Confession: I am not a Christian.
Before you start writing a comment about how I need to find the Lord, say the prayer, and get baptized, let me explain.
American Christianity has become a very secluded culture. It has become less of a religion and more of a social club. The people who are members of this social club usually fit into a specific set of characteristics that is easily identifiable to the people around them. Over the years, Christians have set their own rules about what it means to be a Christian. These requirements cause people to stress out about their faith. People feel like they need to make sure they are following all of the requirements so they can be accepted in the Christian culture.
Now, don’t get me wrong. It is important to live in a way that stands out from the crowd. Our creativity is something that we should be using every day to separate ourselves from the people around us. The problems arise when this difference becomes oppressive to other people.
I grew up in a Christian home. I participated in children’s church, AWANAs, and youth group. I was a member of the worship team on Sunday morning and I knew everyone in my church.
I was one of these oppressive Christians.
I thought I had all the answers to life. If I didn’t know an answer, I pretended I did. For goodness sake, I didn’t want other Christians to think that I wasn’t reading the Bible as much as they were! I thought that, as a Christian, it was important that I knew how to answer every question that someone might ask me while I was witnessing to them. I thought I needed to have this killer testimony to tell people when they ask me how I became a Christian. Something that would explain how I was lost before I knew Jesus, how He saved my life, and how everything is perfect because of it. Something that would make people cry.
During my time in college, I have learned that it is okay to not have all the answers. You will not go to Hell if you do not have your opinion about abortion or same-sex marriage completely figured out. It is completely normal to doubt the set of beliefs that you have grown up believing. In fact, I would encourage you to challenge what you believe about the Bible, or what you have grown up believing about God. Develop your own opinions and decide for yourself.
The Christian culture today places a strong emphasis on the weight of the Bible. Growing up, I remember being scared that I was not being a good Christian because I did not have my quiet time every morning or every night. I did not read my Bible every day. I would even forget to bring my Bible to church some days! Sometimes I doubted my pathway to Heaven based on this lack of commitment to the Bible.
I still considered the Bible to be God-inspired and an important part of my beliefs, so why did I feel so guilty about this?
The Bible should not stress people out.
If you do not consistently have an hour of quiet time every day, you can still follow the will of God. You can still treat people in a way that shows them God’s love, even if you do not get around to reading your Bible that day.
I feel God the most when I am with people. It is in the times of laughter and conversations with other people that I experience God’s joy. I see God in other people more than I do in my Bible. I wonder what experiences I would have missed out on if I had been reading the Bible in my room instead of hanging out with the undocumented immigrants in my neighborhood.
There are extreme forms of Christian oppression, like the members of Westboro Baptist Church who verbally abuse people who, they believe, are not going to Heaven. They talk about how God hates people who are not following what they believe to be the correct interpretation of the Bible. These people are not living the way Jesus tells us to live: with love for our neighbors and enemies.
However, how different are the members of Westboro to those of us in the evangelical churches? I would suggest that we are not much better than they are. We oppress people in different ways than Westboro, but we are just as damaging.
We seclude people who are different from us. We do not allow specific types of people in our churches because their sin seems worse than ours. We refuse the rights of women to be leaders of our churches because we think the Bible does not allow it.
I do not consider myself a “Christian” because I do not think American Christianity is living the way Jesus wants us to live. I do think that Christianity is a form of religion, just not the form of religion that I want to commit my life to.
I want to try to follow Jesus’ example. Not Christianity’s example.
So, in a way, Christians are my enemy.
This leads me to my next point:
If I am going to try to live the way Jesus lived, I need to love my enemy. I think I do a good job at loving the enemies of the American Christian culture– the LGBTQ community, documented and undocumented immigrants, people from the Middle East– but I do not do a good job at loving the members of the Christian culture. I often find myself really put-off by people who post Bible verses on their Facebooks and Twitters. I get upset at churches that strongly stand against same-sex marriage or preachers who talk about how God wants justice for the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centers.
Instead, I should be loving and praying for those people. I should be reaching out to them, not rejecting them. By hating them, I am no better than they are.
My ex-roommate and close friend, Blake Fox, wrote a story about a girl’s after-life experience. She goes to Heaven, meets God, and he turns out to be completely different from what she had been told about Him. In fact, Heaven was completely different. It was evil Heaven. After she told God that she didn’t want to be in Heaven, she went to Hell. Hell was a place of joy and love. She had everything she wanted in this Hell. It was how she anticipated Heaven to be like. At the end of the story, the reader finds out that the protagonist had been dreaming. She had never died.
I give you this summary to preface the last line of the story, which sums up my entire thought process into one sentence: “But even though Carrie knew her dream was mere fantasy, she couldn’t help but reflect on the question she had faced: could she sacrifice any self-centered thing, even Heaven, to follow Jesus?”
Maybe we all need to sacrifice our lives as Christians and become followers of Jesus instead.