Today was a rough day for Christians in social media. It started with the “trending” story that a study apparently showed that children raised in Christian households are less altruistic than their non-religious counterparts. As a Christian parent raising two, soon to be three kids, this was somewhat distressing.
Then there was the Startbucks red cup controversy. This one had me confused for a while. Suddenly all of my Christian friends (and a few of my non-religious friends) were showing outrage over the outrage of Christians who were upset that Startbucks was apparently waging war on Christmas. But when I looked to see if there were actually any Christians showing outrage over Starbucks and I couldn’t find anyone. Not one person (and rightly so).
But based on all the anti-outrage outrage I got the impression that somewhere there must be a bunch of curmudgeonly Christians waging a culture war over red cups. I guess I just don’t know any of them.
Then I saw a meme that basically had the following message: Christians should stop caring about red cups at Startbucks and start caring about kids in foster care. (Update: The meme was shared several more times).
I agree. Of course I agree. But, here’s the problem: I don’t know any Christian who doesn’t agree with this. I can immediately think of four or five Christian friends who have adopted kids and who have taken in kids from the foster care system. (Update: My experience matches the broader statistics. A 2013 Barna study showed that Christians are twice as likely to adopt and more likely to participate as foster parents as the general population). I didn’t see a single Christian friend on facebook or in conversation saying that Starbucks was waging war on Christmas.
I have concluded that the picture of Christians on facebook I saw today wasn’t a picture of any Christians I know. The picture was a caricature. It was a picture of the Christian as a grumpy jerk more interested in outrage and winning than in people. I’m sure there are such people in the church, but I don’t know them.
None of the Christians I know fit this ridiculous caricature. I know the church isn’t perfect. I’m not perfect. I’m broken in some fundamental ways and so is the church. The church is a hospital, and that’s exactly the way it’s supposed to be. There are plenty of times for the church to self-correct and to humbly accept criticism from the outside.
But there are also times to defend the church and I want to do that right now.
The Christians I know are good people. They’re the kind of people who run marathons to raise money to get people clean water. They take trips oversees to care for kids in Romanian orphanages. They adopt kids from China who have special needs. They adopt kids out of foster care. They adopt a pair of brothers at a moment’s notice. They are always on the lookout for people who have no friends so that they can befriend them. They give generously of their time and money in order to help other people find jobs. They, having had an abortion, now work hold support groups for other women who have had abortions. They practice hospitality to those who need a place to stay. The volunteer at homeless shelters. And the list could go on.
These are ordinary people. For each item on the list I had a specific person in mind. None of them is famous and their good deeds aren’t known beyond a small circle of friends. Their political affiliations vary. All of them love Jesus. All of them love their neighbors. All of them are flawed at some level, sure. But none of them are what the social media portrayed them to be today.
Is this only my experience? Am I just living in a bubble of “good Christians” somehow safe from all the “bad Christians” out there? I don’t think so. I’m no sociologist but I have heard of studies that show that religious people really are generous and kind.
So, of course, are many non-religious people. I have many non-religious friends who I could also fit into the list above. In many ways, that’s beside the point. Christianity was never primarily about behavior modification anyway.
I commend to you a recent article by sociologist George Yancey. He has a very nicely written critique of the article mentioned above. I’m sure the relative merits of that study will be debated for some time.
The problem, though, was with the caricature it fueled, that of the angry Christian getting riled up because Starbucks isn’t writing “Merry Christmas” on their cups, the Christian who won’t lift a finger to help someone in need. I’m sure that guy exists out there somewhere, but I don’t know him.