I understand why people reject organized religion out of hand because of the violence, oppression and brainwashing that has occurred throughout history. I can’t find fault with the secularist when so much evil has been done in the name of God. And it’s only getting worse, if the recent activities of some Islamic fundamentalists is any indication. Somehow the work of international terrorists lends moral weight to the rejection of all religion. But is it fair to compare Islam with, say, Christianity?
The Christian Church has its share of blemishes. Many of history’s darkest hours were brought about by men and organizations who carried the banner of Christ. But organizations can become detached from the source. When they do, are we to expect God to incinerate them on the spot just to avoid confusion? And surely some blame must come to rest on individuals. We have the misfortune of living on the same planet with 7 billion freelance troublemakers, many of whom have some pretty strange ideas. If some of them ironically call themselves Christians, does that make it so?
If people are going to judge a religion, they should examine everything associated with it, especially its foundational writings. If the behavior pattern of a “Christian” (or a group that aligns itself nominally with Christ) violates Scripture (e.g., “You shall not murder”), how fair is it for an antagonist to put those misdeeds on God’s charge account? One would have cause to wonder if the combatant is systematically collecting reasons to dismiss Jesus. Christ said, after all, “By their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:16). If I claim to be a Muslim yet regularly drink and gorge myself on pork chops, am I really a disciple of Islam?
What besides a religion’s holy book do we really have as a measuring stick for determining what a religion is? Human behavior is often random, irrational and inspired by inscrutable motives. The only static frame of reference we have is the model that has been written down.
If naysayers want to judge Jesus by the actions of His followers, at least let them give credit where it is due. What cheap, ephemeral motives could Christians throughout history have had for enduring torture and execution for their professions of faith in Christ (reference Richard Wurmbrand’s Tortured for Christ)? Even secular historians have plenty to say about that. What could have so influenced Mother Theresa to pour out her life in service to the poor and dying in Calcutta? Why would William Wilberforce, a comfortably prosperous 18th-century member of the English parliament, fight for decades to abolish the slave trade? What made Clara Barton found the Red Cross, which goes to the ends of the earth to bring relief to disaster victims? Why would William Booth start the Salvation Army, which in 2004 alone operated in 124 countries, delivering services in 175 different languages and spent $2.6 billion on its various programs. Who founded America’s first hospitals and most of America’s preeminent colleges and universities (Harvard and Princeton among them) during the country’s formative years? They were all Christians.
As I conclude this article, I’m trying to figure out why I wrote it. Could I have gotten sore after hearing someone put down the Christian faith? Probably. But after the intensity of my discussion here, I realized that argument is rarely an effective way of capturing others’ hearts and minds. I’m hoping the reader will join me in taking a peaceful and proactive tack with people who believe the worst about our faith. God forbid that in our effort to stamp out inaccuracies we should do more harm by displaying just the sort of ugliness that has come to be associated with Christianity. There is no Scripture that commands us to turn our faith into a political struggle. God is in charge of His own PR program. The people who are disseminating lies about the Christian faith are not attacking us; they are attacking Christ. Shouldn’t we let Him handle things? If God is love, the best way to get the word out is to show gentleness to everyone.