Friday, October 25, 2013

Today I got a glimpse, albeit a very small one, of what it might be like to be a follower of Jesus in a hostile environment. In some strange way, today in one of my seminar classes I had an experience I can only describe as ‘outing’ myself as a Christian, almost like ‘coming out of the closet’. Our discussion landed upon Christianity because one of our readings put forward the idea that Christianity is at the heart of the origin of human rights language. There were obviously some people in the classroom who disagreed with this idea because of historical events in the history of Christianity such as the crusades that were clearly violations of human rights and dignity. And I don’t disagree with them – there have been many things done in the name of Christianity that I am ashamed of, and that I don’t believe Jesus approved of either. But the moment that Christianity was brought up, I had fear in my heart. I hoped that we would skip over talking about Christianity because I knew it would be met with hostility and I wasn’t sure of how to respond or if I should respond. The picture painted, as is often the case, was that Christianity is responsible for all the major terrible things that have happened in the past and though it wasn't stated, it carried with it the idea that no human rights advocate could possibly believe in Christianity. As this discussion became full-fledged only right at the end of the class, I was spared from having to respond – but to be truthful I was also afraid to respond. I don’t believe any of the people in the class would intend to ostracize or discriminate me, but I was sitting there afraid to voice my own beliefs even as they were voicing theirs. It really hit home to me that much of the world is hostile to my belief in Jesus.

And it hit a painful cord in my heart that this was their image of Christianity, an image so contrary to my understanding of Jesus and His teachings. Jesus taught about loving your neighbor,  loving your enemy, giving to the poor, and sacrificing your life for others. He spent the majority of his time sitting and eating with people that the mainstream society rejected and oppressed like adulterers, sinners, prostitutes, and tax-collectors. He touched lepers when people didn’t even want a leper near their town. He listened to people’s stories, healed people and restored their dignity and preached a message of hope – that the kingdom of God was near, and that all was needed was repentance and love of God and others. I don’t see any justification for killing, oppressing, enslaving, discriminating or belittling others, especially those that are already marginalized and oppressed. Instead, I see Jesus leading the way in restoring dignity and loving even those that society has completely outcasted.  Thus, when I hear stories of the crusades and all the other terrible things done in the name of Christianity, I can’t understand how someone who read the Gospels could come to the conclusion that that was what being a Christian meant. Of course this shows why so many people have a negative perspective on Christianity, but the heart of Christianity does not align with violence and hate. There are so many Christians who spend the majority of their time seeking to love God, and love others, in practical ways that alleviate suffering all over the world. 

And yet, most of mainstream media only perpetuates the idea, through selective reporting of extreme cases, that Christians really are just bigots and haters. Maybe some of us are, but I have to wonder what they’ve read of Jesus when some Christians start holding signs that says, “God hates gays”. But then again, I’m not perfect, I make mistakes and I hurt people. I know that in my broken humanity I can’t possibly hope to love other people perfectly. I can’t possibly live the way of love and sacrifice that Jesus teaches perfectly, at least not in my own strength. . And I’m so thankful that there’s grace & forgiveness for the many times that I fail to live the way I’m called to by Jesus. And I don’t want to be a part of something that is about hate. I wouldn’t follow Jesus if he was about hating and discrimination and being prideful. I know sometimes that’s what I can be about, but that’s not what He is about and I want to learn to be more like Jesus. I want to be a part of something that is about love and restoration and hope and freedom. That is why I choose to follow Jesus. 

But in this class where Christianity was being put on trial, I was afraid to say that I am a Christian. That I am also passionate about human rights and believe the two are irrevocably tied to each other. And so I didn’t. I’m really not proud of that, but I was afraid of being put on trial myself. In some ways, I think there is a terrible double standard towards Christianity. It is wrong to be intolerant, unless you are being intolerant towards Christianity. It’s wrong to discriminate based on religion, unless the people are Christians. They probably deserved it because they are so intolerant. It scares me because there really is this undercurrent of this type of thinking pervading society.  It makes me wonder how far away more extreme persecution towards Christians is from hitting the shores of the Western world. It already happens in other countries.

After the class ‘officially’ ended, people stood around and continued to talk. I decided to speak to one of my classmates who had been involved in the discussion. I can’t believe I started our conversation this way, but I said, “Actually, I’m just going to come out and say it, I’m a Christian.” And I felt vulnerable. I worried that other people might overhear me. What in the world?
But this individual was more than understanding and really surprised me. She completely agreed that there was a double standard towards Christianity, and though she wasn’t Christian she said, “Honestly, sometimes it seems to me to make a lot of sense to ask, “What would Jesus do”? He really was about social justice.”  I really appreciated that. We continued to talk about how the world had become worse since science became the primary lens of making sense of the world, and that if it’s all about science where does hope come in? She even said, “If I was a Christian, I don’t know how I would have felt sitting in that discussion.” I really appreciated that.

This was a really revealing experience for me. About how society views Christianity, about my own fears around ‘outing’ myself in a hostile academic setting, and the power of being vulnerable with someone who is different from you and even disagrees with you on essential issues, but connects with your fears and heart for mutual understanding and social justice.
I am a Christian. I am passionate about human rights. And I believe that Christianity as modelled by Jesus and lived out by His followers has the power to alleviate the suffering of many and bring hope and dignity to many who are currently without. 

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