Commentary
By Stephen Mattson 11-27-2018

"They'll know we are Christians by our love" are the lyrics of a hymn written in the late 1960s, inspired by John 13:35, where Jesus says, "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."

But we can’t tell the difference between Christians and non-Christians, and in many cases non-Christians are more loving than those who claim to follow Christ. If you were to go to the grocery store, a football game, or a school, there would be no obvious way of identifying — through word or action — who is or isn’t a Christian. Some of the kindest, generous, and most authentic people won’t believe in Jesus. Contrarily, there are some horrible, mean, and downright cruel Christians. 

Christendom often blatantly — and subversively — propagates that Christians are inherently happier, more spiritual, and generally “better” than everyone else — they’re not. Some Christian religious leaders falsely suggest that although non-Christians may appear nice and moral and content, they’re actually struggling with hopelessness and suffer from a “feeling of emptiness.” By stereotyping secular culture and pitting populations against each other, feelings of superiority and self-righteousness cloud their perception of others. Us vs. them hyperbole is spiced with fear-mongering rhetoric and condescension. These poisoned messages are motivated by greed, political power, wealth, social status, and carnal comfort. The concept that Christians are — and should be — "better" than everyone else reinforces an attitude of Manifest Destiny, where political, social, and economic power is wrapped under the guise of fulfilling God’s will. Simultaneously, these Christians will refuse to love others, and their faith becomes a motivational tool to oppress the “others” rather than generously love them, and will all be rationalized as practicing “Christianity.” These beliefs, research shows, come from political affiliation more than theological affiliation, and a history of isolated view of Christianity that many white evangelical leaders preach.  

This is how many Christians throughout history — and still even today — justified their support for colonization, slavery, the genocide of indigenous populations, segregation, sexism, xenophobia, bigotry, racism, and many other evils. They quoted the Bible, referenced God, and cited their pastoral leaders who gladly succumbed to the self-serving gains being made at the expense of others — at the expense of Christ’s gospel. They weaponized theology to make the distinction between them (the holy few) and everyone else (the sinful hordes). This attitude led to a belief in being supreme — supremacy — and that others were sub-human. This is obviously contradictory to the life and words of Jesus, who commanded everyone to ‘love your neighbor as yourself’. (Matt. 22:39) But for those caught within such lies, they are blinded from seeing the truth of God.

As a religion consisting of millions of voters, venerable institutions, and large organizations, Christianity is often viewed by governments and politicians as a tool to influence and manipulate. Spiritual jargon is used to lobby segments of Christians to support various agendas, often under the pretense of being “Biblical” and “Godly.” This is how faith becomes co-opted to transform into something it was never meant to be: a way to obtain votes, a method for fueling populist rage, or grounds for implementing oppressive social structures.

As followers of Jesus, we’re called by God to treat others in the most Christ-like way possible. This means exemplifying the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, and self-control, and being humbly sacrificial. We must recognize that everyone is created in the divine image of God, deeply loved by God, and we must strive to love others in the same way—this is what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

So what is the most loving way to treat immigrants seeking asylum? How would Jesus react to refugees desperately pursuing safety? How would God react to the racist systems within our country today? Would Jesus turn a deaf ear to the oppressed and maligned? Would he resort to victim-blaming, or put up barbed-wire walls, or spew hateful rants, or shoot tear-gas canisters, or villainize his enemies? Despite the life and words of Jesus, many Christians refuse to love their neighbor — failing to obey God’s greatest command. To love as Jesus loves, we must first sacrifice our partisan allegiances, selfish desires, and fears. God help us.

Stephen Mattson is the author of The Great Reckoning: Surviving a Christianity That Looks Nothing Like Christ. You can follow him on Twitter (@mikta) or on Facebook.

Don't Miss a Story!

Get Sojourners delivered straight to your inbox.

Have Something to Say?

Add or Read Comments on
"No, Christians Aren't Inherently 'Better.' Thinking So Is Downright Dangerous"
Launch Comments
By commenting here, I agree to abide by the Sojourners Comment Community Covenant guidelines and acknowledge that my comment may be published in the Letters to the Editor section of Sojourners magazine.

Must Reads

Subscribe