Image problem?

TIME has an article this week on Christianity's "image problem". Ten years ago, only 20% of non-Christians had an unfavorable view of Christianity.

Barna polls conducted between 2004 and this year, sampling 440 non-Christians (and a similar number of Christians) aged 16 to 29, found that 38% had a "bad impression" of present-day Christianity. "It's not a pretty picture" the authors write. Barna's clientèle is made up primarily of evangelical groups.

Kinnaman says non-Christians' biggest complaints about the faith are not immediately theological: Jesus and the Bible get relatively good marks. Rather, he sees resentment as focused on perceived Christian attitudes. Nine out of ten outsiders found Christians too "anti-homosexual," and nearly as many perceived it as "hypocritical" and "judgmental." Seventy-five percent found it "too involved in politics."

Are these numbers of any concern? Doesn't Jesus say the world will hate us, so these results are to be expected, and Christians should keep doing what we're doing? Perhaps, but it all makes me uneasy.

Jesus says the world will hate us because it hates him. That's not the case here. Non-Christians my age don't have a problem with Jesus, or even the Bible- they have a problem with the only Christians they ever hear from- the prominent public figures in the political sphere or commentators on the news. The ones campaigning with hateful slogans against abortion and homosexuals. The one who one minute preaches "compassionate conservatism" and the next vetoes a children's health care bill. The prominent leaders that claim the name of Christ then fall from grace because of hidden sin.

Perhaps Christians are doing everything right, and the decline of "outsiders" approval is just fulfilling Jesus' prophecy, and it is nothing to worry about. Jesus also said, "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." Are any of the public figures who claim the name of Christ known by their love? What if they were? How would that affect people's perception of Christianity? Am I known by my love? How do my actions affect this statistic?


ashley @ twentysixcats said...

The one who one minute preaches "compassionate conservatism" and the next vetoes a children's health care bill.

I'm against a children's health care bill, and it has nothing to do with the fact that I am a Christian.

I think the problem I have with this post is that it assumes we have control over the leaders of Christianity. How can you say that some of the Christian Greats have never shown love? Or that we have fallen from grace in our own circle of friends because we're simply human? I think that it needs to start at the heart. I know a lot of people who show compassion, love, and aren't hypocrites. But they don't make the news. They do, however, have an impact on the people they interact with every day. I don't think we should be concerned with how others see us as much as if we are showing the love of Christ. Should we really be obsessed with our image? Doesn't that further entrench the problem of hypocrisy? And the hidden sins?

Do you really think that Christians should stay out of politics? Do you think they (we) shouldn't voice our opinion about what is important to us? Or do you think that most politically active Christians are just pushing hidden agendas? (The only people still blindly in support of a long and poorly-justified war. Really? It was a Christian war?) I mean, I can see separating faith and politics, but aren't some of the Christian "agendas" legitimate?

Personally, I think that one reason the image could be so low is that a lot of today's Christians are really shallow. I just left a church that was that way - it was all a social idea, and not a heart thing. I think the world can see that, too.

Joanna said...

We don't have control over the "leaders of the Christianity", obviously, you're right- but they are who the rest of the world sees as what a Christian is. They are where these numbers in this poll are coming from. (BTW, I don't know what "Christian Greats" means, or who it's referring to) The way these Christian representatives got to where they are does directly implicate us- we're the ones who voted for them, or bought their books or donated money. Somehow, a large number of Christians got behind them and gave them legitimacy in the public sphere, making them the ones who represent Christianity to the rest of the world. In that respect, we can be careful and do our research before choosing who to support, rather than blindly getting behind a person or issue because it has the 'Christian' stamp on it. And, obviously, we do our best to be Christ to those in our circle of influence. And that's all we can do, as a personal effort

As for the second issue you bring up, obviously, I think that Christians should be involved in politics. I believe the way we go about communicating our views, and the battles we choose, must be in line with Jesus' teachings. I think we ought to be careful to do all things- especially those being watched by others- in love, so that "they will know that we are disciples by our love", rather than our hate.

