10 Ways American Christians Are Compromising Our Own Testimony In The World

Not listening

If this were a prize fight, organized Christianity wouldn’t quite be knocked out yet, but it would certainly be on the ropes and we’d be way behind on points coming to the bell.

It’s no secret that people are leaving the Church in record numbers and although they may not all be rejecting Jesus, they are surely saying no to the faith that bears his name—and for many good reasons.

I spend a great deal of my time each day listening to many of these good folks and they educate me. Based on what I see from where I am and what I’ve learned from nearly two decades in church ministry, here are some ways we Christians are obscuring Jesus and hurting people, and severely damaging our testimony in the world in the process:

1) Vilifying non-Christians.

In the face of attrition and growing public ambivalence, too many Christians and Christian leaders lazily lean back on attack language and war rhetoric, especially with those deemed outsiders (i.e. non-Christians or Christians who don’t fit within a very narrow framework of appearance, conduct, and belief system). This continued manufacturing of an encroaching enemy is designed to rally the shrinking bases, but it’s also something young people are seeing from a mile away—and rejecting outright. They want and deserve a Christianity that is primarily known for benevolence, not for violence.

2) Marrying Jesus and Politics.

The idea that Jesus could be contained within any political ideology is simply heretical and this generation knows it. They seek a faith that is not drawn along stark political lines and they rightly want a Jesus that can’t be fit comfortably within any Presidential platform or voting block. If our religion is going to truly be as big as we say God is, it has to transcend our man-made political systems and we need to speak about our faith in light of this. If we ever hope to accurately reflect Christ to the world, we have to allow his distinct message to exist independently from our partisan affiliations,.

3) Worshiping Christian Celebrity.

People live on Twitter and they understand celebrity worship. They get cults of personality. They engage in blind hero-worship as effortlessly as breathing, and yet they want the Church to be different. They expect something in faith communities that doesn’t always mirror the culture, and when it comes to wrongly elevating people to place of Deity we’re as guilty as anyone. For all our talk about “Making Jesus Famous”, and “lifting up the name of the Lord”, we shower superstar pastors, celebrity worship leaders, and lauded Christian writers with all sorts of misplaced adulation and excessive notoriety that are all little more than sanctified idolatry. We need to redirect our hearts above the platform and pulpit.

4) Clinging to old biases and barriers.

A few decades ago in America, a Christian could discriminate against people of color and claim themselves Biblically justified in the process without a great deal of pushback. Thankfully, time and society have mounted a pointed challenge and as a result, most churches (at least in the public record) have decried racism. More and more though, people outside of the Church are become intolerant of any form of bigotry in organized religion; whether along lines of color, age, gender, income level, sexual orientation, or gender identity. They are demanding a faith that is as diverse as their home and their neighborhood and their workplaces, and they are jettisoning anything that creates or perpetuates inequality.

5) Making an idol of America.

Young people who seek the Jesus of the Gospels don’t want him wrapped in nationalism and flags and star-spangled hyperbole. They recognize the clear disconnect between a homeless, foot-washing, leper-touching, wound-mending traveling street preacher—and the consumerist, materialistic, Times Squared, “Don’t Tread On Me” version of Jesus that so many churches broker in. People don’t want a God that blesses only America or that celebrates megachuches built within blocks of starving kids. Technology has shrunken their world and as a result right-sized it too. They understand their place in the interdependent global community and they seek a religion without borders and bullies.

6) Defending our misdeeds.

Time and time again we find that not only are those Christians who crusade the most vocally on “morality issues” often the most broken, but we followers of Jesus individually and collectively are pretty lousy about accepting responsibility when we fail—especially when we do so sexually. In response to revealed indiscretions, we invariably see disgraced Christians blaming everything from pornography to the media to immodest dress to the Devil himself, instead of simply admitting that we’re all jacked-up, glass house-dwelling hot messes, and we fall regularly too. The one sentence that could change so much but the one that we so often refuse to say to the world: It’s my fault and I’m sorry.

7) Defiantly refusing to grow.

