By the Rev. Tim Schenck
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If all I knew about Christianity was what I learned through the media, I think it’s safe to say I would not be a Christian.
I mean, think about it. From the outside looking in, what do you see? Westboro Baptist Church — a hate group unworthy of the name “church,” or “Baptist” for that matter. Creationists living in utter denial of the value of scientific inquiry. Sexual predators masquerading as priests. Homophobic and jingoistic rants in the name of Jesus by pastors with bad hair and 900 numbers. Delusional people waiting for the (non-biblical) “Rapture.” Preachers on the radio spouting the “prosperity gospel” of pray hard enough and God will make you rich. Lawsuits over the right to erect monuments of the 10 Commandments and/or public nativity scenes.
Or put another way, if you went up to a bunch of non-church-going strangers and asked them what came to mind when they thought of Christians, you’d likely hear: judgmental, hypocritical, holier than thou, irrational, out of touch, humorless and intolerant.
And the hits just keep coming. Last week there was a story about a group of Christian legislators in Mississippi pushing to get the Bible named the official state book. Now, I love the Bible as much as anyone — in my ordination vow I affirmed my belief that Holy Scripture “contains all things necessary to salvation” — but when it’s used as a cudgel to whack those who disagree with you, you might just be missing the whole point.
So while it’s easy to understand how people outside the faith might come to such negative conclusions, all of this has absolutely nothing to do with the faith I know and proclaim. Frankly, I’m tired of Christianity being hijacked by groups that bear little resemblance to Jesus’ underlying message of love, hope and forgiveness and everything to do with human insecurity and fear.
One of the main reasons I’ve written this monthly column for five and a half years is to help change this perception. It’s certainly not because I like seeing my picture in the paper. Sometimes it feels like a mere drop in a giant bucket of misinformation, but I’ll keep at it. Because what a lot of people in the religion business seem to forget is that our role is simply to point to the divine presence. No one person or group has all the answers — faith inevitably comes with a heavy dose of mystery, and none of us have a monopoly on the mind of God. Beware of those who claim such certainty.
The good news is that we don’t have to have all the answers. We’re human, after all, which is precisely the point. God can take care of the rest — the loving judgment, the conversion of the heart, meeting people wherever they may be along the journey of life and faith. The role of faith leaders is invitation and encouragement; the rest of it is above our pay grade anyway.
So I simply invite you to come and see that there is another way. To recognize that the heart of the gospel has nothing at all to do with the negativity and judgmental attitudes that hover over the surface. To encounter a God of deep meaning and mystery. To meet a God who will let your heart overflow with peace and gratitude and allow your soul to sing with praise and joy. To understand that the God of love and justice and compassion is absolutely nothing like the God of the headlines.
The Rev. Tim Schenck is author of the newly released “Father Tim’s Church Survival Guide” (Morehouse) and Rector of the Episcopal Parish of St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts. Visit his blog Clergy Confidential at clergyconfidential.com, or follow him on Twitter at @FatherTim.
In Good Faith: Don’t let Christianity be hijacked
By the Rev. Tim Schenck