Matters of Faith Part III: Christians | Confessions of a Stay-At-Home Mom

October 6, 2011

Matters of Faith Part III: Christians

On my Journey with Faith, there have been many things that have contributed to the conflict going on in my mind and heart. In my last post, I shared about some of the things that give me pause - the "Why" questions of this life: Why is there hurt, why is there hypocrisy, why do bad things happen.  I am conflicted over the idea that God is either unable to fix the bad things in this world or chooses to turn a blind eye to them.

But after being a Christian for 15 years, there was another aspect of Christianity that caused me to struggle.  I've thought on this issue a lot, turning it over and over in my mind. I'm uncertain of how to approach it, how to talk about. Either way it comes off offensive, which is not my intention. So I'm just going to dive in by making this statement, and I'm interested to hear thoughts from all sides:

One of the biggest problems with Christianity is Christians

First, let me say this: I am not saying this as a BOOYAH for the non-Christians out there.  I'm not here to throw high fives or do a victory dance.  I don't see this as a victory.

Second, let me say this:  I was one of the offending Christians I am speaking of.

Now, of course, I made a very bold, blanket statement. Let me back up and assure you: I absolutely do NOT think ALL Christians contribute to giving Christianity a bad name.  Many of the people I love most in this life are amazing Christians, who exemplify the greatest attributes of the Christian faith: love, joy, grace, forgiveness, kindness.

But, as the saying goes, it only takes one bad banana to spoil the whole bunch. It only takes one rogue church, one person who abuses and manipulates the bible, to cast a dark cloud over an entire belief system.  This is true of any religion.  Muslims are not bad people, but it only takes one catastrophic and unfortunate event to mar them as a people.  Isn't that true? A handful of misguided Muslims have caused us, as a nation, to stereotype and profile every Muslim in America. This is not fair to all of the people (citizens of the USA) who non-violently practice the Muslim faith.  Just as it is not fair for every Christian to be lumped together with some of the crazy and hurtful things done in the name of Christianity.

That being said, it is easy to get wrapped up in one's faith, and become unaware of how actions are perceived by people outside of it. I think if more Christians (or, really, subscribers to any faith or philosophy) were willing to spend some time digging deep and examining

What they believe

Why they believe it

How those beliefs should affect the way they live

...they might shine a better light on the faith that they love.

Not for their own sake, but for those who are outside looking in.

You only get once chance to make a first impression. And I was unaware of the impression Christians can sometimes make to those who are not Christians until I began to really struggle with my own faith. I realized how easily simple gestures could put off other people. I began to understand what Christianity looked like from the outside, which was a perspective I had lost after being so immersed and wrapped up in my beliefs.

So, I compiled a list of some of the bigger offenses I've personally witnessed some Christians make (mind you: I, myself, having been one of the offenders).  Not to accuse. Not to debate. But to bring up for consideration and discussion.

Warped Community

One of the things I loved about Christianity was the community. There was a large support system of like-minded individuals, journeying along the same path as me.  Over time, I've come to realize some parts of that community can become too insulated, too exclusive.  And when that happens, a "Christian Bubble" is formed.  That community loses a sense of perspective: they forget what it was like to not be a Christian, how the world looks and feels to those outside of their own faith.  But when the supposed essence of Christianity is to share the love and life that is found in God (experienced through said community) to others, an exclusive closed group is not attractive.  Nor does it really reflect the inviting aspects that Christianity possesses.


Christians revel in the fact that they were Saved. From a Life of Sin. And Hell. They find connection to God and Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.  They yearn to have the Fruits of the Spirit blossoming in their lives, and struggle to find their meaning in life by figuring out what their Spiritual Gifts are. So they have quiet times, reading their bible and praying.  And evangelize to the unchurched so that those souls might be saved from damnation through the grace provided by Jesus Christ dying on the Cross.

Do you know what the unchurched are thinking when they hear these words and phrases pouring out of a Christian's mouth?


