I’ve noticed that you aren’t one to shy away from answering questions having to do with God and/or Christianity. So I thought I might try asking: Why do you think it is that so many people who say they’re Christian are okay with acting in ways that are the opposite of what Christ stood for?
First off, you’re right: I don’t mind talking about spirituality—religion included. Why would I? Faith and religion (or the lack thereof) is a big part of most people’s lives. An advice columnist who won’t talk about religion is like an oceanographer who won’t talk about fish.
So, taking the gist of your question out from behind its thin veil of accusation, you believe that all Christians should behave in certain ways, and are wondering why they don’t. That’s a reasonable enough question—until you take into account that not all Christians believe the same things, by a very long shot.
In today’s world, knowing that a person is Christian tells you nothing about what that person actually believes. It’s like describing something with only the word “furry.” Could be a rat, could be a bear, could be a hat. There’s just not enough information in that one word to tell you what you’re dealing with.
Some Christians believe that Jesus was God incarnate; others that he was just an extraordinary man. Some believe Jesus sacrificed himself for the sins of mankind; others that he was executed for being politically subversive. Hell is real; hell is a metaphor. The Bible is the word of God; the Bible was penned by men flawed as all mortals are. Only Christians get into heaven; the Pearly Gates are open to all. Men should be heads of church and home; men and women are fully equal before God. Jesus loves a wealthy Christian; a wealthy Christian is unlikely to know Jesus from Bernie Madoff. The earth is 6,000 years old; science. Homosexuality is a sin; being gay is no more a sin than is being blue-eyed or left-handed.
Catholicism rocks! Unless you’re a Protestant!
There are some 33,000 (and no, that’s not a typo) Christian denominations. Each has its own take on Christianity. So while you might think that the zillionaire pastor screaming about the evils of homosexuality isn’t acting very Christian, you couldn’t convince him of that. He believes every word he’s saying. So call him what you will, but you can’t call him a hypocrite.
Speaking for myself, I could give a rat’s hat what any given person believes—right up until what they believe causes harm to anyone else. Then I care, a lot, since it’s manifestly and absolutely wrong for anyone to hurt or exploit anyone else. So I believe that every Christian is morally obliged to ask themselves the same question every person in the world is morally obliged to ask themselves, which is: Does anything that I believe or practice inevitably lead to anyone being harmed or oppressed?
If the Christian honestly asking themselves that question cannot avoid the conclusion that something they believe is bringing any measure of harm into the world we all share, then it is incumbent upon them to dismantle that belief, and rebuild it into something that only serves and never harms others. To disregard that imperative is to fail others, fail themselves and, I would venture, fail the God they profess to love.
John writes an advice column for The Asheville-Citizen Times newspaper. Send your question to AskJohnShore@gmail.com—or use our Contact form. (Letters may be edited for brevity or clarity, and will be published anonymously.)