My pastor has a blog, and in conjunction with last weeks' sermon, he recently posted a letter from someone who, after hearing the sermon, emailed a letter which included the following statements:
"Non-Christians accept each others faults and are capable of loving each other regardless of individual flaws."
"Groups of Christians tend to be more prone to forming clicks [sic], speaking poorly of others behind their backs, and entertaining disputes over petty differences."
In response, I posted my thoughts, and decided to post them here (slightly modified) as well:
While I have seen first-hand the unfriendly or "cliquish" attitudes of some Christians, I would encourage the letter-writer not to be too hasty in his/her assessment of all Christians. My own experience has been that people tend to surround themselves with others based upon similar beliefs and interests. Additionally, people are generally fairly civil to one another as long as their deepest-held beliefs aren't strongly challenged.
BUT - put people together who have differing belief systems and quite often, Christian or not, the sparks will fly! Not to mention the many other relational difficulties between people. There are enough bad examples of friendship everywhere that one doesn't need to highlight Christianity... except for the fact that Christians are supposed to be DIFFERENT!
So what's the problem? I think part of it is that Christianity has, for a couple hundred years at least, been primarily expressed as a rock-solid, empirically verifiable, series of propositions that must be defended against its "enemies." Add to this the puritanical concept of "being holy", and the distinctive "individual" idea of faith (that is more reflective of American ideals than the biblical witness), and it is not surprising to me that many American Christians feel they must vigorously defend their faith against everyone who doesn't think exactly the same.
This is, in part, what creates all the cliques and "petty differences" mentioned above. Ironically, because many Christians are certain that they have found the "absolute truth", they then feel that they must protect that truth at all costs. And I would suggest that once such a mindset has been fostered, it tends to quickly notice points of contention and gravitate toward them. So, if there aren't any "outsiders" to defend against, often "defense-minded" Christians end up turning on each other.
So what's the solution? Well, there's no easy answer, and I don't claim to have one, but I would like to make two suggestions:
1. Every Christian should get to know at least a couple people who think very differently than you do. Really get to know them, as people, not just as potential "mission fields." Find out what another person, with a different perspective, thinks about things and why. Don't dismiss them, learn their story. Let's trust that if God is the creator and redeemer of the universe, God is also big enough to take care of us outside of our comfort zone in friendships. Not to mention the model of friendship exemplified in the life of Christ.
2. Christianity must rid itself of the idea that the Truth of the Gospel is something we need to defend or protect at the cost of loving others. This is patently unbiblical. In fact, God doesn't really need our help; God is capable of defending Himself just fine. But do we really believe that?
I think that often our inability to befriend or love others is related to selfishness, but deeper still, I see fear; fear that we'll somehow be "corrupted" by befriending those who don't agree with our perfectly developed belief system (as if there is such a thing!). Or, fear stemming from our own doubts. Maybe we're not as sure of our faith as we pretend to be. Perhaps we are afraid that our faith really isn't capable of weathering the challenge that comes from hearing a different point of view.
Needing to constantly "prove" what we believe is usually an indication of our own struggle between faith and fear, more than anything else. But if God and Jesus Christ are the truth, and we are confident in that truth, we shouldn't be afraid of other people. And I remember reading somewhere that "perfect love casts out fear." That is an important reminder to me, as I struggle to be a better friend. And that's my 2 cents for now. :-)