren’t Christ, they’re Christ followers.
Okay, so that’s the most obvious, simplest reason, which I needed to get out of the way before we could continue. For all of the tossing about of the term “Christ-like,” the design of Christianity is that there is one Christ, one Savior, sent to provide us with the grace we need precisely because we are the opposite of Christ-like.
And yet most Christians will tell you that they’re striving to live like Christ or at the very least striving to strive, hoping to get there, aware of the fact that as Christians we’re meant to be salt and light in the world.
So where do we go wrong? Because the fact of the matter is, we do. Often. Horribly so. I’ve had more conversations recently that include an explanation of why I refuse to leave the church and/or a plea to someone else to not leave the church than I’d like to admit. And none of these conversations have anything to do with some larger establishment concern or denominational constraint. They have simply to do with people. People hurting people. Soul crushing, life altering hurt.
2. We expect more of Christians.
Maybe it’s because many Christians operate from their cozy location in a self-constructed ivory tower, posting, sharing, and forwarding judgmental content that can’t help but make us assume they must not live in glass houses if they’re throwing such heavy, jagged stones.
Or maybe it’s because Christians are asked – no, commanded – to expect more of themselves and each other, especially if not primarily when it comes to the treatment of others.
“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Whoever loves God must also love his brother.” – 1 John 4:7 and 21
“Let us encourage one another…” – Hebrews 10:25
“Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” – Colossians 3:13
“Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us…” – Ephesians 5:1,2
“The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” – Galatians 5:14
“Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” – Romans 15:7
“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.” Romans 12:10
“This is my command: Love each other.” – John 15:17
These verses are the tip of the instructive iceberg. Quickly skimming over these words is enough to show why anyone would reasonably expect their most loving interactions to occur inside the walls of the church with those who have committed and professed to following Jesus’ very clear commands. When you receive anything less than love from a Christian, you are automatically suffering the opposite of your expectation. How can you be anything other than hurt?
3. Christians tell us to expect more of them.
Growing up, my family attended a church that prominently flew the Christian flag in the front of the sanctuary. We sang “Onward Christian Soldiers,” and long before anyone put the acronym WWJD on a bracelet, we proudly let others know who we were and that we were in a battle to save souls.
But as a pastor said just last week in his sermon, Christians are the only army who shoot their own wounded.
Online this message of otherness translates into “Jesus follower,” “Christ-focused,” “Christian mom,” showing up in Twitter bios and blog about pages. A married male friend once told me that he received more private online advances from married women with those words in their bios than from any others.
Expect more of me.
Be shocked by my behavior.
4. We re-live old church hurts through current Christian encounters.
Remember that church I grew up in that boldly waved the flag of Christianity? It also had a pastor for a short time who cheated on his taxes putting himself, the treasurer, and the church in a precarious situation. Churches are filled with imperfect humans and many who grew up in the church have wounds that may or may not have healed. I know one family who moves from church to church, leaving each one in a swirl of upset, hoping for more from the next, finding themselves hurt again as they continue their personal pattern. Perhaps each new complaint is fully justified and upsetting in its own right, but could it also be that new hurts are magnified by the scars of the past?
While I grew up knowing God’s love, I also grew up hearing sermons filled with hellfire and brimstone. I was sure that the people filling the pews around me were perfect, my young soul the only sinner, God’s love overshadowed by his vengeance. I drifted away from Christianity in college, and did not drift back until I became a mother. One of my first adult interactions with a group of people proudly claiming their Christianity came when I was asked to promote a Christian blog conference. When I suggested that perhaps I could speak at that conference in exchange for my free promotion, I was told that I wasn’t “Christian enough.” It was incredibly hurtful and drove me to float back out to sea and away from the online Christian community. While the behavior of that person was inappropriate, I know that her words hurt partly because they played into that childhood experience of feeling unworthy of God’s love and grace.
5. Churches are filled with broken people.
A guy I know has a couple of close friends he calls “the atheists.” To be fair, one is more an agnostic, but the larger point is that they are most definitely not Christians. He also describes them as having “smiles that wrap all the way around their heads.” Life seems to be going well for them. They seemingly had pleasant childhoods and have grown into well-adjusted adults. They’ve found professional success, financial security, and have a lovely group of friends and family. All of this drives him mad as he tries and fails repeatedly to live like Christ (see reason #1) while they pour another glass of wine, enjoy themselves, and sleep peacefully each night.
The truth is that they’ve surely got their stuff just like all of us do, but some people really do seem to drift along through life, happily avoiding all calamities and living a peaceful, pleasant existence. Unfortunately, it often takes a tragedy, a crutch, a moment of rock bottom to drive those without faith to seek a higher power. And so it is that churches are filled with broken people.