The way some within the Church resist progress, you’d think they don’t have the Internet there yet. Though the past twenty years has allowed an unfathomable amount of discovery, large portions of Christianity have often either pushed back or turned a blind eye to it all. We’ve learned so much about how the Universe works and how our brains function and the age of the planet and the stuff we’re made of, yet The Church too often seems unable or unwilling to incorporate such things into their theology and instead simply ignores it. If our faith doesn’t embrace Science, and adequately course-correct based on what we now know to be true about the world, it will become obsolete to the world.

8) Letting The Far Right commandeer Christ.

For decades  in America, the furthermost reaches of the Republican Party have claimed sole ownership of Jesus and made unsavory alliances with the Church in an effort to support their assertion and gain market share. In the process, Christianity has become a weapon wielded by the most partisan segments of the population to perpetuate the kind of Theocracy that Jesus would simply never have supported. Worse yet, many of the nation’s most high-profile Christian figures have continually reiterated this from their bully pulpits. This generation knows that any God worthy of worship is bigger than FoxNews—and we better too.

9) Being Silent Where We Should Be Loud.

Christians hate gays and abortion and that’s pretty much all we hate: That’s the message coming through to those outside of the Church. Right or wrong, it’s the one overplayed song they hear our choir singing. We don’t seem to hate poverty or racism or human trafficking or people not having healthcare or the planet overheating or the US gun murder rates, or lots of things folks expect the people of Jesus to be concerned with, nearly as much. They see how silent we’ve become in the face of so much that burdens them, and they are declaring our religion oblivious, ignorant, or no longer useful.

10) Misusing The Bible.

When it comes to the amount of damage we’ve done in the world, the Bible is sadly our deadliest weapon of choice. We use it to justify wars and to perpetuate injustice and bloody those we disagree with. We’ve ripped it from context, appropriated it for our own political agendas, selectively enforced it, and brutally bashed people over the head with it—and this generation has grown weary of it all. They view the sacred texts of all faiths as a way of seeking and experiencing God and understanding those who seek, but they do not worship those texts as God. They will not tolerate a Christianity that uses the Bible like a hammer unless it is to build something useful.

As I said, many people aren’t really rejecting Jesus. Even many of the most nonreligious folks finds him admirable, wise, and worthy of great respect. They often respond quite well to his teachings and life example, however they don’t find many touch points between those things and the Church that bears his name. If we continue to make the work of social justice an afterthought project, if we continue to build a Jesus in America’s image, and if we continue to move our religion away from the humility and compassion and diversity we see in the Gospels, people are going to keep saying No.

These are real problems, Christian. You don’t have to agree with these perceptions, but they are the ones held by a growing multitude who have grown weary of a faith tradition that seems to have lost the plot. I still believe when someone purely encounters Jesus that he or she is changed forever, yet more and more that is not who they are encountering when they meet us or read about us or walk through our doors.

May we look in the mirror and abandon any arrogance and pride and fear that keeps us from allowing ourselves to be individually and corporately renovated, until the clearest image of Jesus is revealed in us.

73 thoughts on “10 Ways American Christians Are Compromising Our Own Testimony In The World

  1. There were a lot of factors that lead to my converting to Judaism. Ranging from what was being called towards to a disgust and disconnect I had for the modern church. It was refreshing to see someone recognizing the same problems I had with the church and putting it into words. Thank you for posting this.

  2. Wow! I have to say it again! You “wow” me with your articles. Say it, preach it, get it out there. We all need to hear this, not just America. I love it that you so boldly address issues. Keep doing this no matter what. You always have something so relevant and so appropriate to the time we live in.

    I think we are seeing the church go through a huge revolution, perhaps reformation (though I’m not sure how that is looking just at the moment so it’s difficult to call it a re-formation until one can see what is forming). And I have no doubt in my mind that Jesus, who is head of His church, will be at the heart and core of re-formation that will bring faith in Him back to life and godliness.

    I can only say, as an outsider to the American Christian church, that you have the opportunity here to lead the world in the way Jesus would want. Go for it! Get it done! Show us the way in this! You have the influence and the voice. Use it wisely and well.

