Some days I feel like filing a Missing Persons Report for Jesus.
I survey the media landscape of what so many identify as representing Christianity in my country and it feels like he has all but vanished.
I don’t know exactly when it happened, but somewhere along the line my faith tradition got hijacked.
I suppose it was a half a century or so ago as the Evangelical Church and American Politics started an ill-advised courtship, and the public face of the people of Jesus in the U.S. gradually became a bunch of angry, middle-aged, upper middle class, largely white, largely male folks with entitlement issues and persecution complexes.
You know the ones. They’re everywhere. They have billion dollar media empires and multi-pronged ministry machines and millions of devoted followers. Regularly they broker in a familiar brand of righteous bitterness, always publicly wringing their hands and beating their breasts as they remind the watching world that once again the sky is indeed falling upon us.
Every single day they lament another insidious threat; militant gays, inner city blacks, pagan Hollywood, the Liberal Media, Obama, Oprah, Ellen, working women, Progressive Theology; any and all of which they insist, trumpet Christianity’s impending demise depending on the day.
Fear is their favorite watchword: Everything is a threat and with breathless pleas they appeal to the faithful to gird themselves for battle and to make another final stand against the enemy’s encroachment.
It’s a tired tactic with ever diminishing results outside of the cozy religious bubble, but still it’s become the method of choice for far too many high-profile Evangelicals: yell a lot, pull a frightening Bible quote from its context, and literally try to scare the Hell out of God’s people.
Fear-peddling is big religious business and has been since the invention of the soapbox. It still makes for blog hits and large font headlines and talk show fodder. It gets the “Amens” flying and the pews rocking and the sleeping zealots roused awake.
Unfortunately it also simultaneously displays to the world a half-hearted faith in a neutered, helpless, irrelevant God who’s apparently asleep at the wheel.
With the way these refrains are continually repeated, it’s like the boy who cried “Wolf!”, only this time he’s crying, “We’re being persecuted!”
I wonder if these torch-and-pitchfork leaders realize that in their desire to stir up some passion in a religious system growing ever more stale, in an effort to rally their shrinking bases and manufacture some cheap urgency from the pulpit, they’re actually selling people a Jesus that never existed; one who is far less than Divinity.
That’s the problem with the professional crisis-peddlers: They unintentionally send a very mixed message with their sermons.
Every time Christianity is positioned as mortally threatened, Christ is stripped of any of his resurrection power.
Every time anger and fear become the default public face of our faith, people outside that faith lose sight of the simple compassion and peace of Jesus.
Every time the holy war mongers paint a picture of everything here on earth as going hopelessly South, they have to do it at the expense of the supposed sovereignty and goodness of God.
The saddest thing about the rise of angry, fear-generated Christian leadership, is that it has nearly obliterated for millions and millions of people, the incessant hope at the core of the real Gospel and replaced it with doom-and-gloom prognosticating about when the end is coming and sin-shaming propaganda about who is excluded from the afterparty.
That’s all so much smaller, so much more petty, and so much less wonderful than what’s really being offered to humanity.
If you view the totality of the life and ministry of Jesus, you find there a holy momentum; a sense that something new and beautiful and unstoppable has broken in and begun. In him, a sacred presence birthing a movement of freedom to the oppressed, sustenance for the hungry, care for the poor, restoration for the downcast—victory of stupefying proportions.
It is about the inevitability of joy and rescue, not the eventuality of peril and defeat.
So why are so many Christians so darned sour and sore and scared?
Because far too many of them have replaced the Gospel of Jesus with an apologetic of fear and they haven’t even realized it. Many were born into it and so they blindly perpetuate the faulty theology sown into them by those they followed. The message of simple, relentless, life-altering, wrong-forgiving, neighbor-reaching love doesn’t move the needle enough anymore, so they resort to a code red battle posture.
Whenever I see these tired tactics, my first response is to roll my eyes and dismiss the desperation in such repetitive “crisis of the week” religion, but soon that gives way to the sad realization that people are being lost to the Gospel because of it. They are rejecting something false, something inherently reject-able—but it isn’t Jesus.
I want to run outside and scream from the rooftops to anyone who will listen, “This is not my faith! They don’t speak for me! I’m pretty sure they don’t speak for Jesus either!”
So consider this my rooftop.
Friends, Christianity is not a hateful proposition. It is not made of contempt and vitriol. If it is mean-spirited, bitter, or filled with hopelessness, it is simply not of God.
The message of Christ, one I invite you to experience for yourself, is not the politics of anger, it is not the vilifying of the other, it is not the defeatist lament of a people who are surely drowning.
But don’t take my word for it, or theirs.
Check out Jesus’ longest record sermon yourself and see if you don’t find in it, the antidote to all this frantic, flailing cursing of the darkness that passes for belief. It was these words, uttered by a homeless, penniless, Jewish Rabbi two thousand years ago that altered the planet.
Every time I find myself sinking from the hopeless, hateful Christianity I see outside my window and in my newsfeed, I read them again.
And when I do, the mean, scared, scary people who have hijacked my faith tradition for so long, return to their well-deserved place of unimportance to my own journey, they lose their grip on the treasures that I have found and almost lost, and I get my Jesus back.
And then, joy returns.