Scripture tells us that we should not be ashamed of the gospel. I think this teaching is more relevant today than ever. Increasingly, our culture is becoming more hostile toward the Christian faith and many of us find it more and more difficult to stand up for what we believe in. From a personal perspective, I went through a time when I felt it better not to tell people I was a Christian, especially in my work environment. Journalism at times has strong prejudices toward certain things and the Christian faith is becoming one of those things. Still, by the grace of God, I have gone through that phase and now openly discuss my faith, even with those who are strongly opposed to it.
I think one of the reasons caring, sensitive Christians are increasingly reluctant to discuss their faith stems from the practitioners of the faith itself. The media focuses on those fringe elements of Christianity, especially those who do or say provacative things. An recent example is the Reverend Jeremiah Wright on the one fringe, and Pastor John Hagee on the other. I know there are other examples, such as a few years back when Pat Robertson voiced his belief that America should “take out” the President of Venezuela.
Recently, other voices are being raised and these voices are, as these other examples, casting a negative light over the faith. Ads in Christian publications are becoming more and more alarmist. For example, one recent ad that appeared in several widely read venues boldly declared that it was a “Call to Arms” and another used similar military terms like “Generals Unite.” These ads were aimed at fanning the flames of the culture wars and are part and parcel of the fundamentalist fringe that wants to take Christianity back to the Puritan age. I can give you example after example of people who have told me that they had wanted to be a part of our faith for a long time and were about to convert, until they read things like these ads. Believe me folks, these types of things drive more people away from us that any positve use they might have.
Let me give you an example of a time when I felt especially ashamed to be a Christian; not ashamed of the gospel, but ashamed to be a Christian.
While I was working in China, most major university had western English teachers who were closet missionaries, sent by various religious agencies in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. These teachers, including myself, felt called to China and were there to do two jobs – teach English and spread the message of the faith. The fact is, however, Christianity was not the only group represented. Most of the larger schools had Christians, Mormons, and Bahais on board. Probably, if one took an exact count, one would find more Mormons than anything else. In most cases, these groups got along quite well and even helped one another in adjusting to being in a foreign environment.
At the school where my wife and I were teaching, a family of Bahais lived across the hall from us and they were fine people. We never let our beliefs interfere with our relationship and we all grew quite close. At a school in a neighboring province, things didn’t go so smoothly.
At this school there were Christians and Bahais. Early on in the year, a student complained to the university leaders that the Christian teachers were being quite aggressive in trying to convert students. An investigation ensued. Of course, the Christian denied being overly aggressive and the Bahai people came to their defense. When interviewed, the Bahai “pioneers” said they had never witnessed any overt evangelizing by the Christian teachers. Soon, the whole thing died down and everything returned to normal.
After having been subjected to such an ordeal, you would have thought the Christians would be grateful to the Bahais for coming to their defense. Not so!
Figuring this episode was “a message to us from God” (this is what one of them told me), the group went on to hatch a plan to get rid of the Bahais, who the Christians felt were from Satan. About three months after the initial scandal, the Christians by-passed the university officials and went straight to the Public Security Bureau, stating that the Bahais were openly preaching to students about their faith and engaing in blatant disrespect for Chinese law. The result, the Bahais were rounded up and deported. The Christian group, meanwhile, gloated over the fact that they had been “peaceful as doves and wise as serpents.” This is the exact words they used in an email to me.
I was absolutely nauseated.
I don’t know where these “sold out believers” are today, but I openly wonder if they can sleep at night. What would Jesus do? I doubt he would have done what they did.
These are the kind of actions that taint the image of our faith. It destroys not only our image, but it destroys our effectiveness as witnesses. As another teacher friend told me after all this transpired, “All this makes me glad I’m an athiest.”
So, this was a time I was ashamed to be a Christian. The gospel remains true, but I don’t think this is the image Christ would want us to convey. As our world become increasingly inter-related due to globalization, our interaction with other faiths will grow more frequent. It is my hope that we can all behave a bit better than these folks did.