Many people have been greatly hurt by Christians. The American Church has been the purveyor of a thousand ills over the past few hundred years. We supported the slaughter of Native Americans, we fought tooth and nail to keep slavery in the Union, we struggled to keep women under the iron fist of men, we stood by in condemnation while an entire group of people wasted away from a horrible disease that no one deserves to get. These actions done under the auspices of religion have left a horrible taste in many people’s mouths and given them a reason to reject Christ. They see a people whose words and actions fail to equal each other and fall far short of the standard they aspire to, and they decide that Christianity is simply not for them.
Another group of believers exists in this country today: those who have walked away licking their wounds and cursing God only to discover the magnificent grace of Jesus Christ. Grace acts as a balm to their souls to soothe over their old wounds; it whispers of acceptance and love to them; it makes them truly see the Gospel of Christ for what it is supposed to be: good news. I am a member of this group, and I am sure that many of you are also. Grace is the one thing that distances Christianity from all other religions, and it is what people truly desire most in their heart of hearts.
Many of us grace converts attempt to reflect God’s love to those outside the walls of the traditional Church in order to make up for the sins of their fathers. For some, that means volunteering at soup kitchens; others write to their representatives to encourage them to fight the AIDS crisis in Africa. Some choose to work to spread the message of God’s grace across this country and the globe. I think the epiphany that God is madly in love with all of mankind has a different effect on each person, but all the results are amazing.
I have noticed something about myself, though, that I think is a problem for many people. While we show grace to the down and out, at least in our minds, we fail to show grace to those whom we come across most. They appear in different forms, but every church has them … the old man who shakes his head disapprovingly during praise and worship because he considers the music too loud, the person in our Sunday school class who has a select list of sins that are far worse than others, the woman who believes you are polluting your mind by indulging in “secular” entertainment. They’re on TV and the radio, too: Jerry Falwell insisting that the Sept. 11 attacks happened because of the liberals, Pat Robertson supporting a notorious violator of civil rights, televangelists promising God’s blessings to only those who donate $100. Because these people, consciously or subconsciously, remind us of those who once pushed us away from Christianity, we often attack them vigorously behind closed doors, or at least in our imagination.
We expose every chink in their armor, we sneer at them, we crucify them to a cross of intolerance. I am not trying to stick up for their positions; I still believe them to be wrong. However, I also cannot ignore the fact that my Bible tells me these people, however wrong they are, are still a part of the body of Christ.
It’s easy to extend grace to those who accept it with open arms; it’s much harder to offer it to those who cross their arms, purse their lips and frown in your direction. As angry as these people make me, I can’t help but realize that in many ways, they resemble the person I used to be. If I can grow up in Christ and become more loving, why can’t they? If we really want to start a revolution, it should begin at home. Instead of outright dismissing these Christian critics, how about we try to show them the grace that their kind once denied us? Embody the love of Christ; respect them—no matter how wrong their opinions may be, they are still children of God. Explain why you believe what you believe. Who knows, you may lead another convert to discover the beautiful grace of God.
“But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you … If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them” (Luke 6:27-28, 32).
[Jonathan Foiles is from Hammond, Ill., and plans to attend the University of Illinois next year.]
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