Lately I’ve noticed my hesitancy to use certain terms or words to describe my faith. The words don’t mean the same thing anymore. Over the years they have either lost their meaning, or a formerly positive association has turned negative. I realize that what I’m about to say here is likely to be controversial, but that’s never stopped me before.
For much of my life I shied away from calling myself a Christian due to the implications of how I should live my life. During those times my hypocrisy was quite visible even to the unassuming eye. Eventually my faith strengthened and my life became a more accurate reflection of that faith. For the first time I was able to proudly proclaim my Christianity. However, as the years passed, things evolved, my faith and understanding grew deeper, and I’ve begun to realize the word “Christian” no longer has the same significance and meaning it once did.
Christianity, in its simplest form, is based on the life, teachings and example of Jesus Christ; and I want to put a particular emphasis on the word “example”. However, when someone tells me they are a “Christian”, I often get a sick feeling in my stomach. My mind starts to conjure up images of televangelists preying on the weak and the poor and greedy African pastors preaching the “Prosperity Gospel”, luring their victims in with the promise of riches in return for their soul. I picture the wealthy American church spending $55 Million on a new building equipped with a Starbucks and state of the art fitness center that turns a blind eye to the poverty stricken community just two blocks away. There are the “holier than thou” Christians that make you feel inferior for not going to their church or for doing anything contrary to their church doctrine. Then there is an interesting breed of seemingly masochistic Christians believing God put us here to suffer and live in shame. The list goes on and on, but none of these stereotypes are a reflection of Christianity.
“Christianity” should refer to a life dedicated to the principles and example of Jesus Christ, which is far from complicated. Whether or not you believe Jesus was the son of God, just another great profit, or a fairy tale, His principles make sense. He believed in love, serving others, equality, and justice. And he didn’t preach to anyone. He led by example. True leaders inspire a following, they don’t demand it. The Bible speaks of our responsibility to serve the poor, disadvantaged and oppressed over 2,000 times. Jesus himself addressed poverty more than 30 times just between the books of Matthew – Acts, and he didn’t say, “go and help those people”. He didn’t say much of anything at all. He lived with the poor, the leapers, and the prostitutes. He washed their feet. And he didn’t need a committee approval or a budget meeting to do it. He just loved and served, ultimately to the death.
The great Martin Luther King once said, “Justice at its best is love correcting all that stands against love”. Jesus did that. He used love to win the battle without a fight. That principle was paramount to the teachings of Sun Tsu’s “The Art of War”. Imagine a world where all of our so-called Christian pastors stepped down from their shiny pulpits and went out to serve the poor and oppressed. Imagine if they led by example and inspired congregations to follow that example. Imagine the word “church” referring to a body of people, and those people leaving their multi million dollar complexes and joining in community, despite their differences in race, creed and economic status. Imagine if the church wasn’t about a building at all, but embodied the example of Jesus, the original ubuntu revolutionary.
My Christianity has been hijacked. A group of people calling themselves Christians took it and turned it into a self serving “religion” designed to cater to their need for acceptance, and security, and self righteousness; their key to the pearly gates. Am I a Christian? Sure. But at this point, I’d prefer to be recognized as a follower of Christ.
I know many great pastors that are of this same school of thought, and they are living it, not just pointing a finger from the pulpit. I’m not bashing churches or pastors; I’m generalizing to make a point. And if you’re driven by love as the ultimate weapon against evil, tyranny, and inequality, I think you understand.