“We love God only as much as we love the person we love the least.”
Gandhi was quoted as saying that he would convert to Christianity if he ever met a Christian who practiced his faith. Gandhi had read the New Testament and was convinced by the message. Although he had Christian clergy as friends, he evidently did not see them as practicing Christian principles consistently. Gandhi was looking for radical saints or heroic Christians. He was responding to Jesus’ message “by their fruits you shall know then.” (Mat 7:15-20) Unfortunately, radical Christians are few and far between. (I wonder if he ever met Billy Graham or Mother Theresa of Calcutta and if, so, would he still declare he had never met a practicing Christian?)
Negativity is a very powerful sales approach. Whether it is gossip or a negative television ad in a political campaign, negativity is very convincing to many. Political candidates who refuse, on religious grounds, to run negative ads, lose. Candidates who run the most vicious ads, regardless of their truth, win. People’s reputations have been ruined by false gossip and accusations. For some reason we prefer to hear the negative about others rather than the positives. We readily accept that a negative is true while being suspicious of a positive.
Unfortunately, we take this attitude into our spiritual lives as well. We delight in the exposed sins of others because, somehow, it makes us feel superior.
Many religious leaders, especially those trying to promote their own variation of religion, have found that negativity is a very powerful tool in evangelization. Martin Luther, the founder of Protestantism, ran a very successful negative ad campaign against the Catholic Church. Many of his subsequent followers have followed his example. Every new Christian sect has had to demonstrate how their interpretation of the Bible is superior to all others, and to do so have had to demonstrate all the others are wrong.
Negativity sells in Christianity just as effectively as it does in politics.
For hundreds of years Christianity preached against Judaism. Christians blamed the Jews for killing Jesus. For hundreds of years Christians have discriminated against Jews. Jews were either prevented from living in a country or were required to live in isolation. The Holocaust taught Christians that their bigotry and discrimination had lethal, albeit unintended, consequences.
For some Protestant leaders, attacking the Catholic Church is very popular. Some teach that Catholicism is the ‘Whore of Babylon’ and therefore to be despised. Others say that the Rosary is blasphemy because “it is not Biblical.” These kinds of comments are based on ignorance of Catholicism. For example, the primary prayer in the Rosary, the Hail Mary has 2 parts: the quotations from Luke 1:28, 42 (Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition) and a request for prayer. The second major prayer is the Our Father which is found in Luke 11: 2-4. So, any Christian leader claiming the Rosary is not Biblical based, exposes his ignorance of both the Rosary and the Bible.
It saddens me to hear stories about Bible Study leaders, especially those who are responsible for teaching children, wasting time criticizing the Catholic faith. Many children are taught that Catholics worship statues and Mary. Some say Catholics do not have a personal relationship with Jesus and, therefore, are not saved. Others insist that Catholics have an incorrect Bible, not realizing that their own Bible is based upon the Catholic Bible. The shame is in not having spent any time looking up the available facts to see if what is being taught is true. The apparent need to feel superior overrides teaching Jesus’ message.
Perhaps this need to criticize the Catholic Church springs from jealousy. Remember, the Jewish church leaders were very effective in their negative ad campaign against Jesus. (John 11:44-53) Even after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, they did not believe him and spent countless hours trying to figure out ways to silence him. As we know, they were successful. Do Christian leaders really want to follow their example?
Some Christian leaders have created great confusion on what is a sin and what is not. They also teach a difference of opinion on whether there is eternal punishment for sin. There is almost no preaching on hell. For those who believe in a life after death, many believe they will go to heaven, no matter how they live on earth. It is a comforting idea but is not what Jesus taught. Jesus was very clear that behavior has consequences and that people choose. Why aren’t Christian leaders teaching that?
For some Christian leaders, keeping their congregations placid and satisfied is more important than teaching the hard truths that Jesus taught. Jesus was never shy of offending anyone by his teaching. He never minced words. He was more concerned about saving souls than maintaining a following. If anyone doubts this, read chapter six of the Gospel of John.
Christians say they believe that Jesus is a role model for their attitudes and behavior. Jesus never attacked the beliefs of another faith. Except for hypocrisy and injustice, Jesus didn’t attack or negatively judge anyone. Jesus pointed out when people were mistreating others, but he did not condemn sinners for their sins. Instead he asked them to stop sinning. Do Christian leaders follow this example? Or do they say, “I leave it to your conscience to decide how to act.”
The Church of Satan is an outspoken anti-Christian, anti-church organization, that deliberately seeks the negative. They worship Satan and accept sin as natural and desirable. Satanists say Christianity expects too much from their followers, therefore don’t bother to try. Christian leaders are called to denounce Satan and his works.
Because of their profession, Christian leaders are expected to teach and act according to the standard of behavior taught by Jesus in the Gospels and reiterated by his apostles and early church teachings, regardless of their sect or denomination. The pastoral letters of Paul to Timothy give specific directions on how a Christian leader should act. “The Gospels are our marching orders.” (Mother Angelica)
Jesus referred to the Pharisees as “whitened sepulchers” (Matthew 23:27), meaning that on the outside they appear to be holy and pious men, but on the inside, they are filled with pride and corruption. Christian leaders who preach a sermon of hate meet this description. The frightening thing is that their congregations believe they are teaching the truth and leave feeling smug with satisfaction because they are not like ‘those others.’
It is time Christian leaders stopped trying to “sell” their particular brand of Christianity and instead spread the message Jesus wanted taught. (If Christian leaders were all preaching the same message, there wouldn’t be 40,000 Christian sects!) Jesus taught love (Matthew 5:43-48), acceptance (Luke 6:42) and forgiveness (Mat 18:21-22; Luke 7:36-50), not hate, prejudice and discrimination. Jesus taught, “hate the sin, love the sinner.”
During his years of ministry, Jesus told many stories; stories with a moral. Many of these stories are examples of how people should behave, not just toward God, but toward one another. The story of the Good Samaritan demonstrates love of neighbor, even if that ‘neighbor’ is of a different faith group. There are stories of the punishment meted out to those who abuse others. There are stories about forgiving other people for real or imagined offenses.
As Jesus said, by their fruits you shall know them. A good tree bears good fruit, a bad tree bears rotten fruit. Christians, especially Christian leaders, are called to be good trees bearing good fruit.