Christians are sadly gaining a reputation for being quite judgmental, and it’s a reputation that we probably deserve. Certainly Christianity is judgmental towards sins, but we often leave out the aspect of grace and forgiveness. At some point we collectively decided that it’s okay to protest gay parades, abortion clinics, and the Democratic Convention. Certainly all of this is within the rights of any individual or group, but as G.K. Chesterton once wrote, “To have a right to do a thing is not at all the same as to be right in doing it.” Or to quote Paul, “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be enslaved by anything.” (1 Corinthians 6:12). In other words, while we may have the Constitutional right to protest such actions, it doesn’t mean we’re doing the Gospel any favors when acting in such a manner.
Paul actually makes the matter even clearer earlier in 1 Corinthians where he states,
“I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:9-13)
It would appear that all the protesting, all the judging, all the telling people to act holy, and all the attempts at legislation to hopefully legislate holiness are in vain from a Christian perspective. This doesn’t mean Christians shouldn’t stick up for what is right (such as the abolishment of slavery, the protection of the environment, workers’ rights, etc), but instead that we shouldn’t expect non-Christians to act like Christians. We shouldn’t expect the non-Christian to follow Christian morals.
We can look to the life of Christ to see how He acted towards ‘sinners.’ He was often found in the company of drunkards, prostitutes, and tax collectors. As I’ve stated before, we’ve become immune to the shock of such a statement. So create a visual:
Imagine the stereotype of a prostitute, what she looks like, how she acts, and so on. Now imagine walking into church with her, sitting her down with you, and treating her as a friend. Imagine inviting your pastor over and when he gets there, he sees four prostitutes dining with you at the table. Or for those in a more progressive form of Christianity, imagine inviting a rich CEO over to have dinner with you.
I can only speak for myself, but I don’t think I could do that. Not because “Jesus is God and I’m a human” (for Jesus is also human and He also had such people around His disciples who were all too human), but because I’m too judgmental, I’m too prideful, I’m too wrapped up in what people would think, I’m too arrogant to let go of my fear of losing my reputation. You won’t find me in the Red Light district any time soon inviting people to dinner because, sadly enough, I’m not humble enough or holy enough to attempt such a thing, but I know I should be. Yet, it is in the slums that we condemn where we find Christ establishing His Church; it is in our established churches where we find Christ condemning them as slums.
Consider the early Church and what the last pagan emperor, Julian the Apostate, had to say about them in his letter to Arsacius:
For it is disgraceful when no Jew is a beggar and the impious Galileans [the name given by Julian to Christians] support our poor in addition to their own; everyone is able to see that our coreligionists are in want of aid from us.
What speaks louder for the Gospel: A large sign or washing the feet of the beggar? A rally or the silence of service? A piece of legislation to stop an unholy action or a piece of bread to stop the hunger of a child? We will always be criticized, but let us be criticized for the right reasons. Right now one can point to Christianity and call us hypocrites, call us oppressors, and show that the world would be no different without us and our only defense is, “Well look to the Gospel and not to the people who claim Christianity” or “well we’re human too.” These aren’t legitimate defenses! If we’re claiming that Christ is real, if we’re claiming that He indwells in us – which is a radical claim – then we ought to look different. We ought to live lives so exceptional that one is left without a natural explanation. When called hypocrites we should be able to say that such accusations are a lie. As it is, hardly anyone criticizes Christianity for helping the poor, the neglected, the sinners, not because they think we are admirable for doing so, but because hardly anyone see us doing it.
We should not expect those not in Christ to act as though they are in Christ. Rather, we should treat them as Jesus treated them; with love and as human beings. We never see Christ protesting outside of a whore house, but we do see Him turning over the tables of the money-changers in the temple. We never see Christ speak harshly towards the lowest of society, but we do see Him condemn the religious elite. No matter what we think, we should always see ourselves as the religious elite striving to be more like Christ. Stop it with the protests, stop it with the close-off culture of church, and realize that our faith is supposed to flow out into the streets; not by condemning, not by yelling at people, not by protesting them, not by handing out tracts, but by befriending people, helping people, and becoming the love of Christ to them.