The results are heartbreaking.
Christianity has an image problem. When people look at us they have certain preconceptions and assumptions about who we are, what we believe, how we'll act, and how we'll treat them. The question is, are they all true? Are some of them true? Why would they believe certain things about us that aren't true?
What people believe about us, right or not, becomes their reality. That means when non-Christians look at us, regardless of what is true or not true about us individually, they have already made up their minds about the kind of people we are. We need to understand how they see us in order to be effective in our relationships with them. We have massive hurdles to overcome. And if we want to see our world change, we need to do it fast. We have lots of work to do. Christian culture, as a whole, is misrepresenting God to the masses of unsaved people. We are responsible for this, both individually and collectively.
Back in early Christianity, do you know what attracted people most to us? Our passion, kindness, integrity, love for the suffering, steadfastness in difficulty...do you know what people (even those like us inside the church) see when they look at us now?
Before I give you the raw stats found in this book, let me give you the one sentence that stood out to more than any other while I read it:
- "Most people I meet assume that Christian means very conservative, entrenched in their thinking, anti-gay, anti-choice, angry, violent, illogical, empire builders; they want to convert everyone, and they generally cannot live peacefully with anyone who doesn't believe what they believe."
Here they are, copied verbatim from the book. When people think of Christians here are the images that are most prevalent:
1. Hypocritical - Outsiders consider us hypocritical - saying one thing and doing another. They say Christians pretend to be something unreal, conveying a polished image that is not accurate. Christians think the church is only a place for virtuous and morally pure people.
2. Too focused on getting converts - Outsiders wonder if we genuinely care about them. They feel like targets rather than people. They question our motives when we try to help them "get saved", despite the fact that many of them have already "tried" Jesus and experienced church before.
3. Antihomosexual - Outsiders say that Christians are bigoted and show disdain for gays and lesbians. They say Christians are fixated on curing homosexuals and on leveraging political solutions against them. (Note: Being against sin is one thing. Being against people is another. We are viewed as being against homosexuals as people.)
4. Sheltered - Christians are thought of as old-fashioned, boring, and out of touch with reality. Outsiders say we do not respond to reality in appropriately complex ways, preferring simplistic solutions and answers. We are not willing to deal with the grit and grime of people's lives.
5. Too political - Another common perception of Christians is that we are overly motivated by a political agenda, that we promote and represent politically conservative interests and issues. Conservative Christians are often thought of as right-wingers.
6. Judgmental - Outsiders think of Christians as quick to judge others. They say we are not honest about our attitudes and perspectives about other people. They doubt that we really love people as we say we do.In reality, it isn't so much about what we believe, it's how we come across. It's the pride, arrogance, and "swagger" (a word author David Kinnaman uses) that people see when they look at us that causes these perceptions.
And it has to stop. We need to change something.
We are shooting ourselves in the foot. Perceptions matter. Perceptions matter not because we should be concerned with how people view us, but because we should be concerned with how people view God. We are meant to let our light shine before all people that they look at us and what we do they are motivated to turn to the loving and forgiving arms of God.
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