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UnChristian Christians?

Cover of "unChristian: What a New Generat...

Cover via Amazon

I was talking to a new friend the other day who was perplexed about why Christians put signs up in their yard proclaiming their faith. “I suppose they feel it’s their duty?” he suggested with a sigh.

I offered that they might feel it was their “opportunity” and responsibility to “witness”, especially at Christmas. “I guess”, he said dismissively, as we moved onto another subject that was much more appealing to both of us..Jesus.

You see, my friend is gay, and he cuts my hair, so we have time for some good talks. I sense he’s not all that accustomed to talking openly with Christians and he tells me some “insider” stories which I appreciate. Sometimes I apologize for the care-less-ness of my fellow believers.

Recently, I read a story about a gay, African man, David Kato, who was killed in Uganda allegedly because of his defense of homosexuality. Even his funeral became a point of contention and division.


The background story linked his death with the recent visit of American Christians who did a series of lectures on the ‘Homosexual Agenda‘.

How would this be received, in a country where, in my lifetime, we remember a slaughter of  epic proportions under a dictator (Idi Amin),  http://africanhistory.about.com/od/biography/a/bio_amin.htm, with another “Agenda”?

I’ve heard that the church in Uganda is growing, but if it is growing in punishing people without Justice (and Righteousness), both words being derived from the same Hebrew word:   http://www.basden.demon.co.uk/xn/tsedeq.html   how different will the church be from any other organization killing people in  Africa?

When I read the Book, UnChristian, by David Kinnaman a few years ago, I was sadly gratified to see in print exactly what I had heard from friends outside the church for years. This book reflects their true views of Christians. Read more about this book below.

UnChristian: A Response

Featured, Social Justice — By M. Morford on February 1, 2011 at 7:53 am

With a title like “UnChristian”, one has to wonder about the starting point – and intention – of a full blown study and exposition of the state of the contemporary church.

First published in 2007, UnChristian continues to stir controversy and unsettles too comfortable cultural orthodoxies.

It is one thing to consider one’s own direct experience with Christian pettiness or hypocrisy. David Kinnaman goes a whole other direction. Kinnaman is president of the Barna Group which does polling regarding (mostly) Christian issues.

His research, with a focus on younger believers (and unbelievers) between 18 and 29, confirms what many of us, even some of us far beyond those ages, have felt for many years: the Church a has gone far, far astray in the past generation.

I have been convinced for many years that American Christianity of the past 30 years or so would be unrecognizable to Christians of almost any previous era. Among many other findings expressed in this book, unbelievers (or “outsiders” as he calls them) generally are attracted to the Jesus of the Bible, but find themselves, sometimes literally, hounded out of their local church.

Each one of us makes our own spiritual decision, but no one makes those decisions in isolation. As Kinnaman frames it “We are not responsible for outsiders’ decisions, but we are accountable when our actions and attitudes—misrepresenting a holy, just, and loving God—have pushed outsiders away.” (14)

As I was reading this book, it kept occurring to me that perhaps it was not just me, or my experience in church, but it was all across the Christian world where people of earnest faith were dismissed and humiliated as a standard “Christian” practice.

How did this climate of church hostility come about?

Cultural accommodation and compromise are slow but certain forces of erosion. Kinnaman addresses six key areas where modern Christianity has become literally “UnChristian.”

Consider these areas, and think about, not how alien, but how familiar these themes are. First, hypocrisy. It’s easy to point out hypocrisy in Christians – but recall how nearly automatic denial and justification become when this comes up. I would have used the word complacency just because Christian betrayals and scandals are so iconic that hypocrisy seems inadequate.

In the chapter titled “Get Saved,”  Kinnaman portrays how unbelievers feel that they are notches on some cosmic scorecard instead of complex individual human beings. An inherent disrespect for God’s creation is implied by that attitude. More on that later.

Most unbelievers see Christians as obsessively anti-homosexual, generally to the point of incoherence. One has to marvel that over the past two years or so, literally millions of American families have lost their homes, had their credit ruined and marriages dissolved while the Christian community has largely been focused on same-sex relationship issues.

I am leading a small group for our church. We have been studying the book “The Hole in our Gospel.” (A great study book by the way.) One observation from that book is that there are approximately 2,000 Biblical references to social justice. There are about four references to homosexuality. Doesn’t it seem reasonable that God’s people should reflect Biblical priorities?

Another sore point is the triumph of political ideology over theology, logic and common decency. Of course everyone should feel free to express their political opinions, but when political agendas trump faith, science, and friendship, we have a problem.

To say, as this book does, the Christianity “has an image problem” is true enough. But from what I have seen, up close and personal, is not an image problem, it is a heart problem.

When our actions mimic the defensiveness of the Pharisees instead of the evocative compassion of Jesus, it is we, not “Christianity” that must change.
One has to wonder where faith or principle might impact one’s life. In other words, is there any act of cruelty, corruption or cowardice that is not justifiable in the name of one’s religiously baptized political agenda?

And, of course, it is not political belief – or even activism- that drives young people away; it is the all-too-common tendency for agenda driven politics to trump faith, human decency and common sense.