Remember those people in my church back home who were perfect, pure and without sin? Of course they weren’t. They simply wore masks of perfection, and I was a naive child who didn’t know any better. Many of us who warm our little chosen area of a pew each week do so because we desperately need the Lord. We need His grace and mercy and are running hard after that often elusive Christ-like living. So when you, too, come to the church to find a little slice of grace and mercy for yourself, you’ve got to go through us. The broken. The downtrodden. The fallen.
And guess what. Sometimes we still mess up and people get hurt.
6. Living “in the world not of the world” is a slippery slope.
If you’ve spent any amount of time around Christians or are one yourself, you’ve heard a plethora of Christianese. Some of my favorites include prayers for traveling mercies (does this mean light traffic?), messages of thanks for refreshing rain (there’s always a silver lining), and lots of talk about discernment, intentionality, and journeys. Lots of journeys. We’re all on journeys.
Another one you’ve likely heard is that Christians should be in the world, not of the world. You won’t actually find this phrase in the Bible despite the fact that Christians love to toss it around. Guilty as charged. There is plenty of scripture to support the phrase “not of the world,” and I suppose living in the world is a given. So what does “in the world, not of the world” mean, and what does this have to do with Christians hurting people?
Reason six is honestly a neatly wrapped package containing reasons two and five with a little bit of Business 101 mixed in for good measure. When you enter into fellowship (buzzword!) with Christians, you set the bar in a different place than when you interact with, say, members of your PTA, your homeowner’s association, or the restaurant that served you cold food. Again. You don’t anticipate that personal hurts and hangups are going to come into play, but we’re humans so they very much do. It’s a very “of the world” problem when the people you’re dealing with are protecting their egos and needs at your expense.
And remember those pews that I keep mentioning sitting in? Someone had to buy them and install them and has to cool and heat the room they’re in. As much as we don’t want them to be, churches need to be run in many ways like a business. Very of the world. Very bottom line.
And yes, protecting the interests of the business often comes at the expense of the customers.
7. The simple call to love is anything but simple.
Some people are jerks. There. I said it. Some people are compulsive liars. Some are selfish, lazy, flat out cranky. And some of those people are Christians.
Awhile back a friend introduced me to the acronym EGR. It stands for Extra Grace Required, and I have to say that I sit firmly in this category from time to time. I get anxious and impatient, I become passionate and am like a dog with a bone until I’ve found resolution. I’m a top-notch fixer, which is often mistaken for a busy-body or a drama queen.
I’ve got a Christian friend who lies frequently and avoids (people, tasks, the truth) like it’s his calling in life. I’ve dealt with the won’t budge or be flexible Christians, the passive-aggressive Christians, the judge-not-lest-ye-be-judged-but-won’t-stop-judging-themselves Christians, the only when it’s convenient for me Christians, the I don’t really want to bring Christ to anymore people Christians, the forget mercy hearts just suck it up! Christians. I’m the I’m-flawed-but-please-could-the-rest-of-you-be-less-flawed-and-love-on-me Christian.
We’re a motley crew, aren’t we? And sometimes we struggle to love each other despite the fact that we should be loving all over each other all the time.
Have you ever watched a child walk up to a parent and reach out, only to have that parent turn away? Remember that look on the little one’s face? Devastation. Sadness. Confusion.
This is what happens when you turn to a Christian for love and they turn away.
8. Christians are afraid to be associated with the sin they’re fighting in themselves.
Okay, so this is a big one. This one deserves it’s own blog post. Or dissertation. Or book series.
Christians certainly don’t own the rights to this one, but they’ve perfected it and have even given it its own Christianese statement.
Ever heard “Love the sinner, hate the sin?”
It’s bogus. Dare I say utter bullshit?
This sentence is not contained in any of the sixty-six books of the Bible. It’s not in there even a little bit. There’s not even a King James version of it, “Thou shalt loveth the sinner, but thou shalt feel strongly against the sin.”
No. Not there.
Instead, the Bible urges us over and over and over again to search ourselves only. Let’s take a little look-see…
“You who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.” – Romans 2:1
“But I will pass judgment on you because you say, ‘I have not sinned.'” – Jeremiah 2:35
“And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” – Micah 6:8
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” – Matthew 7:3
“He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” – Proverbs 28:13
“Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” – Romans 15:7
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” – 1 John 1:9
“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” – James 5:16
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.” – 1 Peter 5:6
Perhaps this is more fitting: Love the sinner, hate the sin in yourself.
And do you know where most Christians (people) are most likely to spot their sin?
In someone else.
Perhaps this is why so many have felt like lepers, praying for healing and compassion yet feeling only the fear and condemnation of those around them.
Lord, thank you for the grace that you have given us, a cloak of righteousness that can not be removed, mercy and compassion that we have not earned but need only to accept in order to receive. Please move in the hearts of Christians so that they can truly be a light in this dark world and bring healing to those around them rather than irreparable hurt. Inspire us to search our own hearts and actions rather than judging those around us, and use us so that your will may be done. Amen.