Regarding Christian Exclusivity

Freakonomics received a letter from a person in Texas claiming to be an agnostic who fakes Christianity to gain social acceptance among Christian friends and peers.  You can read the full letter here.[1]  The letter describe such things as the writer’s children being uninvited to play dates once their non-believing religious views had been acknowledged.  I should also point out that I first read about this on the blog of Mike Cope if you wish to join in a conversation about this.

This article illustrates a growing problem I sense with Christianity, namely the idea that somehow being a Christian gives us a place of privilege to discriminate and reject those who do not share in the Christian faith (it confession and/or values) and thereby demanding of such people to conform to find acceptance.  No matter how big or small this is among Christianity in North America, it is a problem that must be corrected.

Where to begin…have we failed to read the Gospel narratives of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John where Jesus broke the religious taboos of his contemporaries by frequently associating with sinners and tax-collectors, where Jesus welcomed the presences of both an immoral woman and a Samaritan woman, where in humility Jesus lowered himself to the floor to wash the feet of his disciples because he viewed himself as a servant rather than one to be served, etc…?  Have we failed to understand this same Jesus who calls us to be his followers (disciples)?  Have we failed to understand that the cross of Jesus is not just a promise of eternal redemption but also the ethic of life for disciples of Jesus?

At the heart of the Christian faith is God who became flesh (the doctrine of incarnation) – becoming one of us – and becoming a servant among us to the point of death.  It is this ethic of the cross we are called to live by and which cannot be ignored or simply set aside.  As we are reminded:

The triumph of God over the grave of Jesus would truly be – as has all too often been assumed – permission for the followers of Jesus to flaunt their plumage of superiority in the face of others, were it not that God in humility ineffable has triumphed through the grace, for its many dis-graced [sic], defeated victims and in the form of one of them.[2]

This is why the Apostle Paul reminds us that our attitude is to be the same as Jesus who “…emptied himself, taking the form of a slave…and humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death…” (Phil 2.7-8, NRSV). 

Perhaps though, the elitism and exclusivity practiced by some, perhaps many, Christians is symptomatic of a larger problem.  As one commenter on Mike Cope’s blog suggested:

The western church has practiced 1700 years of triumphalism, and it has left large swaths of the church unable to cope with the setting sun of Christendom. As pointed out above, it would appear that the sun will set even on “Christian” hegemony in the USA.

It is not difficult to read, as I do, many of the social developments in American conservative Christianity over the past thirty years as a desperate attempt by terrified people to hang on to their rule over society…[3]

I will leave each reader to discern what extent, if any, the position of Western Christianity over the last 1,700 years plays into the problem of elitism and exclusivity.  However, it is my opinion that there is much truth to this coupled with the fact that Christians in North America, at least in the United States, have also sat at the pinnacle of political power and wealth. 

If indeed Western triumphalism is the root cause, it has allowed us to develop a serious theological flaw whereby our confession has been severed from its historical origin in which God became flesh to be both savior and servant, inviting us and demanding of us that we join him as humble servants who embrace in love our neighbors and enemies – even when they reject our faith.  Until we embody the ethic of the cross, the ethic of Jesus, we have a long way to go. 

 


[1] http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/02/23/we-pretend-we-are-christians.  A few disclaimers are warranted at this point.  First, this story is not necessarily representative of the typical practice among Christian in Texas or elsewhere.  Second, whatever perceptions there are about Christians practicing elitism we would do well to remember that there is truth to perceptions but those perceptions are not necessarily the exact truth.  Lastly, while it does not excuse Christians to practice elitism we should remember that there are plenty of other socio-groups who also practice elitism.

[2] Alan E. Lewis, Between Cross and Resurrection: A Theology of Holy Saturday (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 90-91.

[3] This comment comes from a person who identifies himself as Jeff W.  You can read his entire comment here.

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2 responses to “Regarding Christian Exclusivity

  1. I’ve been dismayed recently at comments from members of churches of Christ on online news stories about Kenneth Starr being hired at Baylor … as I was some time back reading some on articles on Wade Hodges’ departure from Garnett. (http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?subjectid=11&articleid=20090221_18_A11_WadeHo785439) Our fellowship is certainly not immune to insularity. If anything, we still tend to be even more exclusionary – and dang proud of it, all too often.

  2. In reference to the agnostic faking Christianity among her Christian peers…I have no idea what church group the Christians belong to, not that that matters much. Excluding people because they do not share our beliefs or values is wrong irregardless.

    As far as the comments regarding Wade Hodges…pitiful. Regardless of what people think of the church he is planting and its subsquent practices, those comments sound like everything but love.

    Grace and peace,

    Rex

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