Monday, August 11, 2008

Us vs Them

There's a popular sentiment that seems to run deep within most Christian circles. I've experienced it for much of my life, and felt it on a personal and ambient level. If we're to be honest, most will probably agree that it's nearly as old as the organized church itself. In a sense I think it's a natural, even sensible way to feel, but only in a certain context and to a certain degree. As it exists now I'd call it unhealthy, dangerous even, and I believe that if the church ever hopes to really be relevant in the contemporary world, the state of mind I'm about to touch on should be done away with all together.

The thing I'm talking about is this: The general attitude, the feeling of "Us vs. Them". Like any group or organization, Christianity can be, and often is, an extremely separatist entity. We have a tendency to make our events and music and even our way of speaking esoteric and exclusive. We see ourselves as being separate from the rest of the human population, and I'll give that yeah, in a way, we are.
But here's the thing - we're all human. I can't count the number of times I've heard the phrase, "non-Christian friends" used in a negative, almost derogatory context. I mean sure, if somebody asks, then say "No, so and so doesn't go to church." "No, so and so doesn't believe in God". But why does it have to be such a big deal?

A couple years back I and a few friends hosted a new years party at the church. It was a last minute, spur of the moment thing, and we called everybody that day to invite them. It wasn't a church sponsored event, but we got permission from the pastor to use the building. We invited somewhere near twenty people and everybody brought snacks and drinks so that we didn't have a spend a bunch of money on food. The plan was that we'd all meet there around seven, and probably stay the night, so as to avoid the danger that comes from driving home on new years eve after midnight. Drunk drivers and all, you get the picture.

Neil and I were the ones that put it together, and Neil and I have for several years had a lot of friends in common. We worked at Target together, and so we invited a bunch of people from work. We went to youth group together, and so we invited a bunch of people from church. Do you see where the chemistry is going? Two groups, two dichotomies - a bunch of church people and a bunch of not-church people.

At first I thought, hey, this is a great idea. This is the perfect opportunity for us to show my non-christian friends that we're not all uptight and unfriendly. We'll show them how cool the church can be to outsiders and maybe, just maybe, they'll show up on a Sunday. In high school, I was very naive.

I'll say first that we, overall, had a good time. A lot of people showed up and most everybody enjoyed themselves.

But instead of the two groups mixing and melding and bonds being formed that would bridge the gap between "christian" and "secular", all of my christian friends hung out in one of the offices(which we weren't even supposed to have access to) while all my friends from work stayed out in the main room and enjoyed each other's company. Everybody from work felt shunned. I later asked them(the church people) why they'd even bothered to show up, since the message they sent was that they weren't even interested in what was going on. The general attitude that several of them had was that they weren't happy about all these strange people being in their building, and they didn't like that they and these other people had so little in common. Perhaps I'm being presumptuous, but several of my friends from work later asked me exactly what the problem was and what they had done wrong. To me it was a disaster.

It's my opinion that the entire fiasco took place because Christians spend way too much time focusing on how "different" we are. We think that because we've met Jesus and we spend a lot of time and church and we try to exercise self control and whatever else you want that we're somehow on a different playing field. That the people outside of our religious circles are somehow of a different species. I doubt you'll find many Christians who profess to this as a matter of principle, but I'd wager that if we were honest with ourselves and each other, that most of us probably feel this way on some level. And the proof of it is in our behavior, as I've already illustrated.

The fact of the matter is that we're all the same. We're all human. We're all descended from the same thing, whether you believe in Adam and Eve or primates that learned to hunt with clubs. We're all sinners, we all screw up, and Jesus died for all of us. Believing in him or not believing in him doesn't make you any less or more of a person. It doesn't put you in a separate category. They're just two different ways of thinking(and hopefully) living, and when we forget this, the results can be embarrassing at least and catastrophic at worst.

It's my firm belief that if we focused on the fact that we're all the same, and work at integrating the belief of it into our lives and way we deal with people, then the church would probably have a lot more credibility. If we stopped ridiculing our fellow Christians for hanging out with their, "non-Christian" friends, then we'd probably have a much better chance of connecting with said non-Christian friends. We'd probably have a better chance of getting them through the front door of the church building. And even if they don't stay, at least they'd know we don't resent them for not agreeing with us.

There is no Us, and there is no Them. It's ALL of us. It's We. And We can't afford to forget that.

Romans 3:23
"for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God"
As far as I'm concerned, that's a a pretty cut and dry statement.


Richard said...

Very good, very good. I agree completely.

Anonymous said...

I agree. And I like that you mentioned New Years. I hope you're still not upset and thinking of it as a disaster. I know I, and the other Targeteers, enjoyed ourselves. Wow, I think I should try to spread that. Targeteers.
I can understand wanting to be friends with people you have stuff in common with, personally I just don't find religion to be one of those things. Maybe that's because I'm not religious though. I can't really see the situation from both sides. Hope you're enjoying Texas! =)

Jeremy said...

I agree that we as a Christian society tend to be bias about our faith, and the "us Vs. them" persona tends to be very strong. As Christians, we are called to be a changed people, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians. Also 1 Peter labels us as "aliens" of this world. But our objective here on earth is to be a group of people called to love one another, and love our enemies as well, as Christ commands us. It might be a stretch to call our non-Christian friends "enemies," but in a sense they are. This is proof of a light vs. dark world. It is our job to be the lights of the world and to, hate to go back to hymns, "Share the light, the blessed gospel light. Let it shine from shore to shore." It is great to see your understanding of how our Christian culture reacts in conflict to the non-Christian culture. Hopefully our culture will begin to understand that we need to befriend the tax collector and adulterer, and not just one another, since we are called to minister to the sick.

Oh, and this is Jeremy Garrett, if you were wondering.

Aaronus Prime said...

I thought it might be you. Good to hear from you.

StrangelyNormalSteph said...

I'm really liking what you write on here Aaron. And to quote my favorite singer, an Australian musician of faith who has gotten himself in trouble for being too blunt before...

"I've heard many people use the term 'non-christian'. But the thing about 'non' is, it's a negative prefix. For example, I'm not a non-Asian, I'm just a Caucasian. And at the same time they aren't non-christians, they are just people like you and me."