Will the real Christians please stand up?

Some time ago, an atheist friend of mine brought this blog post to my attention, and asked for my opinion.

Part of my answer was that I agree with her about the issue of “real” Christians. I recognise the problem; there are people who identify as Christian, who understand that so differently from the way that I do, that I feel all that we have in common is being alive, and probably some DNA from an ancestor a million years ago. I’d love to be able to say, they’re not real Christians.

But I don’t think I can, partly because of my own history.  If I were today to meet the Christian I was even ten years ago, I probably would want to say she wasn’t a “real” Christian.  But I have come to see that Christianity is a journey, it involves change in a person, and if someone is in a different place to me, it doesn’t make them any less authentically engaged in that process of change. It does mean that I run the risk of a slightly different mental conceit; instead of “those” people not being “real” Christians, it’s easy for me to tell myself they are “immature” Christians, and to feel that I myself am more mature and superior. I need to watch that; however much I might suspect that is the case, I also need to remember that I can’t set the agenda for someone else’s development and expect it to follow the path of my own.  The wind blows where it chooses, and all that.

More than that, I don’t think that we can dissociate entirely from the “bad Christianity;” not because I myself am likely to run an inquisition, or a genocide – let’s face it, I’m squeamish like that – but because it is really important that I and every other Christian engage seriously with our own fears, our own pride, our own will to power; all the things which are behind the inquisitions, genocides, and the polite modern suburban hells which we create in our own homes and cities, when we fail to love our children, our siblings, or those otherwise closest to us because they are gay, or mentally ill, or defy us, or whatever other reason we think justifies our behaviour. I need the inquisition and the genocide to remind me to be gentle with the friend who is afraid to come out to me, or whose depression exasperates me, or whatever else. As one person I heard put it, “The line between good and evil runs through the middle of each person’s heart.” I can’t externalise evil, scapegoat it, or project it elsewhere with any integrity, and if I try, I’m only going to end up in a very unhealthy state, and deceiving no one but myself. (That is, perhaps, a more modern way of articulating a sense of sin).

It does frustrate me, however, that in dealing with the complex spectrum which is Christianity, its would-be opponents collapse all Christianity into its worst examples. How can I have a reasonable discussion about who I am, and what I’m about as a person, when I’m being labelled as a willing collaborator in pedophilia, homophobia, misogyny, genocide, etc, etc? Those things happen; they mostly leave me as appalled and angry as any outsider, and it’s not that I want kudos for being “better” than that; but I want to be recognised as someone who is committed to being better than that. The idea that some of us might actually want to see – and bring about – transformationfrom within doesn’t seem to occur to anyone.

However, I think it’s also true that Christians such as those belonging to Westboro Baptist Church are going to be in the forefront of the media and people’s minds not least because they’re active.  I might loathe what they do, but they’re out there, doing.  And as long as the sort of Christians who think that “real” Christianity is different to that are quiet, passive, focussed inwardly on the individual life of faith, or the social life of the church, rather than vocal and active and actually making a difference in the world in the way which seems right to us, we can hardly complain when our sort of Christianity is overlooked and we’re lumped in with the nutcases and the fringe groups.  Hence, the title of this post: will the real Christians please stand up?

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