During a recent stay at my in-laws’ place, they mentioned that they were soon going to play host to the church small group they’re a part of. All well and good, apart from the minor dilemma regarding their liquor cabinet in the living room. It seems that their small group leader is emphatically opposed to any alcohol consumption for Christians, so they were considering removing the liquor from their glass-doored cabinet to avoid a scene.
This scenario perfectly illustrates why people dislike Christians—they’re the people you don’t want to have over—but there are many other things worth noting in a scenario such as this. The obvious question I’m driven to is why do we Christians persist in the belief that we all need to think and act the same? I think the answer is something like “because we excel at missing the point.” It is a question sure to produce frustration in those driven to ask it, so I’d rather put it to rest and explore some more illuminating questions.
For instance, what is it that drives us to boldly proclaim our opinions as though we have them from the mouth of God? I suspect that the very dynamics of faith and doubt play a major role here. Faith is always a conversation between trust and doubt; between assurance and anxiety. The speed with which we can move from one to the other is emblematic of the strengths and weaknesses inherent to the human condition. But the cadences of faith are lost on many Christians, who rigidly hold that doubt is the lack of faith rather than integral to it. And I can think of no better way for such Christians to ignore and sublimate their doubts and fears than to be resolute on matters of little to no consequence. (I have just explained the Religious Right.)
Not only is it very, very sad to need others to think and act like us in order to reassure us that we’re actually in the right (despite our suppressed doubts), it also has nothing to do with discipleship in the way of Jesus. Jesus has no patience for the self-righteous, if for no other reason than it’s all a sham. To be a hypocrite is literally to be a play-actor; a liar on the stage of life who desperately wants to look like they have their shit together, while suppressing their doubts under a stern mask of piety.
But another question that must be asked in the Christians-judging-others game that is too often played is why the hell do we care so much if we’re being judged? If those dishing out judgement are guilty of lying to the world (and themselves) in order to assuage their fears, then those on the receiving end are equally guilty for being afraid of what self-righteous idiots think of them.
Those who are afraid of being judged are guilty of the same problem as those doling out the judgement: they’ve bought into the story that they’re not allowed to have doubts or to show any weakness under any circumstances whatsoever. Maybe Jesus is so harsh with hypocrites because they deceive honest people into thinking that people of faith don’t experience doubt. Whatever story the judged believe, they are too easily offended.
Then there’s the question posed by the ubiquitous “hide the liquor” impulse: why do we do it? Because it’s easier. Because it doesn’t require us to do the hard and messy work of building a community of people who are honest with their differences. It doesn’t require us to challenge those we disagree with. It doesn’t make us stand up to the self-righteous bullying that we’d rather ignore than confront.
Peace is not the lack of conflict. All a lack of conflict reveals is a bunch of liars who prefer the easy way. True peace is found in those who are able to extend grace and forgiveness with one another as they are truly honest with each other. True peace is found in those who reject violence as a way to solve the conflicts that honesty bring about. True peace is messy, painful, beautiful and never quite as fully realized as we like. Which is why true peace will only be pursued by a people who pray.
Oh Lord, help.