It’s what we say, not how we say it: The scandal of Christianity

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A Gallup poll found that 45 percent of respondents had either a “mostly unfavorable” or “very unfavorable” view of “religious fundamentalists.” In another poll, 30 percent of Americans said they wouldn’t want to have a fundamentalist as a neighbor.

You may have noticed the lack of the adjective “recent.” That’s because these polls date from 1993 and 1989 respectively. So it’s not new that faithful Christians are in the cultural crosshairs. That’s what happens when we insist on following Christian teaching on controversial subjects. You’d think we’d be used to this by now, yet our attitude toward the larger culture continues to be dominated by a kind of willful naiveté.

Our naiveté is underscored by a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, which found that 61 percent of Americans would be either “enthusiastic about” or “comfortable with” a gay or lesbian person running for president.

Now that shouldn’t come as news. What should come as news is that fewer Americans, only 52 percent, felt the same way about an Evangelical running for president. Nearly half “expressed some degree of hesitancy about the idea.”

The automatic question is “why?” and the automatic answer, at least in Christian and conservative circles, is “media bias.” And there’s some truth to this answer. As Rod Dreher put it, “Evangelicals have gotten a raw deal from our media.” But, as Dreher adds, “that’s beside the point now.”

That’s because, “there’s nothing Evangelicals can do to turn [popular opinion] around, short of totally abandoning Christian orthodoxy on same-sex marriage.” It doesn’t matter how reasonable, calm, or winsome we might be. Just ask Ryan Anderson of the Heritage Foundation. He’s all three of these things and that does not keep people from calling him a “bigot.”

Now, don’t get me wrong: We should be reasonable, calm, and winsome when talking to, well, anyone and everyone, especially those who disagree with us: not as a debating tactic but as part of our loving our neighbors as ourselves. Just as we would want people to be reasonable, calm, and winsome when addressing us, we should do the same for them.

And in treating those who vituperate us with respect and kindness we, if nothing else, as Paul told the Romans, “heap burning coals on their heads.”

But we shouldn’t be so naïve as to think that what lies behind what sociologists David Williamson and George Yancey recently dubbed “Christianophobia” is a communication problem. The problem is what we’re saying, not just how we’re saying it.

Sure, there are Christians whom, in all Christian love, I wish would just be quiet. But when the New York Times and a major presidential candidate tell us that historic Christian teaching must yield to the new sexual orthodoxy, no amount of winsomeness can overcome that kind of antipathy.

Likewise, when people can equate boxer Manny Pacquiao’s support for pro-life and pro-marriage policy to his opponent’s history of domestic violence, reason has caught the last flight out of town.

And no amount of calm will dissuade critics, such as the Lynn, Massachusetts, school board member who compared Gordon College to the KKK and dismissed their work among the city’s poorer children out of hand.

In the end, no matter how “nice” we are, our faith in Jesus and our faithfulness to His teaching will be a scandal to the world. And we are and will be treated accordingly.

This doesn’t mean we should turn our backs on the culture, much less that we should be bitter about our treatment. On the contrary, Jesus told us to “rejoice” and “be glad” when people insult, persecute, and utter every kind of evil against us. Our joy and steadfastness in the face of this kind of opposition is how the Church proclaims “Jesus is Lord!”

No matter what our neighbors think.

John Stonestreet

— by John Stonestreet

Stonestreet is the Director of Strategic Partnerships for the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview and is heard on Breakpoint. Copyright© 2015 Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with permission. BreakPoint is a ministry of Prison Fellowship Ministries.

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