I can’t tell you how many times I have heard it: “I have no interest in God, because of how Christians treat me.”
The sad thing is… in many ways, it’s true. I get it. The Church is built up of fallible people. We have human emotions. We treat each other like crap. We’re the first ones to take the self-righteous high ground, to stand in judgment of one another (and everyone not up to “our level” of morality), and to kick someone when they’re down. And the sad thing is… in that moment, we’re not truly Christians, but we’re slandering Christ’s name all the same.
I grew up a moralistic, self-righteous hypocrite who could throw Bible verses around like the worst of them. I stood in judgment of every action that everyone else ever took that I didn’t agree with, or that violated my view of morality. I was an unequivocal pain in the ass of the variety that gives Christians a bad name, and I pray to God that I didn’t turn anyone away from His Kingdom thanks to my behavior. Then, I got saved. I realized that I’m no better than anyone else, and worse than some, because under that mask of self-righteousness was a heart cold toward other human beings.
Being a “Christian” is easy; following Christ is hard. Following Christ, means taking his teachings to heart. Who did Jesus get angry at? It wasn’t the sinners, it was the self-righteous, people-hating hypocrites who ran the temple. Jesus didn’t shy away from asking others to own up to their sin, but he also didn’t judge them for it. He loved them anyway. He healed people who came to him, regardless of who they are, because they had faith. What did He tell us? Love the Lord, and love one another as we love ourselves.
Yesterday, I watched The Invisible Woman, a film about the extramarital affair Charles Dickens had with Nellie Turner. The old me would have put on her moral hat and hated it, stood in judgment of both of them, and prided myself on being so much more holy because I would never do such a thing! Instead, I decided to take off the morality hat and look at them as people. It changed my view of them because I pushed aside my prejudices and let them tell me their story. I saw them not as adulterers, but as Dickens and Nellie, as people… as damaged, conflicted people. Rather than being moralistically angry over their behavior, it made me sad because of the impact it had not only on their lives, but on Dickens’ family as well. You can’t be angry at someone when you have immense compassion for their plight.
Jesus got angry at the Pharisees because they did not see people anymore; they saw groups, and titles, and descriptions: they saw cripples, and whores, and adulterers, and tax collectors, and gentiles. Jesus looked past their actions, and saw them as individuals. He saw past Matthew’s actions to his heart, just as he looks past our actions into our hearts. That is the true calling of Christians – to look past actions and mistakes, and see people as human beings worthy of our compassion. We know we are no more righteous than they are, because we too are fallen, imperfect, and make bad decisions. We must learn to put aside our own moral objections and listen to their side to truly see them.
Paul called us to be “set apart” from the world, so others will know our Savior through us. What does that mean, exactly? It means we differ from the world; we do not stand above it, but in it, offering something other people do not offer – the willingness to see people as human beings, to listen to them without judgment, have compassion for them even if their situation is self-inflicted, and to love them even when we don’t agree with their actions.
Throughout the story, Nellie tries to come to terms with her relationship with Dickens. The local minister senses she’s troubled and offers to listen to her story without condemnation. Rather than looking at her as an adulterer, he looks on her as a person. He senses the truth and doesn’t shun her for it — instead, he offers her friendship and a listening ear when she needs it. Through his great compassion, he quietly but steadily points her toward a future free of the guilt and shame of her past. When she does confide in him, his response isn’t to lecture her but help her see the potential of a future no longer overshadowed by her youthful choices. The conclusion of the story is Nellie finding the strength to leave Dickens’ memory behind, and strive toward happiness with her husband.
If every Christian stopped seeing the people around them as behaviors and started seeing them as individuals, not only would sin diminish in our own lives (it’s hard to sin against someone when you truly love them), our world would be a much better place… and I would never have to hear again those heartbreaking words: “I have no interest in God, because of how Christians treat me.”