You’ve probably heard it said before: “So why don’t moderate Muslims publicly condemn terrorism?” Turns out they do, quite a few of them, but because it’s a less sensational story it doesn’t get reported all that well.
But it begs a related question: “Why are Christians so reluctant to publicly condemn the sins and excesses of other Christians?” Why has there not been an enormous outcry from Christians about the latest Catholic child abuse revelations, and the Church’s evil attempts at misdirecting blame to homosexuals and the ‘liberal media’ rather than accepting that it’s done wrong and publicly repenting? Why aren’t Christians at the front lines in condemning the hypocrisy of a Ted Haggard, or the obscenities perpetrated by Fred Phelps and his church?
Perhaps it’s that Christians feel – in the face of the evidence – somewhat beleaguered and under threat, and it would feel like empowering their enemies to attack their friends. It may also be a side effect of sectarianism: the Protestants don’t feel like they can criticise the Catholics because of the history of fights between them, and Protestants also feel that the actions of the Catholics don’t reflect badly on them… because they make a tight distinction. And there are infinite variations of sects and cults and offshoots and denominations… with the result that people only pay attention to the sins of their own tiny corner of the Christian world. But most non-Christians tend to see all Christians as a large homogeneous group, so that the actions of one reflect on all… and the failure to stand up and condemn those actions also reflects on all.
But I would argue that the on-going scandals around the actions of Christians who make the world a worse place rather than a better one are doing more to harm Christianity and vitiate its positive effects in the world than any Dawkins or Hitchens. How are people going to convert to Christianity when their first associations when they hear of it are priests who raped hundreds of boys being covered up and protected from prosecution by the church, and moved on to new parishes with new boys and the community given no warning? And so on.
People tend to take the third commandment – the one about not taking the Lord’s name in vain – as being about blasphemy. Ireland has even recently created new laws about blasphemy. But I believe it is about taking the Lord’s name by proclaiming ourselves to be Christians – followers of Christ – and then bringing that name into disrepute by our actions. It’s as though someone decided to call himself a Lions club member and then made a habit of preying on children: he would be summarily ejected from the club for bringing its name into disrepute. In the same way, when Christians do dishonorable things, they bring God’s name into disrepute: and when other Christians are silent they implicate themselves.
As always, it’s instructive to look at what Jesus himself actually did, rather than what his purported followers say and do. What did he do? He cleaned up the Church first. He made himself a whip and went in and cleared the merchants out of the temple. (As opposed to the way the Christian church seems to have wholeheartedly climbed into bed with the most oppressive forms of robber baron capitalism in the last few decades.) His most excoriating words were reserved for the religious and political leaders of the day, whom he described as ‘tombs painted on the outside and full of death on the inside’, ‘a generation of vipers’ and a number of other choice epithets.
He got a reputation as a party animal, because he spent his time hanging out with the hookers and the drunks… and he turned their lives around and they followed him. He didn’t judge them, he showed them a better way. But the powerful who were distorting religion and using it to enrich themselves and oppress others he attacked at every opportunity.
I’m not sure I really count as a Christian any more, though I definitely see myself as a follower of Christ, but I’ll say it loud: the Church (in whichever sectarian flavours) has continued to do rotten and unconscionable things. If it’s to have a positive influence in the world, it needs to clean up its own house. And good Christians need to be willing to say loudly “Enough!”, and to state that they cannot support what’s been going on. Only when the church becomes Christ-like will it again become a positive influence in the world. It’s time to clean out the temple.