Yesterday, my boys and I played a very small role in a very big project that involved three hundred volunteers from our church packing 60,000 meals for Haitians in need. Each meal could feed a family of six, and we calculated that my little boys’ hands helped to pack somewhere around 1,500 meals.
As I looked around the room during our shift, with groups of eighteen people at twelve stations, many of whom had never met before, working in unison for the good of thousands of people we will never know, I thought about how generous and kind my Christian family is. I thought about the people overseeing the project who had volunteered to be trained, to organize the supplies and the shipping, and to prepare to make the service project as efficient as possible. I thought about their patience in letting our kids, who weren’t always as quick or as coordinated as the grownups, experience the rewards of service, too. And I thought about how much I wish THIS were the stereotype of Christians that was accepted as reality.
Christians certainly aren’t the only group of people who are stereotyped, manipulated, and portrayed unfavorably, especially in political news, but if you are not a Christian, you may not realize just how ridiculous the caricatures of us really are. It’s no wonder that people who have no experience with our faith have cool feelings toward religion if they spend any time watching the Christians in the news or if they listen to so many of our politicians talk. The negative stereotypes are a barrier to meaningful relationships and relevant conversations between people who have much more in common than they don’t. Plus, being misunderstood just plain hurts. We’ve all been there before, right?
I certainly can’t speak on behalf of all Christians, but I can speak on behalf of the ones who are similar to me, and here are a few things that we want you to know about us.
- We are smart.
From what you have seen on television, you may think that we are religious because we just don’t know any better. We are often portrayed as being foolish and gullible, sending our money off to any televangelist who claims God told him that he needs a personal jet with jewel-encrusted head rests to fulfill the great commission. We are dismissed as uneducated people who are easily manipulated by right-wing politicians and who live in a bubble that shields us from the problems that everyone else in the world understands.
The truth is that God doesn’t care if we dropped out of high school or if we have a Ph.D. The party is BYOB (Bring Your Own Bible) and open to all, and if you can’t BYOB, we’ve got you covered.
However, we are weary of the stereotype that Christians just aren’t very smart. We are all kinds of people with all levels of education. We are doctors and lawyers and teachers and engineers. We are tradespeople. We are stay-at-home moms. We are college graduates. We are innovators and business owners. We read books. We watch the news. We are interested in the events happening in the world around us. We are seeking solutions to the same problems as everyone else.
We even believe that global warming is real. We love science.
I know. That one just blew your mind!
- We are not weird.
Okay, some of us are weird. Some of us are really weird. But we aren’t any weirder than the rest of the population, so please just let that stereotype die. And, really, we think Jesus might have used the word “quirky” instead.
- You work and play and go to school with us, and you don’t even realize it.
When you first meet a Christian, she probably won’t be wearing a t-shirt that says, “I heart Jesus,” but kudos to her if she is. Most likely, you will meet her diligently working in her cubicle at the office, not marching in a picket line or shouting Bible verses in front of the courthouse. The truth is that most Christians don’t necessarily stand out in a crowd – at least not right away. That’s because we enjoy many of the same things that you do. We like social media and know about pop culture. We follow sports and go to the movies and work out at the gym. We love to have fun, and we know a good joke when we hear one. Over time, I hope that the Christians you know will stand out because they are consistently generous and patient and kind. I hope they model joy and compassion and grace. I hope they apologize for their mistakes and exemplify Christian values. But the idea that you know one when you see one, well, it just doesn’t work that way.
- We care about people.
All people. It doesn’t depend on your race or your gender or your age. It doesn’t depend on your income or your appearance or your religion. It doesn’t even depend on the decisions you have made in the past. We are called to love one another. Love is not the message that you hear when many politicians’ lips are moving, but it is the truth of our religion.
- We want you to have freedom of religion, too.
Really, we do. Your freedom of religion guarantees our freedom of religion. We get that.
- We can and do look at both sides of an issue.
We not only enjoy a good debate, but we want to understand an opposing argument – and not just so that we can challenge it. We want to understand the complexities of an issue. We want to know how ideas affect different groups of people. We can even be swayed to think differently about an issue once in a while. We don’t have to “win” every argument. Most importantly, we don’t have to agree with you to care about what you think.
- We are not perfect – and we know that.
The big idea of Christianity is that God extends us grace and forgiveness through his son. If we thought we were perfect, then we wouldn’t need that, would we? This one just doesn’t make any sense.
8. We aren’t judging you.
Really, we’re not. We try to leave this to the big guy upstairs. We have to figure out what we are cooking for dinner and when we can pick up the prescription at the pharmacy and who will take off work to wait for the repairman tomorrow and how to get two kids to basketball practice in two different places at the same time tonight. We don’t have time for this. Please stop worrying about it.
- We aren’t all Republicans.
We also do not trust people just because they say they are Christians or quote Bible verses.
And while we’re at it, we don’t all watch FOX News.
- We don’t understand the political obsession with “moral issues.”
Any issue that is up for political debate impacts people. Any issue that impacts people is a moral issue to us. That does not mean there are easy answers. It just means that our morals should influence all of our decisions – both personal and political. There aren’t just one or two moral issues. There are lots of them.
- We are not perfect – and we know that.
That just seems worth repeating.
- We would love to share our faith with you, but we can be friends regardless.
Even Jesus did not exclusively spend time with Christian people. We don’t either.
As Christians, political seasons are difficult because, like so many other groups of people, we often feel unfairly categorized and misunderstood. We don’t like being characterized as immoral, anti-Christian, or not-Christian-enough if we lean toward the left on an issue, and we don’t like being portrayed as narrow-minded, uneducated schmucks if we lean toward the right. We definitely don’t like being associated with any extremist who will dance for the camera and drive up the network’s ratings.
In reality, we are individuals, similar in some ways yet as different as two snowflakes tumbling from the sky, human beings with messy lives who are just trying to do the best that we can with the comfort of God’s grace when we fail. If you feel overwhelmed or misunderstood, there is a good chance that we have some idea of where you are coming from. Please do not judge us all by what you have seen on the news or even by your experiences in the past. You may be surprised by just how much we have in common – even if our religious views aren’t on that list.