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Unchristian: Change the Perception
SIX MAJOR PERCEPTIONS
This Short explores the top six major perceptions revealed from our research and the most common points of skepticism and objections raised by outsiders.
Those six major perceptions are as follows:
Outsiders consider us hypocritical — saying one thing and doing another — and they are skeptical of our morally superior attitudes. Whether we like it or not, the term “hypocritical” has become fused to young people’s experience with Christianity. Eighty-five percent of young outsiders have had sufficient exposure to Christians and churches and they conclude present-day Christianity is hypocritical. They say Christians pretend to be something unreal, conveying a polished image that is not accurate. We are not known for the depth of our transparency, for digging in and solving deep-seated problems, but for trying to project an unChristian picture of having it all together.
A significant antidote to hypocrisy (in addition to integrity and purity) is transparency. On one level, hypocrisy is failing to acknowledge the inconsistencies in our life. It is denial. It is, as the Bible describes it, trying to remove a speck from someone else’s eye when you have a log in your own. Living with integrity starts with being transparent.
Young people talk these days about the need for authenticity, for “keepin’ it real” — not pretending to be something you are not, being open about your faults. Young people are searching for this type of person, this kind of lifestyle. In one survey we found that “doing what you say you are going to do” was among the characteristics young people most admired.
Does your life point people to a life in Christ that bursts with freedom to love, restoration, purity, and transparency? Or are you burying people — insiders and outsiders — under the weight of a self-righteous life?
2. TOO FOCUSED ON GETTING CONVERTS
Outsiders wonder if we genuinely care about them. Even if our intentions seem pure to us, outsiders often feel targeted, that we merely want another church member or a new notch in the “getsaved” belt. While we are trying to convey the most important message in human history — that Jesus offers a new life through faith in him — something gets lost in translation.
Statistics that reinforce this perception: only one out of seven outsiders describes Christianity as something that seems genuine and real; and just one-third believes that Christians show genuine interest in them. To change the perception that we are focused only on converts, we have to embrace a more holistic idea of what it means to be a Christ follower. This requires us to focus our attention on spiritual transformation. Most people do not have a clear sense of what spiritual transformation is or what it should look like. This is partly understandable because it is an elusive topic. By definition, spiritual formation is about depth rather than simplistic formulas. Yet it is hard to pursue something that is not defined.
One way of looking at spiritual formation, though certainly not the only way, is to examine the passions that should define a Christ follower.
In our work at Barna, we examine these seven elements:
worshiping God intimately and passionately
engaging in spiritual friendships with other believers
pursuing faith in the context of family
embracing intentional forms of spiritual growth
investing time and resources in spiritual pursuits
having faith-based conversations with outsiders
The truth is that when a person makes a commitment to Christ, it is just the first step into a much larger reality. When people become Christians, we must describe appropriate expectations for them; engage them in significant, accountable relationships; and fashion environments where deep life change can take place. How well does your life and ministry embrace this perspective? Are you focused on scoring converts or making disciples?
In our research, the perception that Christians are “against” gays and lesbians — not only objecting to their lifestyles but also harboring irrational fear and unmerited scorn toward them — has reached critical mass. The gay issue has become the “big one,” the negative image most likely to be intertwined with Christianity’s reputation. It is also the dimension that most clearly demonstrates the unChristian faith to young people today, surfacing a spate of negative perceptions: judgmental, bigoted, sheltered, right-wingers, hypocritical, insincere, and uncaring. Outsiders say our hostility toward gays — not just opposition to homosexual politics and behaviors but disdain for gay individuals — has become virtually synonymous with the Christian faith.
Out of twenty attributes that we assessed, both positive and negative, as they related to Christianity, the perception of being antihomosexual was at the top of the list. More than nine out of ten Mosaic and Buster outsiders (91 percent) said “antihomosexual” accurately describes present-day Christianity. And two-thirds of outsiders have very strong opinions about Christians in this regard, easily generating the largest group of vocal critics. When you introduce yourself as a Christian to a friend, neighbor, or business associate who is an outsider, you might as well have it tattooed on your arm: antihomosexual, gay-hater, homophobic. I doubt you think of yourself in these terms, but that’s what outsiders think of you.
The central teaching of the Bible, however, is that all sin is, at its core, rebellion against God. No one sin is worse than another. Pastor Shayne Wheeler makes this observation: “There is not a special judgment for homosexuals, and there is not a special righteousness for heterosexuals.” Another pastor put it simply: “The struggle of gays in being attracted to the same sex is no different than my struggle in being attracted to the opposite sex.”
