The Rev. Tim Schenck
In the aftermath of the famous 1963 March on Washington, 60% of Americans disapproved of the march and only 23% approved of it. Think about that. We all look back on it now and can almost see ourselves in that massive crowd on the mall, cheering on Dr. King and his dream. Nobody thinks they would have been on the wrong side of history, and yet so many were. Either because of their outright opposition to racial equality or simply their apathy. The desire to keep the national boat from getting rocked was often a stronger pull than looking in a mirror of complicity and silence.
Everyone stood in a crowd during the Civil Rights era. Some were in the crowd on the mall that day, and spent their lives working for racial justice. Some were in the crowds that berated and mocked and beat and spit upon the Freedom Riders. And many were in the crowd on the sidelines, not wanting to get involved, not wanting anything to change, really.
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We spend much of our lives in crowds. Some are tribal, as with political parties or sports teams. Depending on the crowd or the defining issue, we sometimes find ourselves on the margins and sometimes we’re right in the thick of it, playing an active role.
Religious affiliation puts us in a crowd as well. There are varieties of flavors when it comes to faith. But the broader term “Christian” can be problematic for many non-Christians, as a recent survey discovered. While the majority of Christians consider themselves to be “giving, compassionate, loving, and respectful,” that’s not how they’re always perceived. Many non-Christians associate Christians with “hypocrisy, being judgmental, self-righteousness, and arrogance.”
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That’s a major disconnect in how the Christian crowd perceives itself and how it is perceived by others! When questioned, I’ve often found myself wanting to scream, “I’m a Christian, but not one of those Christians!” The problem is, the Christianity of the headlines is often the Christianity non-Christians know. And that’s a painful reality for those of us who believe in a loving, liberating God.
With Easter upon us, this is as good a time as any for the Christian crowd to take stock of not just their image, but their actions. At the Last Supper, which Christians around the world mark in the days before Easter, Jesus says, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Everyone will know that you are a Christian, not because you’re so holy or because you say the right things or believe the right things or associate with the right people. They will know you’re a Christian because you have love for one another. That’s the whole point of faith — to love others.
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And so when we act, we can run our actions through a filter of love to determine whether we are being faithful. But remember, this filter is all about God’s all-encompassing love, not our own small-minded version of it.
At times, we all act like judgmental, self-righteous, arrogant, hypocrites. That’s just part of human nature. But if we, as Christians, can be ever more intentional about being giving, compassionate, loving and respectful, everyone will indeed know us for our love for one another. And that’s a crowd worth belonging to.
The Rev. Tim Schenck’s In Good Faith column appears monthly in The Patriot Ledger. He serves as rector of the Episcopal Parish of St. John the Evangelist in Hingham and he is the author of five books full of faith and humor. Follow him on Twitter @FatherTim.
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