When Jason and I first came up with the idea of creating a Christians Against Christians T-shirt, I thought it was brilliant, in that ironic, witty way we think we are brilliant at some point around midnight.
Not only does the slogan make people stop and think, scratching their heads and asking questions, it says something that I feel personally called to communicate: Not all Christians are like that. It’s deeply important to me—not that everyone decides to think Christians are great, but just that they don’t put us all in a box and dismiss us immediately because of what we believe. We’re not all socially conservative Republicans. We’re not all judgmental. Some of us are just trying to figure out what it means to try to live more like Jesus, because we believe that’s the only way to make ourselves—and the world—better.
Some people along the way have questioned my use of the Christians Against Christians phrase, but I have defended it, suggesting that it’s not an idea meant to be dissected, just one to grab some attention and propel people off into thinking more deeply about related issues and ideas.
But recently, I’ve started to wonder about it, myself.
A slogan that can too easily be turned around
In the small group Jason and I lead, we’ve been studying Ephesians; the last time we met, we looked at Ephesians 4, which has this as its overarching headline in my study Bible: “A call for unity in the body of Christ.” Harrumpf! I thought.
As I prepared the study, I was feeling pretty bitter about the possibility of that kind of unity. In fact, it was a Christians Against Christians moment for me. Earlier that day I had read two blog posts that made me furious. Both were written by Christians I feel some sense of alignment with, about other Christians who were attacking them in some way.
In a post at Adventures of the Called, Becca writes about a letter that arrived from another church in her community, regarding Becca’s upcoming installation service as a pastor in the Lutheran Church (ELCA). In the letter, the leadership of this local Baptist church quoted Bible passages about how women are to be kept silent; how Becca, by seeking to become a pastor, is “shameful;” and how the church that has hired her should cease to call itself a Christian church. It’s been a couple of weeks since I first read this post, but I still can hardly type these words without feeling a seething anger and even hatred for the men who wrote this letter, in the name of the God I believe in.
Immediately after I finished reading Becca’s post, I read a post (Escape from Zombieland) by Mike over at Awakening. He had just returned from Christianity21, a conference in Minneapolis I desperately wanted to attend, and described the way many other Christians were responding to those gathered at the conference:
Indeed, at that very event, there were folks gathered outside in the cold to ‘preach the truth’ over against (what they understand as) the message of C21 (which they understand as a coherent, evil whole).
While these stories made me want to claim the Christians Against Christians slogan more than ever—they were perfect examples of the type of extreme Christian that is dominating society’s understanding of what Christians think and how they act—I also realized this: They, too, are Christians Against Christians. They, too, think they’re right, and are determined to show those “other believers” how they’re wrong. And it feels evil.
A different approach to unity
In Ephesians 4, Paul shows us what unity looks like, and it doesn’t necessarily look like a group of people who agree on everything:
Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. ~ Eph. 4:2-3
It’s about humility and patience, not proving right and wrong. It’s about relying on the Spirit to bring peace and unity, not on our own skills, intelligence and strategies.
I want to believe that approach—my own humility about my stance, and being more patient with other Christians—can change things more than my outspoken frustration and anger. But sometimes it’s really hard to imagine.
And at the same time, I feel called to speak out—not to condemn Christians who anger me as much as to open the minds of those who don’t believe. But maybe my Christians Against Christians approach isn’t quite the right way. Maybe there’s an approach that blends the speaking out with the humility and patience. In fact, it seems to me that’s what Jesus modeled.
Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
~ Eph. 4:31-32