Hi, I’m Jonathan and I’m a part of the church.
I’m not going to mince words at the beginning here. I straight grew up in church. In the Bible belt, the Bible pants, and the Bible shirt. I sometimes think that if my mom could have given birth to me inside of a sanctuary she would have.
My dad was a pastor when I was growing up so some of my earliest memories are crawling under pews and being in church nurseries. Some kid bit me in a nursery one time and I’ve never forgiven him for it. I remember eating the extra communion crackers with my sister Melissa when my parents weren’t looking. I remember Melissa and I would make games up in the church parking lot to kill the time while my dad talked to missionaries and members for hours upon hours… upon hours. I think he still might be out there talking.
On many rides home from church, I remember praying to God that my dad would forget that he told me I was going to get spanking for screwing around during service. Sometimes it actually worked. (That’s how I learned about the power of prayer.)
It always baffles me when I have friends, even in my twenties, that have never been to a funeral. I’ve been to so many I can’t even begin to count. I’ve been to a whole lot of weddings, too. Just part of growing up in church with a family that is super involved. The church is a place of weddings and new lives starting, and it’s also a place of funerals and where death is put on display. It seems that life and death both can be found in the church on given days.
I remember the VBS’s, the revivals, the choirs, the fall festivals, the Christmas musicals, and the cake. The people of God love cake if you didn’t know that.
I remember other heavier things as well.
I remember visiting people in trailer parks and how scared I was of the random dogs running around. I remember the crazy people arguing with my dad outside of our small church because he wouldn’t give them everything they wanted financially. I remember visiting sick and dying people in hospitals and nursing homes. I remember handing out food to hungry people. And I particularly remember standing outside all throughout my hometown with hundreds of other people from churches holding signs on one Sunday every year. Signs that said, “Abortion kills children” and “Adoption: The Loving Option.” Everyone loves a good rhyme, right?
Interestingly enough, I don’t remember ever having a choice to go to any of these heavier things. My parents never asked me, “Do you want to go do this?” I just went. And other than the fact that it was hot and boring, I didn’t think we were doing anything wrong or ridiculous. It’s just what we did as a church. As the church. As the people of God. I figured this was how we made God happy.
The point of my essay is not to talk about any of these things specifically. I simply want to just give you some insight into my upbringing. When I say I was born in the church, I mean it.
Once I hit my twenties, I started to rethink some things. We could talk for a long time about opinions of mine that have changed over the recent years and some opinions that are in the midst of transitioning right now. But for the sake of having an actual point to all of this, I will just say that I’ve realized that I don’t think the church is what I grew up believing it was. The church’s four walls are not the holiest place in the city, the people within them are not always nice, and the sermons aren’t always 100 percent accurate.
I don’t think that Jesus was a Republican, and I don’t think that God is happy when we just go down a ballot and check off the box for all the Republicans with no thought whatsoever as to what the candidates' actual stances are. Maybe it’s just moving to DC, but daily I become more annoyed with what I hear people saying the church should be and what people say a Christian should look like. Just because someone has a national show doesn’t mean that his or her voice is anything worth respecting. In fact, they constantly show me exactly what I don’t want to look like as a Christian, or even as an American.
Welcome to the Age of Extremes
I recently read that President Obama is leading a war on coal. Really? Is he sending soldiers into the mines? I also heard that there is a war on Christmas. And I think I heard that there is a war on marriage, too?
Everything is a war these days. If I was “War” I’d be pretty offended that you were throwing my name around like that. “Hey, I’m War. Don’t you lump my WWII in with this stuff, that’s disrespectful to my past! I leave people dead and homeless, not just opinionated and annoyed!”
Thanks to 24-hour news networks, everything has to be a big deal. Never forget that CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC are competing with American Idol and Monday Night Football. They want ratings just as bad as NBC, but they just happen to have to be reporting news all the time. Everything has to be a “war” or no one will watch it. And when everyone is at war, no one is at peace.
Disaster and fear boost ratings. It’s proven. I grew up in Florida, and the only time we watched the weather channel was if there was a hurricane coming. We were glued to the coverage. The same concept is what these news networks use. Disaster and fear. You had better hear what they have to say or you may lose your job or your civil liberties. Nothing usually plays out to the extreme they say it will; yet we keep watching and listening to the rhetoric they have to tell us. And they know it.
Can we admit that we are in an age of extremes? Why does everything have to be so far one way or the other? Go read through your Facebook news feed or a YouTube comment section, I guarantee you you’ll find 99 extremists to every one peacemaker. I believe this is why Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” because he knew they are as rare as an actual good deal at Banana Republic.
We might like singing, “Give peace a chance” but few really want to do what it takes to bring peace. Peace means compromising. We like the thought of “peace on our terms.” Agree with my views and we can get along. That’s not real peace, but it’s really what we want, isn’t it?
What Did You Expect?
As a Christian, I am often annoyed with what I hear coming out of my brothers and sisters’ mouths. Every time there is an election it’s like we finally open up the book of Revelation and start pulling random verses out and make them apply to various different aspects of candidates.
Of course it goes beyond just election season. I can think back in my life at the various things I’ve seen church people boycott. Then we get really mad when other people want to boycott the things that we like and act like they are ridiculous for thinking a boycott could possibly work. If that sounds like a double standard… it’s because it is.
When I hear people say things like, “We need to get America back to where it was,” it makes me wonder what point in time they are talking about. Back to what? Back to segregation? Back to slavery? Back to Civil War? Back to the raping and murdering of the natives? What time could we possibly want to get back to?