  3. Among the worst things that happened to Christianity was Constantine – belief in the Lord Jesus is NOT supposed to be compelled by force of government, societal pressure/conformity or rigid, unthinking adherence to dogma, but by a fundamental, visceral encounter with the Creator of the Universe, to become aware of oneself as a human being and have a relationship with a Person – it’s not about being white, male, heterosexual, Protestant or wealthy….or the convers. When people encounter the Spirit, when they meet the authentic Jesus and start realizing who God is – many (not all) come to faith

  4. So all those of us who don’t see Christianity the way you do have to do is compromise everything we believe because you find it abhorrent? Not going to happen.

    I’m not saying the Church doesn’t have its faults; of course it does – it’s made up of sinners. But the Bible says some very specific things about sin, which a lot of people who profess as Christian are content to ignore. You accuse us of “misusing the Bible”, but you’re worse at it than we are. C.S. Lewis called it “Christianity-and”. That’s where you don’t hold on to Christ and the Bible because they’re real and true, but you value them in whatever part supports the cause you believe in.

    And where is it written that conservative Christians aren’t compassionate? Just because many of us don’t flaunt our good deeds (see Matthew 6:3-4) it doesn’t mean we’re not doing them.

    Here’s a couple more verses you might want to keep in mind:

    Luke 6:42 – Either how can you say to your brother, Brother, let me pull out the speck that is in your eye, when you yourself behold not the beam that is in your own eye? you hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of your own eye, and then shall you see clearly to pull out the speck that is in your brother’s eye. (KJV 2000)

    John 15:19 – If you were of the world, the world would love its own: but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.

  5. Christians today aren’t being Christ like. And new comers see that. There are modern day pharisees in every church today . I resently met a pastor that was un Christ like. God doesn’t belong in a church truthfully I’d rather be under a tree on Sunday morning with my Bible , music and a cup of coffee then deal with fack people that love others. Churches today need to learn love and kindness the way Jesus taught.

  6. My husband and close family members continually listen to my disallusionment with today’s religion. Once again, you have taken my thoughts and so eloquently put them into words! This was one of my favorites, but I tend to think that many of your articles are my favorite because they are so “spot on” with my feelings. I almost always post them to my Facebook page with the caption…..”Love this! He did it again” meaning that you have taken the words out of my mouth. Thank you for saying what needs to be said and for making it easy to post my viewpoints through your articles. By the way I (and probably many others) would be interested in a compilation of your articles in book form. Do you think that might be a possibility?

  7. Yes, many are leaving the churches today but there is a core group in the churches who do not share your progressive ideas about Christianity who are turning toward authoritarian, non-democratic political leaders who will increasingly try to lead them further down the path toward what I see as the coming fascist movement….white supremacists and anti-immigrant patriot groups are already fascist in nature……Trump is helping these movement along and their unabashed presence and power in our society is increasing exponentially…..if we have a major economic down turn these well armed and organized people will try to sweep into power with disastrous results….these are dangerous times…

  8. Great points, all. And I do agree with you; however, do be careful what you say. You labeled specifically American Christians, as though every other Christian never has a problem with any of these. Statistically, next to impossible. Not to mention, we are all sinners. Also, you basically lumped all American Christians together; not all of us are like this. Yet those who fight against these injustices, these sinful acts of hate, are always lumped in with the “bible thumpers” and are treated like horrible people, with either people sitting there, blaming their faith for everything wrong in the world and telling them how silly it is to believe in God (a very hurtful, traumatic experience, actually), or people sitting there saying, “All of you American Christians are so sinful, so dirty, so beyond hope” (a little exaggerated, but it does literally feel like this, at least to me), while they sit there and feel guilty for all those who do not act as Christ would have them act, because these people, who try so hard, are the ones with the softest hearts. And they get broken because they will more quickly believe themselves to be evil than they will think of others that way. Which is why I speak out. Christ doesn’t want hatred between all of us for the acts of even the majority of a people; He doesn’t even want us verbally beating down all we do not agree with. The way to teach is through kindness, a gentle sternness, and to recognize the differences on the individual level. Had you even clarified a bit more, and instead of saying American Christians, said something more accurate depicting those who call themselves Christians, but don’t care to learn how to properly follow Christ, even that would have been better, though I still don’t believe that is the way of Christ either. Turn the other cheek was His way, in essence, He wanted us to SHOW the world how to be, how to act and how to love, not vilify it into submission. He wanted us to have the faith to know that a man’s heart could only and would only be changed by the act of God, not of man. It is when we are silent that God speaks the loudest.
    Just something to think on.

