On Wednesday night, right before going to bed, I posted a link to an article titled "There. I said it. I don’t want my kids to be Evangelicals." In my (very) brief commentary I quoted the following from it:
I want my kids to think set apart means that they will love so radically and freely that whatever moral choices their making, through all their years of figuring it out, won’t be what people are even able to focus on.
A couple hours later, I was still trying to fall asleep when my phone beeped and lit up. I could tell from the first few words of the email, staring at me from my lock screen, that I had made a huge mistake. It was my dad, pointing out how badly it could be misunderstood, and that it would probably offend a lot of people we know who follow my blog.
Being two-something in the morning, I responded by writing a short post that included an apology, my concerns about being misunderstood, and a promise to write a longer clarification of my intent later. Until then, I took the link down. (I’ve included the link here for context and because this time I am including a lot more qualifying statements to (hopefully) make myself clear.)
I want to make a couple things clear, before getting to the point I was trying to make in linking to that post.
First, I apparently didn’t make it clear enough that I was linking to a full article. I should have kept a format that made that obvious. The quote was what I wanted to highlight, but it only made sense in the context of the whole article. In retrospect, I can see how the quote on its own would be very easy to misunderstand. I think the article put at least some of those misunderstandings to rest. As it was, it looked like an isolated quote that I hadn’t even bothered to cite, and an inflammatory title that I had come up with myself. Which leads me to my next point.
I was not intending to attack or offend Evangelicals. Now, I won’t shy away from challenging people and stepping on toes if I think they need to hear it—even if they don’t want to. But this was not at all meant to be that kind of post. It is unfortunate that the writer set up the article as an attack on Evangelicals, because in doing so she alienated a lot of people, and the most valuable truths in the post, truths that should cross denominational boundaries, were lost. When I read it I was thinking about my own tendencies, and when I linked to it, I was posting it as a challenge (in a more positive sense) to all Christians equally. Honestly, I wasn’t even thinking about the use of the word "Evangelicals."
What I resonated with in the article was the idea that we should be set apart by our love. As was pointed out, we generally think of being "set apart" as meaning morally. You know, don’t swear, don’t have sex before marriage, don’t cheat on your tests. Be good. And the idea is that people will notice and wonder why we’re so different. The problem is, in the West in this day and age, I don’t know that it’s always seen that positively by those outside the church.
(Because I’m already treading on thin ice after that last post, I’m going to say, please, please hear me out through this next argument here. Don’t jump to conclusions about where I’m going with this. While I’m giving disclaimers, let me reiterate that, though the article was specifically targeting Evangelicals, I was and am applying it equally to all Christians, myself included.)
Sure, some of them probably notice and respect it, but it seems a lot of people outside the church see us as holier-than-thou, and judgmental of everyone who doesn’t live up to our standards. And hypocritical, because we often fall short of those standards ourselves. (And if we’re really honest, a lot of times they’re right.) So it could be argued that aiming to be set apart morally just plays into this view of Christians.
Now, before I get eaten alive or walked away from, I am not saying that we should throw morals out the window, and go get drunk and sleep around so that we’ll be accepted by our culture. God has made it very clear that we are to live holy lives. I could list off the top of my head verse after verse from the New Testament calling followers of Jesus to be holy, and not to conform to the ways of the world. Jesus also made it clear that we would be misunderstood and even hated by the rest of the world.
"If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you."
But what will amaze them, what will really make them wonder, is love. Especially when they hate us. It will blow them away. It does blow them away. When Christians step up and choose to love instead of preaching at people about what’s right and what’s wrong, they can’t figure it out. I’ve seen the stories and the photos going viral on the internet. (That said, a large part of people’s amazement is that Christians have come to be some of the last people they expect to see it from—which is really sad, and infuriating. Because we have no one to blame for that but ourselves.)
Again, as the article pointed out, even though Jesus lived the only perfectly moral life of every human that’s ever lived, it was his love that was so compelling—both for the crowds and notorious sinners that gravitated to it, and for the Pharisees who couldn’t stand it and decided to kill him.
Now, I realize when reading over what I’ve just written that it could sound like I’m saying our number one priority should be PR. That’s not what I’m getting at. Jesus wasn’t worried about his PR—I mean, he provoked his opponents to the point of being killed—and he sure isn’t worried about ours. We shouldn’t love—or live morally, for that matter—in order to make people like us. We do it because it’s the right thing to do. And because God is transforming us into people for whom it is the most natural thing to do. Even so, Jesus said, "Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples." (John 13:35) So let’s live in such a way that we are known by our love.
One last thought: our mission is to "make disciples of all the nations" (Matthew 28:19). We aren’t doing that if we become just like them. We have to live the way Jesus taught us to, and teach new disciples to. (He says so in the same breath—verse 20.) But we can’t do that by pushing people away, either. We have to engage with the world. And love it.