Some Christians really irritate me. You know the kind, those who can work “Jeeezuss” into every conversation. Those who can find a way to give God the credit for everything from a free parking space to a beautiful day. Don’t get me wrong, I always say thanks to God when I find a good spot in the parking deck at work, and I praise God for the many Chamber of Commerce days that grace my hometown. But, that’s just it, I give my thanks to God, not to anyone else.
I hear a lot of people talk loudly about God. I hear Pat Robertson talk about how great God is, and how many wonderful blessings he has received from God. I hear Jerry Falwell praise God’s name and do works in the name of Jesus Christ.
I hear people like Flip Benham, director of Operation Rescue, half-heartedly condemn the bombings of abortion clinics. On CNN, Benham spoke against the recent bombing of a clinic in Birmingham, Alabama that killed a police officer and seriously injured a nurse:
“We deplore this kind of activity. Every time it happens they pass new laws like FACE, so gentle Christians can’t even live out their faith in the streets without being felons.”
Look closely friends. Mr. Benham is not upset that clinic bombings may kill someone. He’s worried that it might result in further restrictions on those who want to continue to protest at abortion clinics! Most tellingly, in the same statement he called the clinic bombing a “mindless act of righteousness!” Meditate on those words and you will find little condemnation of this horrible act in Benham’s comments.
I hear these people use God’s name over and over and over again, and it hurts my ears. I almost cannot bear to listen to them. Why? Because I know in my heart of hearts, they are not sincere. God is nothing but a tool for them. They use God’s name extensively, they praise Jesus right and left, and it’s all hollow! It does not ring true, and it’s a shame these men use their power to abuse the name and spirit of the Christ I love and cherish.
When I hear these men speak of Christ, I cannot help but hear Jesus speak, “not everyone who cries ‘Lord, Lord’ shall enter the gates of heaven.” [Matthew 7:21] In fact, Jesus gives a stern warning about such public displays of piety in Matthew 6:1-6:
“Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by men. Truly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you pray, go into your room an shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
This is a strong admonition to keep your faith to yourself. Despite what Mr. Benham believes, we are not called to “live out [our] faith on the streets.” We are clearly instructed by Jesus not to practice our piety on street corners, or make long and loud public prayers. Instead, we are to make our prayers and supplications to God in secret!
But, how in the world can we “come out as Christians” if we can’t tell people about our faith? How in the world will anyone know we are Christians if we don’t come right out and tell them? How in the world would anyone know we follow Christ if we don’t tell them about Jesus every chance we get? It’s simple, we merely act like Christians. Actions speak louder than words.
The Bible contains numerous instructions on how one can act like a follower of Christ. Jesus himself gives valuable advice in Matthew 5:39-42:
“Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if anyone would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you.”
Jesus also admonishes us to “love our enemies” to “pray for those who persecute” us, [Matthew 5:44] and not to judge others. [Matthew 7:1]
What else is expected of a Christian? “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” [Luke 10:27]
That’s a lot to remember, moreover, that’s a lot to do! A Christian then, is someone who does not repay evil for evil, and instead, turns the other cheek. A Christian is someone willing to go the extra mile, even for someone for whom they may not personally feel any affection or liking. That person loves their enemies, and they constantly pray for their persecutors. Indeed, these are people who love the Lord with all their heart, soul, strength and mind, and will go out of their way for their neighbor!
This is the type of person who strives to understand everyone and tries to reconcile those who disagree. There is a word for such a person: peacemaker! Jesus says peacemakers are blessed, and will be called children of God. [Matthew 5:9] As peacemakers we cannot help but be seen as Christians.
I reflect on the ministries of men like Robertson and Falwell, and I fail to see the peacemaker in these men. I see them violating Hebrews 12:15 that says “see to it that no one fail to obtain the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ spring up and cause trouble, and by it the many become defiled.”
I see them continually sowing the seed of bitterness by condemning gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender persons. I see them failing to extend the grace of God to such people, in effect defiling the very word of God they seek to preach. They call for war when they should be striving to become peacemakers.