  9. Some good viewpoints in here with a salty dose of arrogance as well. Remember truth, by its very nature, claims exclusivity, and as much as we love and seek “warm fuzzies” that bring us all together, the truth, when spoken in love, convicts and can separate people, even among own families. On another note, studies show that we are becoming a more polarized nation of in terms of religion. While the number of atheists/agnostics continues to grow, so too does the number of Christian evangelicals. It’s mainline Christianity (Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran, United Methodist) that is losing people in their church to either pole.

  10. #1: I agree; #2 – I agree, but watch the rest of this article and he does exactly what he complains about; #3 is a recent problem, and I agree that it is becoming a big one; #4 is a slippery slope – the writer includes “sexual orientation” as “bigotry” as assessed by those outside the church, but any Bible-believing church is supposed to reject the standards of the world (the Bible makes it clear that race, income, gender are not factors in anything, but does clearly addresses homosexuality and draws a clear distinction between male and female appearance); I’ve seen #5 and I believe it only becomes a problem if carried too far; #6 I absolutely agree with; #7 – our faith should operate regardless of science – we should accept it for what it is, a useful tool, but not build our theology around it because it is fallible; #8 is silly, because the writer again gets political (in violation of his own #2) – he never mentions the far left in his complaint; #9 – he gets political again, he can’t seem to help himself; #10 – I’d predict that the writer is as guilty of the crimes of #10 as he accuses others of.

  11. It looks as though the writer believes that anyone who opposes his approach is wrong, which puts him in the same category of those he disagrees with. Bottom line: put God above all else – above race, science, gender, sexual orientation, income level, etc., and the Holy Spirit will change whoever needs to be changed. It’s our job to lead people to Christ, God’s job to judge, and the Holy Spirit’s job to convict. If I were to have written this article, that’s what I would have said. It would solve everything.

  12. I am a follower of Christ, and I disagree with almost every point this article makes. Consider that the erasing of historical Biblical Christianity is the exact reason why Planned Parenthood is able to sale aborted baby cadavers for the creation of Humanized Mice all in the good name of science (see my wall), and the narcissism of Christians such as Miley Cyrus. The world and church is not right in the head at this current juncture in history, and the reason is because of what John said in Revelation – the church has become Laodicia! Christ is readying to vomit this church out of his mouth! I for one am waiting for Christ to take true believers out of this world in the Rapture! I want nothing to do with this compromised church. The lines are being drawn. Come join us in the counter revolution!!! 🙂

  13. You lose me totally when your bias becomes so evident. Nice to know that those on the right or who believe the Bible are the real bad guys in the world of faith. Guess we should not vilify the non believer but it is not just OK but encouraged to vilify any who do not toe up to the leftist theology.

  14. Very on point. I wish there were a way to include the inverse of #9 (we are loud when we should be silent); it’s certainly implied in some of the other comments but could be made more explicit.

  15. To me, the divergence between mainline and fundamentalist Christianity comes down to one thing: Bible Worship. Fundamentalists seem to not worship the Living God, but instead worship the Bible itself. They’re beholden to the letter of scripture, but not to its spirit. The Bible becomes Prooftext for their favored beliefs. The result is orthodoxy instead of orthopraxy. Bible worship is the most insidious form of idol worship there is. Watch out for it. Hopefully, it’s NOT coming to a church near you.

    • Sadly Brent, Bible worship in one form or another is already in every church in one form or another. I’d never heard that term before but it rings true.