And for the specific issues you bring up- who are we called to support? I tend toward any legislation that provides for the orphan, the widow, the poor, and the oppressed. From my understanding, the bill would have expanded coverage to more "working poor" families- "in-between" people who work but don't have a job with benefits and don't make enough to afford health insurance. But, I will admit I haven't researched it thoroughly. And, the war, well, the rest of the world views it as a Christian war, crusade, even. It has been defended in "Good and Evil" terms, and most of the people who still support it would categorize themselves as conservative Christians, but that may be unrelated to their spiritual life, so perhaps that is a bad example. I'll take it out.

Joanna said...

I should add, you're right, and I said it a couple times- perhaps these polls don't matter. Maybe we should keep doing what we're doing without caring about what others think of us, and we can ignore this poll as meaningless. I don't know. I just thought the statistics (and change in the last 10 years) was interesting, and wanted to explore possible reasons for it.

Anonymous said...

I am one of those people that has an unfavorable view of Christianity. I grew up in the church, and even attended a Christian college. I'm sad to say that the same things that bother me about most Christians now are some of the same things that bothered me when I was a "believer". Now, I know many sincere, caring individuals who are Christians, but most of my experiences left a bad taste in my mouth. Hypocrissy is abundant, judgment is the norm, and overall religion tends to divide people rather than join them in community. I love the ideals of faith, but in practice there is a lot to be desired. My problem is not with the leaders of Christianity, but with the people I see everyday.
As for politics, I do have a big issue. I don't have any facts or figures to back me up on this, but I feel like a lot of Christians (and people of other faiths as well) tend to vote based on "hot button" issues such as abortion, gay rights, religion of the politician, etc (unifying issues that most Christians agree on), instead of voting based on the best candidate. They won't comprimise on these issues for the bigger picture. Politicians are known for taking advantage of this tendency, and I fear that it works especially well among the uneducated and uninformed.
In the past few years I have let people around me know that I am not a Christian anymore. My parents are very loving people, but they pray for my soul and think I'm going to Hell. I had a Christian friend who would not stop lecturing me, and let me know that she thought I was a lesser person for my beliefs. Yes, a true Christian should try to show me what they believe through their actions and through kind words, and many have, but those aren't the experiences that stick in my mind. Instead of being attacked for being a Christian I am attacked for not believing. I have no problem with Christians, faith or religion in concept, but they seem to have a problem with me.

ashley @ twentysixcats said...

My reasons for not supporting a children's health care bill is not because I want to see little children without medical help, it's because I don't think it's the government's job to take care of that. The government doesn't have a very good track record at things like that (just take a look at our public schools! yeah there are good ones, but the majority are not so much). I think too many people slip through the cracks. Too many people are on welfare who probably don't need to be, and I don't think the government is good about weeding those people out. I personally don't want to see even more of my paycheck taken out in taxes for the government to mismanage.

Beth @ The Natural Mommy said...

I probably should have done more than skim your post, but I have a baby fussing on the floor as I type. I just wanted to respond to the statement you made pondering the fact that the world doesn't hate Jesus, per se, but rather believers.

I think this might be because they don't know Jesus. They assume he was an all-loving, all-accepting person who taught nice little lessons on how to live.

They don't know that Jesus did not come to bring peace (between believers and the secular world around them) but the sword. (Again, I'd quote that verse if not for the baby who is now on my lap trying to eat the keyboard).

Jesus was against homosexuality. Against divorce. Against the murder of children. He was angry at such sin. Very, very unaccepting. If the world today knew that Jesus, they wouldn't like him as much as they say they do.

Beth @ The Natural Mommy said...

I should add, though, that however much Jesus hated sin, he did still have unconditional love for the sinner, as all Christians should.

Beth @ The Natural Mommy said...

Gah, as I look back over my response, I just want to make one more change: "However much Jesus hateS sin, he DOES still have unconditional love for the sinner."

Accidentally put it in past tense. That's what a crying baby will do to you.

Anonymous said...

Come teach for an hour, one day, one week in a public school and you'll see the problems are coming from all angles, not just from the government. Go to dinner at one of my kid's apartments.
Private schools can exclude, I must take all wherever they may stand in this life. My love must be unconditional. I am doing the best I can with who I am given.


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