We are all sinners. No one is any more likely or less likely to receive God’s free gift of grace. All have fallen short of God’s standards. The Bible says while we were still
of God, he made peace with us through the cross (Rom. 5:19). Because he
the world, he sent his Son to die (John 3:16). Everything hinges on what a person decides to do with Jesus — commit to him or reject him. Regardless of the sin we commit, he still loves us. If this is true for you and me, then it’s true for the homosexual as well.
Let me drive this point home as it relates to homosexuality. It’s true that sexual sins are particularly destructive in people’s lives, but this is true of all sexual sin. And frankly, when we recognize this, it should engage our concern and compassion on the issue of homosexuality even more.
Christians, and particularly evangelicals, have relied primarily on two methods of dealing with the threats they perceive from the homosexual community: preaching and politics. Over the last twenty years or so, there has been a substantial increase in the percentage of churchgoers who have heard a sermon about homosexuality, with more than two thirds of attendees in evangelical churches recalling such sermons. The second solution has been political engagement. Among those born-again Christians who have cast a ballot concerning same-sex marriage, nearly nine out of ten recall voting against it.
Most revealing, perhaps, is the comparative absence in the Christian community of any other approaches to addressing homosexuality. Although most Christians say they are concerned about homosexual lifestyles, just 4 percent of Americans (and 10 percent of bornagain Christians) say they have engaged in any other nonpolitical means of addressing what they perceive to be a problem. Only 1 percent of Americans say they pray for homosexuals; a similarly miniscule proportion say they address the issue by donating money to organizations that help people dealing with the lifestyle or that they try to have meaningful discussions with people about it. This information was derived from a random, representative sample of 1,007 adults, among whom more than 600 said that the homosexual lifestyle is a problem facing America. As people described what they thought would help, just one respondent offered the word
as a potential solution. One other survey participant suggested, “being sympathetic.” Simply put, Christians think there is a problem but have no idea what to do besides voting and listening to sermons about it.
The biblical response to homosexuals should be to deal with the fundamental needs that all men and women have. We must acknowledge that everyone, regardless of age and history, has sexual baggage but also has the potential for sexual wholeness.
Being “against” gays and lesbians is not a flag to wave. Instead, develop a process within your church or within your life that allows people to work through sexual issues in a context of accountability, respect, and transparency. Life is not about easy answers, even if God is predictable in his moral character. How well are you dealing with the best and worst aspects of human sexuality? How are you dealing with the complexities of sexuality in your life and those of others?
while I choose reason and tangible perceptions and experiences to guide me instead of magical sky Gods, I FULLY support your interpretation of Christianity as opposed to the views of tired, established, hateful, hypocritical goons out there. Currently, we as a nation are lagging behind in every aspect of education, and more and more people (read: christian tea-partiers) want to teach creationism, reject science, and stop funding education. I don't believe things can get more crazy or, I hate to use this hyperbole, but, dangerous. Lead your flock to enlightenment, reason, and betterment of ALL, not just heterosexual, protestant white males.
WE ARE *SICK* OF CHRISTIANS DOMINATING OTHERS' LIVES AND STRANGLING ANY KIND OF PROGRESS WE AS A NATION COULD HAVE.
Your comments are rife with the things that you say you are against. The Bible clearly teaches exnihilo Creation and real science supports this (which is why Creationists win debates almost every time with evolutionists). Second, education is the responsibility of the parents and never should be the function of the government, since the government can only deal in control and power, which it always seeks to extend over anything it funds. Third, ad homonyms are a betrayal of reason and intellegent arguments. If you would have a cogent discussion of these issues you need to engage rather than confront by name calling and untruths.
Just found you..was recommended by a sisster whose sstufy group is doing "The Next
Christians"...have a feeling that we will be doing likewise soon. Thank You!
So it is science or church, is that the only option?
And discount Jesus' words for cherry picked Leviticus rules?
You have actually made the point of this article.
Way to fill the pews.
Good stuff here.
My only concern is that we often become reactive rather than proactive over these issues.
True. Christianity has gathered this unchristian image you've described above, but also the negativity has been enhanced and promoted by the secular media and some anti-Christian element in e.g. the science community in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. I agree with Daniel's comment above, as I am a convert from Theistic Evolutionism due to the overwhelming scientific and theological evidence (rarely published). Nonetheless, I think these arguments should be presented respectfully but assertively. We've been intimidated by these voices for too long, but neither should we cram it down people's throats and make the image problem worse.
