Christian….what does that mean? I guess I may have never thought this was a question that needed to be answered, but here is why I ask. I was talking the other day with a longtime friend of mine. He didn’t grow up with ‘religious’ parents, so all he got was a heavy dose of southern civil religion – which may or may not be that friendly to actual transformative encounters with God. Well my friend and I were talking about what you might call global issues or things that matter, but for both of us they are the reasons we lose sleep at night. After sitting there for a while and mourning the breaking point feeling we shared he asked a question, “I know you are bound to have an explanation, but you seem to be too observant and care too much to be a Christian.” Underneath that question is something I think the church in America needs to think about and hopefully respond to in a positive way.
When the growing segment of the American population with no attachment to the church think a ‘Christian’ they think of a very particular strand of the faith when. ‘Christian’ equals that segment that manages to get huge amount of face time and have even managed to become a cultural stereotype of ignorance, fanatical nationalism, crusader mentality, and compassionless judgment. I’m not sure that the stereotype is accurate to all visible conservative evangelicals, but the crazies do get enough money to stay on TV and radio waves around the nation. In response to my friend I made a case that the gospel not only acknowledged the realities that worried us, but responds to them and calls the followers of Jesus to do the same. He asked why in all the hours of playing drinking games to TV preachers all he knew was the God took his frustration out on Jesus and this gave you ticket to heaven and a means to worldly success if you signed up. “Christianity seems to be a way to avoid the world’s ills and wash your hands of the situation in the name of God,” my friend said “and that is just intolerable.”
After this conversation I decided that there is not one Christian faith, but a multiplicity of Christianities. The one I am committed to and seek after is the one that takes Jesus’ message seriously and proclaims a God who is love for every one.
By the end of the conversation my friend said, “if what you said about Jesus is true then I can understand wanting to follow him and not giving up on God.” So I ask myself again, what does Christian mean? I am not sure, but in the mean time there is fiercely loving Jewish man calling me to follow.