This post might sound like whining at first, but bear with me. I find myself growing increasingly frustrated with the portrayal of Christians in the culture, particularly in social media. This morning, while scrolling through my feed, I ran across a post from self-appointed “Godfather of the Internet” George Takei featuring this photo:
I’ve seen the photo a couple of hundred times before, and truth be told, I actually like it. It’s from an anonymously funded billboard campaign a few years ago that put up billboards with this and similar messages all over the country. What set my teeth on edge was Mr. Takei’s caption on the photo:
Nice to see Christianity the way it’s supposed to work.
(Subm. by In Good Faith–wish we saw more faith pages like this one)
The thing is, there are plenty of “good” faith pages out there like In Good Faith. Two of my favorites are the United Church of Christ’s page and Fr. James Martin, SJ. Then there are Unvirtuous Abbey, Radio Free Babylon, Unfundamentalist Christians and Christians Tired of Being Misrepresented. There’s even a page for my denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. (People who aren’t comfortable moving in worship, on the interwebs. It’s a little scary, but mostly good.) The list goes on and on.
Now, I’m in no way saying that comment’s like Mr. Takei’s constitute “persecution of the church” or “a war on faith”. I’ve said before that I think talking about a “war on” anything ought to be reserved for people who are literally being shot at, and I don’t believe Christians in North America have the first idea what persecution is. Unless you’re being shot with rubber bullets or fire hoses, having police dogs set on you, seeing your houses of worship bombed or being dragged off to prison and tortured or murdered, you don’t have a lot of “martyr credibility” in my book. Because that’s what persecution looks like. Those things have happened to Christians in our history, at times even in this country, and they still happen in some places around the world. Sadly, Christians have also been perpetrators of that persecution, either against fellow Christians or others.
What I am saying is that stereotyping is wrong, period. I believe it is just as wrong to stereotype all Christians as some combination of Sarah Palin and Fred Phelps as it is to stereotype all young black males as potential criminals or to stereotype all Jews as Shylock or to stereotype all gay men as effeminate fashionistas who love musicals. Yeah, there are plenty of people who call themselves Christians who frankly are assholes. There are also plenty of Christians (and people of other faiths) who’ve stood in line at gay rights protests, not because they’re gay or even know anyone who is gay but because it’s the right thing to do. There are plenty of people of faith who fight day in and day out for women’s rights, and immigrant rights, and to end capital punishment, because their faith tells them that is what God would have them do. Yes, there are Christians who think we don’t need to worry about environmental degradation because “the Rapture” is coming soon, but there are plenty of Christians who work mightily in the care of creation because they believe it is their God-given duty and responsibility. There are plenty of narrow-minded bigots who call themselves Christians, but there are also plenty of people like the simple, faithful, eightysomething saint who said to me recently about her church, “I don’t care who comes in the door; if I’m welcome here, they are welcome here. Jesus says so.”
I will be the first to say that progressive Christians need to do a better job of “commending the faith that is within us,” as the prayer book says. We need to do a much better job of telling the stories of people like Sister Helen Prejean and Bishop Munib Younan and the United Methodist women who are fighting human trafficking on the U.S. border. We also, though, need to hold public figures like Mr. Takei accountable when they perpetuate narrow-minded stereotypes of their own. Because not okay is not okay, even for Takei.