Christians Against Christians

by Kristin on November 11, 2009

in Belief, doubt & hope

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

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  • Mikela

    Awesome. You’ve put into words what I feel quite often and am not eloquent enough to express.

  • http://www.mckinneyoatescereal.wordpress.com Marie

    Thank you for writing this! I get so mad at how one type of Christian has become not only representative of us all, but also bullies about what anyone who follows Christ MUST believe. It drives me mad, and I so would have bought, like, a hundred of your “Christians Against Christians” shirts.

    And at the same time your insight and conviction is right, our God cherishes unity and somehow being kind and compassionate WILL work even though in my head it doesn’t make a lick of sense how.

  • http://www.flirtingwithfaith.com Joan Ball

    Thank you for this and thank you for reconsidering your t-shirts. One of the most compelling arguments I used against Christianity when I was an outsider looking in was the fact that factions within the church grabbed their comfortable bit of what the faith was supposed to be and bashed each other with it. As far as I was concerned this infighting — and the anger, backbiting and malice that often accompanied it — was proof that this loving God, Jesus, was a farce. Now if people could have wildly different viewpoints about their faith and address those conflicts with love, respect and unity in the face of it – that would be a model of human interaction that might have appeared different and, possibly, compelling. The Amish people who visited the family of the man who attacked there schoolhouse provides an example of this “otherworldly” forgiveness that gives pause. Unfortunately, the left-right divide is so deep and distinct and the notion that it is justifiable to bash “the church” or “the heretics” in an unloving manner is at least a bad witness if not its own sin. So much for “they will know us by our fruit…”

  • http://www.tjhirst.com/ TJ Hirst

    I appreciate your references to unity and humility. I think we are always in a learning process of what it means to be a disciple of Christ and we always want to think that we have these virtues and no one else does. That antagonism divides us more than it unites us, whatever our larger beliefs on other issues. Thanks for your thoughts today.

  • http://www.cleverfoodblog.com Jason

    While I understand the idea behind “Christians Against Christians”, I think it may be the wrong kind of approach for a t-shirt/slogan/label/whatever.

    Just as Democrats couldn’t win in 2004 by just being against Bush, I think it’s so much more powerful and productive to define yourself by inclusion and supporting what you do believe in rather than by what you don’t agree with. I guess that’s why I’ve mostly identified as UU.

  • http://www.inamirrordimly.com ed cyzewski

    Thanks for this post. After studying Romans, especially chapters 14 and 15, I’ve been convicted to do what benefits and builds up fellow believers. If I’m not building up someone, even with a carefully worded and loving critique, then I’m most likely justifying myself and my own point of view.

  • http://lifeasprayer.wordpress.com lisa

    Nice to read this! I linked to this from my blog, and wrote on it too. Intriguing topic. http://wp.me/pri9O-mO

  • karen/daisy17

    Whatever you decide to call it I hope that you’ll continue to comment on things that other Christians do that you don’t agree with, or that you don’t believe represents “all” Christians. Although it seems obvious that all the people of a faith wouldn’t have homogeneous beliefs, the truth is that for me, a non-observant Jewish New Yorker, your point of view is a new and refreshing one. I remember back to the election – I was very unsure about what your political beliefs might be – and I was surprised to learn (from your tweets, of course) that we stand on the same side of many issues. I suppose that I knew that the very vocal “Christian perspective” that many of us hear in the political arena wasn’t the only one, but it wasn’t a conversation I’d ever had. For me, your discussion of these issues is incredibly eye opening. I can’t claim to always relate to what you’re writing about when it comes to your faith, but I certainly do welcome being pushed to think about things in a different way and want to embrace our differences as well as our similarities.

  • http://www.ordinarymer.com Meredith

    One of the reasons I sort of disavowed Christianity and religion in general was precisely those individual Christians who felt compelled to tell me how or what to think, what I was doing wrong, etc. I didn’t like it, so I just walked away.

    But walking (or running) away isn’t really a solution. It doesn’t help find new approaches or work to change the dialogue. It’s harder to stay and work from within (both within your own self and within a specific community) – and it’s ultimately more rewarding.

    I feel that the things I’ve read here on your blog about faith, God and religion (and from the very thoughtful and intelligent people who comment) have given me more hope about Christianity as a whole than anything else lately.

    Also, ditto what Jason said: I think it’s so much more powerful and productive to define yourself by inclusion and supporting what you do believe in rather than by what you don’t agree with. I guess that’s why I’ve mostly identified as UU.

