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Ashamed to Be Called Christian

Ashamed to Be Called Christian

    In the middle of the Twentieth Century I hesitated to mention Jesus Christ too easily in a public forum other than the pulpit.  Public media was equally hesitant to pronounce the name Jesus, substituting the more generic "God" with reference to matters religious, even if obviously the New Testament kind of religion.

    In 2014 the name of Jesus sounds everywhere, especially in public tirades laced with four letter words. As much as that development troubles me I would be quick to observe that it is what I hear in conversations, particularly when lip-reading managers talking to umpires in televised Major League baseball games.  I don't think the Apostle Paul had Sparky Lyle in mind when he wrote in Philippians 1:15-18 (you can look it up); but the old evangelist to the Gentiles surely is to be commended for his generous take on ill uses of Jesus' name.

    But, as everyone knows, I'm not Paul.  And I write to take to task those who in our time and place proudly wear the label "Christian," and mean something by it alien to the spirit of the Gospel.

    When I am told, as occasionally I am told, that so and so is a fine Christian gentleman, I take it as a warning that commerce with him is to be avoided, not because he will dupe me, which certainly he wouldn't; but because after the transaction he would likely feel obliged to "witness" to me, and some way, by assumption or interrogation, find out whether or not I was born again.

    When I tune in Hagee or Robertson or Swaggart (now that I have in retirement time to surf the cable) and listen to their preachments, I hear "Christian" pronounced in an exceedingly reverential tone.  But the content to that designation makes me cringe.  For it seems to describe someone not just upstanding and virtuous, but self-righteous, arrogant, judgmental, and narrow-minded.  And if the topic is political, add militant.

    Mainline Protestantism (I add this diversion for the sake of full disclosure) in these latter days has developed its own soupy idea of a real Christian, someone resembling a doormat... with four letters, L O V E, writ large on it.  Contemporaneous with the fundamentalist reassertion of a Calvinist hard line has been the drift of the previously majority denominations to a reduction of the Gospel to love, love, love, that's what it's all about.  I confess to occasionally sounding this theme.  After all the two great commandments by Jesus' reckoning require us to love.  But too often these commandments are voiced in a theological context bereft of a full understanding of the human propensity to evil. We apply the right theme far too naively. 

    I am reminded of an incident at a home for girls, girls that the court decided needed supervision mom and dad did not or could not provide.  The granddaughter of General William Booth was the director of the home. In her childhood she had been required to give up her bed for a night now and then, to a woman rescued from plying her sexual trade on the streets of Paris.  Booth offspring knew a thing or two about love and evil.  But the girls' home director learned another lesson one afternoon when she sought to restrain a girl acting out.  The Salvation Army officer, when slapped, turned the other cheek, just as Jesus requires of a Christian; and she was knocked to the ground.  On the city street the slugger had learned that weakness (which is how she interpreted the turned cheek) deserves to be crushed. The original author of the turned cheek strategy also advised us to "be wise as serpents and innocent as doves."  Love may always be the answer, but the way to express it needs to be tailored to the moment.

   Granted the spineless love of the mainline church may have invited the now dominant version of the Christian as hard-nosed prude compulsive in his mission to convert the world, which really means getting the rest of us to think just like him.  I've heard this stance justified as standing up for what you believe and doing it without being mealy-mouthed. 

    It's not as if the New Testament wanted for passages describing the hallmarks of a Christian.  Start with Colossians 3, a passage I in my tour of duty as teacher of confirmation lessons, had thirteen year olds memorize:

       12 As Godís chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.15And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. 16Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.17And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him

    A "Christian gentleperson" endowed with these characteristics is someone whose company I would seek.  Come to think of it, Paul in this passage is describing not just the way a Christian should be but the way the first Christian was.  Jesus, that is. Yes, mainline Christians, the first Christian had a heart full of love, and he combined it with a head understanding that such love would eventually tear at his flesh and sear his soul. And to those who fancy the exclusivity and unrelenting righteousness in its application, the first Christian (in my mind's imagination, at least) repeats the charge leveled against St. Peter at Caesarea Philippi for his innocent rejection of the cross for Jesus: "Get thee behind me, Satan."  With a pontiff in the Vatican preferring humility over self-righteousness, I can hope (but will not hold my breath) the rest of Christendom will follow suit. 

    Whatever, I'm going to strike the adjective (if not the noun) "Christian" from my vocabulary. 



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