Last week, a young Christian male asked me a pretty direct question. He wanted to know whether I ever worried that my blunt commentary on social media was “turning people away from Christianity.” I thought it was an honest question. So I gave him an honest answer. I told him that I believe the problem is just the opposite of what he considers it to be. In other words, it isn’t occasional blunt commentary that turns people away from Christianity. It is the constant displays of Christian cowardice that make people both reticent to join and quick to attack us.
During the year 2000, when I was in the process of my conversion, there was only one prominent pastor I would even listen to on television. His name is Greg Laurie. He was bold without being rude. He was physical fit, casually but sharply dressed, and, to top it all off, he rode a motorcycle. And he could deliver the Gospel in a way that made even gang bangers weep and respond to an altar call in front of thousands at his Harvest Crusades in Anaheim Stadium.
In the fall of 2000, after I actually converted and joined a church I started to notice something unusual about my pastor. He was a lifelong Republican leading a liberal denomination. But the only time he ever talked about politics or social issues was when he quoted people like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. The blanket statement that always followed those quotes was that he wasn’t “that kind of Republican.” In fact, he was so afraid of his mostly-liberal congregation that he never told them what he actually believed. He only told them that he did not believe what all the other “mean Republicans” like Falwell and Robertson believed. It got old pretty fast. So I left his church and found another.
I wish I could say my next pastor was different. But he was not. He was privately appalled by the concept of same-sex marriage. But every time he broached the subject you could see him shaking from the pulpit. His voice would tremble as he tried to express his views in coded phrases. Unfortunately, the congregation was too obtuse to know what he was saying. When push came to shove, he failed to take a firm stand on Amendment One, which was North Carolina’s traditional marriage amendment. Clearly, he cowered out of fear of offending the droves of Obama supporters that helped pay his massive mortgage. I could no longer stomach his cowardice. So I left his church in frustration.
A personally anti-abortion pastor led another church I attended briefly. The problem was that his personal anti-abortion stance remained private and did not make its way into his sermons. In fact, he would not allow any discussion of the topic in his church for fear that someone in the congregation might have had an abortion. So he tossed any chance of redemption out the window for the post-abortive congregant. To make matters worse, he adamantly opposed pro-lifers showing pictures of aborted children in the public square. In other words, he was “pro life” so long as no one ever talked about it inside or outside the church. To make matters even worse, two of the members of his congregation later castigated pro-lifers for showing pictures of abortion on the UNC-Wilmington campus (where I teach). There is an obvious lesson here: If the pastor is a coward, it will always spread through the congregation.
It has taken several tries but I am happy that I have finally found a pastor and a church that is solidly pro-life and pro-family and not afraid to say it. I’m just sad that in the last sixteen years, I have learned that at least three quarters of the pastors who actually know what is right still lack the intestinal fortitude to take a stand for what they believe.
Many Christians are fed up with the capitulation of the church and respond in a way that is different from my chosen response. Rather than continuing to try and find a courageous pastor, they simply stop going to church. So this raises an interesting question: If Christians actually stop going to church because they are tired of pastors refusing to take a stand is it possible that some people never seriously consider Christianity in the first place for the same reasons?
I think I got the answer to that question nearly five years ago when I received an email from a troubled reader. Some of my regular readers may remember the story as I have written about it before. The man had lost his home and job and family and was about to commit suicide. Before he did, someone forwarded one of my columns to him. The column was one of those typical “blunt commentaries” where I was tearing into a corrupt administrator who was intentionally violating the rights of college students. The suicidal reader was captivated by the tone and content of the article and decided to start reading other columns from my archive.
After reading several hundred of my “blunt commentaries” he came across one talking about the New Testament and how to approach reading it. So he sat down and read the New Testament. Instead of killing himself, he converted to Christianity.
I had the pleasure of meeting this fine young man two years ago when I was speaking in Ohio. He is now very happy and living a productive life working in the conservative movement. I’ll never forget his explanation for previously refusing to consider Christianity. It is a paraphrase but he basically told me the following: “For a long time I would never consider converting because I thought you had to be weak and passive in order to be a Christian.”
Let that sink in for a minute. The next time you self-censor you may be hurting Christianity, not helping it. We need brave young warriors not spineless “evangelists” who are more concerned about being liked than influencing the culture.
In a nutshell, Jesus was not Mr. Rogers. He had little tolerance for the smug moral superiority of those who grasp the truth but lack the faith and courage necessary to defend it.