Spend two minutes talking to almost anyone outside the Christian faith and you’re almost certain to hear a list of complaints they have about Christians.
The problem has been around awhile. As Mahatma Ghandi famously (and sadly) said: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
He’s not alone.
The problem with many non-Christians isn’t that they don’t know any Christians. The challenge is they do.
So what gives?
Many Christians would tell you we have an image problem: We’re treated unfairly, we’re being persecuted or we’re just badly misunderstood.
I’m not so sure.
It’s not so much that Christians have an image problem. It’s far more likely that we have an integrity problem.
Do we get misunderstood on some issues? Of course. But that’s outside our control.
There are more than a few issues entirely within our control that give us a bad name with people outside Christianity.
Here are three things Christians do that non-Christians despise.
It doesn’t take long for non-Christians to tell you how much they hate the way Christians judge other people.
Another two minutes on social media will reveal Christians and preachers condemning unchurched people for their sexual habits and preferences, life-style choices and even political views. I doubt this is what Jesus had in mind when he gave his life in love for the world.
Disclosure: Without the mercy and intervention of Christ, I’m very judgmental. And years ago, I realized how devastating judgment and criticism can be to others. So I’m waging a life-long battle against it. Confessing it, repenting of it almost daily.
I realized years ago that very few people get judged into life change. Far more get loved into it.
It also occurred to me that the presence of judgment almost always guarantees an absence of love.
Think about it through the lens of your marriage, a friendship or even someone you work with: It is virtually impossible to love someone and judge someone at the same time.
But wait, you ask: What if they’re making a mistake and I need to correct them?
First of all, look at your mistakes and the depth of your sin, and deal with your issues first. In the process, you’ll encounter a loving God who forgives you despite your rather egregious sin.
And having been loved, you can love others.
I try to remember this rule: If I’m judging someone, I’m not loving them. You can’t judge someone and love them at the same time.
What would happen if Christians stopped judging the world (isn’t that God’s job?) and started loving it instead?
I believe that’s what Jesus did.
2. Be Hypocritical
There’s a word for Christians who say one thing and do another. The word is hypocrite.
It’s far easier to call someone else a hypocrite than it is to admit you’re one.
The truth is that as much as I hate it, I’m a hypocrite. My walk doesn’t always match my talk. That’s why I don’t have a fish on my car. When I’m in a hurry and my natural impatience surfaces, the last thing some person God loves needs to see is a Christian cut him off.
Of course, it’s worse than that. I’m not always a loving husband, kind father, steadfast son, patient boss or even compassionate friend. Like you, I’m a mixture of good and
not-really-that good evil.
What did Paul say? Nothing good lives in me. Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 7:18). That could be a life-verse for me. Well, actually, it kind of is.
Sanctification is a process that never ends.
I am not who I want to be (yet). I am not who God wants me to be. But I’m different. I’m changing. And Christ is at work in me.
I believe that’s the reality for every person who calls Jesus Savior.
So what do imperfect Christians do? I mean just deciding you’re not going to make mistakes never keeps you from making mistakes.
I think the answer is simple: You watch what you say.
Don’t pretend to be something or someone you’re not.
I find the more humility I add to my words, the smaller the gap is between who I am and who I say I am.
When you admit your shortcomings, you build a bridge between you and others. Owning your sin is different than living in it; confession is never an excuse for complacency.
So what do you do if you live in the tension between what you usually say or want to say and what you do?
I think you change both.
You change how you live through the power of Christ day by day (getting better), and at the same time, you change how you talk about your faith, yourself and how you live (adding more honestly and humility to your words). I wrote about things modern Pharisees say today in this post (the Pharisees were an ultra-religious group Jesus strongly criticized).
Want a quick fix for hypocrisy? Accelerate your walk. Humble your talk.
Nothing closes the gap between word and action faster than that.
3. Stink at Friendship
Friendship is hard.
We all have ideas of finding the perfect friends with whom we’ll never disagree, share 1,000 common interests and ride off into the sunset with.
Well, very few human relationships ever work that way. Even in marriage, the best marriages are almost always ones in which people have overcome deep and real obstacles to find a powerful love that’s far deeper than emotion.
Perhaps the first obstacle between non-Christians and Christians is that relatively few Christians actively pursue meaningful friendships with people who don’t share their faith. Between churches that offer programs five nights a week (leaving little time for Christians to make friends outside the church) and Christians who are afraid of the world, many Christians don’t pursue authentic relationships with non-Christians.
Which means much of the interaction non-Christians have is situational and observational rather than truly relational. They observe Christians in life and at work, notices traces of judgment and hypocrisy, and draw all kinds of conclusions. I get that.
But Jesus went so much deeper than that. Jesus pursued friendships with people who were different than him. Whose lifestyles were far different than anything God had in mind for them (or for people in relationship with him).
Yet Jesus was their friend. He went to their house for dinner. They traveled together. They shared moments and meals and life.
It scandalized the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, and sadly, when it’s practiced authentically, it still scandalizes most of us today.
Think about it. When was the last time you hung out with a hooker?
When was the last time you had someone who’s not your skin color, not your political persuasion and doesn’t share your value system over for dinner, or when was the last time you broke bread with an addict (who’s not in recovery)?
Often when Christians do pursue ‘friendships’ with people far from God, it’s more of a project than it is a friendship.
But people aren’t projects; people are people. People can smell it a mile away if you see them as a project, not a person.
Which leads us to another tension in our friendships with those outside the Christian faith.
Some Christians do have relationships with unchurched people. So: How exactly do you talk about faith?
Most of us swing to one extreme or the other: Either we always talk about faith, or we never talk about it. Both are mistakes.
Always talk about faith, and you’re turning the relationship into a project. Never talk about, and you miss the most important thing in life.
Real friendships always drill down on real issues, and few things are more significant than the meaning of life.
How do you talk about it? Naturally, organically, in the context of your story is a great place to start.
Real friendships are like that.
Want a simpler place than that to begin? Try this. Just like the person. As my friend Reggie Joiner says, people will never believe you love them if they feel you don’t like them.
What Do You Think?
Anything you see that people who are not Christians despise about Christians?
If you’re a Christian, what helps you overcome these issues, and what other issues do you struggle with?
This article originally appeared here.