Take Mr. Robertson’s own words for example, spoken during the 700 Club broadcast on December 16, 1997:
“The Bible condemns homosexuality. The Bible says that those who practice such things as homosexuality and bestiality are gonna cause the land to vomit them out. And ladies and gentlemen, with all the sincerity in my heart, I cannot understand how a group that claims only 1% of the population — that’s the homosexual, the sodomite, excuse me, that’s the lesbians. And 2% are the so-called homosexuals, the sodomites. How they can get control of the federal government and use billions of taxpayer dollars to educate our children in this bizarre, anti-God lifestyle. And I want to say very sincerely, right now, that if the United States of America officially embraces sodomy, we will have done to us the exact same thing that was done to Sodom and Gomorrah. It’s just a question of when. All the pretty lifestyle we have, all the money, and all the riches and all the nice homes will be taken away from us. Everything we have and enjoy will be stripped away from us if we as a nation embraces this.”
Look carefully at what he’s worried about: losing his wealth. “All the pretty lifestyle we have, all the money, all the riches and all the nice homes will be taken away from us.” We’ll lose all of our material possessions if the grace of God is extended to homosexuals!
Aside from his misplaced priorities, there is a deep root of bitterness being sown here. He describes gays and lesbians as practicing a “bizarre, anti-God lifestyle” that will eventually lead to Pat Robertson and his followers being poor! By condemning gays and lesbians in such strong tones he declares war against gays and lesbians. There is no attempt at peacemaking!
In Hebrews 12:14 we are urged to “Strive for peace with all.” I pray everyday that we may have peace with Christian brothers like Falwell and Robertson. I seek to spread no ‘root of bitterness’ about these men. They are doing what they believe God called them to do, just as I am. But as a Christian, I must call them as I see them. I am reminded by Paul that “the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” [Galatians 5:22-23] I see none of these qualities in men like Falwell and Robertson. My heart grieves when I see such venom and hatred practiced by those who claim to love God.
The unfortunate reality is that Robertson and the gang are what the public perceives Christians to be. Take a quick poll of folks at work. Ask them to think about the word Christian and who pops to mind as an example. Unfortunately, it’s Robertson, Falwell and their ilk. They have successfully co-opted the word to the point where if you differ from their beliefs you are certainly not a “true” Christian.
Walter Kaufmann put his finger on the problem in his book “The Faith of a Heretic.”
“Christianity defined itself less as a way of life than as a faith which, right from the beginning, involved assent to various propositions.”
This is the main problem with Christianity from antiquity. It’s been about beliefs and not actions. From early Bible times to now, Christianity is not so much about emulating Christ as it is believing a set of creeds and dogma. One deviation from those beliefs and you’re no longer a Christian, but a heretic.
We must stand up and be counted as those who are “living” our faith as Christians, not merely “professing” our faith as Christians. Our actions must speak louder than our words. Anyone can claim to be a Christian, but it is the true Christian that acts on that faith, showing the world what one can accomplish by truly following Christ and his examples. We must act when Jesus says, “Follow me.” [Matthew 9:9] By our actions we will almost certainly will be called heretics, but then, that’s what the Pharisees thought Jesus to be!
All this does not mean we can never talk about our faith, but we must always be prepared to go the next step and back up our words with concrete action. James 1:22-25 reiterates the importance of Christian action: “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer and not a doer, he is like a man who observes his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But he who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer that forgets but a doer that acts, he shall be blessed in his doing.”
This is our call to action, my brothers and sisters. We cannot continue to stand by and let the word Christian be taken from us, or used against us!We must show that not all followers of Christ are by default followers of Robertson or Falwell. It is imperative that we come out as Christians, and show that we seek only peace between ourselves and our brothers and sisters! If we only hear the word, and not act, we are no better than Robertson or Falwell, deceiving ourselves!
By coming out as Christians we can exemplify the fruit of the spirit by our actions, not just words! By coming out as Christians, we give the world another example of people who claim Jesus as Christ! By coming out as Christians, we renew our commitment to follow the example of Christ. By coming out as Christians, we renew our commitment to be peacemakers, and as such to be called children of God.
Founder of Motley Mystic and the Jubilee! Circle interfaith spiritual community In Columbia, S.C., Candace Chellew (she/her) is the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians (Jossey-Bass, 2008). Founder and Editor Emeritus of Whosoever, she earned her masters of theological studies at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, was ordained by Gentle Spirit Christian Church in December 2003, and trained as a spiritual director through the Omega Point program of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. She is also a musician and animal lover.