unChristian faith & Christianists

Ask any gay man or woman who grew up in a Christian church and they’ll likely be able to tell you about the time in their life when they dealt with self-hatred and shame. Self-hatred that you felt something that the church was adamantly telling you was sinful and wrong. Shame that you couldn’t stop feeling the way you did.

Luckily some people get past that — I did. Some people even get past that without leaving behind their religious beliefs — I did. I, however, seemed to have gone to the extreme and began to be ashamed of being a Christian. In the gay community the only thing worse than a gay Christian is a gay Republican.

I mean, look around – you have God Hates Fags, the “Gays caused 911” Jerry Falwall, and James Dobson’s anti-gay “Focus on the Family” organization — all of whom purport to be Christians. Throw in all of the Christians who are adamantly against gay marriage (Prop 8 anyone?) and it isn’t at all surprising to see how being labeled a Christian isn’t something one wants advertised. Even some atheist/agnostic blogs see the massive disconnect between the Christian beliefs (love your neighbor, God loves everyone, God’s grace covers all sin, don’t judge, nobody’s perfect) and the flat out anti-Christian behavior and have given them a new label: Christianists.

Some Christians see the disconnect too and have tried to publicly distance themselves from some of these extremist persons and organizations. Two individuals, David Kinnaman and Gave Lyons, have written a book that discusses the current image problem Christians have: unChristian, What a new generation really thinks about Christianity … and why it matters. I read the book and couldn’t help but nod through the whole thing — these guys get it. Now if only the rest of the Christianists would step up and pay attention.

The authors, one of whom works for the Barna Group – a Christian organization who does statistical research and polling, summarize and explore the extensive poll results gathered by the Fermi Project. The book is broken down into 6 big areas:

  • Hypocritical
  • Get Saved!
  • Antihomosexual
  • Sheltered
  • Too Political
  • Judgmental

Each chapter delves into one topic and explores why Christians are seen in these lights. What I liked about the book is that they are up-front and honest that the perceptions are real, real because of how Christians behave. Christians really are seen as anti-homosexual, judgmental and too political. Many times they use such verbiage as “you may not like being labeled as judgmental but our research shows that if you tell someone that you are a Christian x% of people will paint you with that brush”. One excellent line that sticks with me:

We [Christians] have become famous for what we oppose, rather than who we are for.

The book offers suggestions and thoughts on how to change these perceptions by being less unChristian, and more like Christ — more, well, Christian. All along the way he emphasizes why fixing the perception is important: without a change in perception Christianity will become irrelevant. The new generations, Mosaics and Busters (currently folks between ages 17 and 30), are leaving Christianity in droves — who wants to be a member of an organization seen with the attributes listed above?

The good news, at least in my mind, is that we really can take back the label Christian and I can eventually stop being ashamed of the label myself. There is most certainly a need for an organization that serves the poor, welcomes all into the church to worship, feeds the hungry, provides shelter for the homeless, treats all people with respect and dignity, and recognizes that no one is perfect but that we’re all trying to help each other along. That organization should be the Christian church as those things like up perfectly with what Jesus did.

I started reading the book with an “us vs them” mentality – “us” being mostly gays and “them” being Christianists. And part of me still feels that way (see aforementioned anti-homosexual reference) but I’m working to internalize that I too exhibit unChristian behavior (judgmental and hypocritical at the very least), behavior that I need to work on. That said, I still want to buy a dozen copies and send them out to a few select people :)