Christians Behaving Badly

Written: 28 September, 1999

I mentioned on the phone to my mom today that I've started going to church. I'm not going to post what was said, but she did mention that the thing that turned her off the church (she went for awhile as a girl) was when she was a waitress. She served a drunken customer who then mentioned he had to sober up because he had to go to church shortly. She said that she realized she was a more moral person than this Christian, so what good was religion?

Fly on the Wall posted something similar recently on the Community Board ("I was without sin for years," 9/19) where he stated:

"I expected these [church-going] kids to be good, they had been indoctrinated in all sorts of high pressure 'be good or go to Hell and here's how you do it'. They were not good, they did not respect authority, they revelled in wickedness. I was more good than they were and I had been to church [only] twice."

So, here we have two examples of non-religious people being convinced that they did not need Christianity based on the bad behavior of Christians. These "sinning Christians" convince non-believers that Christians are hypocrites. "Christians behaving badly" are like negative advertisements for Christianity.

I remember in high school a friend talking about a fellow student, saying "She calls herself a Christian, but then she commits fornication." We apparently like to see smug Christians taken down a peg or two, proving them hypocrites.

We might like to think that Christians would not behave badly, not fall, that they would adhere to a higher standard and be a shining example to all. We would like to be positive advertisements for our religion. But it seems to me that being a Christian is all about struggling to attain an impossible standard for we humans to achieve, that of the sinless and perfect Jesus Christ. It's impossible, yet we try to do it anyway, and are regularly failing.

Some Christians believe that we really don't have to try to be like Jesus, that believing He is God is enough. That Jesus walked every step for us already so that we don't have to. Does it matter to such Christians that they commit sins, as long as they confess it? For some reason, I'm reminded of the parable of the guest who showed up for the wedding but didn't bother to wear wedding attire, who was thrown out into the street as a result. Is it enough to say "yes, I accept" without showing by your actions that you really mean it?

Jesus said that he came for the sick, not the well. Since we are all sinners, none of us are well. Perhaps the difference between a non-believer and a Christian, who both largely succeed in being moral people, is that the Christian knows how inadequete and sinful he really is, for he has Christ as his standard. The non-believer may judge the drunken church-goer with a superior attitude, whereas the Christian knows that we are all sinners. Christians believe that Jesus covered our sins on Judgment Day, not erased our sinful natures in the here and now.

To practical people like my mom, the here and now is basically all there is. If Christianity doesn't keep us from still being sinners, what good is it?

In my opinion, Christianity offers us (in addition to salvation in the afterlife) a higher standard for human behavior. By listening to Jesus' words in the Bible, we can learn how to be better people right now, which is better than having no such guide. Or, as Jesus put it, "The man who walks in the dark does not know where he is going." (John 12:35) The Bible does provide a guide for moral behavior for practical-minded people. If Christians are not always able to adhere to the guide, that is more a reflection of fallible human nature rather than their religion being worthless.

Christians are said to be hypocrites because they condemn sinful behavior and then might engage in it themselves. But are non-believers really more likely to not commit such sins? The Christian at least condemns the sin. We Christians say "love the sinner, hate the sin." The message that the non-believer sends, by labeling the fallible Christian a hypocrite, is "condemn the Christian sinner more harshly than the sin itself."

Non-believers would be better people by listening to Jesus, who said: "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone." (John 8:7) Next time you want to put down a Christian for stumbling, I hope you remember those words of Christian compassion. If you really value high moral standards, then don't trash those who fall short.

And we Christians should try hard to be role models for Christianity. Christians who don't practice what they preach suggest to non-believers that Christianity is a sham, a joke, a clubhouse of hypocrites. Think how many more Christians there would be if more Christians acted like Christians are supposed to.

Jesus said, "As I have loved you, so must you love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13: 34-35) Wouldn't it be great if more Christians sent such a positive impression of their faith to others? That people would know immediately that we are Christians because of our love of others (2nd greatest commandment according to Jesus)?

Or would it make a difference?