Thursday, October 15, 2015

Six Flawed Claims in Buzzfeed's "I’m Christian But I’m Not…”

Plenty has been written about Buzzfeed's viral video featuring a number of people who address all the ways they believe Christians have been unfairly stereotyped. As much as I appreciate the spirit behind their attempt, I'm not thrilled with the attempt itself.  First, the fact that Christ is not mentioned in a discussion is a significant oversight. Second, though there are  some decent observations (you can read the whole text here), there are also a number of claims that reveal a fair amount of confusion about what it means to be a follower of the person and teaching of Jesus.

"I’m Christian but I’m not close-minded."

Let’s not kid ourselves: everyone is close-minded about something. I am close-minded about torturing babies or driving drunk. I have friends who are close-minded about global warming, eating meat, and whether or not Christianity is a good idea. On the other hand, I am open-minded, if by that you mean I listen to competing voices on religion, politics, and current events, try to weigh them fairly, and seek to be honest about whether or not what I believe to be true actually is true.

It’s a virtue to keep an open mind – until it’s time to close it. Being close-minded isn’t automatically a bad thing – though it can be. It’s not always easy to identify when that moment arrives, but we all do it. In this case, I would hope that identifying as a Christian means someone has made an informed decision between the claims of Jesus and the claims of other world religions. Choosing to follow Jesus on biblical terms requires an agreement that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and that no one has access to God except through Jesus (John 14:6). Even if followers of Christ entertain questions and doubts (as I suspect we all do in some fashion), if we claim to follow, obey and worship Jesus and not other gods, we have closed our minds around something.

"I’m a Christian but I’m not unaccepting." 

On the surface, I appreciate this sentiment. A proper expression of tolerance ("a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, beliefs, practices, racial or ethnic origins, etc., differ from one's own; freedom from bigotry") is a virtue.

But let's be honest: everyone is unaccepting or intolerant about something. This is the same dilemma as being open-minded/close-minded. What is acceptance? Is it jettisoning all standards and safe boundaries so that anyone who does anything gets full access to your emotions, time, money, friendships, home, business, church, gym, school, etc? Nobody offers this kind of acceptance – and rightly so. Acceptance can’t be naïve or it enables at best and endangers at worst. So just on the surface, I think we all agree there are times we ought not accept certain things and particular people. There is a time to be intolerant.

Just to make it personal: accepting me does not mean you should accept everything about me. Loving me does not mean you should love everything about me. If you have to ignore, excuse, or explain away the bad parts of me, that's not acceptance. Those who genuinely accept me do not offer blind affirmation; they choose to love me spite of all the unlovable and ugly things in me, and because they love me they challenge and encourage me to be a better person. In this environment, there is the freedom and safety necessary for me to address the unacceptable things within me.

"I’m a Christian but I am not judgmental."

Judgement is "the ability to judge, make a decision, or form an opinion objectively, authoritatively, and wisely, especially in matters affecting action; good sense; discretion."   Being judgmental is "involving the use or exercise of judgment." If you're not judgmental - and this applies to everyone, not just Christians - that's a problem.

Meanwhile, the non-judgmental people in the video are judgmental. The way they describe their Christianity reveals that they have no problem making a judgment about certain things. Based on the quotes from the video, if I would tell them I was not a feminist,  or that I thought marriage was designed for oppositely gendered people, they would think I was wrong – and that’s a judgment.

That's also fine. Nobody should hold that against them. We are all judgmental. It’s inescapable. If we aren’t capable of exercising judgment, that’s a mark against us. We will always debate the merits of the judgments in question, but intelligent judgment is a virtue, not a vice.

"I am a Christian but I am queer/ I am gay / I practice monogamy before sex" [which makes no sense - I assume she meant 'monogamy before marriage']

I don't expect those who do not follow Christ to follow biblical teaching in the area of sexual conduct. However, it's hard for me to see how those who claim that the Bible is the standard for their life can condone or celebrate a sexual lifestyle that contradicts biblical teaching - specifically, sex is designed to be experienced between men and women in the context of marriage. I think it's pretty safe to say that living within these boundaries challenges everyone in some fashion. No one, including me, promotes the standards for Christian sexuality from a pedestal of purity. I do, however, promote it as one who is committed to continuously bringing every area of my life into complete surrender to the lordship of Christ.  A proclamation of contentment or satisfaction with any non-biblical standard, however, is incongruous for followers of Christ, to say the least.

As for the subject of sexual identity, it is crucial that Christians have truthful, compassionate discussions about how and why people identify the way they do. Christians must offer a community of compassionate, loving people who uphold biblical standards while walking closely with those whose deeply embedded sense of sexual identity draws them toward a lifestyle at odds with biblical boundaries. This is a difficult path, but it is a biblically clear one.

"But at its core it’s really about love and acceptance and being a good neighbor."

Yes, love is meant to be the foundation on which Christians actions build – see 1 Corinthians 13. Of course, not any definition of love will do. The Bible uses language that points to a particular kind of love, one that is meant to reflect God’s love for us. Christians are meant to embody a Christ-like love, one which requires the sacrificing of our lives in the service of Christ and others. That 's why it's not sufficient to say that love is the core. The good news of the Gospel includes the call to love and be good neighbors, but that’s not the core of the Christian faith. Saying it's the love of Christ gets you closer; identifying the person and work of Christ actually gets you to the core.

The classic statement of God loving the world (John 3:16) was in a conversation with Nicodemus. Jesus challenged him to be spiritually reborn, to repent, be forgiven, and begin a new life of obedience and discipleship. Yes, love is at the heart of this radical new life, but the nature and the demands of that love matter.

"I think everybody is in a different part of life on their own path to wherever they’re trying to go." 

That’s an obviously true statement about how life unfolds. Miley is on her own path. Dr. Goznell was on his own path. ISIS terrorists are on their own path. So are Bill Gates and Pope Francis and Tina Fey and my mom. There is no point to be made from this.

When you consider all the different paths of life, you have to make a judgment or the world falls apart. Some paths lead to bad places, some to good. It’s okay to make a judgment about the quality of a person's path in life. Even the people in the video agree with this principle. How do I know? Because it’s why they made the video in the first place.

Thanks to the video, people have become engaged in a vigorous discussion about what a Christian is or is not. That's a good thing.  But if all that matters is love, acceptance, open-mindedness and a commitment not to judge, then I'm not sure why we are talking. All the back-and-forth currently taking place already fails to uphold the video's values. And if the conclusion is that a Christian can be just about anything and still be a Christian, then we've stopped talking about Christianity and moved on to a different worldview.

If that's the case, then let's talk about that new worldview. Maybe the video could feature people saying something along the lines of a simple, "I'm Not…" Then we could all join a conversation that figures out what they are.

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