Try to imagine having no knowledge of these euphemisms and ideas.  So you are telling me there's a guy. Who was nailed to 2 wooden boards.  Because of this thing called sin. Which really is another word for "we all suck and do bad things."  That sound crazy. And really, the whole idea of spirits can be pretty stinkin' weird. As for being pegged as "unchurched"or "unsaved?"  Probably not the most welcoming or enticing.

Abuse of the Bible

I've seen a lot of horrible acts done in the name of Christianity:  Westboro Baptist Church picketing outside soldier's funerals.  Pat Robertson stating that Hurricane Katrina was God's punishment for abortion. Jim Jones creating a cult called Jonestown, culminating in the mass suicide of 909 people.  Whether crazy or sane, these people validated their actions through bible verses.  

There are definite parts of the bible that condemn homosexuality.  And Christians use those verses to validate marginalizing an entire population of people.  In the south, white Christian Americans justified owning black slaves (which was only the beginning of the awful racism we've seen in our country) because it said it was "ok" in the bible.

While these are some of the bigger instances of bible manipulation, I've seen it in every day conversation. Stating one should pick political candidates solely on the fact they are Christian or Republican (regardless of their credentials).  Bullying homosexuals. Speaking poorly of other races.  Ostracizing those who have opted for divorce. Kicking out a teenager for engaging in pre-marital sex or becoming pregnant.  I've seen some sad abuses of power by those in leadership positions, all in the name of Christianity.

Regardless of whether or not a Christian should or shouldn't agree with those examples (because of what is taught in the bible), no one is given the authority to persecute or judge others.  Because shining within those condemning passages are lines that speak of Truth, Life, Forgiveness and Grace. And sadly, it is those affirming verses that are often forgotten (or purposely ignored).


When I think back to some of my actions and words over the years as a Christian, I am ashamed and embarrassed by how I was (or could have been) perceived by those who are not Christians. As one who is now struggling in her faith and uncertain in what I believe, I'm amazed at how different things are on the "outside. "  Christians don't seem to know what to do with me: should they try to convince me of the error of my ways?  Evangelize me "back to Christ?" Say nothing because they don't know what to say, as though we have nothing in common?  Ostracize me or persecute me because of my wavering beliefs?

I've seen it all.

I'd like to end this post with this encouragement to Christians. And I can say the following because I've been on both sides: 

Remember what life was like before you became a Christian. Try to continually imagine yourself in other people's shoes.  Whether they are completely against believing in what you believe, or just momentarily struggling in their beliefs, non-Christians  (or struggling Christians) are STILL PEOPLE. With thoughts and feelings and ideas that are of value and worth.  You may not agree with what they believe or how they act or the language they use or the people they love.  But they were still created by the God you love.  

And I believe you are called to love them too.

More to come...


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  2. Hi Steph - I just started reading your blog recently and I am anxious to read your other "Matters of Faith" posts! I completely agree with you! I have been a christian "all of my life" (whatever that means)and I have gone through various times of doubt and questioning. I also believe that at the exact time Christians are trying to evangelize their faith they are also turning people away. The real message of Christ has NOTHING to do with condemnation and EVERYTHING to do with love and grace. I am dumbfounded as to why that message is continually lost! The faith is not about dos and don'ts, but about love and acceptance. FREEDOM. I completely understand what you are going through because I have also been there and it has totally changed my life and perspective. I am still a Christian, but I am changed. I now know what my faith really means (obviously there are always still unanswered questions). Thanks for this great post!

