Great News!!!! I Hate You!!!!
Two recent news stories caught my eye and got me thinking. The first was news that vampire novelist and Catholic-turned-atheist-turned-Catholic Anne Rice has announced that she is leaving Christianity. Apparently, she was "tired of having to be anti-gay and anti-feminist" and can no longer be associated with "this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group." The second was about employees of an Ohio strip club protesting outside a church whose members had been protesting outside their club for four years.
While I have never read any of Rice's books or seen "Interview With A Vampire", and I must also confess to never having been a stripper or having been inside a strip club, I can see where these people are coming from and why they'd want to turn the tables and do some picketing of their own. To many in our society, Christians are just another group of angry people, shouting and waving their fingers in everybody's faces.
How did this come to be?
Roll back the clock two thousand years, to that first Easter Sunday. There the Apostles were, gathered together to ponder and discuss what to do next. Their spiritual mentor and leader whom they followed for three years was dead. Everything they thought they knew to be true was taken from them and they were adrift in the world. Jesus was not going to free Israel from Roman bondage, nor was he going to be healing any of the sick or challenging the Pharisees.
Jesus was dead.
But what happened next would cause all of them to leave that place and spread the story of Christ throughout the Roman Empire. To a man, they would all give their lives in Christ's service and in the name of Christianity. They fanned out across the known world, sharing the Gospel with others, who in turn shared it with their friends, spreading this new faith until it became the dominant religion of the West.
But what did happen next, to make these dejected young men go out and willingly lay down their lives for God? Jesus appeared to them and spoke to them. Did He say "Go out and confront some gays and strippers, get all up in their faces and tell them they are going straight to HELL!!!! While you are at it, round up some feminists and liberals and roast them on a big fire."?
Did He get the team into a huddle and tell Peter "You go here and preach that God hates those people, and Stephen can go over here and tell them how much our heavenly father just can't wait to smite them"?
What fired these guys up so much and changed their lives (and the world) forever is the realization that God sent His Son to the earth to save it because....wait for it...He LOVES us and does not want us to be separated from Him any longer. Through Jesus's resurrection, God showed that He can overcome anything, even death.
These guys got plugged into the greatest news ever in the history of the world: The Creator of the Universe loves each and every one of us and wants us to have a relationship with Him.
"But, Fat Kid," a good and honest Christian might protest, "surely God is not at all happy with what these young ladies and their gentleman clients do at these clubs. They need to be shut down."
As a father of two precious daughters, I can tell you with absolute certainty that little girls do not grow up dreaming of becoming strippers. Or prostitutes. Or heroin addicts. Or drug mules. They dream of becoming ballerinas and zoo keepers and musicians and princesses. Unfortunately, this foul world we live in puts these ladies in circumstances such that they seek male attention and money in very, very wrong ways. Most of them fall into that terrible life and cannot get out. And they cannot get out because they never encounter people who tell them that they are better than that. Nobody who works in or frequents the clubs can share with them that there is a powerful and loving God who can take them out of that life and turn them into something new. That there is hope and life and redemption awaiting outside for them.
And why isn't there anybody telling them this? Because the very people who should be sharing the Good News (it is, after all, what the word "Gospel" means) are condemning them and telling them that God hates them. Protesting outside a strip club isn't any more likely to lead anybody who works there or seeks out their pleasures there to come to church and hear what God has to say than the strippers protesting outside the church will cause the pastor's wife to start pole dancing for money.
Churches and all their members should have a heart for the lost. They should have a never-ending and burning passion to reach out to people who need to know that God loves them. Introduce someone who is lost to God, let Him turn their life around. Call me simplistic, but if those churchgoers had been ministering to the people at the strip club and sharing God's divine and infinite love, they wouldn't have to protest to get it shut down because it would close on its own due to lack of business.
Perhaps Christians would be more effective if we followed Jesus's example. He did not condemn the tax collector, the prostitute, or any other sinner. Instead, He met them where they were (He even invited himself to dinner at the tax collector's house), showed them His divine mercy by healing their infirmities or forgiving their sins, and then instructed them to "Go, and sin no more." He did, however, heap particular scorn on the Pharisees - religious people who allowed their own incorrect interpretation of God's will to entangle those seeking God and interfering in the relationship between God and the average person. This is not to say that we should not hold true to our core values and stand up for what we believe is right. We should, however, keep our eyes on the Great Commission that Jesus gave to all of us - spread the good news.
I fear that as Christianity moved from a religion of the oppressed into the religion of the ruling class, the focus shifted from individuals sharing God's love with their neighbor and toward finding fault with our neighbor and looking for ways to reject them. We must take care to make sure we emulate Jesus and not the Pharisees as we reach out to the lost.