  • Ron Simkins

    I think you are really on target even though it proves very difficult in practice not to turn people (especially those who disavow me in my attempts to be authentically faithful to Jesus’ calling) into “its” in my planning and “0′s” in my equations. Jesus was/is incredible at seeing everyone as a real person. We who claim him are tragically poor at following that example. As you, and others who are commenting say, it does not mean avoiding honestly stating differences, it means remembering we are dealing with real people who God loves which puts us both inside a pretty important circle. Thanks for the reminder. I wish what you are challenging us to do and be was even “halfway to normal.” Maybe it is “all the way to normal,” just not even half way to average.

  • Elaine Tolsma-Harlow

    When I first read your Christians against Christians slogan I woo-hooed it, but in the back of my mine I had a little pricker about being the one to cast the first stone. You put my little pricker into a well articulated post.

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com/ Kristin T.

    Before I start responding to individuals, I thought I should clarify that this T-shirt doesn’t actually exist (as far as I know). My husband just went to a website that lets you design your own T-shirts, and this is the sample image of what it would look like.

    Mikela, you’ve summed up why I write (and I’m sure why most writers write): to put into words not just what *I* feel, but more importantly what others out there might feel but not be able to articulate. Thanks for letting me know and making my day. :)

    Marie, clearly we are of one mind in this conundrum! I’m glad that you pointed out the “bullying”—that’s essentially what is going on in the two examples I shared from other blogs. But in the end, you nailed all that matters: “…our God cherishes unity, and somehow being kind and compassionate WILL work even though in my head it doesn’t make a lick of sense how.”

    Joan, as someone who has often doubted my faith but has still had it for as long as I can remember, I always appreciate your perspective—someone knows what it’s like to be on the outside of faith looking in, as well as on the inside looking around. A very loud Amen to this: “Now if people could have wildly different viewpoints about their faith and address those conflicts with love, respect and unity in the face of it—that would be a model of human interaction that might have appeared different and, possibly, compelling.”

    TJ, thanks for commenting, and for sticking with me as I process my thoughts, even though I know we don’t always agree. You’ve summed up our state quite nicely here: “I think we are always in a learning process of what it means to be a disciple of Christ and we always want to think that we have these virtues and no one else does.”

    Jason, what you say here is very true, and a perspective I want to embrace more actively in my life: “I think it’s so much more powerful and productive to define yourself by inclusion and supporting what you do believe in rather than by what you don’t agree with.” I can see why the UU church is appealing for this reason, but I also think other denominations and churches can definitely accomplish this inclusiveness more, too. We all have much to learn from each other.

    ed, now I’m going to have to read Romans again—it’s been awhile! You make a really important point here: “If I’m not building up someone, even with a carefully worded and loving critique, then I’m most likely justifying myself and my own point of view.”

    lisa, I’m glad you like the post and that it inspired thoughts for your blog. I love how bloggers can be doing what they do and sharing/feeding one another in the process.

    karen/daisy17, your perspective is always very eye-opening to me, just as mine is to you. I love it when you jump into the discussion! And I totally hear you—within my broader circle of believers, calling it Christians Against Christians might be having destructive effects, but for others, it’s still important that I keep sharing my perspective. “Not all Christians are like that” seems to be a pretty constructive way to approach it. It’s about dissembling stereotypes, right? Not fanning the flames of disagreement. (I’m so glad you embrace our differences as well as what we share in common!)

    Meredith, I think I have someone very much like you (and daisy17) in my mind when I write many of these posts. Just like you said, I also meet people and read other blogs that give me so much hope for the state of Christianity. Hearing someone say something like this gives me lots of hope, too: “But walking (or running) away isn’t really a solution. It doesn’t help find new approaches or work to change the dialogue.”

    Ron, all I can say is YES: “Jesus was/is incredible at seeing everyone as a real person. We who claim him are tragically poor at following that example.” Sometimes I pat myself on the back because I see all of the marginalized people in our society as very real people that Jesus loves, but then I turn around with anger toward Christians who think and act differently. It’s a different brand of hypocrisy, but it’s still hypocrisy and I need to do something about it.

    Elaine, yep. I ignored the pricker because I just wanted the slogan to be clever and thought-provoking. Thankfully, I was reading Ephesians 4 when I was reading those blog posts that upset me so much. Thankfully, God is patient with me.

