“Christians are very judgmental.”
“Organized religion is a cult.”
“Only church people make it to heaven.”
“Christianity requires you to ‘give up’ fun things, or restrict yourself.”
“You can’t dress or act like that in here.”
“Something must be wrong with you…that’s why God let this happen.”
“Once I was able to reason, I learned I was a sinner and God was upset. I [also] discovered non-Christians are also nice people. So whom do you believe?”
I have been raised Christian my entire life. I have never been the guy to hang out on the streets and try to hand you a Bible, or the guy to protest others for their “ugly sins.” My expression avenues have always been through music and trying to manage my own life the best I can. In 2015, there are so many varying views, opinions, lifestyles and experiences as people try to live their very best across the world. But what’s interesting is that God seems to be the entity receiving the largest amount of mixed conceptions. Some thank God when good things happen, some blame him when the bad takes place (or both). Some may choose another route completely, finding something else to put their trust in. Why is that?
Here’s my theory: any time we don’t like something, that means we had a previous influence steer us away from it. It could be our own perception, another person’s opinion, or even a bad experience. My brother doesn’t like peanut butter because he didn’t like the taste of it – but he has to taste it first to arrive at that conclusion. Some may have negative conceptions of God because of a former experience (or experiences) that they had, which may often have been with other people. Even people who are church-goers and/or Christians have confused and discouraged each other with their words, sometimes right in the church! Next thing you know, you have people in the church leaving, and people outside the church wanting nothing to do with “that religion stuff” or “the crazies” or “the high-and-mighties.” All of this and MUCH more, as I’m finding, is a leading cause is misrepresenting what God is actually about, and misleading people away from Him.
Today, I don’t want to try to force you to think you need to drop what you’re doing and run to the altar with your hands up. I don’t want to tell you how wrong you are, or how right you are. That’s not my place, and I am not an expert myself – just a young, 20something black male. I want to, instead, address the things that are untrue about God, church and faith that are false stereotypes; but also the bad things that are being done, which NEED to stop.
- “You’re not good enough” or “God doesn’t love you”: Some church folks have shown this with the hesitant way they act towards newcomers. Some just up and say it to your face. Some who may not be church-goers say it to keep you away from trying church. LOOK: Anyone, no matter who you are, should never tell this to any human being no matter what the context. I’ve written plenty of blog posts and research papers, and although I’m far from being published, no one can tell me I’m not good enough at it to try. I’d just work harder at it and seek outside assistance when proofreading! So don’t tell anyone they aren’t good enough for God. He loves everyone the same no matter what, and saying otherwise will only discourage them, tick them off, and misrepresent what God’s about. It DOES show, however, excellence in ignorance.
- “Church makes you christian”: Here’s the thing: sitting in a Starbucks doesn’t make you a frappuccino. As great as church has been for me personally, no church is perfect. And the good ones are aware – that’s why they exist, to foster people needing God to help them! Being Christian means you accept Jesus and you have (or are developing) a relationship with Him. Going to church surrounds you with his messages to give you a weekly spiritual boost, and it surrounds you with others trying to keep themselves on his straight-and-narrow as well. Otherwise, it’s like marathon training by yourself: not like you can’t do it, but when you go through the rough stages or want to quit, you need someone there to help push you along and tell you not to give up!
- “Christians are perfect” – I’m not perfect because of Jesus. I’m not perfect, so I need Jesus! If people were perfect, there would be no reason to do or be anything, because we’d all be robots. Don’t let anyone fool you – everyone has their shortcomings.
- “You have to act a certain way”: The only thing you HAVE to do as a Christian is believe in Jesus and try to live your life as a good example through Him. But listen: believing in God doesn’t always mean you were the worst human being on earth before, and some Christians write others off when they make it sound like this. God takes you as you are, and makes you better. Plain and simple!! So if you go to church for the first time looking for answers in a very difficult time, don’t let Sister Patty LaWeave and her attitude tell you “sorry but we don’t let hoochies in here” or “you might want to change your clothes before you come to God” or even “God wouldn’t have made you that way if he loved you.” You just stay in there and get whatever it is that you needed that day. At the end of the day, you’re still his son or daughter, and he just wants the chance to be there for you. Sister Patty LaWeave has nothing to do with that, because she can’t help you.
- JUDGEMENTAL CHRISTIANS: The #1 complaint of Christians from day one. I can’t call this a misconception because it is true of many – not all by any means, but it definitely exists. The Bible tells God’s followers not to do this unless they want to be judged too. But this is a problem far spanning religion. Christians are judged for being Bible-toting do-gooders who stay in their little judgmental box. Minorities are judged based on the color of their skin. Women are judged by men who don’t want to be surpassed. The LBGT community is judged by those who ask why they “choose being this way”. I could go on, but look: WE ARE ALL PEOPLE. PERIOD! If you don’t accept me or respect me, my default will be to want nothing you stand for. But if you, the imperfect person, show me, another imperfect person, respect and kindness, I may be more open to you and what you stand for.