  3. Dear Steph,
    As always, your post here is so real and so on the nose. You articulate so well the struggle of Christian belief that many of us share with you. I thank you for that, and for unabashedly being a Christian on the margins, “struggling with her faith.”
    A few responses to your points. First, one critical comment, without getting too far off your main point: I don’t think 9/11 is the reason Muslims are feared in this country. It is a convenient and common excuse to say that ‘we’ as a society are not tolerant because of what ‘they’ did on that fateful day and then to urge each other to redraw the lines of ‘them’ to not include most Muslims but only the terrorist ones. However, in that grand effort, if we never redraw the lines around ‘us’ to include everyone, including Muslims and even, dare I say it, terrorists, then are we actually meeting the forgiveness and love ideals of Christianity that you identify? That is to say, we discriminate against Muslims because Islam is different and, sadly, because we need a common ‘other’ that helps us to identify ourselves. We have generationally defined America as ‘not British’, ‘not European’, ‘not Nazi’, ‘not Communist’ and now ‘not Muslim’ and we have fought wars in the names of each of these causes. The saddest part is that we do have a distinguishable culture that is precisely ‘American’, but if we ever took a moment to consciously identify what that is, we might not like what we find. But I digress….
    On to your main point. I do think you are correct that Christianity, just like any social marker (religion, political party, gender, sexual preference, etc.) , must embody a wide range of participants in that social marker and as a direct result, some will not measure up to the ideal of Christianity, even as they are claiming it as their guidepost. I think worse though are those who claim to be Christian, but as you point out, never give a second thought to what that means. Protestant Theologian James Gustafson once suggested that it doesn’t take Christianity to be the “sort of person” that does good things, but if you are a Christian, it should make a difference for what “sort of person” you are. At the same time, Christian is a label and we ought not get too wrapped up in such things, else we find ourselves wrapped up in the same category as others who claim the same label, but actually believe something very different. In other words, it’s the beliefs that ultimately matter, not the “Christian” label, but that doesn’t mean that when we take on that moniker we don’t bring with it all the good and bad that has been done in the name of “Christianity” before. All we can do is try to embody our own ideal for what a Christian “sort of person” should be and in the process, hope to add a positive image of “Christian” to the library of experiences catalogued in the minds of those we come into contact with.
    I love your section on jargon. The more education I receive the more I try to be aware of how complicated my language can be when I am talking ‘in my field’, and no doubt, the more I probably fail in that endeavor. I think we all struggle with this. Before you were a mom, terms like ‘snacktrap’, ‘bumbo’, and ‘pull-ups’ were either foreign to you, or conjured up memories of high school gym class. But now, I am guessing they or other words like them are very much a part of your vocabulary. Your point about religious jargon is similar. Jargon is necessary to describe some things that could not be adequately described in any other way – for example, there is no competent word for ‘grace,’ other than ‘grace.’ At the same time, throwing ‘grace’ into a conversation with a non-believer is like telling a non-parent that your child needs their ‘bumbo.’ Language only has meaning as far as both the speaker and the audience can understand it. I think the old adage (usually attributed to St. Francis of Assisi) applies here: “Preach the gospel always, but when necessary, use words” (to be continued...)

  4. (... continued)

    And of course, the ‘how to use the Bible’ question… this one is far more complicated than I can give it in a paragraph. Whole courses are taught on how to use scripture properly. I will suggest, however, that a few fundamentals must be grasped when approaching the bible. First, one needs to recognize that scripture was authored by dozens of authors across centuries of time, and thus, the message in one section may conflict with the message in another section, because the authors themselves could not help but 1)be culturally conditioned, especially in their use of symbolism and metaphor use, and 2) be responding to concrete problems of their day. In short, scripture is a historic document, and so we should not be surprised to find that different authors in different times, responding to different questions, will probably present different solutions. At the same time, scripture was at least “inspired by” and at the most, “coauthored by,” a God who is perfect and thus, never changes. So we have a tension between words that are culturally and historically conditioned and an overarching message that is perfectly consistent. Without a doubt, we need to hold on to this tension when exploring scripture.
    Secondly, we need to also understand what a particular piece of scripture is meant to tell us. Gustafson, the theologian I cited above, suggests that there is a difference between understanding scripture as “revealed morality” (the rules for how to live rightly – the instruction manual for Creation, if you will) and as “revealed reality” (an explanation of the greatest mysteries of faith – more like a Divine wikepedia page on Creation). Determining which of these two “revelations” we get in scripture is vital for how we come to understand scripture for our use today.
    I could go on all night, but my actual degree needs to get some of my attention tonight, so hopefully that gives you some new ways of thinking about the problems you have identifies. In the meantime, keep thinking, keep praying, and, for the sake of the rest of us, keep writing.


Hey! Share a thought or two - I'd love to hear from you! ~ Steph

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