  16. Well, pretty much all of these ten points pretty much describe and target conservatively-oriented cultural examples of what “Christian” should mean. This is a sad comment, that such exclusivism and intolerance can be taken to be Christianity writ-large. This is what I would call the problem of idolatry, the “We are God” problem (and the author points to this as well). However, as some comments have alluded to, the liberally-oriented problem is one of faithlessness, not idolatry, where the church cannot be distinguished in any substantive way from a purely secular social service agency, with a college lecture (called a “sermon”) about loving one another thrown in for good measure. Neither is en-spirited, or if they are, they take that spirit in a very unspiritual direction. We need spirited engagement that builds love in concrete, Gospel-informed ways. This, in my experience, is not even largely happening in the seminaries I attended (though thank heavens it is far more evident in the seminary I have transferred to). Much of the decline of Christianity is a self-inflicted wound that forgets the wounds of the one we are supposed to follow. Let’s get back to following and leaving the idolatry and faithlessness behind.

  17. Interesting article. I think Pavlovitz makes some good points, but he also makes some mistakes.

    I think he’s right on in regard to #2. It’s a mistake to tie religion to political parties. It’s fine to support one because it has the least morally objectionable policies associated with it, but it’s another thing to treat one or the other party as “the Christian party.”

    Right on with #3. The cult of the personality is certainly dangerous.

    #4: He’s was doing fine until he added “sexual orientation and gender identity”. These two are not like color, sex, age, income level, etc. The Bible is clear about what marriage is, what sex is for and that we were created man and woman. And there are good reasons from natural law and reason not to lump those two in with the others, too. Apples and oranges.

    Amen to #5. I like what Abraham Lincoln once said – that we should be more interested in being on God’s side than on asking him to be on our side.

    #6: Generally agreed, with some issues that I think he glosses over (but that would take too long to discuss here sufficiently).

    #7: I think there is truth here. However, I would also say that science today too often crosses the line into philosophy and even quasi-theology. But a Christian should never fear true science. Agreed. All truth is God’s truth. There can be no contradiction between faith and reason. They are two sides of the same coin. In fact, John Paul II wrote an encyclical with that very title (Fides et Ratio):

    http://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_14091998_fides-et-ratio.html

    #8 is closely related to #2. Some truth there. But he ignores how long Christianity (particularly Catholicism) was too closely tied to the Democrat party. In fact, there are still many liberal Protestants and Catholics who have a blind allegiance to the Democrat party going back to when they came over as immigrants. The Democrats shrewdly made alliances with immigrants (particularly Catholics) in order to gain their votes. So there are errors on both ends of the political spectrum (which is part of the reason why I’m an Independent).

    #9 is a mess, in my view. Christians don’t (or shouldn’t) “hate gays”. That’s an ignorant and unnecessarily inflammatory statement. As a Catholic (the world’s largest number of Christians), I can tell you with confidence that the Church does not hate those who have same sex attractions. The Church teaches that homosexual *actions* are morally wrong, but those who have a homosexual orientation (attraction to people of the same sex) should be loved and not unfairly discriminated against. We ALL have tendencies to things that are wrong and/or disordered – whether with food, money, drugs, consumerism, anger, or whatever. Sex included – yes, even for heterosexuals! The problem comes when we try to convince the world (and ourselves) that what God has taught is wrong is actually right. Calling sin “good”. This is a problem because it leads people away from the path to heaven and eternity with God, not because Christians “hate” gays or anyone who is attached to any particular sin.

    In regard to abortion, when one considers that just under 60 million (60 million!) young human beings have been killed in the United States alone since 1973, then his complaint doesn’t make much sense to me. Can you imagine saying in Soviet Russia, “The Church needs to stop being so focused on the killing of 20 million people by the Communists. For far to many, that’s all they hear the Church talking about.”?

    His complaint here suggests to me that he doesn’t understand the enormity and nature of the atrocity being committed every year. Of course we should be concerned about education, poverty, healthcare, etc. And we are. The Catholic Church spends enormous amounts of time and money on these areas collectively – much more than she does on abortion. But all of these things are dependent upon being *alive* in the first place. If we can’t defend the right to life, then healthcare, education et al are moot.

    #10: True enough. But he seems not to recognize that he has forced his own personal political proclivities onto the Bible and is reading it through his own particular lens, too.