  • Bella James

    I totally understand what you’re saying Kristin. Sometimes i wonder who we are fighting and why. We shouldn’t be fighting other Christians but at times, some Christians stray away from what is real and distort the Bible and its teachings to they way they think it should read. I’ve visited a church that believed people who were divorced could be saved, just not in their church. They also believed if you re-married, you have to divorce the person you are with and go back to your ex-husband/wife. My jaw dropped. How can people who are so called Christians have this kind of distorted thinking? It’s like the Baptist churches that support gays. The Bible clearly teaches against it. Anyways, love your blogs!

  • http://www.sundayschoolrebel.typepad.com Sam

    It’s so hard. It’s even harder to read that non-believers hold our tiffs and infighting (which spills outside the church conversation) against us, but why wouldn’t we? If we can’t love our brother or sister we don’t agree with, then how can we logically love others?

    I’m glad that the thought of Christians Against Christians is giving you pause. While it’s completely ridiculous, the thought of Christians protesting a Christian gathering…seriously. I wish we could be more focused on feeding the hungry than worried about each other’s doctrinal failings. But it’s so easy to get caught up in feeling superior (myself included) and rejecting anything that reeks of conservative Christianity. I really do have to trust that these people are doing the best they can, and that Jesus loves them, too. Still, it is satisfying to poke fun, now and then…

  • http://www.sundayschoolrebel.typepad.com Sam

    Let me add…though the world can’t expect us to love, we are blessed in that God doesn’t operate logically.

  • http://www.sundayschoolrebel.typepad.com Sam

    Kristin, I am reading some Madeleine L’Engle (A Stone for a Pillow) and here’s the most perfect quote: “There are times where I may have had it with Christians, but I do not want the kingdom to fall.” Says everything I wanted to say!

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com/ Kristin T.

    Bella, I’m glad you found my blog and enjoyed the post! You’re right—the Bible is being distorted all the time by people—I do it too, even when I’m trying hard not to. I’m not sure there’s any way to completely avoid that, other than to keep praying for wisdom and discernment as we read. Regarding your last statement, about the Bible and homosexuality, I’m a bit confused about what you’re saying. I’m not a theologian, but from my perspective the Bible isn’t completely clear about much of anything, other than the absolutes: loving God and loving your neighbor. When you take into consideration, for example, who Paul was specifically writing to (and when, where & why), the applications for today get even more fuzzy. That doesn’t mean the Bible isn’t absolutely relevant in our lives now, 2009, in the US. And it doesn’t mean that all Christians have to believe all the same things to be a part of the same family. I guess that’s the main point of my post—that and making sure we don’t hurt one another in the process of trying to do what we think is right.

    Sam, Amen to this, sister: “I wish we could be more focused on feeding the hungry than worried about each other’s doctrinal failings.” That’s what saddens me the most when churches get caught up in debates about issues like homosexuality and ordaining women—so much time and energy and passion directed at our own insistences of right and wrong, rather than loving and caring for the least among us. (Thanks for sharing the great L’Engle quote, too!)

  • http://notes-from-offcenter.com Drew Tatusko

    at my cousin’s bar mitzvah (i have a pretty diverse family) part of the ceremony is that the torah scroll was handed to him from his grandparents, to his parents and then to him. reformed jews understand that the torah is meant to inhabit different cultures at different times and that the words themselves are never to be placed in the same absolute nature as the G-D to whom they speak.

    this is very different from the islamic belief in the absolute nature of the qu’ran. the qu’ran is the very word of allah that is never changing. the real distortion in many forms of biblical literalism in christianity is the belief that the bible is the absolute word of god as muslims view the qu’ran. this is not true at all. the unchanging and perfect word of god is christ alone for whom the scriptures are only a witness. this means that the scriptures are not perfect (as any biblical scholar should tell you if he or she is honest), nor should we devise fancy speculative doctrines to assert they are. biblical infallibility is merely a parallel authority to papal infallibility and both are distortions of the function of scripture as something god-breathed, not verbally given.

    once you embrace the limited and flawed nature of scripture as it has inhabited culture after culture only to serve the purpose of being a witness to god alone, you have permission to go deeper into it and understand god more closely. but if you limit yourself to a culturally mediated literalism, you by nature distort the words for the purpose they are to serve. the words in scripture have become your god in this instance, not the god for whom they are a witness. that is at it root idolatry and i am a christian who hacks at this poisonous root often and intentionally.

    peace.

