An Apology from an Embarrassed Christian to my non-Christian Friends

We American Christians are not doing a very good job of “christianing” these days. Maybe you could say we haven’t done a good job for our entire history. That would be fair.

I’m sorry. I’m really sorry.

I say this with all sincerity to you, my non-Christian friends who look at us and roll your eyes or scratch your heads or even curse under your breath. You’re right. We Christians suck at this Christian thing.

When I was in seminary, the textbook we read for our History of Christianity course began with the intro: “Throughout Christian history, our history has all too often been anything but Christian.” Yep. Anything but.

So I feel inclined to apologize on behalf of all of us who call ourselves “Christian.” We have consistently failed to act like the Christ whose name we wear.

If you know anything about us, you’ve noticed what a wide range of people, beliefs and behaviors make up this category called “Christian.” Across history. Across the globe. Across so many varied cultures, Christianity can look and act very different from one person, from one group to the next. Just here in America, we run the gamut, you’ve probably noticed.

Since this recent election, I confess I’ve been really angry at American Evangelical Political Christianity. It’s a version of Christianity that I completely reject. I’m embarrassed that such a large percentage of Evangelicals voted for a man who brazenly tramples the classic Christian values of love, kindness, compassion, forgiveness and grace. I still haven’t figured out how these Christian cousins can justify their choice.

But also since this election, I confess my own lack of love, forgiveness and grace toward people who voted differently than I. Instead of trying to understand, I too often stop up my ears and harden my heart. Instead of working toward reconciliation, I’m quick to judge others and arrogantly dismiss them as hopeless. Instead of recognizing the fears that drive them, I let my own fears overwhelm the love that should be flowing into all our brokenness.

So my own version of liberal-leaning, progressive Christianity still hasn’t prevented me from sucking at this Christian thing. And I’m afraid this has been true of too many of us progressive Christians.

Whether we Christians are from the Left or the Right or somewhere in between, we all struggle with arrogance and self-righteousness. We all have our blind spots. We all are human.

We all have consistently failed to act like the Christ whose name we wear. So again – I’m sorry. I’m very sorry.

In Christian parlance, there is another meaning for the word: “apology.” This kind of apology is a confession of our faith, an explanation of our beliefs, a description of how we are called to behave because of our faith and our beliefs.

And so – along with my heartfelt apology for all our failures – I also want to offer this apology, this explanation, this description for Christian faith: “God is Love.”

There. That’s pretty much it.

When you are talking to your Evangelical friends or family members about any of their theological or political positions, ask them how their beliefs align with this understanding of Christianity: “God is Love.”

When you are listening to your progressive friends or family members bashing conservatives, ask them how their attitudes align with this understanding of Christianity: “God is Love.”

This kind of love is not a warm fuzzy feeling. This is a tough love, a stubborn grace, a bold humility. It’s a rubber-meets-the-road kindness, welcome, compassion.

Challenge us to live in this kind of love, to live up to our faith, to practice what we preach. Instead of rolling your eyes or scratching your heads or cursing under your breath, hold us accountable to actually represent the Christ whose name we wear. You will be doing us a favor. You will be doing us all a favor.

It’s going to be challenging for us progressive Christians to watch American Evangelicals wield wide political power in the coming years. It will be hard for us to see fundamentalist dogma enshrined into the politics and policies of America.

I, for one, will speak out. There are many of us Christians who have been and will continue to stand against mean-spirited, small-minded, short-sighted politics done in the name of our faith.

But I resolve to speak out and stand up in love – not with anger or fear or hate.

I resolve to keep checking my blinders at the door and forcing my eyes and my heart to stay open. I resolve to remain fully aware of my own brokenness and to live in compassion toward the brokenness of the people around me. I resolve to bear authentic witness to the Christ whose name I wear.

So this is what I ask of you: when you see me losing my resolve, call me on it. Call me back to love. May we all always keep calling each other back to love.

