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What should I do when everything I hear about Christians is bad?
Mid-90s CCM ain’t that bad
For some reason when I was driving my kid to a doctor’s appointment this morning I remembered an old song by a contemporary Christian band I listened to in the 1990s. This makes me feel old and out-of-touch, and I admit it is little embarrassing to share it with you. I was embarrassed listening to it in my car with my kid—who dismissed it as “grown up” music and requested Christmas carols, which it is time for by the way (hey, it’s snowing!). Anyway, the song I was listening to was “Shine” by the Newsboys. It came in 1994. I stopped being embarrassed when I actually listened to the lyrics.
“Shine. Make 'em wonder whatcha got. Make 'em wish that they were not On the outside looking bored.
Shine. Let it shine before all men [sic]. Let ‘em see good works and then Let em glorify the Lord.”
The reason this resonated with me is because it evidences God’s glory based on how we shine. Our joy, our good stories, our “good works,” as the Newsboys sing, show people the glory of God and maybe they in turn glorify God. Or maybe they are blessed because of it. One reason I like this is because they actually think Christians can do good things, which is a welcome correction to the typical condemnation of Evangelicals.
But it's not all good. Honestly, the song is full of outdated imagery and at times highly offensive words and phrases too. The Newsboys were not very careful with how they wrote this song, but I think we can still find goodness in it. I appreciate you flexing with me.
*Obviously, not everyone has a positive experience with CCM. And like I'm about to talk about, mainstream evangelicals have caused us a lot of harm, and you could easily associate that with a band like the Newsboys. I just want to acknowledge that possibility, and I understand how real that is for some folks.
We keep hearing the bad stories, from Paula White to John Crist
The reason this excited me is because I just don’t think we’re telling the good stories. And I think the result is that people hear the bad stories. This might just be me (because I’m a Christian and I follow Christians), but I keep hearing bad stuff that Christians are doing and I think that’s the taste people have in their mouth about us. I might be adding fuel to the fire, but here is what I’ve recently encountered.
Paula White-Cain, a prosperity gospel televangelist, is Trump’s spiritual adviser and now serves as a staff member. The prosperity gospel has been derided as heretical, because it ensures financial success and physical well-being with faithfulness. “Health and wealth” follow obedience to God. Presumably, if you don’t follow God, you won’t be rich or healthy. It’s the reason Kanye West is teaming up with Joel Osteen to perform his Sunday Service. Ye and Osteen are both channeling the prosperity gospel. Joel’s book Your Best Life Now has a similar feel. Yeezy wants to change his name to “Genius Billionare Rapper.” Anyway, that’s a lot of nonsense, but I think it’s what people hear about us. We’re crazy. That’s not what the Newsboys are singing about.
This next one surprised even me. John Crist is apparently a Christian comedian who cancelled his tour after he was sexting women and harassing others. I hadn’t even heard of him until I got the bad news. It’s disappointing because it was another instance of Christians coming into the news for doing a terrible thing.
Or when a Catholic priest in South Carolina denied Joe Biden communion, and told the public why (this is the violation, by the way, not the denial of communion necessarily—but, hey, I’m an open table guy).
Bad for business, bad for everybody
Ugh. It just seems like Christians get caught up in the worst things and that’s what we hear about. I’m reminded of the Kenny Rogers episode of Seinfeld that ends up with Kramer protesting the Kenny Rogers across the street. “That’s not gonna be good for business.” “That’s not gonna be good for anybody.”
And that’s how I feel about all the terrible news. It’s bad for business, and it’s bad for everyone. It doesn’t offer hope and it toughens the soil that we’re trying to till to be receptive to seeds. But this kind of thing makes the soil hard and unreceptive.
In my own experience, I would have lost faith back in 2003 when Bush attacked Iraq because it was too dark. This wasn’t a prosperity preacher; it was a decades-long war that costed trillions and killed millions. That’s some really evil stuff and I couldn’t go with that as a Christian and it would have been easy for me to lose my faith in that environment. And honestly, I hear that story all the time: people aren’t followers of Jesus because followers of Jesus are hypocrites, judgmental, and involved in the worst of things.
But we can be different. And you can be different. And I believe you are different and we are different! We need the people to help us show the world God’s best because the people that are getting headlines are showing people how terrible our faith can be.
Tell good stories and talk back to the bad ones
What’s the key to tilling the soil? I go back to Newsboys. Shine. We have shine. Christians should be in the news for the good works they do. They’re arguing to live in such an alternative way that the world notices a difference. It seems to me like Christians are living in ways that just get them negative attention. But I know that’s not the only way we live and this weekend in Circle of Hope was evidence of tons of goodness. Our compassion teams are the center of our goodness and I think they lead people to think differently about Christians. We had a learning tour this weekend.
It started with a sanctuary dinner hosted by our immigration team, Solidarity Beyond Borders. People related to immigrants seeking sanctuary over a meal.
We had a plant identification walk in the Wissahickon, which deepened people’s understanding of the ecosystem they dwell in—I think that connects us all to God too. And it allows us to consider the cosmic effects of climate change.
The Friends of Penn Treaty led a clean-up that may not have happened without Circle of Hope’s involvement.
Our Opioid Crisis Team assembled IKEA furniture for folks accessing housing! This is another small, but newsworthy thing.
And then on Saturday night! We had TurnUp to BailOut, a fundraiser that raised over $8,000 for the Philadelphia Bail Fund. It’s main purpose was to free people from jail so that they could be together during the holidays. It was an amazing success.
Those are the stories I wish people heard about, and the stories that I wish we told more. So that’s why I’m telling them. We do need to seed the territory with good stuff to counteract all the bad stuff. We don't do it in hopes of getting a good result, or having some positive transaction, we do it because God has moved us to act for the least of these because that is like acting for God. We do it because we are convicted, though I acknowledge, we would still do it even if it didn't "work."
Also, I’m not suggesting the media shouldn’t report on the heinous actions of Christians, much to the contrary in fact. There’s no good reason to protect people doing evil things in Christ’s name.
And so while we need good-storytellers, we also need people that name the bad stories as what they are. We need a prophetic witness that can name the evil in the world and then show the path to a better world. Condemn the darkness and share the light. Let’s work on that project together.