This is an essay directed to my Christian community, which I write out of love. I have no one in particular in mind, but all of us devoted, faithful followers of Jesus, dedicated to the church and especially to Christianity the Lifestyle, are eager to improve our ability to follow Christ, or so I believe. It is this belief in a genuine desire for self-improvement that prompts me to write this. I have recently had the opportunity– so far unique in my life of 55 years– to witness one way in which my friends within the Christian community have behaved in a remarkably similar and quite un-Christian way. It would not be so glaring to me if it were not for the fact that many of my non-Christian friends don't have this hangup. I have pondered what this could be about and I have some thoughts to share.
What particularly makes me write is a comment made by a non-Christian friend, so often heard from outside of it, that the church is full of hypocrites; (and that this is the reason this person will never join the church). Well yes, that's not news, but to discover that it goes beyond just a failure to practice what we preach but that we are actually worse at accepting some sinners, that troubles me. Am I like this, too? Does my faith in some way make me a worse person??
We must agree that we all make mistakes and probably there are very very few of us who are willing to take our confessions out of the confessional and into the square. I rather think that there are parts of our nature that are wild and will never be tamed, no matter how tightly we try to control them. Lust, in all its forms, leaves not one of us untouched. (Nor should it!, an issue I'll leave for later). I am firmly of the belief that some part of human nature can never be civilized. (And sex is probably the most untameable of any human capacity. I rather think that it is impossible for a non-asexual person to actually lead a fully sensuous life without ever coloring outside the lines).
In other words we all have our dark deeds and we all hide them. This doesn't make us despicable, it makes us human. What does Jesus say about that? When you fall short, confess, repent and embrace new life. Oh, and don't judge. Good advice for a bunch of sinners.
I am an artist and I am used to being exposed in public, but because of recent circumstances I've in fact had to reveal all my secrets- openly if not publicly. Although there are of course things that others don't know about my life there is nothing I am hiding. I feel I have no secrets! How many can say that? This is what allows me to speak so boldly.
In my case I had an affair. I wouldn't have characterized it that way until it was defined for me as “a deep emotional attachment outside of marriage.” Now that I can buy that definition I have to admit to having an affair. I am very sorry for the pain it has caused to my wife and all my friends and family. I am totally sincere about that. But then there is more. I also found a person who has been able to support me more fully than I've ever experienced in my adult life– I mean me, the guy for whom art is life, not a mere commodity. This may be painful to others, but it is not more than I deserve. My wife knew of my peculiar attachment and we dedicated ourselves to fixing whatever was wrong (several things that I won't get into). Unfortunately that didn't happen and the marriage came apart. I take the blame. But that also is not the end of the story.
This is where I find my Christian friends wanting. I can now see that the crowd surrounding the woman caught in adultery were all pious church-goers. I don't know but I imagine that anyone who did not lead a pretty clean life wouldn't dare show up at a stoning. Now that I have been the focus of that crowd and recognize my Christian friends' faces around me, I ask: where are the others? Why don't my non-Christian friends condemn me with equal vehemence?
There is a good reason why we “good Christians” have this holier-than-thou attitude; because for the most part we really do live comparatively clean, upstanding lives. But what that does not mean is that we are sinless, despite an attitude that other people's foibles remove them from our more pristine community. No; what removes them from us is our attitude of superiority! I like my brother's concept that the appropriate attitude to another's sin is one of curiosity rather than condemnation. I can certainly see why my Christian friends are judgmental, especially in the case of what seems on the surface like a clear and simple violation. It's a perfectly human response, it's just not Christian. My experience has been that my non-Christian friends sometimes better excersize this part of Jesus's message.
The friend I mentioned above has told me on several occasions that he has no use for Christians. I always defend my fellows of the faith in such cases, but now I can clearly see what he was talking about. Prejudice is prejudice whether it is directed at a black, an Indian or or a garden-variety sinner. Those of us liberal Christians who pride ourselves on our degrees, our broad concern for others and our evolved spirituality had better take a clear look at what kind of attitude that gives us before we stand for judgement ourselves.
[I'm sorry if this seems like an attack. That is not my intent. I simply hope to pass on my genuine experience, as I would want another to do for me.] Feel free to comment, or write me privately at firstname.lastname@example.org