 

Charlotte Vaughan Coyle lives in Paris TX and blogs about intersections of faith, culture and politics on her website and Intersections Facebook page. She is national secretary for Coffee Party USA and contributes regularly to the Join the Coffee Party Movement Facebook page.

Charlotte is an ordained minister within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and also blogs about Scripture from a progressive Christian approach in her Living in The Story Musings.

 

 

 

 

25 thoughts on “An Apology from an Embarrassed Christian to my non-Christian Friends”

  1. The title “God” is defined in many ways. You say “God wants us to…”, but you only believe that to be true based on teachings, in your case of Jesus. So I take your meaning for a definition of God as the sum of Jesus’ teachings. I have no problem with that and agree with what you say are the intent of those teachings.

    I repeat that those teachings can be summarized as the Golden Rule. Religion has taken that good plan and complicated it with prayer, worship, vestments, churches, etc. which, I think, was not the intent of Jesus.

    An insightful movie on this theme is “A Man from Earth”. I am not agreeing with the conclusion of this quite entertaining movie, but the simplicity of Jesus’ plan comes through pretty well.

  2. Sometimes the most loving thing I can do as a Christian is to walk along side, disciple and give those who need it a hand up. That does not necessarily mean money, but a job, dignity and a purpose that God wants all of us to have.

    God also wants us to encourage, forgive, bear each other’s burdens, etc. NOT to live in disunity, envy, anger or bitterness. There is plenty of anger in this country; Christians need to love each other as commanded, even if we disagree at times.

  3. Hi Charlotte,
    Thank you for you beautiful words. I am not a Christian. I consider myself a Humanist. I agree that we are all imperfect human beings but together, no matter what faith, we will need to work against the bigotry that has infiltrated our gov’t. Discrimination against people because of religion, race, sexual preference, gender identity, sex, etc., has no place in the White House or any house. My very best friend is a Muslim-American and when she told me she didn’t want to wear her scarf in public anymore because she was scared of being harrassed, it broke my heart. The scarf she normaly wears is a part of her culture and her religion and I would never want her to be denied those things, especially here in the U.S., where our Constitution gives her and everyone else the right to religious freedom. I want freedom for all of our brothers and sisters. I would gladly stand hand in hand with you in working to snuff out hatred and intolerance. We all need love. We need love more than ever right now. Thanks for sharing your words.

    1. Hi Jacquelin, I’m so glad we are now connected. It’s great to know we stand together. I still believe there are more of us who believe in welcome and grace than there are those who practice intolerance. The coming years are an opportunity for us to make clear the cost of hate and the rewards of love. Thanks for the conversation. Peace…

  4. “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Roman’s 8:1, NIV)
    Blessings, Charlotte. Happy New Year!

  5. Donald is an existential threat to the human species. He’s now talking about engaging in a nuclear arms race. He’s not opposed to the proliferation of nuclear weapons. He’s stated that the USA might not live up to our NATO commitments. He’s called climate change a hoax and filled his cabinet with people who are intent on protecting their contributors fossil fuel interests. His cabinet picks generally hate the departments that they will be leading. Time for you to wake up and swallow the red pill.

    1. I don’t understand your comment about “the red pill” David. My blog clearly says I will be speaking out and standing up against damaging policies. I will be speaking out against hatred and violence. I hope you will also focus your efforts to do what you can where you are. Complaining is not enough. Thanks for your comment. Peace…

  6. Very good, but simply following the Golden Rule clarifies many defisions about helping others and avoids the pitfall of division so common in most religions. Christ taught love of our fellow man/woman, not religious doctrine.

  7. Progressive, liberal Christianity, will lead the lost to hell. Share the gospel, ‘Christian’. Let the lost know that there is a God, and He wants them to come to the saving knowledge of His Son Jesus. Think of it this way, would you rather be the world’s friend, and lie to them, in order to be like them, or, will you separate yourself, and let the world see that you really are different?

    1. Yeah, Kat…..because everyone knows that Jesus was a free market capitalist who admired greed and encouraged his followers to condemn anyone who thought differently.

