Have you ever noticed that Christians, when they’re portrayed on television, tend to come off as weird? This weirdness portrayal can be fairly mild – such as just making them seem old-fashioned, more abrasive – such as making them mean or brainwashed, or somewhere in the middle – making them seem irrelevant. To be fair, other groups also make the same charge about how they’re portrayed. It’s not just us.
As a sincere believer in Christ, this bugs me, since I seldom fit the stereotypes and find them ignorant, or even, sometimes, manipulative and biased. It creates a certain amount of prejudice that I (and many of you) must face. This is, of course, not new. Christians have faced this from the time of the early church.
Some of this misrepresentation is unavoidable, due to the nature of our calling. Let’s be frank – in some ways we really don’t fit in. We’re not supposed to. We’re called to be different in a way that the world around us will not always appreciate. Jesus put it bluntly, in John 15:18, 19a: 18 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own.” Peter addresses the churches as “aliens and strangers in the world”. By “world”, both mean the general philosophy and mindset that runs rampant in our fallen world. It’s not sympathetic to God and much of what He stands for. So if we buy into God and His standards we’re going to appear out of step and even hostile to some in our culture. On the other hand, as we’ll discuss, some Christians are needlessly weird and deserve the label. Let’s ask two questions.
Why are sincere Christians often seen as weird by the world?
1. We’re seen as weird because we believe in the God of the Bible
Most people believe in some sort of God. That’s not seen as weird. But the God of the Bible, when taken with appropriate literalness (some symbolic pictures are used in places), is, in certain ways, strange or unacceptable to the world. As C.S. Lewis has said, He’s not a God we’d invent. He can be incredibly loving, but also vengeful. He’s not a democratic leader, but sovereign ruler of His creation. He allows much suffering to take place. In other words, he’s not an easy God. So many people, if they believe in a God, do remodel Him in their minds to make Him more palatable or comprehensible. Sincere Christians try not to do that. We let Him be what He is.
2. We’re seen as weird because sometimes our moral standards conflict with the world’s
In a lot of moral issues, Christians and the world have agreement. After all, we’re all made in God’s image, and many of God’s commandments just make practical sense. Most of us, for instance, agree that it’s good to be generous, kind, and hard-working. But some what the Bible teaches is out of step with what is considered acceptable or politically correct in our society. More about that.
3. We’re seen as weird because we see Jesus as the only way
Jesus said, in John 14:6: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” The exclusivity of this claim is hard for many people to swallow – understandably so. They strongly hold to their particular beliefs, whether self-constructed, or based on another religion. To be told that only Christianity is true is unacceptable to them, and offensive, especially in American society, which is based on “tolerance” (now defined as a refusal to say that anyone else’s belief is mistaken or wrong). This leads to the next point:
4. We’re seen as weird because we seem rigid and judgmental
When we follow biblical teachings and standards, as stated earlier, this often conflicts with what is acceptable in society. We teach, for example, that sex outside of marriage is wrong (and the Bible defines that marriage as heterosexual). Many disagree and see any such beliefs as old-fashioned and intolerant. Such, by the way, has been the case since biblical times. What’s PC just morphs in different eras.
Because of the above, a serious Christian, although normally getting along with others, is different enough to stand out socially at times. What we talk about, how we act, and how we view things, doesn’t always fit in well with the group. We make them uncomfortable. I hesitate to give too many examples, because, as mentioned before, there is some moral overlap. Every non-Christian, for instance, does not get drunk, or sleep around, or cheat, etc. I don’t want to stereotype. Our main difference, even from those more like us morally, is our focus on relying on Jesus alone for salvation and on submitting to God’s will first, as stated in Scripture, rather than our own.
Yet, sometimes we Christians are unnecessarily weird. This leads to our second question.
When are Christians unnecessarily weird?
1. We’re unnecessarily weird when we think we’re better than others
It’s easy, as a Christian, to be prideful; to think ourselves superior to “the lost”. But we were saved, not because we were better, but because of God’s mercy and grace. Period. Furthermore, whatever moral growth we experience comes with considerable help from the Holy Spirit. And finally we’re still far from perfect at this point. We still lose our tempers, are prideful, can be dishonest, and so on. We, in ourselves are not, better than others. God is better. We’re just saved.
2. We’re unnecessarily weird when we separate ourselves too much from the culture
This can be tricky. While we want to stay holy, we don’t want to stay completely roped off of the culture’s playing field. We too can have fun with our neighbors, laugh at jokes, enjoy the high school choir, root for the Cubs, etc.. Every conversation doesn’t have to be about Jesus. We can, and should, be friends with those who aren’t believers.
3. We’re unnecessarily weird when we refuse to really listen to others outside of our group
Some people don’t enjoy being around Christians because, in their experience, Christians want to talk more than to listen. They’re not genuinely interested in the lives of others, or in learning from them. This tendency conveys pride and a lack of love. It also prevents real friendships from forming.
4. We’re unnecessarily weird when we try to manipulate others into following Jesus
No one wants to be manipulated like a game piece on a board. While, at appropriate moments, we may encourage others to consider Jesus, this needs to be done with sensitivity and respect. It’s their decision to make if, and when they’re ready. Even if they don’t want Christ, they need to know that we still care about them and will be their friend.
So do your best. Godliness will, at times, make us seem weird to others (even other believers sometimes). That can’t be helped. It’s the price we pay for spiritual integrity. But try to avoid unnecessary strangeness. We are, after all, fellow pilgrims on the path of life with those around us. Let’s walk together as much as we can.