As a senior in high school, I took a class in Apologetics. This was the mid-90s and defending your faith was church kids’ coup de grâce. We used a text called Understanding The Times while learning about things like ad hominem arguments and various philosophical ideologies.
Since we’d descend upon college campuses the following year, the course was timed to prepare us for conversations with peers and professors who may not share our worldview.
There was an awful lot to digest over the course of the class. It was taught at an honors level, so run-of-the-mill students need not apply. And what I’ve come to wonder through the years is this:
Why was my faith something I needed to defend?
It felt like I was being armed for combat. Like if I conversed with someone who saw the world differently, I needed to have the right answers to give. Quickly – because allies we were not. I needed the skills to deconstruct sophisticated liberal arguments from atheists, agnostics, and supporters of Bill Clinton.
After all, I was playing defense.
When I left high school, I used tactics from my training. I’d insert myself in conversation so as to out-argue others’ positions. Sometimes I’d succeed. Sometimes I’d fail.
But people were never impressed when I used clever strategies to convey my point of view. To this day, I’m not sure what lasting effect it had.
I’ve learned that people respond much better to love. Isn’t love more powerful than any defense one could employ?
I don’t have to prove anything to anyone concerning my faith. There is no such command. Which is why I can’t control how others think, how they see the world, or the decisions they choose to make.
There is a command on love though – I can control that.
And yet, I don’t recall much about love from the course. Or kindness. Or grace. Or humility. I don’t remember a great deal on the importance of treating others well. If these were parts of the course (which is completely possible), they weren’t emphasized in a way that resonated with me.
Truthfully, I felt like I was training for a boxing match.
The future of America lied in the balance. With so much on the line, I and thousands of other Christian young adults were training for a culture war we couldn’t afford to lose.
I went to purity conferences designed to (quite literally) SCARE THE HELL out of me.
Super Bowl Sunday youth group party’s featured halftime shows with carefully selected messages presented by pre-approved celebrities.
Youth pastors were far more skilled at presenting lists of things not to do than guiding me toward what to do.
Don’t listen to that radio station….or see that movie….or watch MTV….or be alone with a member of the opposite sex. Ever.
To be clear, I wholeheartedly believe these strategies were rolled out with the best of intentions.
They just don’t work.
Last April, Pew Research Center released findings suggesting Muslims could outnumber Christians worldwide by the year 2050. While much time and effort will be devoted to dissecting this potential shift – here’s a thought:
Is it possible other groups have done a better job creating community than the Christian church?
People want to belong. They want to be accepted….for who they are. And they’ll keep searching for that community until they’ve found it.
But, too often, believers major in judgment and minor in kindness. This isn’t what Jesus espoused. Walking around in a permanent state of “righteous” indignation was never the objective.
We shouldn’t be threatened by people whose worldview is different from our own. Jesus certainly wasn’t. We need to do better. There’s no boxing match. The gloves need to come off. They need to be buried.
Better yet, burned.