Ever wondered why the media in its many forms has what Christians may consider a caricatured version of our faith and its practices? You know, the stiff-necked religiophile who frowns at anyone having fun; or the Bible-thumping preacher who promises heaven for those who send in dollars; or the ‘do-gooder’ who expects that their voice on any ethical or moral changes is the right one. And then there’s Ned Flanders, possibly the only Christian many, many people could name (a character on The Simpsons for those who weren’t sure).
Does it make you cringe? Do you wonder why ‘they’ see ‘us’ that way? Do you find yourself saying, ‘But we’re really not like that!’
Familiar with the phrase, ‘perception is reality’? It applies in this case.
If people outside the church perceive Christians to be a certain way, then that for them is the way things really are; it is reality for them.
The question is then—what part has the church in general, and individual Christians in particular, played in the development of these perceptions?
• Prominent TV evangelists have embezzled their ministry’s funds for their own benefit.
• Church leaders have been unfaithful to their partners.
• Men in all church denominations have used their trusted positions to lead a paedophilic lifestyle that has been covered up by the church hierarchy, or have sated their sexual appetites at the expense of naïve and trusting women in their churches.
And it’s not just church leaders who have been at fault.
It may well come back to the church’s recent history, at least in the last 40-50 years, of the church not really engaging with the culture in which we live. We have, in general, been happy to live within our Christian sub-culture, with its books and music and movies, and to never venture forth in an intentional way to genuinely engage with those who don’t share our faith. And when things have got rough, and our culture has slipped from bad to worse, we’ve been happy to sit within our Christian fortresses and lob ‘faith-grenades’ at the ‘pagans’ out there. And we expect ‘them’ to listen to ‘us’ when ‘we’ do not listen to ‘them’.
The church has been its own worst enemy. And this is a not a situation in which all publicity, even the negative stuff, is good publicity. It’s no wonder that the media finds it easier to caricature the church than actually engage with it.
I really am fairly certain that this is not what Jesus called us to when he said, ‘Follow me and I will make you fishers of men’.