There is a growing question in our culture: why do God’s people do so many bad things in his name? Christopher Hitchens wrote the book that captured the overall sentiment ( God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything), but plenty of other voices have chimed in. How do we respond in a way that is both truthful and kind?
First, we need to own up to the fact that Christians are capable of hurtful, mean, hypocritical and even evil actions. Scott Smith calls this The Problem of People. We see them on the news constantly: Westboro Baptist picketers, TV preachers who make thoughtless comments, pastors who preach purity while carrying on affairs, churches that cover up scandals. It may even be the Christian neighbor who talks about controversial social issues without compassion. It may be us. No matter the situation, it's a problem that must be acknowledged humbly.
Second, it’s important to remember that this behavior contradicts the life and teaching of Christ. Read the Gospels and see if Jesus modeled any of this. Our goal is to be like Jesus, not his frail followers. Our claim is that Christianity is true, even though some people treat it casually or distort it for their own goals. Christianity, if followed sincerely, should not lead to wrongdoing.
Third, as frustrating as the problem is, Christians are not the only ones who have to answer for behavioral problems. Bad people are everywhere. Every group has representatives that embarrass the rest. Every movement has people or situations that don’t reflect the stated ideals of the organization. PETA euthanizes animals; environmentalist spokespeople hypocritically pollute. Christians don’t claim that Christ removes our humanity when we commit to him; our claim is that he is helping to make us better people than we could be on our own. The question is not if every Christian lives consistently. They clearly don’t. The question is if Christianity is true. Christianity should be judged based on what it claims to be true and how it challenges us to live, not on how some followers undermine the goals.
Fourth, the teaching of the Bible and the example of Jesus provide a standard of moral conduct. It’s one reason we agree with skeptics that unjustified violence, hypocrisy, and meanness are wrong. Jesus said that all God’s laws were accomplished by loving God and our neighbor. He told parables about Good Samaritans and the Prodigal Sons. He lived a life that was above reproach. If we are truly following Christ, our lives should reflect our allegiance.
The Bible claims that if we take Jesus seriously, we can be changed because of his death and resurrection. F.F. Bruce said, “Those who have been justified (saved from the penalty of sin) are now being sanctified (freed from the power of sin). However, if we don’t take Jesus seriously, there is no reason to believe we will feel this transformative impact. Jesus used a farming analogy when he said that his followers would be recognized by their fruit. Bruce went on to say, “Those who have no experience of present sanctification have no reason to suppose they have been justified.”
No belief system ought to be judged by people who abuse it or refuse to take it seriously. We need to acknowledge the behavior of unChrist-like Christians, but remember that the duplicity of some does not mean the truth claims of Christianity or the person of Christ are in some way falsified.
Read the previous post in this series