Jesus Save Us from Your Followers
I remember seeing a bumper sticker once on a car in front of me at a red light. It read, “Jesus save us from your followers.” I laughed out loud. I laughed partly because I was exhausted at that time by a group of fundamentalist Christians at my church who were causing lots of havoc. They felt that I, because of my belief in the full equality of all persons, my advocating for the full inclusion of LBGTQ persons in the life and ministry of the church, and my respect and honoring of other religions, was surely going to hell. Of course the members of our church who agreed with me were going to go to hell also, they surmised. But the hottest pit of hell, they felt, would be reserved for me, because, after all, I was the leader, and was leading others astray.
They on the other hand, were assured of eternal bliss in heaven, because they could recite a formulaic belief in Jesus as the one and only way to God. They saw no irony in threatening my life in a telephone call to the church office one Saturday when I was counseling someone. Fortunately the woman who was with me, seeing I was visibly shaken and pale after the telephone call, said, “Call the police.” When I did, and the telephone call was traced, of course it was the adult son of one of these strict “Christians.” I remember at the time feeling that I was closer in my belief system to Jews, Buddhists, and followers of Native American spirituality than I am to fundamentalist Christians, even though I do consider myself a Christian also.
Fast forward to the other day. In conversation with a group of young adults, all of whom had grown up Christian, I became deeply saddened by the fact that only a few of them considered themselves Christian today. They all said their struggles with Christianity were not with Jesus, whom the vast majority of them felt was “way cool,” but with some narrow version of Christianity that had been crammed down their throats. “My parents forced me to go to church” was a common refrain. “The Church’s teachings against LBGTQ persons” was another common critique. (Even though I reminded them that some churches, particularly my own ELCA, have been very bold about taking a stand on the full inclusion of LBGTQ persons.) “The lack of tolerance for persons of other faiths by Christians” was another common refrain. One young woman found herself attracted to Hinduism, particularly because of the balance of feminine as well as masculine images of divinity. A few were drawn to Islam because of the depth of commitment of Muslims. Most said they were attracted to Buddhism because it showed deep respect for other faiths, because of its moderate “Middle Way,” and especially because of Zen Buddhism’s emphasis on living mindfully. When I reminded these former Christians that we Christians also have a long, rich, deep, beautiful history of prayer and meditation in our own Christian mystics, one young man responded, “Yes, but that is not part of mainstream Christianity today.” Sadly, I had to admit he was correct.
So, as much as I have deep love, respect, and appreciation for other faith traditions besides my own Christian tradition, and despite the fact that I have incorporated different practices from other faith traditions in to my own daily spiritual path, I have to admit that I felt a deep sadness that these young people were overwhelmingly “done” with Christianity. The really sad part is that they all seemed to love Jesus, but were turned off by the deeply negative experiences they had had with his followers, viz., with some of US. As funny as that bumper sticker is, it says something tragically true: that those of us who self-identify as Christians have done a lousy job of sharing the “Good News “ (the Greek word Gospel literally means Good News or Good Message). In fact, most young people seem to hear the message of Jesus, as translated by his followers, as a lot of Bad News, judging and condemning them and people they love. The other sad realization I had is that I also sensed a deep, sincere spiritual hunger from all of these young people, who are searching to assuage their spiritual hunger in places other than the Christian tradition, because of the negative, Bad News message of Jesus’ followers.
So the question is for us who call ourselves Christians, “Can we share truly Good News with young people of today who so desperately long for the Good News of God’s deep, infinite love for them?” Just as important, “Can we live in such a way that are lives are in congruity with this Good News, as Jesus’ life was?” Wouldn’t we be more true to the message of Jesus if we shared his love and compassion for all people rather than our own narrow, twisted perverted message of judgment and condemnation based on our own insecurities and prejudices?
Jesus, please do save us from your followers.
This day, may we see God in all we encounter,
and may we reflect God to all we encounter.
Linda Forsberg, Copyright March 9, 2015
Photos: Linda at the gate of death, Turkey; Linda in sarcophagus, Turkey; Isle of Patmos, Greece; the Acropolis, Athens, Greece; on sailing vessel, Aegean Sea, Greece; Patmos, Greece; a natural Christmas tree, decorated with elements from the sea, Second Beach, Newport, RI