I've seen many sincere and compassionate Christians doing their best to throw out everything that even smells of Fighting Fundamentalism. I can understand it in a way, but then we can so easily throw out the baby with the bath water. I like Jesus' approach where He said to the woman caught in adultery: "Neither do I condemn you. Go, and sin no more." In our culture, I would use different words to say the same thing, however. Don't forget, too, that in spite of Jesus' compassion, He suffered from an (imposed) image problem. We will get it imposed on us whether we like it or not, but there's no point in making it worse.
If anything, Christians should be the most balanced, logical, compassionate, gracious, wholesome and healthily-living people on this planet. Jesus was.
I read the piece on abortion. Too bad those women hadn't listened to why the young lady wanted an abortion. She felt totally alone! Why wouldn't they try to befriend and provide the support she needed? We give money to "Pregnancy Reource Centres" and pontificate on "The right to life", but are we willing to invest ourselves in helping people like the young preganant woman? Support and encouragement is what she needed, not a sermon.
Most of our church communities have an abysmal record in dealing lovingly, fairly, graciously with those struggling with homosexuality. Listening to them and HEARING them might help us to minister to, and serve them.
WHAT I GOT OUT OF THIS EXCELLENT ARTICLE.:
You are what you are, not what you tell people you are.” We need to make continual, honest evaluations of ourselves so that we can uncover the ways in which our lives do NOT accurately reflect what we profess.
Our life shows other people what God is like.
The perceptions of outsiders will change only when Christians strive to represent the heart of God in every relationship and situation.
Spiritual formation is about depth rather than simplistic formulas
Worshiping God intimately and passionately
Engaging in spiritual friendships with other believers
We do not simply change our principles to accommodate people who disagree with us, but we should be willing to look at ourselves in the light of Jesus
Rather than being known for criticism, let’s learn to step in and work toward a solution for the problems we see They say Christians are more focused on condemning people than helping people become more like Jesus.
Are we more concerned with the unrighteousness of others than our own self-righteousness?
The opposite of sin is not virtue; it is grace. We need to move beyond expecting people to behave according to our expectations, and instead try to help connect them to God’s purposes.
Jesus was in but not of the world. Christ followers must learn to respond to people in the way Jesus did.
1. Respond with the right perspective. If his inquisitors tried to corner Jesus his response was often to raise another question or to tell a story that changed the parameters of the argument.
His response was oft en to raise another question or to tell a story that changed the parameters of the argument. The message of the cross doesn't make sense to outsiders
.2. Connect with people. The goal of overcoming their negative baggage is to point them to life in Christ. Not “spin” the Christian message; we live it - no need to exaggerate or hype faith - embrace and describe all the potency, depth, complexity, and realism of following Christ.
3. Be Creative. Make difficult concepts vivid and use the language of common people to help point them toward spiritual depth.
4. Serve People. Be compassionate, soft -hearted, and kind to people who are different from us, even hostile toward us. Need to do more than learn about faith;need live it.
Being Christian means being God’s agent of common grace in the world, Being Christian is hard work. The truest knowing comes in the doing.
Take seriously their opportunity to disciple and celebrate people who have a fully orbed view of Christian thinking and its relationship to all things throughout culture.
As Christians of all generations allow Christ to transform their hearts, minds, and actions, their expressions of the Christian faith will change, resulting in an influence on society that we have not experienced in decades.
Regretably, I often see a lack of distinction between being against homosexuality and being against the homosexual person; the propaganda is so persistent. I have a young homosexual male in my life who rejoices in God "never leaving or forsaking" him despite his willful (his word) activities; this is a reflection of the lack of understanding of God as Holy and I fear for not just his physical safety (bars) but that of his soul. Many young people have a hard time choosing to stand against the institutionalization and imposed normalization and endorsement of sin because they want so badly to be accepted, and let's keep it real: sometimes it's just cowardice.
Playing down the light that God shines on my particular sin at any given moment by saying, "Well you know we all..." would be an entirely inapproriate response to a Holy confrontation--God is not talking to "we all", he's talking to me all. Jesus said he did not come to bring peace but a sword and that we must prioritize our relationship with Him above even the one to our own mother, (you have NO idea how much I can relate to that) so it was easy to know how to respond when my friend wanted me to create a comfotable environment for his willful sin--not emotionally fun, but easy (Matt. 10:34-39). "Life is not about easy answers"--really? What does that mean? God did not leave us clueless about the place of our emotions in relationship to His Word and law, we just tend to create complication when we want to indulge the flesh (Deuteronomy 30:11-14; Romans 1:28).