  • MoJoJules

    I think something that I feel important in christian vs. christian is letting go of the need or the feeling of having the “right” to be a certian thing when entering into community or discussion. I think this is where we (even though I don’t like to use the word “christian” to label myself…baggage that goes with it) have skewed things.

    I love how Seth Donovan put this at C21, she said:

    “Standing: a place where i can confess my faith – which means that i have to be able to show up with all of my identities. i need a place to de-compartmentalize.

    from my notes:

    · I also walk through the world as a compartmentalized person: I am queer, I am gender-queer, I am a community organizer, I am a partner, I am a friend, I am white, I am middle-class, I am able-bodied, I am a Christian – I have a thousand identities and as a person in the 21st century am skilled in accessing and repressing those identities as I need to in order to be safe and to be loved and to get what I need. The other aspect of confession – the aspect of being able to confess my faith and confess myself as a whole person is vital to me in participating in the church…that when I walk into the church my theology has everything to do with me and all of my identities have everything to do with my faith – that there is no shame to be carried in with certain parts of myself…that my whole self can be confessed. That my faith and theology can be about my body and my gender and my relationships and all of the parts of myself that I am sent consistent messages should be things that I keep in compartments

    The implications of what type of work the church needs to do to become a place where this dual approach to confession can happen are vast:

    - it means the church (we) have to be a place where someone is held tightly enough that it is safe to be wrong…that relationship with the other is non-negotiable (Jules emphasis)”

    I think this and Seth’s whole discussion really, gets to the heart of the matter. It is the need to come into community, discussion, ect. and let go of the right to be right, but allow everyone to be wrong. in christian vs. christian that isn’t that allowance. on both sides if we ALL are honest.

    I like that Drew pointed to the fact that there needs to be an understanding of scripture and the what is absolute. I guess it is the PoMo/EC in me, but for me Drew couldn’t be more correct. I think once we embrace the thought that we don’t own or have the market on any thing absolute this (should or hopefully) free ourselves from a hold on one side or another. However, I realize what I just stated is a lot where the christian vs christian thing comes out of a lot of times.

    Not sure if I just merked the water more or helped at all. ;)

    blessings!

    Jules

  • http://www.orangeshirtguy.com Dave Thurston

    You know how there are those bibles that have all of Jesus’ quotes in red. It’d be interesting to review all those quotes and count how many times He says “Do this” versus how many times He says, “Don’t do this”.

    So much more action can be accomplished with “Do This” rather than with the “Don’t” (and trying to figure out what needs to actually be done so that you can accomplish the “Don’t” activity).

    So much easier to be For-Something, rather than to be Against-Something.

    Looking forward to the “People for __________” T-Shirt (I’ll take an XL).

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com/ Kristin T.

    Drew, I never would have been able to put it all together in my head then articulate it, but I think you’ve hit on what’s at the foundation of my belief about the Bible: “once you embrace the limited and flawed nature of scripture as it has inhabited culture after culture only to serve the purpose of being a witness to god alone, you have permission to go deeper into it and understand god more closely.” Thanks for your thoughts and wisdom, and for bringing it all into context by looking at other belief systems, too.

    MoJoJules, wow, Seth Donovan’s quote is a pretty amazing way to think about a place for confessing your faith, while simultaneously embracing all of who you are. “I need a place to de-compartmentalize.” So powerful and true. And what you wrote about the work we need to do as the Church: “It is the need to come into community, discussion, etc. and let go of the right to be right, but allow everyone to be wrong.” Radical and absolutely necessary. My mind is buzzing with so many thoughts & ideas related to this. Thanks!

    Dave, that’s very true, Jesus was all about going and doing likewise. Growing up in the church, I think somewhere along the line I started to place Paul’s writings above the gospels. Paul is the one who likes to remind us of all the things we shouldn’t do, but he was also a man (not the son of God) who was writing letters to specific people with specific issues. And you’re right—I need to shift to a “do this” frame of mind, and be sure to model those good things in my life, as much as possible. (That’s what the best parents do, right? :)

  • http://www.jonathanriggs.wordpress.com Jonathan Riggs

    Bravo, Kristen. Pursue unity.

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com/ Kristin T.

    Jonathan, thanks for the “bravo.” :) Once this vision of unity came together in my post, I began to see it everywhere, in a multitude of scenarios and forms. Amazing.

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