I spend my free time these days checking out places I want to visit once this pandemic is over. I have Air BNB files for possible places to stay everywhere from rural Virginia to Italy. And yesterday, I found a wonderful part of the country that looked like a place I might even want to live one day.
Gorgeous vistas. Nearby wineries. Hardwoods and rivers. Yes, please.
And then I clicked on a farm that looked like a wonderful place to visit for a hiking weekend . . . until I saw the words Christian Retreat Center. I literally said, “Ew” out loud.
As I’ve written before “Christian” is troublesome adjective. It’s a great noun, but it’s a problematic adjective. When I was a pastor in Virginia, we received a Christian Yellow Pages in the mail filled with the names and numbers of Christian Beauty Salons and Christian Restaurants and Christian Auto Mechanics.
I claim Jesus as my Lord and Savior. I have spent my life trying to encourage myself and others to fulfill what the Bible says about expanding the reign of God. But the adjective “Christian” is fraught with all sorts of issues. I can only imagine what that adjective sparks for people of other faiths or no faith.
It could mean “not Jewish or Muslim” as in “we don’t want to give such people our business.”
It could mean anti LGBTQAI+. My assumption is that this is not a place that will bake my gay wedding cake should I ever need one.
It could mean white nationalist.
It could mean “we are going to proselytize you” to make sure I am the right kind of believer.
Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons regularly writes about how “Christian” typically means white evangelical homophobic politically conservative person according to the media, even though there are many Christians who are none of those things. (Heads up: Guthrie’s book Just Faith: Reclaiming Progreesive Christianity can be pre-ordered here.)
Even as a Christian myself, I feel exhausted when I meet someone who assumes that being Christian means what they think it means: gun-loving, immigrant-hating, flag-waving judgey person.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m as judgey as the next person (which is why I blurted out “Ew” upon discovering a Christian retreat center out in the woods.) I can put people in a box as quickly as anyone. But I’m really trying not to do this to the point that has become one of my daily spiritual goals.
In these days of political divisions, the best answer to “Are you conservative or liberal in your politics?” seems to be: “It depends.” The Bible is an equal opportunity offender in terms of politics.
I probably agree with the owners of that Christian Retreat Center more than I disagree with them on issues of theology and politics. Or maybe not. But we need to connect with each other – Believers and Non-Believers of all kinds – if we hope to be the world as God created it to be.
Following Jesus = loving people even when we disagree with them, and even if they are our theological, cultural, political “enemies.” This is what Jesus teaches.
But – Christian siblings out there – we need to acknowledge that for many people in the world (including some of us) the word “Christian” has been hijacked to mean something that Jesus would find unrecognizable. It’s up to us to show the world what the love of God looks like in the name of Jesus.
How are we doing with that? Do people think “ew” when they see us coming? Or – what’s perhaps worse – do people not recognize that we are indeed followers of Jesus because there’s no evidence of God’s love in the way we live?
Image of the 2015 Christian Phone Book as published and sold by these folks.