We all know people who have been badly treated by Christians and Christian institutions. When this bad treatment happens to someone close to us it makes us really angry. As Christians we are angry because Christian leaders are not acting at all like Christ. We know they are departing from Jesus’ way of living and leading. We know that God hates to be misrepresented!
But when a person who does not know Christ sees Christians or the church damaging people they love, or even people they just hear about, they don’t see it as counterfeit Christianity. They just see it as Christian. Maybe they grew up in a legalistic church that damaged them. Maybe their gay friend was hated on. Maybe someone in their family was abused in a Christian school. When they put that experience together with the growing anti-Christian academic movement’s claims that Christianity is the reason for wars and cruelty in the world, it leaves them with an impression that Christianity is a negative force in the world and should not be allowed to continue damaging lives.
How should you respond to this accusation? Let me give you three suggestions.
First, don’t try to defend Christian behaviour that has damaged lives. The person you are talking to hates that behaviour; God hates that behaviour; so should you! Acknowledge how the person’s life has been hurt. Agree with their pain.
Second, help them see that behaviour like that does not represent Jesus. I find it helpful to actually ask the person, “Do you think that behaviour represents the way Jesus treated people?” Most people know that it does not. They know that Jesus himself is someone to be respected, that he loved people. If their answer to your question is “No,” then say, “Neither do I. Can I share with you my experience of Jesus?” Then share your experience of the love of God through Jesus.
Third, share with people some of your experiences of Christians who do live like Jesus and how they have impacted your life with the grace, love and truth of God. Talk about the missionaries all around the world who have given up the easy life to show the love of God to people in desperate situations—digging wells, building hospitals, rescuing women in the sex trade. Talk about how they are also helping those people start life anew through a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Never forget that just as Jesus has changed your own life, he wants to introduce himself to the people around you through you—even the people who are telling you how evil Christianity is. Love them. Let them see Jesus in you!