And one has to ask what torture, corruption and outright murder might have to do with redemption and restoration – both personal and cultural. And where is holiness?

And where is the grace that should be “seasoning” our words? (Colossians 4:6)

The ever-present pragmatic answer, of course, is that the world demands our “realism” – “that’s the way the world is” is how my secular/materialist friends who call themselves Christian put it. But isn’t that point of the Gospels? To NOT conform with the ways of the world?

Boehnhoffer and many others, in the name of their faith, stood up against blatant evil. This “UnChristianity” stands smugly against the vulnerability and compassion commanded – and lived out – by Jesus.

This is not a matter of having a different point of view; this “UnChristianity” is a blatantly false gospel – false to history, false to the Bible and false to basic principles of human relationships.

And this falseness leads us to preposterous and untenable positions – like mainline Christian advocates who justify torture (http://minnesotaindependent.com/34752/would-jesus-torture) or Christian groups that advocate (and profit from) corruption and genocide (The Family – http://motherjones.com/politics/2010/11/doug-coe-inhofe-siljander-c-street) or blatant defense of political corruption and deception.

And for many of us, this is no abstract or academic discussion: this impacts our laws, our policies and even our friendships. I have a group of friends who regularly go on tirades – almost as if they have read “UnChristian” and want to go on record as being intolerant and hostile. Just recently, a good friend of mine, in a Bible study, went on a anti-Mormon, Anti-Catholic and, of course anti-Islam rant. He, of course, had full approval from everyone else (except me – I was in a state of shock). Anti-gay rants are almost routine. Almost as routine as mockery of climate change – or any expression of respect for God’s creation.

These are no right-wing nut-case caricatures, these are my friends; friends with a deep and rich faith.

I’d like to dismiss such attitudes as bigoted ravings of the self-righteous – but I can’t. I know, as Solzhenitsyn put it, “The battleline between good and evil runs through the heart of every man.” Every sin that seems so obvious to me in others has its own shadow – or worse – in me.

Books like this, books that reveal the not-so-pleasant aspects of our faith or how it is seen by non-believers are kind of like Wikileaks; they show our secrets – or perhaps more accurately, they show what we think are secrets. Like Wikileaks, there’s really nothing new here – this book just confirms and documents what most of us already know.

In the few years since this book was written, there are even more issues the Church as a whole has chosen to alienate unbelievers of all ages; especially racism and environmental awareness. Climate change, no matter how obvious – or intense – will be forever denied by some, and racism, again no matter how obvious or extreme will forever be denied with passion – certainly not humility.

Humility cannot exist in the spiritual vacuum that is self-righteousness. Can any among us accept the fierce though loving sense of conviction raised by this book?

Our first impulse might be an enraged, “We’re not like that!” which will echo across the landscape like a drunk bellowing “I’m not drunk!” But prayer and humility just might restore us to a closer sense of God’s will in the world.

My only problem with books – and reviews like this one – is that most readers will be in one of two camps; either stiffening denial or a rolling of the eyes in condescension towards “those people.” Neither response is worthy of us.

The role of every generation is to pass on wisdom to the next.  Daniel Webster made the observation that “Those who do not look upon themselves as a link connecting the past with the future do not perform their duty to the world.”

As I finished reading “UnChristian”, I had the uncomfortable and unsettling sensation that the vast majority of those I know – and worship with – are far more comfortable with “unChristianity” than the challenging faith they claim.

If we can respond to the issues raised in this book, I am convinced that the Church of the 21st Century will be as different from the 20th Century as the New Testament is from the Old.


3 Responses

  1. Just a small thought. There aren’t large, active, vocal, aggressive groups preaching about the need for society to accept social injustice, so perhaps there is less immediate motivation / provocation to fight back on that front.

    “These are no right-wing nut-case caricatures, these are my friends; friends with a deep and rich faith.” — Yes — exactly — head-scratching, dismaying, isn’t it?

    • Dismaying, and disheartening. I wonder if we are both praying for the other for enlightenment? Or for the Holy Spirit’s truth? If God wanted us to think the same, surely the Scriptures would have been clear on everything. There are non-negotiables, and many things that give us lots of flexibility. But when our friends don’t see it that way, and don’t like us, what can we do? Distant love? Being close to them just irritates them.

      • Exactly — it’s part of what I was thinking about when I wrote

        Me on my high horse
        You on your pedestal
        Let us look down on each other

        It seems most people allow room for flexibility, theoretically, but defining the limits (!) of that flexibility is challenging. Evolution, homosexuality, the Holy Spirit, women’s roles, environment, justice…

        And when one finds oneself on either side of the divide, secure in one’s convictions, what to do? If we never felt any certainty, that would be pretty scary, too. The homosexuality issue, for example — one I have some motivation to change my mind about, but so far the evidence and arguments don’t seem persuasive to me. I’m still on the fence about women in church, which is uncomfortable when Amy plays at administering Communion.

        So how to hold one’s convictions with the confidence we should, and how to think and feel about those who disagree, without losing our own confidence…

        And yes, how to interact with people in such cases, while maintaining appropriate boundaries for the level of trust involved, and all that.

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