      And Jesus didn’t accept Medicare or Medicaid. Before He’d heal any sick person, they had to pay cash up front. No cash, no miracle. As Jesus said, “Pull yourself up by the bootstraps!”

      If Donald Trump would’ve been around 2000 years ago, no doubt he would’ve surpassed St. Peter to run Jesus’ empire!

  8. I appreciate this posting, although I still bristle at the new definition of apology, being more an explanation than regret. I have been a Christian since a very young age. I learned about God and Jesus directly from the Bible, which I read daily from age 10 until adulthood, but attended “Church” very sporadically. As a young adult every time I tried to join a “Church” regularly I would invariably face serious conflicts of dogma and interpretation that I could never reconcile with my Biblical understandings. I always (and still do) likened this to the Pharisee’s and Sadducee’s, versus Jesus. That said, I have a couple of “devout” close friends who have patiently “tolerated” my unconventional faith, but with whom, because of the current elections and choices and reasons for choices, I am struggling to forgive. I very much wish to ask for [a reasonable] Christian’s point of view, if you can spare a response.
    Given that, as it sounds, you and I have similar thoughts on how God, Jesus, Love, action and responsibility stand on these elections, and clearly many of our friends somehow justify a different loyalty but nonetheless want my/our tolerance/forgiveness/blessing, whatever… Given this wish to find a common place to re-connect, I would like to understand how you and/or doctrine Christians feel about two specific situations: (a) What is the position of Christians and presumably Jesus’ disciples to Peter’s thrice denials of Jesus, when he was most needed? Is there bind forgiveness/tolerance/blessing since eventually Peter was repentant? And would this forgiveness have been contingent on the fact that he did repent? (b) Same question, but for Judas Iscariot. What is the position of Christians on JudasI, do we embrace him in loving forgiveness, know that ultimately his actions were part of God’s big plans, and therefore his part in facilitating the haters and betrayal is kind of a moot side issue?
    I do not know you, but I have been struggling with these two questions, and no one safe to ask, from my side of the progressive Christian isle. I would very much appreciate your thoughts.
    Thank you.
    Angela

    1. Hi Angela, thanks for reading and for your thoughtful comments and questions. I don’t know if I can adequately address your concerns; it may take some more extended dialogue. Let me know if you are interested in a private email conversation.

      First, to the question about the word “apology.” You can see I use both meanings of the word in my blog. I am apologizing for our widespread failure within Christianity to live up to the life and teachings of Christ; I am sorry that we don’t proclaim and live out the good news of God’s love in Christ any better than we do. That use of the word is what we are most familiar with in today’s world. But the other ancient meaning of the word is valid as well. To “make an apology” is to make a defense, to present an argument and make a justification for a belief. It’s an old, formal use of the word that isn’t often used these days. You can find that definition in just about any dictionary.

      Now to your question about Peter and Judas (an excellent probing question indeed!) Here is where I feel inadequate to talk about this in this kind of venue. It’s a complex question with no easy answer.

      There is no one Christian explanation of the stories of Peter’s denial and Judas’ betrayal. Even today you can find all kinds of positions and interpretations. Here is mine (at least in part.)

      I begin with Jesus himself. All four of the gospels recite Jesus’ teachings about forgiveness; we are to forgive others. Period. But only Luke tells a story about Jesus forgiving the very people who crucified him. (see Luke 23:34) Jesus’ forgiveness was not at all contingent upon the repentance or apologies of the ones who killed him; Jesus proclaimed God’s amazing grace to all of those (all of us) who are completely undeserving.

      That said, only the gospel of Matthew talks about the end of the story of Judas and Matthew specifically says Judas repented for betraying Jesus. (see Matthew 27:3) Matthew also tells that the religious leaders specifically rejected Judas’ repentance. In my opinion, this unforgiveness is the reason for Judas’ hopelessness and eventual suicide.

      God’s people all too often do not live up to God’s call for both grace and justice. We fail again and again. Hence my “apology” for our failures as Christians and my “apology,” defense, argument that “God is love” – in spite of our failure to love.

