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This article is from Issue 57: May/June 2012

The War on Religion

A closer look at what America really thinks about Christians. (You'll be surprised.)

In recent years, Christians have become increasingly concerned with a certain popular narrative. It goes something like this: Non-Christians hate us. They hate us because we are hypocritical jerks. We need to be more like Jesus so the world likes us better.
The growing negative perception, many churches and leaders believe, is the result of Christians not living out the Gospel. Believers have been behaving “unChristian,” so non-Christians now see them as nothing more than judgmental and hypocritical. That perception, in turn, impedes the mission of the Church. After all, who wants to listen to judgmental hypocrites?

And so the story goes: that Christians need to do their best to change public perception by acting like better Christians.

It sounds very holy, doesn’t it? After all, how can anything that calls for Christians to better live out their faith be a bad thing? And all of that might be the case ... if the narrative was true. Or helpful.

Unfortunately, the narrative is neither true nor helpful.

Should Christians care?

Let’s start with a basic question: Should Christians even care what others think of them? Scripture doesn’t promise Christians will be popular if they live out the Kingdom of God; in fact, the opposite might be true—it can prompt persecution. Obviously this isn’t a license for acting like a jerk, because persecution is only laudable when it happens because of righteousness (Matthew 5:10), not from being insufferable. Still, there’s no scriptural basis for linking authentic Christianity with high public-approval ratings.
Also, when anti-Christian sentiment does exist, it’s usually based on stereotypes and not on an objective assessment of beliefs and actions. Stereotypes, by definition, are inaccurate to a degree, and they persist in the face of countering evidence. So, if every single Christian was suddenly to become a perfect Christian (whatever that would look like), some people would still have negative views of Christians.