Rev. Yme Woensdregt
I’ve had a few conversations recently with some folks who have asked me why they should bother being a Christian. They don’t see any sense in it at all and they wonder why I do. One even went so far as to say, “You’re reasonably intelligent; so why do you bother with this crap?”
Conversations like that stick in my mind. They are important signals of how people respond to Christian faith and to the church. It’s also true to say that this kind of attitude isn’t new at all. In Psalm 42, for example, we read, “As with a deadly wound in my body, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me continually, ‘Where is your God?’” We find similar taunts in other Psalms and in the prophets. It has always been difficult for people who have no faith to understand why some of us do have faith.
So I thought I’d have a little fun over these next few weeks. I’ve come up with a list of eight (almost) tongue–in–cheek reasons why you shouldn’t bother with Christianity. Then, at the end, I’ll suggest one reason why I think you should.
Regular readers will know that Christian faith is a huge part of my life. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t struggled with it. I do understand how difficult it can be for us to explore our spirituality. I understand that sometimes we’re just not sure about it. If this describes you, then in my mind you’re a normal person. Welcome to the club! Faith is a big question, and if you’re trying to figure out who you are, what you believe, and what sustains you … well, that’s a very long journey indeed.
I don’t want to manipulate you. I don’t want to disguise Christianity so that it’s somehow “easier” or more palatable. I want to write as clearly as I can about what it means to me to be a Christian. I want to try to tell it like it is, both the good stuff and the difficult stuff.
So here we go.
#1. The Church is full of hypocrites.
Yes it is. People of faith are hypocrites—myself included! A hypocrite is “a person who pretends to be what he or she is not”. It comes originally from a Greek word which means “stage actor, pretender”.
Now let me ask you, have you ever pretended to be something you’re not? Have you ever suggested to another person that you are more virtuous than you actually are?
Here’s a truth about human beings—we all fall under the banner of being a hypocrite. None of us—not a single one—ever matches our words with our actions perfectly. We all have ideals and standards which we will never be able to meet. But it is always important to hold those ideals in front of us.
#2. The Church is morally compromised.
Okay, so it’s one thing to be a hypocrite. But it seems to go so much deeper in the church. How can you possibly identify yourself with an institution which has done some terrible things? Among other things, what about the Crusades and the Inquisition? What about missionaries who spent as much time colonizing indigenous people (‘making them good subjects of European nations’) as they did preaching religion? What about residential schools? What about pedophile clergy? What about patriarchy and a lack of equality between the genders? This list could go on forever.
Again, you’re right. The church has a lot to answer for. We can’t just brush those things off, even though we might like to. We have to tell the truth about our history. Honestly, we are embarrassed and ashamed of what we have done. We can’t sweep them under the carpet.
At the same time, as you dig more deeply into the history of the church, you will also discover that Christians have done some wonderful things. It’s not all one–sided. Christians started the first hospitals, the first orphanages, and many of the first schools. Christians pioneered the abolition of slavery and prison reform. Christians have served around the world to serve the sick, feed the hungry, visit the lonely. Even today, Christians are involved all over the world in working for literacy, relief and development, justice, and medical care.
While it is true that the church has done some terrible things over its history, it is equally true that Christians have served the world and its citizens in ways that might not have happened otherwise.
The early church was known as a place of hope and help for the homeless and the poor. In cities of the Roman Empire which were filled with newcomers and strangers, the church was a place of community. In cities filled with orphans and widows, the church provided a new and expanded sense of family. In a time when society was rigidly stratified, the church welcomed everyone—the poor, the different, the lowly. In cities which had to deal with epidemics, fires and earthquakes, the church offered effective nursing services.
The church came into being as followers of the one who gave us a new commandment, “to love one another”. The church, at it’s best, continue to seek to follow that command, even though we are flawed human beings who miss the mark more often than we hit it.
I’ll continue next week.