A friend recently sent me a film clip of a brawl between monks of different Christian communions over turf rights at the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. Fighting had broken out on First Day, 11/9/2008, when Greek Orthodox monks blocked a procession of Armenian Orthodox. My friend had titled her e-mail “One more reason I don’t like to be called a Christian.”
This was not the first time I’d heard such feelings expressed, but it always grieves me to see people of high ideals distancing themselves from “the Christians” because of the low behavior of some who call themselves Christians. The effect is to denigrate either Jesus Christ Himself (from whom, ironically, they may have learned those high ideals) or millions of men, women and children who, over the past two thousand years, chose forgiveness over revenge, faithfulness over treachery, truth over deceit, love over hatred, and their own suffering and death over making others suffer – precisely because they were Christians following Christ. I allow that others may have done the same because they were Buddhists following the Buddha, or Jews following Moses and the Prophets. But you cannot deny that a river of spilled Christian blood cries up from the ground, witnessing that to be a Christian is an honorable thing.
My friend wrote below the link to the film clip, “But I will answer to: Student of Jesus.” I answered her:
“…if the followers of Jesus don’t answer to the name of Christians, and in Christ’s name rebuke and disclaim unchristian behavior, from ‘Christian’ militarism, racism and imperialism to ‘Christian’ squabbling over turf rights at the so-called Holy Sepulcher, then other Christians suffering shame and pain over these things won’t have any strong Christian elders to turn to for comfort and encouragement. And Jesus, our Teacher (and to some of us, our Savior and Vine, our Prophet, Priest and King) will find His cross surrounded only by [politicians that tell lies to start wars, media demagogues that persecute gay people,] and the Ku Klux Klan. He deserves better representatives on this earth than that, I think. And the Truth He witnessed and witnesses to requires them, too.
“But I call myself a Christian only because I feel He wants me to. I regularly turn for Christian counsel and encouragement to godly companions who call themselves simply Quakers, or Buddhists or Muslims or Jews, as their Divine Inward Witness directs them. As far as I’m concerned, their Divine Inward Witness is Christ, and Christ speaks to me through them. I have to respect the faithfulness that leads them to persist in referring to their Divine Inward Witness as the Light, the Buddha-mind… or Allah, or Adonai Elohenu. I’m not humoring them. I’m respecting God’s wisdom, and their discernment.”
I ended by saying “don’t call yourself a Christian unless He tells you to.” I was thinking of Paul’s saying “no one can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3b), and Jesus’ answer when Peter acclaimed Him as the Messiah, “flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 16:17). Taught since childhood to recognize “Jesus Christ” as a name and a common swear-word, we easily forget that recognition of Jesus as the Christ is a gift, a charisma. On the other hand, those who’ve received it may not lay it aside just because they’re embarrassed to be seen with other people that call themselves Christians.