      I have no idea if this helps Angela. I look forward to hearing back from you and continuing our conversation if you want to. Peace…

    2. Angela and Charlotte,

      Jesus forgave Peter and Judas before their actions were even carried out. He knew what they would do, but he also knew that it was the way things had to happen. When you are firm in your faith, you know that people are going to hurt you, and that bad things will happen, and that it has to happen. Jesus was the son of God and he saw this very clearly. We must continue to remind ourselves of this: When bad things happen to us, it is God’s will, and it is to prepare us to fulfill His purpose for us. Do not be discouraged, and do not neglect to forgive those put in your life to guide you; whether their intentions are good or bad, wrong or right–God is using them to sharpen you and make you into the person He wants you to be. It’s all a part of the plan.

      In the case of this election, I will say I didn’t want it to happen. It reflects poorly on our country, our culture, and our Christianity. But when we are firm in our faith, we also know that everything that happens is God’s will. For those who say Trump’s victory will mean the destruction of our country, I can only say, then God wants to see our country destroyed.

      The arrogance that Charlotte mentioned in her article leads us to believe that we deserve a perfect country with perfect Christian people in it. But we know that sin will persist as long as we are on this earth, and we will all be tempted by it, and Satan has many ways of deceiving us. Just because some of us refused to be deceived by Trump and what he represents, we are still deceived in other ways. That is why it is your duty to continue to extend grace to those whose political interests you vehemently protest…as God has extended that grace to you.

  9. Just give up this hideous religion, in fact, all religion is a figment of imagination meant originally to belittle and de-humanize women. Now it dehumanizes every person who isn’t like oneself. Santa Clause, Easter bunny, pink ponys, Jesus. All bunk that is tearing this country and this world apart. Christianity is merely a political party meant to beat people down with hate. I look forward to the day when all religion is dead and gone, then our world will be at peace.

    1. Looks like you and I will have to agree to disagree, Mark. I will argue that it’s the perversion of religion that creates all the problems you cite. Humans will always turn to religion in some form or another – for community, for comfort, for the good of humanity. When we start doing religion correctly, faithfully, THEN the world might find peace.

      1. You’re an amazing Human Charlotte,
        I sincerely think that you have missed the point of religion. When one studies the bible as I have for most of my life, one is left with the default position of non-belief. Historically the bible has been re-written a minimum of three times. The archaeological evidence proves it. The bible is a book. It is no more or no less relevant than the works of Shakespeare. Religion and God were both invented to control a population, that’s religion. I know you’ll never stop looking for the truth. Like me, I suspect you are a truth seeker and that’s why i’m unafraid to address you here.
        Pete. Cheers 🙂

        1. Thank you for your comment and critique Pete; I appreciate the conversation. I, too, have studied the Bible, argued with it, dismissed and dissected it. But unlike you, I guess, it has driven me to my knees. By something like the genius of Shakespeare, I must engage it over and over again in order to come to any sort of understanding of “truth.” I am both content and restless with this search. I trust the effort is not neat or simple while at the same time I acknowledge that “religion” and “faith” are not always synonyms. This is all journey; I am not where I have been and I hope I am not where I will some day be. This is all grace; a mystery in which (I believe) all humanity experiences and stands in awe. Peace….

    2. I must agree with Charlotte. My daughter recently asked me how we can believe in a religion that asks women to be domesticated servants. That’s not what the Bible asks of us, at all. The message has been distorted to fit the agenda of those in power. If you read the gospels and you get a sense of who Jesus was, you know that his ways bring us the exact kind of peace for which you are hoping.

  10. Bill forwarded your blog to me and I really enjoyed it. Love IS the answer and God IS love. That is my definition of God and always has been. If we continue to divide ourselves with hatred, anger, judgement and disgust we are doomed.

    As Arthur says each Sunday in closing – ” Love those you love and even those you don’t”. That’s not quite right, but you know what I mean.

        1. God is evolution. Everything that religion plagiarizes from Humanity actually originated in evolution – the process of chance and necessity.
          Cheers – Pete. 🙂

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