- Christians saying negative things to each other: Some of the things that are said are misconceptions. The fact that negative things are being said is not a misconception. I’ve touched on some of these examples already, as well as the fact that we need to treat each other with respect. Yes? Yes. This is at its’ worse here because the church is a place where people should be lifting each other up, not tearing each other down. The rest of the world has enough negativity and esteem-knocking as it is! The worst example I heard recently was a Christian telling a woman with a miscarriage that God took their child because “something must have been wrong with it, but better that He took it instead of letting it be born with something wrong.” Are you kidding me?!? The fact that this statement alone didn’t completely steer this person away from God in such a vulnerable time is a miracle of God in itself.
- Churches are close-minded/won’t adapt: This is another thing that many are guilty of, but it’s also associated with the Christian stereotype. It also boils down to: some people like things a certain way and in strict order, while others are cooler about going with the flow. I’m no expert in how churches operate, but when my church had to move to new buildings twice within two years and across town, being closed-minded was not an option. We had to adapt to some logistical change nearly every week, and without people willing to adapt, there would be no church right now. If a marketing consultant never adapts with social media sites, he or she is chopping out a huge part of potential outlets and the company doesn’t grow as well. I could go on with more examples, but you get the point. When things change, good or bad, we have to go with it if we want to grow. Otherwise, we’d all be perfect, right?
Now, I don’t want the things I’ve just mentioned to scare people away from God. But these are very real things that anyone may have experienced when it comes to him, church and other Christians. It is true that some Christians don’t always use the best approach. It’s also true that some Christians really do their best to represent God to anyone they encounter. I’m not always the best example, but I try to remain open-minded, I love all sorts of people, and I tend to get along with most people I meet. My personal experience is that God has gotten me where I am today, and I just don’t want to see more people write the guy off because of Christians saying or doing blatantly negative things. You hear about Westboro Baptist Church type of situations, and well, of course people are going to feel some kind of way!
To reiterate my bottom line: WE ARE ALL PEOPLE. NO ONE IS BETTER THAN THE OTHER. Me talking to Jesus does not, in any way, make me a better human being that you. We all have eyes, ears, hands and toes. We all like to eat, look forward to payday, and enjoy the electric slide a wedding once in a while. Not only are we all human: none of us are perfect. In fact, I am quite aware of how flawed I am. I’ll probably make a good few mistakes tomorrow! Now, my comfort in making my mistakes is that, no matter what, God will forgive me and let me pick up & learn from it (sometimes, after checking me). This doesn’t give me a license to be a screw-up; it just insures me that no matter what, He will still love me. Maybe not all my actions, but me. He has this thing called unconditional love – and nothing we do is ever bad enough for it to run out. No living thing on earth is capable of this. I can say with certainty that when I found myself as low as I could possibly be, God’s unconditional love was the only thing to let me know it’d be all right, and to pick things back up. (It wasn’t stories I’d heard, not other people so much, not any of my stuff – it’s something no one else can provide quite as well).
Depending on the eyes reading those last few statements, the word “preachy” may come to mind. That is far from my goal, or my calling in life. But I want to close with these two things that I hope we can all at least try to agree on:
- Love each other. Everyone on this earth deserves that, no matter what. When I see people, I don’t immediately think of them as gay, white, Japanese, Jewish, fat, sick, mentally challenged or whatever. I say “hey Sam, how’s it going?” Even if some people make me hope I never see them again for some reason, I still do my best to treat them right. Not only do I want that back from them, but it’s how we were made. Everybody doesn’t stick to that all the time, but I can only work on me.
- Meet people where they’re at. We are all very different from each other! I can’t necessarily talk to a young person about faith the same way I would to an old person (for example). Christians, every approach can’t be the same for everybody – once we’ve acknowledged that we weren’t sprung from the ground perfect, we need to respect and love people before trying to approach them about God. And if you’re someone being approached about God, I’d say at least be open to listening. Hopefully it’s done in a way that peaks an interest in the very least. I promise you, it was His sheer grace alone that got me where I am today and kept my family alive countless times. True story.
We all have free will to chose whatever we wish to believe. Just remember: a student has to be willing to be taught, but it won’t work if the teacher only says “nope, wrong answer, it was 6.” But if the teacher says “here’s how I got there; now you try for yourself. If you want it, you can totally do it”, the results might just be a little different.