There are many arguments inside of mainstream Christian culture today. Topics such as hell, Biblical interpretation, LGBTQ issues, attending an organized church, just to name a few.
I’ll admit, one of my favorite things in life is debating. I know it may sound like an odd thing to enjoy – maybe I should have been a lawyer – but, truthfully, I enjoy healthy debate. I like being a counter voice and allowing another side to be represented fairly.
Maybe it’s because I relish rich, deep conversation. Or maybe it’s because I, myself, have often felt misunderstood. Maybe it’s because I have seen too many people leave their communities, families or relationships because they did not feel that their perspective was heard.
Or maybe it’s simply because I like real, honest conversations – ones where no one “loses” – but, rather everyone wins because everyone walks away feeling seen and understood.
We need more of that.
But, there are a few topics inside current Christian culture that become an instant battle ground. Where both sides bear arms and prepare to fight to the death; determined to prove the other wrong.
These topics tend to be the tipping point for writing off a friend, family member or church because they are believed to be “absolutes”, with no ground for disagreement. But, the crazy thing about relationships, is that no relationship can withstand absolutes 100% of the time (seriously; just ask anyone who has been married).
Healthy relationships must flow, move, shift and readjust.
So, if I may, allow me to be a bit of a voice for the underdog in these conversations, by exposing the most prevalent myths of “absolutes” surrounding these topics.
Top 5 Myths in Christian Culture Today:
1. You cannot be friends with, listen to or accept someone who interprets the Bible differently than you.
So many arguments happen over the statement “the Bible clearly says”. The thing about the Bible, is that it isn’t clear (before you freak out at that statement, hear me out). If it were cut-and-dry-clear, people wouldn’t be arguing about it. And people wouldn’t have been arguing about it for centuries before us.
Believing you are completely certain of what God would do, say, think, approve of or disapprove of (based on your interpretation of scripture) would be to put yourself at the same level as God himself. To think that your interpretation is the only one in all of history that got it right, is just about the most prideful position one can take. Jesus opposed pride; he taught humility.
We are human. We are not God. We will never fully know what God absolutely thinks or doesn’t think; the best model we have to God’s character is the life of Jesus. And Jesus surrounded himself with people from many different beliefs and walks of life. And when it came to the church, he constantly challenged their use of scripture, their traditions, religiosity and their behavior towards others.
2. If someone doesn’t believe in hell, they aren’t a real Christian.
I admit, I once believed this one. I was afraid of hell, so I pushed that same fear onto anyone who wasn’t carrying the same fear I was. But, all of that behavior was simply fear based. And fear and love do not mix. So, if I am to follow Jesus (who is divine love) I can’t operate from a place of fear. Anything rooted in fear isn’t of God.
Jesus did not carry a fear of hell, a fear of people going to hell or really a fear of anything for that matter. If he had, his messages would have been much different. His interactions would have been less about healing, feeding, humility, being a servant and including others and more about hell fire and brimstone (which it wasn’t). So, regardless of where your beliefs are on this topic, operating from a place of fear and trying to scare others with that same fear is not following the model of Jesus.
(For more thoughts on this topic, check out this article on my evolving thoughts on hell)
3. You must choose between loving Jesus or loving your gay friend/family member.
I have witnessed countless families torn apart over this. Where parents refuse to speak to children, children refuse to speak to their parents, churches remove membership and communities abandon people they once loved. Usually it comes down to a statement of “the Bible clearly says” and that is the end of the conversation. And if the gay person does not comply with their interpretation of scripture they are written off – typically for good.
My friend, there is NO rule that says in order to love Jesus you must reject a gay person, a non-Christian person, a Muslim person or any person who sees things differently than you. The only rules that say that are man-made; not Jesus made.
Remember, Jesus taught the parable of the Good Samaritan. One where he warned the religious that those who they thought “could never be holy or of God” could actually be the very people who are showing God’s love the most. The message of Jesus was loudly stated over and over again to not be so quick to determine who belongs to God and who doesn’t. That job is WAY above our pay grade. You can and are free to love, welcome and embrace anyone and everyone. After all, that’s what Jesus’ table looked like.
(To learn more about bridging the gap with a loved one who is gay, I encourage you to check out the resources from B.T. Harman on Blue Babies Pink)
4. We must be anti-culture.
I find this one interesting…because the Bible itself is seeped in culture. It, itself is written entirely inside of a specific culture and point in time. To not recognize that would be to ignore the way it was beautifully written. Every generation since then has had the responsibility to determine how the Bible should relate to their present culture and time in history.
This is why interpretations change, evolve and shift over the years. For instance, cultures before us believed the Bible promoted slavery. Wars were fought defending people’s “biblical right” to own slaves, because the Bible was “clear”. In other cultures, men believed they had a biblical right to stone their wives for adultery, after all, it was “clear”. Whites and blacks could not marry because the Bible was “clear” about the mixing of races. It is because of culture that these vital changes were made to how we read and interpret the text.
Changes in how we view scripture have been made and will continue to be made as time and cultures evolve. Given how far we have come, I am so very thankful for this.
5. If someone doesn’t go to church, they aren’t a real Christian.
Many people who love Jesus simply can’t stand church. And, I can’t say that I blame them. They have simply found community elsewhere. I have met some of the bravest, kindest, filled with the fruit of the spirit, Jesus-loving people outside church walls.
If anyone de-bunked the idea of “only the most holy attend church” it was Jesus himself. He did not belong inside the church; in fact, the church labeled him demonic, a false teacher and a heretic. The church did not embrace Jesus; they rejected and killed Jesus. According to the life of Jesus, quite possibly many of his followers have been outside the walls of church all along…
Jesus didn’t do any of the things above – not a single one.
Jesus included the outsider, defended those on the religious hater-list, didn’t preach fear messages of hell and didn’t push people to “belong” inside the church walls. I venture to guess that if Jesus showed up today he would be rejected and crucified all over again:
Because of who he would sit with
Who he would not warn of hell
Who he would include
Who he would have dinner with
Who he would challenge on their interpretation of scripture
What leaders he would oppose
This is why Jesus was so hated by the church and was ultimately killed. The religious have always hated Jesus-like behavior – because it removes them of power, superiority and the comfort of knowing they are better than “those over there”. Following that religiosity is about as anti-Christ as one could get.
No matter your personal convictions or beliefs, I hope you can make room at your table for those different than you. That you can choose to love instead of fear and embrace instead of exclude. When we do this, we inch a little bit closer to the table of Jesus.
PS: For more candid, off-the-cuff conversation about topics like this, check out my podcast: Behind the Mirror