Recently, I was reading something posted by a friend who is currently a missionary with a different church. In writing about trusting God during times of difficult trials, my friend referenced Brittany Maynard, the terminally ill woman whose assisted suicide was widely covered in the media. My friend said that she didn’t know the details of the story, because missionaries in her church focus on the people around them, not on the news. This seemed a little odd to me.
(By the way, I’m not writing this to argue in favor of or against Ms. Maynard’s decision to end her life. I am also not writing this to argue whether my friend’s church is genuinely part of Christianity and whether or not my friend and her fellow church members are saved or not. I know people with strong opinions on that, but this isn’t the time or place. The point I’m going to make here applies to all branches of Christianity, and to some extent to viewpoints other than Christianity as well. Let’s just leave all of these things between the individuals involved and God for now.)
Anyway, not following the news seems odd to me for a missionary, because if your goal is to help people and teach them that they need to know Jesus, then you should understand who these people are, where they are coming from, and the world that they live in. Using the example of Brittany Maynard, a missionary, or a Christian in general, should understand that a lot of people find Ms. Maynard’s actions heroic and justified, and feel that taking one’s life when one’s health begins to deteriorate irreversibly is a brave and noble decision. This view flies in the face of what many Christians and many churches believe, that life is given by God and should not be taken away in this manner; that God is found even in suffering; and that there is always hope that Jesus will heal even the most supposedly terminal physical ailments. One who wishes to teach people that they need Jesus will need to meet these people where they are, because people who do not know Jesus aren’t moved by Sunday school reasons like not going to Hell.
I know some Christians who seemingly spend all their lives in Christian bubbles, without a lot of interaction with people outside of the body of Christ. What I think bothers me the most about these people is how they seem to make such a big deal about all the secular music they don’t listen to and all the R-rated movies they don’t go to, as if that somehow makes them better than anyone who does. I have a really hard time believing that Jesus is impressed by all that. Jesus befriended sinners and spent time with them in their world (see, for example, Matthew 9:9-13) without participating in their sinful behavior. He never went around and made a big deal about how holy he was, and some of his strongest words of criticism were directed at those very religious leaders who made a big deal of how holy they were (see, for example, Matthew 23, the whole chapter).
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think there is anything wrong with choosing not to engage in certain behaviors. For example, I choose to abstain from alcohol because I’ve seen too many bad decisions made under the influence of alcohol, and I’ve seen alcoholism ruin too many lives. But I’m not going to go around and act like I’m better than those who drink, nor am I going to try to change the behavior of Christians who do choose to drink in moderation.
For so many of these Christians in the bubble, their faith gets reduced to slogans and buzzwords that mean nothing to those outside the faith. Why is Christianity right and other religions wrong? “Because Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship.” Why do bad things happen to good people? “Because God has a plan for you.” Why do we believe that homosexual behavior is sinful? “Because it’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” I’d find it surprising if anyone was convinced to embrace these positions by hearing these slogans alone. Those outside the body of Christ don’t see the faith-vs.-works dichotomy in the use of the words “religion” and “relationship,” because that slogan presents the distinction using words that don’t describe it well at all. To non-Christians, it’s hard to understand God’s plan without seeing a context of how God has worked throughout the history of his people, and Adam and Eve are just mythological figures. And kids who grow up with a faith as shallow as these slogans eventually will meet atheists and homosexuals who are genuinely nice people, and they will have their faith tested in ways that they can’t see God’s plan, and that is precisely what causes them to leave the faith.
During the time Cruithne, the ex-roommate I didn’t get along with, was tearing me down on a regular basis, he said that I was immature and weak in my faith because (among other reasons) I wasn’t out there bringing people to Christ, and I was wasting my time with non-Christian friends if I wasn’t trying to bring them to Christ. Really? My friends don’t like to be treated as projects, and my relationships with my friends go a lot deeper than that. I spend time with my friends because I love and care about these people. I’m going to be who I am, I’m going to continue to love these people as Christ would love them, and I’m going to bring up Jesus when it comes up naturally, when my friends are ready to hear. Sometimes all these people need is to know a Christian who isn’t going to try to force Jesus down their throat or act like a self-righteous jerk all the time.
One time a few years ago, I was one of the few sober people at a raging drunken birthday party. I was laughing really loud at something, someone was commenting on my reaction, and I said it was funny, because I was having the loudest reaction despite being completely sober. The birthday boy, who had been drinking quite a bit, walked by at that point, overheard that one sentence, and said, “You know, it’s really cool that you can come hang out with us and not drink and still have a good time.” God needed him to have that realization at that moment for some reason. I can be a part of that world without becoming drunk. I know some people can’t do that, because of their past; the temptation is too great. But these people know that I am going to go have fun with them and not judge them for choosing to behave differently.
If I am ever going to share the Gospel with someone who doesn’t know Jesus, I need to know the world that they live in. I need to understand what their lives are like, what they experience, what drives them. I need to know their fundamental beliefs and their views on the reason for existence. And I can’t do that if I stay in a bubble. I can’t do that without building relationships with people who don’t know Jesus. And that is what confused me about my missionary friend’s post about not following the news. I asked her about this, and she said that they ask the people they serve about where they are coming from and what is important to them. So they do at least make an effort to reach people where they are, and that is important. I still would prefer to know what is going on in the news, but I’m not in a place to tell my friend how to do her job.
This is still something I struggle with, though. Cruithne has a point; even though I spend a lot of time around non-Christians, I don’t really spend much time talking about what I really believe. This is probably something I need to work on. And just so we’re clear, I’m not writing this as a cop-out, but I believe that all have sinned, that our sins separate us from God, and that only by believing that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior can we receive eternal life and reconcile with God. Doing good works in Jesus’ name do not save us, but those should be the response if we genuinely believe that Jesus is Lord.