“I’m not a Christian because Christians are hypocrites”
“I’m not a Christian because Christians are hypocrites,” the woman said as we tiptoed carefully around the subject of religion.
Although I am a Christian, I’m not a very effective evangelist, so I don’t generally dive headlong into religious discussions with unbelievers. But I couldn’t allow her comment to slip by unremarked. I responded, “There are judgmental, hypocritical Christians and kind, compassionate Christians. There are also judgmental, hypocritical atheists and kind, compassionate atheists.”
Spurning Christianity because Christians are hypocrites is akin to spurning Christianity because some wars are fought in the name of religion. Both arguments rest on the assumption that Christianity’s validity rests on the way people act rather than on Jesus himself.
It reminds me of a saying in Buddhism: “Don’t confuse the finger pointing at the moon with the moon itself.”
If we’re ready to dismiss Christianity based on the negative activity of some Christians, we should also be willing to concede that Christianity has been a major force for good in the world.
Faith as a force for good
Historian Will Durant, the author of The History of Civilization, referred to great art as a child of triumphant faith. The Sistine Chapel has on its walls and ceilings some of the greatest art ever produced in the western world. Books and documents that might have been obliterated in the bloodbath of war were preserved in monasteries and churches.
In addition to inspiring great art and preserving great literature, faith has played a major part in civilizing the barbaric aspects of human nature. Monks were responsible for cultivating the wilderness, draining swamps, cutting roads, erecting schools and organizing charities. The concept of universal human rights and equality stem from the biblical idea that all people are created in the image of God.
Jesus elevated women in a first-century culture that was decidedly patriarchal. Women had little access to property except through a husband, any money women earned belonged to their husbands, and women were not permitted to sit with men in worship. Yet Jesus spoke with women in public, accepted women as disciples, and taught women about scripture. In gospel accounts of the Resurrection, women disciples are the first witnesses to the Resurrection.
An important aspect of Jesus’s ministry was his emphasis on helping the neediest members of society; an emphasis that led to Mother’s Theresa’s work, the Salvation Army, religious hospitals and other church-supported charities.
Jesus’s message, if followed, would be the solution to many of the world’s problems.
He instructed us to love others as well as ourselves (Matthew 22:43–40), to forgive and not hold grudges (Matthew 5:23,24), to live generously and graciously toward others, and to become great by living a life of service.
I cringe when I hear of someone committing a heinous crime and professing a religious motive.“If we claim to have fellowship with Him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.” (1 John 1:6)
Gandhi, who said “If it weren’t for Christians I’d be a Christian,” wrote, “I have not been able to move beyond the belief that Jesus was one of the great teachers of mankind.”
Gandhi’s words, along with the many complaints I hear about Christians, lead me to realize how imperative it is for Christians to open our hearts to Jesus’s transforming spirit by living generously and compassionately. We can’t allow our actions to dilute the effectiveness of our witness.
The world needs what we can offer
Our world is in great need of compassion and generosity. Those of us who enjoy the freedom to express faith openly are uniquely positioned to live our faith in a way that inspires and enriches the lives of others. As Gandhi wrote in his autobiography, “A virtue achieves its potential only in its application and it ceases to have any use if it serves no purpose in daily life.”
Many in the world are not so uniquely privileged to act on their faith. In China, Christian churches have been bulldozed, Christian crosses torn down, and Muslim minorities detained and imprisoned. In a New York Times article written this week, Paul Mozur says, “In a major ethical leap for the tech world, Chinese start-ups have built algorithms that the government uses to track members of a largely Muslim minority group.”
Boko Haram continues to attack both Christians and Muslims, bombing churches and mosques, kidnapping children and terrorizing people throughout Nigeria.
In Iran, authorites have raided churches and imprisoned church leaders. And the list goes on.
What does all this mean for those of us with the freedom to worship as we please? Jesus said, “Great gifts mean great responsibilities; greater gifts, greater responsibilities.” In more traditional biblical language, the passage in Luke 12:48 reads: “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required.”
Andy Stanley in his book Irresistible says we have our marching orders. “We’re to be prepared with a verbal explanation for why we’ve chosen to follow Jesus. And while we make our reasons known, we’re to live in such a way that our behavior underscores rather than undermines our message.”
We won’t be perfect. We’ll still fall short. We’ll still be criticized. But if we’re trying with all our heart to live a life characterized by service, grace and faith, some people will see that Jesus has a message worth listening to; a message that can change the world.
People of faith should make it difficult for unbelievers to condemn Christianity on the basis of our actions.