The Christian Inferiority Complex | Sojourners

The Christian Inferiority Complex

Great dane and labrador puppy, Erik Lam /
Great dane and labrador puppy, Erik Lam /

Many Christians have a confidence problem. They love Christ but are ashamed of everything associated with him. They want to be known as a Christian — just not that type of Christian. You know the type: the Westboro Baptists of the world; the scumbag televangelists on late-night cable; the fear-mongering preachers spewing apocalyptic prophecies; the proselytizers that scream at people outside of baseball stadiums; the celebrities claiming stupid things in the name of God; the “friends” who post bigoted messages on Facebook; the politicians who manipulate faith communities to serve their agendas; the anti-science, anti-environment, anti-women, anti-homosexuality, and anti-everything Christians who basically spread negativity wherever they go — the people who drag Christ’s name through the mud.

Today’s believers are hypersensitive and self-aware about the current events happening within media and culture, and in a society obsessed with consumerism, corporate loyalty, branding, product placement, and publicity, they understand that the Christian reputation is experiencing a fast decline, and they feel guilty by association.

This decline is not just happening in the “secular world,” but also within faith communities. Infighting, criticism, and self-deprecation are rampant within the American Church, and much of this is deserved, but it also reflects a corporate Christian identity that feels embarrassed and humiliated.

Christians are unique in that they recognize each other as a vast community — ultimately united in Christ. Individuals, groups, churches, organizations, and denominations that completely disagree with each other reluctantly admit that they can theoretically be brothers and sisters in Christ — all part of the global population of Christian believers. Thus, even though we may disagree on theologies, practices, traditions, and a variety of other things, we still associate ourselves with other “Christians” — even the horrible ones.

Christian millennials are distinctively inclusive and gracious, allowing themselves to disagree with those they see as close-minded and hateful. They recognize that God is forgiving and loving, even to those Christians (and non-Christians) who are hateful and ignorant.

This generation of believers has the ability to view themselves as the world perceives them, and they realize that the outside world attaches many wrongdoings and blemishes to Christianity. Therefore, they associate these past and current sins of the church as their own — they understand that perception is reality.

In response to this, many Christians are now refusing to publicly identify themselves. They know that the word “Christian” means a million different things to a million different people, and that the term is slowly losing its association with Jesus.

Plenty of Christians still have a superiority complex, in which they deny culpability for any of the church’s misdeeds and maintain a holier-than-thou attitude, but the new generation of Christians is trending away from this mentality.

Believers are finally starting to recognize that Christians have made plenty of mistakes. They are embracing dialogue and inclusiveness, and ultimately trying to right the many wrongs that have been committed in Christ’s name.

Though unbelievably gracious to others, this new wave of Christianity often refuses to acknowledge anything positive, and their acute awareness of Christianity’s shortcomings creates a sense of introspective pessimism. They are their own harshest critics and have a hard time accepting the good with the bad — they feel inferior to a world that is quickly outpacing a religion struggling to break out of its old habits.

Christians react to this inferiority complex in various ways. Some are hyper-hip and tend to overcompensate in order to fight the negative stigmas associated with them. These people are obsessed with culture, media, entertainment and communication. They are “experts” on everything secular. In fact, they sometimes purposely stay away from “Christian” identifiers. They reject Christian music, Christian books, Christian speakers, and Christian culture in an effort to emulate everything that is the antithesis of “Christian.” They are constantly modernizing their faith to relate to the world, and besides privately identifying as Christians to their fellow faith communities, they are quick to distance themselves from “mainstream” and institutionalized Christianity.

Other believers use self-deprecation as way to cope with their sense of inferiority. They mock Christianity: the acoustic guitars, the small groups, CCM, coffee house ministries, and all the other pseudo traditions that only those within Christian sub-culture understand. It’s their way of detaching themselves from the aspects of their faith that they’re either ashamed of or disappointed with.

Some believers react by using denial and silence. The mistakes, hypocrisy and shame of Christianity’s recent legacy are so daunting that they refuse to address it — or simply deny it. Others are constantly apologizing (there is a lot to apologize for) or abandon the faith altogether.

The church’s failure over the last few years, decades, centuries, and millenniums has resulted in a current generation of Christians that are constantly apologizing, denying, overcompensating, and self-criticizing. But there is hope.

The Gospel of Christ is a story of redemption, and even the Christian legacy — filled with violence, greed, duplicity, exclusion, and injustice — can be set right by the love of Christ.

One magnificent trait of these “new” Christians is their obsession with Jesus. They are able to see the life of Christ outside of the political schemes, religious doctrines, and agendas that are routinely associated with him. They are able to love Christ despite Christianity.

Unlike past Christians, today’s young believers aren’t tied down by denominational loyalties, traditions, or institutional expectations. Nobody holds a monopoly on their information, and they’ve responded to this freedom by going back to the basics — emulating the life of Jesus. They are sacrificially serving the world through grace, forgiveness, humility, and love. By wholeheartedly focusing on Christ, they can overcome their sense of inferiority by recognizing the supremacy of His love.

Isaiah 53: 4-9 (The Message)

But the fact is, it was our pains he carried - our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us. We thought he brought it on himself, that God was punishing him for his own failures. But it was our sins that did that to him, that ripped and tore and crushed him - our sins! He took the punishment, and that made us whole. Through his bruises we get healed.  We're all like sheep who've wandered off and gotten lost. We've all done our own thing, gone our own way. And God has piled all our sins, everything we've done wrong, on him, on him.  He was beaten, he was tortured, but he didn't say a word. Like a lamb taken to be slaughtered and like a sheep being sheared, he took it all in silence.  Justice miscarried, and he was led off - and did anyone really know what was happening? He died without a thought for his own welfare, beaten bloody for the sins of my people.  They buried him with the wicked, threw him in a grave with a rich man, Even though he'd never hurt a soul or said one word that wasn't true.

Stephen Mattson has written for Relevant, Red Letter Christians and The Burnside Writer's Collective. He graduated from the Moody Bible Institute and is currently on staff at University of Northwestern – St. PaulMinn. Follow him on Twitter @mikta.

Image: Great dane and labrador puppy, Erik Lam /