I Like Your Christ, I Don’t Like Your Christian, Thoughts on Church Haters
All week I’ve been reflecting on themes brought up in the movie Blue Like Jazz. Today is a tough one. I’ll get hammered for this I’m sure. Still, I hope you give these thoughts and the film a chance. I’d appreciate it.
Since Blue Like Jazz came out years ago, I’ve been accused by some of being critical of Christians. To be sure, I have. But much less and much more objectively and without malice than I’m accused of. And I criticize myself much more than anybody else, I hope.
I love the church as I knew it, and I love the church even more as I’ve discovered it in the last few years (that is global, not bound by denominational walls instituted by feuding scholars). That said, I do not think the church is an elite organization that is beyond criticism. In fact, any organization that is defensive against criticism is suspect.
Would you work for a company that didn’t allow for criticism? Would a father be a good dad if he disallowed criticism? Would you want to have surgery at a hospital that rejected all forms of criticism? Then why would you want to worship through an organization that is hostile to criticism?
In my profession, I am daily criticized. I’d imagine I’ve received hundreds of blog comments, letters and @replies wishing me the worst. I get it. Criticism is hard. And not only this, churches get criticized for stuff that happened hundreds of years ago. I’d venture to say most criticism is unfounded and ill-informed. It can also be spiteful and hateful. So, I don’t want to be lumped in with the haters.
However, if the church has wronged people, we all need to admit that and apologize for it. There’s no use hiding it or covering it up or pretending we are perfect. The Catholic church’s handling of the sex-abuse cases has been disturbing. But in a way, I get it. If they admit fault, they’re going to go down hard, both financially and in global participation and attendance. Unfortunately, though, the ramifications of telling the truth shouldn’t be considered. The only thing that should be considered is obedience to God. And He wants us to tell the truth.
Rather than criticize, which I hope I’ve done little of, I want to maintain an objective view of the church. Is it perfect? No. Is it a good organization? Yes, the exploits of the church go far and wide into the world and have brought food, water, hope and Jesus to billions. Have they also brought harm? Absolutely, because the church is made up of fallen people.
I occasionally get shame-based letters and emails criticizing me for criticizing “the bride of Christ” lumping me in with men who beat women. I dismiss these accusations as well-intended but naive. Paul criticized the church, as did John and Christ Himself. We want to deify the church, or, more honestly, market the church. We shouldn’t. We should confess our sins and be open and honest about our depravity, both individually and collectively. Those who walk in the light have more, not less of their sins exposed. The very idea that those who make up the church pretend to be perfect indicates they do not walk in the light.
In the movie Blue Like Jazz that releases this Friday, the protagonist turns against the church. In fact, he protests (rather secretly and cowardishly) a local church in a way that is profane. It’s one of the scenes that almost got us an “R” rating. This will no doubt earn the film some criticism from the camp that does not walk in the light. But let me offer a few caveats before things get heated:
1. When people turn against the church, they are having a strong emotional response to having been hurt. The most harmful thing we can do to somebody who has been hurt is to invalidate their pain. The most kind thing we can do is to apologize and reach out in kindness.
2. In the film there is only one shady Christian character. The rest of the Christians turn the other cheek, perform acts of Justice, forgive their oppressors and are down-right heroic. Those who think this is an anti-church movie aren’t paying attention and, unfortunately, aren’t being objective. I hope people can view these scenes objectively.
3. Ultimately, Don finds God, not religion. Religious people will want God represented through a church (and lets face it, through their kind of church) but God’s not such a control freak. People find God and God finds them with and without organized religion. He is in control, we aren’t. If this is unsettling to you, this will be a difficult film. If it’s interesting or inspiring (that you don’t have to obey rules or jump through hoops to interact with God) the film will be comforting.
Regardless, the film opens this Friday. It’s too late to change anything. Let’s hope it starts some great conversation.