I’m a Christian who feels something needs to be said about my faith tradition.
Despite the ways we who practice it might declare otherwise, it is intended to beautiful and joy-filling and life-giving. It is made of compassion and mercy and forgiveness and sacrificial love—or at least it is supposed to be.
It is supposed to be the most brilliant of lights in the dark places we often spend our days.
It is supposed to drive us to the places of deepest despair and greatest need, and fully burdened to make our home there until the low are raised up and the hurting healed and the captives freed.
It is also supposed to make us fearless.
The most-repeated words from the mouth of God/Jesus throughout both the Old and New Testaments to the faithful, is to not fear. At the very center of our religion and its big story, is a steadfast security that rests in the loving presence of the Eternal; one that trusts in protection in or deliverance from all that which threatens from within and without. We rest in the unshakeable belief that will be cared for in this life, that we will persevere in adversity, or that we will move from this life into the next.
Or, as the Apostle Paul writes: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”
Paul’s sentiment here is simply, This is all a win-win. If I live, I do so reflecting Jesus and if I die, I get to meet him. He is not speaking with sugary hyperbole. The Christian’s mindset is supposed to be one of unquenchable, confident optimism even in seemingly dire situations. We are called to be bright beacons to the broken even as we too face the storm, knowing God has us.
We don’t need to give God help or give Him a boost.
The reason the command not to fear was so prevalent in Scripture was because (as now) there was so much for people to be afraid of. We’d be delusional to look around at the world we’re living in and not be initially afraid. With the mutli-headed horrors running non-stop through our news feeds, it’s so easy to become spiritually disoriented, to lose sight of anything sure and steady. When that happens in your soul; when faith leaks out, fear seeps in–and you start sinking.
And once that fear becomes the dominant force in your religion, you end up becoming more and more terrified, more desperate, more jittery, more reactionary in your responses. You grow more hostile to those you perceive as outsiders, more contemptible of those who are different, more drawn to protection and violence and aggression.
In other words: You become less and less like Jesus.
What you’re seeing right now from so many professed Christians is not Jesus, or the loving, radically hospitable, interdependent community which sprang from his life and ministry.
It may have commandeered his name and appropriated some select quotes and have a similar veneer, but it is not Christianity.
It’s simply Americhristianity.
It is a Frankensteined faith made as much of rabid nationalism, political posturing, and fearful self-preservation, as it is the foot-washing, enemy forgiving, humble hearted, suffering Christ of the Gospels. It’s a flailing, angry, violent monster that once began as a noble experiment in Life.
Most American Christians have lived so long in Americhristianity that they simply accept that this is how their faith is supposed to look and sound and react. They live in an echo chamber of agreement in churches and talk shows and podcasts. That’s why when Christian politicians rushed to close their doors and borders to Syrian refugees, as they ramped up the inflammatory generalizations about Muslims, and as they called for immediate airstrikes, so many stood and applauded and amen-d, because they now have fear as their default setting and it feels natural.
Never mind that the Gospel is overflowing with the words and examples of Jesus on how to love lavishly, how to pour oneself out for another, how to bless even those who curse you. We’ve almost come to laugh that stuff off as meaningless; as if Jesus either didn’t really mean what he said or that what he said is no longer useful to us.
That Jesus; (the one from the Gospels) really doesn’t fit into Americhristianity. He’s too soft, too tolerant, too vulnerable. He’s not brash enough, his foreign policy not tough enough. In fact, the faith that so many in the West now call Christianity retains only the smallest sliver of Christ; conveniently just enough to get people saved or send them to Hell.
Outside of that, the rest is purely Stars and Stripes and American Dreams, all wrapped around a cross. We’re perfectly content to demand revenge when we get hurt, to live fat and happy surrounded by poverty, and to pick fights whenever we’re confronted—confident that Jesus approves of all of it.
We’re not sinister in this, just oblivious. Americhristainity only allows us to see God in our own materialistic, xenophobic, retaliatory image.
But Jesus was born as a homeless traveler whose family struggled to find welcome.
He lived and ministered in poverty at the mercy of others’ generosity.
He had a table of hospitality that offered no exceptions.
He held more power than anyone on the planet, yet never used that power in force in the face of oppression or violence, even upon his own body.
He was a blessed peacemaker.
This Jesus told of a heroic, Jew-despised Samaritan who modeled sacrificial mercy for the religious onlookers and for you and me. We’re still learning.
And time and time again, Jesus commanded his followers to choose faith over fear. It’s time we do so.
The heart of Christianity is inclusion and welcome and invitation. It is trust and contentment and hope that cannot be overtaken. It is serving and yielding and sacrificing.
It is not this scared narcissism that vilifies the other and sanctions bigotry and demands blood.
I love Christianity, just not this Americhristianity.
I don’t think this is helping anyone.
Until we who seek to follow Jesus choose to emulate the actual life of Christ and not the characteristics of our country, we’ll always be living a counterfeit religion—and we’ll always be afraid.
I’m not afraid.