The thing about UnChristian is that it doesn't qualify the subjective experiences of those with so much negative to say about "Christians", "The Church" & "Christianity" against the objective standard of the Word. It control for those who are just on a bandwagon of offense and or lying. It doesn't give attention to their any ability on their part to overcome undue stereotyping. Also, the terms "Christians", "The Church" & "Christianity" must be defined--biblically. "The biblical response should be..."; well, the biblical response IS to speak the truth in love but that does not guarantee that people will not be offended, and if they are offended it doesn't necessarily mean we're doing something wrong, if a person is in sin they are supposed to feel bad, not like a victim, but aware of the contrast between their life and the holiness of God and desire to close that distance by repenting (Ephesians 4:11-16, 5:1-7, 10-13 & John 16:7-11, 3:17-21).
Friends, Jesus Christ is the head of the church--not the opinions of the "young people"; we can set ourselves up to be emotionally manipulated if we don't subject emotive language to the wisdom of the ages about human nature contained in God's Word. The church is Jesus' idea, and He said the gates of hell will not prevail, those who are cowardly need to stop claiming Christ because He will not claim them if they insist on straddling the fence and failing to clearly speak where God has clearly spoken without equivocation, ambiguation or mitigation. Perception is not reality; REALITY IS REALITY, and reality is ultimately the person of Christ himself.
Of course God loves homosexuals, some are repentant in heart some are not; the question is whether the person love Jesus ON HIS TERMS, which is "as the scripture has said" (John 7:38 & 2 Timothy 3:16). There is a lot of past hurt and a deep root of rejection in the souls of the homosexuals and lesbians I've known, hurt tends to color one's judgment and criticism; I encourage them to get current in their conversations with me and try not to prejudge me as someone who is like whatever stupidity they've seen on TV. One guy I know, I asked him if he'd ever done what Jesus instructed in Matthew 18 when he was offended or didn't get the answers he wanted from someone in church--he hadn't, he just left, hurt. I shared with him that I knew God wasn't upset with me for not being in church because someone I thought was befriending me just abruptly stopped bringing me when I shared my view that, "observing something negative does not make the person observing a negative person; some things by their very nature are just negative--everything is not happy and upbeat" (the conversation wasn't about a negative aspect of my church experience by the way). Eventually, when the time was ripe, I asked him if he thinks that all the things "The Church" & "Christians" have done bad to him will be an acceptable excuse when he stands before the Lord Jesus Christ--he frowned at first and then said, "Okay, I get it".
Anyhu, didn't mean to carry on, but it is very important for Christ followers to understand that our faith is one that refers to us as passers-through in this world, we are destined to feel the same heat that got Jesus crucified, and that we are not fit for the kingdom if we prioritize "making people feel welcome" or the fleeting pleasures of the world around us or behind us over the offense of the cross and being GOD's friend. Outsiders are not qualified biblically to judge spiritually-alive and mature believers. Jesus was not as soft as so many assume He was, the first word out of his mouth when he preached His gospel was "repent", and he said the MAJORITY would be attracted to the way that leads to destruction. The bible says that when people live a lifestyle given over to various lusts, it affects their ability to reason soundly; feelings are not even TELLING us the truth half the time, so you know they certainly can't BE the truth. Please read and listen to the entire book of 1 John MANY TIMES (God lead me to get it in my spirit when I was 17), 2 Corinthians 3, 4, 10:3-5; Matt. 7:12-14, 21-23; Ephesians 4:17-24 & Jude.
I think you're missing the point. When it comes to homosexuality, we're not talking about 'hate the sin, love the sinner.' We're talking about letting people be what God made them to be, either gay or straight. It's not like alcoholism, or stealing, or just being a jerk.
Those five bible passages you always quote about God hating homosexuality are flat out wrong. Yes, two and three thousand years ago, people were just plain wrong about that. And now we know better. A few other things we've grown past as a global culture:
1) killing every man, woman, child, and animal in God's name,
2) propogating slavery because that's just how it's always been, or
3) subjugating women.
Here's to hoping the 19 to 29 year olds do, one day, inherit the earth. Just like the 'lost generation' made strides in ending racism, just like the boomers pushed forward gender equality, let's hope the after-boomers can do away with discrimination based on sexual orientation.
To Ms. Marie: Jesus made people feel welcome, it was the religious people who were not made to feel welcome because they were the hypocrites. Get it?
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