For those of you who are subscribers to Outreach, I just got my issue yesterday and I’ve already read this article: http://outreachmagazine.com/Library/features/MA07ftrILikeJesusNottheChurch.asp. I liked it a great deal; author Dan Kimball did a good job of summarizing the way us unchurched types think of Jesus versus the church.
There’s something he missed, though. He talks about how the church is perceived negatively; organized, political, judgmental, intolerant, homophobic, etc. Then he discusses how those perceptions are not necessarily accurate, and suggests ways for the churched to get that across to the unchurched. Most importantly, he suggests that these perceptions come from encounters with street preachers and the media, not from real Christians, and that therefore it’s important for real Christians to engage with non-Christians so as to counteract them.
But I don’t think you can separate the two. I have many Christian friends, and I adore them. They are among the finest people I know and I admire the way their religion helps them to be better, stronger and kinder people than I am. But I can’t ignore the other element of Christianity: the angry street preachers, the political organizations. I suppose this is one of my reasons for being agnostic. I can appreciate the beliefs but I can’t ignore the ones who share them, yet use them as a bludgeon against those who are different from them.
Here’s a disturbing example, which shows the link between the political and religious views of the intolerant:
Focus on the Family founder James C. Dobson and other conservative Christian leaders are calling for the National Association of Evangelicals to silence or fire an official who has urged evangelicals to take global warming seriously.
In a letter this week to the board of the NAE, which claims 30 million members, Dobson and his two dozen co-signers said the Rev. Richard Cizik, the NAE’s vice president for government relations, has waged a “relentless campaign” that is “dividing and demoralizing” evangelicals. — Washington Post, March 3, “Evangelical Angers Peers With Call for Action on Global Warming.”
Now, whatever you think of global warming isn’t the issue here. It’s that James Dobson and Co. think that their religious views give them the right, not to argue with this guy, but to actually silence him. Richard Cizik feels strongly that the Bible commands Christians to take care of the environment, so what gives Dobson and his friends the right to say that he should just shut up? And why should those of us who admire Jesus but find Christians scary from time to time change our minds when he feels free to pull stunts like this?
This is what I think Kimball missed in his Outreach article. Those of us who find certain Christians scary would probably trust Christians more if they did more to speak out against intolerant Christians. Is anyone going to write to James Dobson and tell him he’s wrong to try and silence a fellow Christian? Does anyone write to that nut Lou Sheldon, who protests at the funerals of gay people with signs that say “God Hates Fags” to tell him he’s an embarrassment to a God who does nothing of the sort? Do kinder Christians than these ever form associations for the sole purpose of defending Christianity from those who use it to whack others over the head? If Christians can’t speak up against the intolerant among them, why should non-Christians believe that there’s room for them in the same tent?