Hi there. That’s Ned Flanders sitting beside this paragraph. He’s Homer Simpson’s neighbor, and he hides a dark secret, though not necessarily very well. His secret?
He’s an absolute caricature of the Christian faith.
He’s what Hollywood and the mass media (and quite possibly some of your non-Christian friends) like to think of Christians as when they are being their most charitable. This is the non-threatening version of Christianity. It says funny things like “Okilly-dokilly!” or “Hey-Diddly-Ho!” This version of Christianity suppresses anger, is timid, easy to push around, enjoyed for its charity, vilified for its strict morality, and ultimately used for comic relief. It clings to the minutiae of Christianity, is ultimately toothless in nature, and can best be admired for it’s love of sweaters and cats. Think “little old lady” Christianity.
This is the best you can be thought of as a Christian by a large majority of non-believers or adherents to other faith, and sometimes even within your own faith community by those who have been enlightened as to the reality hiding behind life, that Christianity can not be the religion of the lion-hearted, but it’s a crutch for the timid and well-meaning that can at best be seen as innocuous, at worst as simple minded, feeble, and dangerous in spite of its best intentions.
And this guy? This is Fred Phelps. you may know him as the late hate-mongering, sign carrying, funeral protesting pastor of the (in)famous Westboro Baptist Church, who for whatever reason, felt it better to spew hate even within their domain name. I won’t print it here because it’s fairly detestable, but google it for yourself and make your own decisions.
See, if Ned-diddlely Flanderino up there is the best Hollywood/media/pop culture view Christianity as, this is the worst we’re viewed as. We’re viewed as sharing in Phelp’s anti-gay, anti-islam, anti-darn-near-everything-ever inflammatory hatred. When he did something stupid, or said something stupid, we’re viewed by everyone around as as at least equally culpable in the stupid. So much the case that, people like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins go so far to say that religions are dangerous and should be banned. People say things like that partly because of the bad ole’ folks like Fred Phelps here who strangle out truth beneath an oppressive brand of hatred that causes everyone to see them, and you, and me, as Right Wing NutJobs.
Speaking of Sam Harris, that’s this guy here. See the smirk? It’s permanently attached. It comes because he is, in his own disturbing little opinion, far more intelligent than religious people. He’s kind of your average militant atheist. They like to do things like argue minutiae, the same kind of stuff that the Ned Flanders style Christians described above freak out over because they don’t have any answers to questions like the ones posted in this debate here: Sam Harris Vs. Bill Craig. Watch it for the fun of watching Bill Craig semantically draw and quarter Sam Harris, but linger over it for the full effect of Christianity at it’s least Ned Flanders/Fred Phelps caricaturistic goofiness. It’s pretty awesome to watch.
Why bring up Sam the Sneer? Well, he’s one of the guys spearheading the new view of Christianity. He’s one of the guys that takes guys like the late Pastor (using the term VERY loosely) Phelps and redraws each and every Christian in some shade of cruelty and heartlessness, and then makes the Ned Flanders Christians cower in horror because they can’t answer his questions. And if you look very closely at his questions, they really shouldn’t be that much of a stretch for a believer to answer. But we don’t, for the most part, and ya know why? Cause… you know… Christians.
For every Sam Harris, there are 1000 Sam Jrs who like to say things without any knowledge or wisdom whatsoever, who like to paint pictures of Christians that are dangerous, foolish, uninformed, and ultimately far too insipid or stupid or BOTH to occupy any useful space in the dialog. And for every 1000 Sam Jrs, there happen to be probably 10,000 Christians who are either too timid, too asleep, or too preoccupied with not providing an answer for the hope that lies within them with gentleness and love to actually be able to… well… provide an answer for the hope that lies within them with gentleness and love.
This is ISIS. They’re just crazy. But a lot of people like Sam Harris use their craziness as an analogy for Christians. It doesn’t work really well because we’re not pyscho.
See this guy? Yeah, it’s an artist’s rendering, but this is Jesus. He’s the King of Kings. Ultimately, no matter what any of these other people think, see, or do, He’s the guy that’s in charge. You can disagree all you want. You can do whatever you want. But, at some point, you’re going to be accountable to Him whether you find that pleasing or not. So, really, if you’re a Christian, the Hollywood stereotypes aren’t really what applies to you. Because you follow this guy. And part of following this guy is being able to and willing to stand for truth, although the cost can be your life:
36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul? 38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
Did you catch that? It’s not our job to be timid. We’re supposed to be unashamed of the gospel. We’re supposed to be willing to give our lives and our hearts. Being a Christ follower doesn’t make you a pushover. It makes you an obedient servant to the King of this universe. The hard part for us to grasp is that that lies somewhere in between. We can’t be pushovers and Ned Flanders, but we can’t spew hate and BE hateful to those who disagree with us like Fred Phelps. Because our fight is not with the Sam Harris’s and the Kathy Griffins and Bill Mahers of the world, but our fight is with powers and principalities outside of our realm. Our job in that fight is to prepare ourselves to share truth, share our hearts and our compassion, and prepare for the imminent return of Jesus Christ!
So hey! Don’t be THAT guy. Don’t be Ned Flanders. You can be offensive to others just by doing your job as a Christian because hey, the Gospel is offensive! You can go find the answers to those hard questions, and you can be quick to share them without fear! It’s more than just a right, it’s your duty!
And also. Don’t be that OTHER guy. You were saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, not your own merit. Jesus didn’t save you because you’re a special little snowflake. He saved you because of His own love and grace. So don’t assume that your salvation comes with the ability to spew hate. It doesn’t. It comes with the ability to marvel at your Maker, love others, be forthright in truth, and let your own life be a guidepost for others, that they might see the redemptive work being done in you.