    Here’s another interesting article discussing why the Church in America is having difficulties. In my experience, it hits closer to the root:

    http://www.catholicstand.com/the-real-reason-christianity-is-in-decline-in-america/

    HIs first mistake came in his first two paragraphs. He’s effectively treating the Church in the West as though it is the entirety of the Church. He writes, “If this were a prize fight, organized Christianity wouldn’t quite be knocked out yet, but it would certainly be on the ropes and we’d be way behind on points coming to the bell….people are leaving the Church in record numbers.” On balance, this is false.

    The following article touches on this: http://www.cbn.com/spirituallife/biblestudyandtheology/perspectives/colson020722.aspx

    The Church is growing by leaps and bounds in many areas around the world – particularly Asia and Africa. And interestingly, in those areas, the Church is not trying to “get with the times.” The Church is very traditional, refusing to jettison her teaching for the sake of modern sensibilities – which also brings to light another of the author’s mistakes: “defiantly refusing to grow” (again #9). He’s just wrong here, or at the least, far too Eurocentric in his analysis.

    I also don’t know what he’s talking about in regard to Christianity being more known for violent attacks than benevolence. I think he’s confusing Christianity with radical Islam. ;-) 

    Again, thanks for an interesting article.

    God bless!

    • I have two comments to make about your comments. The first is “This is a problem because it leads people away from the path to heaven and eternity with God.” In order for me to understand why this is a problem, could you explain what you envision heaven to be, and what is so appealing about eternity with God? Will you be able to do anything? Will you be able to communicate with other souls? How? Or will you just exist in the same way that a rock does?

      The second comment does not come from me, but rather from a Catholic nun, Sister Joan Chittister, O.S.B.:
      “I do not believe that just because you’re opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. And why would I think that you don’t? Because you don’t want any tax money to go there. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.”

  18. hi there! thanks for the post! My husband and I found it a useful discussion tool.

    May I suggest a little editing? There are some grammatical errors within it, which always weakens one’s argument.

  19. I just try to do what’s right. When that turns out to be wrong I correct it. That happens. The influences that make me decide that clearly include the Judeo-Christian ethic. And sometimes,….. that is wrong as well. But I do not ignore science of the human side of what is right and wrong, I do not ignore the obvious in the face of blind faith. And neither do the bulk of people. I did not wish to leave the church. I did not change churches. I don’t think churches should be vying for my business. I just do what’s right. And following blind rhetoric is not clearly right either. Politics have no place in a religious discussion. And vice versa. But in the end, I try to choose who will do right. And that changes from time to time. Blind faith of any sort is simply harmful to humanity. I guess i’m like most educated people between 15-50 today. Show me why what you are doing is good. Don’t show me why what I am doing is bad.

    • There is so much wisdom packed into this short paragraph. I particularly like the bit about blind faith as it applies to religion and politics. I agree that politics and religion should not mix. I would go further and say that religion has no place in public. To my mind “the free exercise thereof” should mean no more than the right to join the congregation of your choice where you can worship according to your jointly held beliefs. And I like your last two sentences so much that I plan to make those sentiments the focus of my efforts to save the world (yes really!) by showing people that there is a better way.
      Thank you.

  20. Pingback: 10 Responses to John Pavlovitz: | Truth Bites

  21. Jesus said, “Go and sin no more”. He had just saved Mary Magdalen from the kind you appear to be against here in your post. What is different here from Jesus, is that one phrase. Not being clear on “What is sin to you?” makes this comes off as more of a sell out post. Its lacking Jesus ‘s Gospel. To seek and to save. If there’s no sin and recompense, then from what are we saved?

    • Being an atheist, I do not set much store by Jesus’s Gospel or biblical ideas of sin and salvation. I am not much into the idea of love everybody regardless because that rather dilutes the power of love – and many people are totally unlovable.
      But I have developed my own philosophy and morality: I believe (a word I seldom use, but it is appropriate here because I have no proof or assurance that this idea will work) that simply by deciding to be nice to others, we can solve many of the problems the world is facing. Of course I include animals and the earth as entities we should be nice to.
      If you just stop and ask yourself, is this a nice thing to do? you may change a lot of negative behaviors. Being nice includes trying to understand what motivates others. I envisage more – many, many more – conversations that include phrases like: please explain, why do you think that, who told you that, have you considered…, and very few I think’s.

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