I listened as she described why she didn’t like Christians. She told me that as a Wiccan, she would never dream of imposing her beliefs on someone else, so she couldn’t understand why Christians insist that everyone must believe their way.
She told me about her friend who owned a Wiccan bookstore and how local Christians would regularly disrupt business by shouting hateful things through the front door. Sometimes, they would come in just to create a little bit of disarray, rearranging neatly-shelved books and pamphlets or hiding Christian tracts throughout the store. She told me that her tattoos and her dress often made her a target of ridicule as well. She asked me why Christians were so judgmental.
I was ashamed to be considered part of the same group that had hurt her. I wanted to make a distinction between myself and these people. But it wouldn’t have mattered. She knew that I was a Christian and that these things were being done to her and her friends in the name of Jesus.
My next instinct was to try to rationalize what had happened. Perhaps there was a misunderstanding of some kind. But that wouldn’t do either. There could be no misinterpreting these actions; they were hateful and there was no way to get around it. I didn’t make excuses for the behavior and I didn’t try to explain that I was different than the people that had tried to intimidate her. This wasn’t about me. I simply apologized for how she had been treated and told her the Jesus I know is not like that.
We talked some more and I answered some of her questions about the Bible and what it means to follow Jesus. She thanked me and told me she wished there were more Christians who would be as open in talking with her. This was some time ago, and I don’t know if this young woman has since come to a place where she is ready to begin a relationship with Jesus, but I hope so.
Thinking about that conversation, I wonder how many times I may have done or said something insensitive without realizing people were looking to see if I lived out what I’ve said I believe. The Bible makes it clear that, as His followers, we are to be Jesus’ ambassadors, but it often seems like we do more harm than good to His name.
In the New Testament, when Jesus sent out the twelve disciples to tell people about the coming kingdom, He said, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16, TNIV). He wanted them to be careful about what they said and did. Jesus knew his followers would be persecuted; people would be looking for a reason to accuse them and to tear down their message. Even though the disciples were sent out with the power to do incredibly good things, like heal the sick and cast out demons, they needed to be careful about how they behaved.
Christ’s followers today have the same mission as those first disciples. We are to go out and tell people of God’s love for them as we care for the sick and the poor. In so doing, we must be extremely careful that we are living a life consistent with Jesus’ teaching. This includes loving our neighbors, no matter who they might be. Ours is not a battle against flesh and blood, and the minute we begin to think in terms of “us vs. them,” we have lost the heart of Jesus.
It is interesting to note that when Jesus sent out the twelve and warned them that they would be persecuted, He never instructed His disciples to defend themselves. In fact, He told them that in order to truly follow Him, each disciple must make the decision to pick up their cross. In Jesus’ day, to pick up your cross meant to march toward your own execution. It would be like carrying the guns to your own firing squad or strapping the electric chair to your back as you walk from your cell to the execution room on the day your death sentence is to be carried out. This is the ultimate act of denying one’s self, to be fully sold-out for Jesus.
This young woman with whom I spoke wanted to be treated like a person, and not an object of scorn. Here was someone that was open to discussing spiritual things, but she wasn’t interested in becoming a follower of Jesus because she saw how some Christians behaved. As we interact with people who don’t know Christ, we must become less so He can become more. What should strike people when they meet Christians is the love of Jesus. As shrewd as serpents, we should know when to speak and when to keep silent; as innocent as doves, there should be no contradiction between our lives and our message.