When I was in high school and exploring all the arguments for various religions, I found Christianity rather compelling, but I still had many concerns that prevented me from believing in it:
It bothered me that many Christians were narrow-minded and exclusive.
They weren’t open to hearing and learning from other perspectives, and not inclusive socially to those who were very different from them.
It bothered me that many Christians didn’t seem to care about the problems and injustices of the world…
…such as poverty, abuse, racial and gender discrimination, and more.
It bothered me that many Christians displayed hypocrisy – their actions didn’t back up their words.
Some people defend this, saying, “Everyone is a hypocrite because nobody can live out what we say perfectly.” But I don’t think that’s the heart of the problem of hypocrisy for people. Yes, we will all make mistakes, and if we’re sincerely trying and apologizing when we do fail, there is much understanding and grace for that. I think what’s bothersome is when it is evident that Christianity is just for image or show, rather than something that’s sincere and deep-seated in a person’s life. People become jaded when Christians manipulate words to get what they want, or make themselves look better, and then don’t carry out the hard work and sacrifice of genuine belief in their real lives.
It bothered me that many Christians seemed to be arrogant and condescending about their beliefs…
…rather than displaying humility. Some engaged me in a very one-sided manner, and became defensive when I did challenge their points.
There are more, but the bottom line was that at some point, I had to contend with the questions: “Is Christianity not just true, but good? Will I have to lose myself, and “who I am” in converting? Will I have to conform and be of a group that I don’t completely agree with, or always want to be associated with (given the issues I listed above)?” I see many people wrestle with these kinds of legitimate questions, and conclude that they just can’t believe in Christianity.
Let me just state right now if you feel similarly: that’s not your only option! I would never want to minimize the pain or difficulty you have experienced, so I take that seriously, as somebody who has felt that as well. But please stay with me for just a little longer while I explain what I mean. Here’s what happened for me:
(1) I discovered that true Christianity doesn’t condone the things I listed above, either! I found that I could still fight for these things as a Christian. There was a place for somebody like me who thought differently, and had critical opinions, within Christianity.
Part of what greatly helped me to realize this, was seeing just how critical in tone Jesus was in the Bible, to the religious leaders of his day. Sometimes I sense that some churches and ministries believe that Christianity is about being nice and positive all the time. When I look at the words and actions of Jesus, however, he is not a tame, gentle teacher who goes around just encouraging everybody around him. Yes, he is compassionate and humble. But he also constantly challenges, confronts, and rebukes those around him – from his disciples to the political and social authorities.
One of the most memorable scenes in the Bible is when Jesus enters the temple courts of Jerusalem, and gets so angry at the moneychangers who are commercializing the sacred ground, that he constructs a whip out of cords. He uses it to drive everyone and everything away, scatters the coins and overturns the tables of the moneychangers. Jesus yells, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” Can you imagine that? Peaceful, “positive” Jesus using a whip, and overturning tables in anger?
During his ministry, Jesus constantly exposed lies and hidden motives, fought for justice and the weak, and grieved over evil and death – to the point of his own sacrifice and death. I don’t know about you, but I want to follow somebody who not only grieves over injustice and suffering, but is willing to speak up against things, stand against them, and put their own life on the line for what they believe. There is no greater example of conviction and authenticity than that.
There are times when I get angry over what I see within my own faith. Sometimes when I see Christians acting manipulatively or abusively, I can’t hold back tears of grief at how distorted such a beautiful and good thing can become.
But in a strange way, it’s validating to know that the leader and founder of Christianity, Jesus, felt the same things. In becoming a Christian, I realized I was following in the history of those who advocated and fought for things like justice, humility, and truth. I could fight for these things, and continue to criticize the things that I felt were wrong among Christians, even as a Christian myself – not because I am somehow against my own faith or people, but because I deeply love and care about them, and don’t want them (or myself) to settle for anything less than what is true and good.
(2) I discovered that true Christianity kept me honest, too! It made me see my own shortcomings, and challenged me to accept responsibility for my own role in the wrongs of the world. It offered guidance for how to grow and mature beyond those, and grace and patience for the process.
It’s easy to point out all the things that are wrong in people, and in the world. What’s really hard is to see those things within ourselves, and to have the humility to accept responsibility for the damage of which each of us is capable. I appreciated that Christianity had a framework for this. The Bible didn’t sugarcoat reality, or the extent of the deceit and self-interest that people are capable of. It was full of God’s challenges to his people to act worthy, and embrace responsibility and consequences. And as I turned the mirror on myself, I saw how much I needed to grow and mature. I felt the weight of my own critiques, in seeing the mess of my own behavior, and so much that was cynical and dark within my own heart.
But my faith didn’t leave me there — it contained lengthy counsel for how to live out what was good and true, and offered grace and compassion for when I tried and failed. I was struck by the combination of truth and grace within Christianity, and found that it made so much sense of the world, and what we all seem to long for.
In closing, I don’t know all you have gone through, or wrestled with, whether you’re a Christian or not. But I do want to state that if you feel “different” from others in the church, you absolutely have a place within Christianity. You can be yourself with all your questions and ethical concerns, and you can disagree with other people, and still be a Christian. Don’t let the mere existence of ethical concerns hold you back from all that is good and true in Christianity. I’m so glad that I didn’t!
That is my story. Of course, I’ve changed my mind about some things, and realized I was wrong in other things, and that’s part of my growth in humility. But I did not have to sacrifice the pursuit of truth, justice, and goodness – for others and for the world – by converting to Christianity. On the contrary, I’ve actually grown in my appreciation of these things through a deeper understanding of God and what He cares about.
It hasn’t been easy, by any stretch of the imagination. Although I’ve met many Christians who have wonderful hearts and fight for the right things, I’ve also experienced many painful battles within the walls of the church because I thought or felt differently. Those weren’t because I wanted controversy or attention, but because of my love for what is pure and true within Christianity. You see, when I first got a glimpse of that, and was transformed by it, I knew I would always fight for it. It wasn’t an option. That’s because I know something and Somebody that’s not just true, but good… and I can believe in that. That’s something I want to live my life for.
Here are some questions I’d love your thoughts on (especially the first one):
- What bothers you, in what you sometimes see about Christianity around you? To what extent is the church (or other Christian communities) a safe place to voice disagreement and criticism? Why do you think that is?
- What does Christianity offer for understanding and dealing with our own shortcomings, compared to other worldviews or beliefs?