Or do they mean, “Back to when it was easier to be a Christian, white man. Back when we weren’t challenged by anything. Back when Presidents and Generals praised our religious beliefs. Back when we could say one thing and do another and there was no one to hold us accountable for our hypocrisy.”
Just what do you want to go back to?
Now, obviously I don’t believe we are living in the sweetest time of the earth’s existence. There are tragedies and heartbreak every single day. There are things worth getting upset about. There are things worth taking a stand over. There is still endless room for improvement. And in defense of the church, I will say I am sad to see God being pushed out of agendas. I am sad to hear that people don’t want to be a nation under God. I am sad to hear that people don’t want to pray. But most of my sadness comes not from God being moved out of the government and society, but out of our hearts.
I’d love it if Jesus was sitting on earth as the President of the United States, but he’s not. And since he is not, we are left with human beings running the show. The world would be at peace if we didn’t have any humans, so if you really want world peace then maybe you should start praying for a plague. Until everyone on earth dies out, though, you can bet Christians will continue to see things play out in ways they do not want them to.
I don’t say that to be a downer, I say it because I am referencing Jesus.
“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.”
So should we be surprised by disagreements with our faith? Should we be surprised that not everyone wants to celebrate Christmas with us? I mean Jesus kind of spelled it out for us didn’t he?
So, what if there actually is a “war on Christmas”? What should our response be? Does God want us to flip out and spread more fear and outrage? Is that what brings change? Do we want to be the annoying “woe-is-me” people who try to get everyone to feel sorry for us? Or do we want to be stand-up people aren’t afraid to be disagreed with? People who can say “I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I’ve committed unto him against that day”? (2 Timothy 1:2)
We cannot claim to be given a Kingdom that cannot be shaken (Hebrews 12:28) and then say that if one man is elected then everything we know will be destroyed. If one man can destroy what we say we believe with all of our hearts, then we have no hope at all. We are selling empty promises. If we think a government can keep the Kingdom of God from coming then we must not really believe what we say we do about the power of God.
The Best Form of Protest
Sometimes I get so annoyed with the church. Then, I have to remember two things: I am the church, and she is the bride of Christ. So I better not abandon her, and I better defend her.
I am proud to call myself a Christian. I am proud to be a part of a religion that accepts me for who I am. I am glad that I serve a God who loves me just as I am, but who is still working on me. I like being in the church. And I love that we have a God who is bigger than our mistakes.
The point of all of this hasn’t been that Christians need to shut up and just grin and bear it all. It hasn’t been that we are in a losing battle. If anything, I want to echo Proverbs 31:9, “Open your mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy.”
I’ve just been wondering for some time now what the best form of protest is. Is it holding signs on the side of a street? Is it writing our congressman or marching on Washington? Maybe there’s some good in those things, and maybe God has called some of us to do them, but maybe the steps towards the change we want to see in this world don’t come with national headlines.
I’ve been thinking about when Jesus was talking to Pilate before he was crucified (John 18:37-38). He told Pilate, “Everyone who is for me is on the side of truth.” Pilate responds, “What is truth?”
I feel like Pilate in a lot of ways. I know I am on the side of Jesus so I must be on the side of truth, but if I can be honest, sometimes the lines seem to blur due to all the noise, charts, and graphics on TV and computer screens. I’m left asking, “What is truth?” But I think that is a question that God doesn’t mind us asking him.
The truth about truth is that whether it makes us happy or not, whether we can agree with it or not, or whether we want to accept it or not does not change the fact that it is truth. Maybe in our pursuit of the truth God will reveal some things to us that we really don’t like, or answers that might mean we have to eat some of our words.
What if the best form of protest is different than the ways we’ve advocated for change in the past? What if we were not just hearers and repeaters of the word, but doers of the word? What if we were people who kept our cool in the thick of the changes we didn’t like?
The Apostle Peter gave some governmental advice in 1 Peter 2:17, “Fear God, honor the king.” He didn’t say to fear the king; he said to fear God. Perhaps we are wasting our time getting up in arms about things that wouldn’t be such a big deal if we learned what it truly meant to fear God.
To me, the best form of protest is to live a holy life. To learn how to disagree in love and respect. To learn how to stand for truth first and foremost in our own lives. To hold ourselves accountable before we hold anyone else accountable.
I’ve always been impressed by the way Jesus handled his crucifixion. It was the most incorrect and unjust governmental and societal action in the history of time. A perfect man forced to carry his cross and die. But he took it with dignity and in holiness.
“He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.”
Surely there are times for us to speak up and let our voices be heard, and we’ve heard that the squeaky wheel gets the oil, but I ask that we at least consider the way Jesus actually handled his opposition. He shut his mouth. He stood for something greater than what any man could take away. The person the church strives to be like knew when to speak and knew when to stand silent.
I believe in the church, and I believe in the church in this country. I really could talk for hours about all the good I’ve seen come out of the people in the church. But the reason I love the church is because I’m allowed to be a screw up. I’m allowed to be someone who constantly makes mistakes and gets it wrong. I’m allowed to still be a part of the Body of Christ and I am encouraged to even boast in my weaknesses. It’s an amazing thing. Simply put—the people of God are the people of God because we know we are so messed up that we need God.
If we serve a God who is willing to find the best in us and to continue to work in us despite our shortcomings, we had better be people who are willing to change. People who can ask hard questions. People who can undergo surgery on our hearts, our motives, and our character. People who can admit when we are wrong.
Our God is humble. Are we?