4.07.2013

Misconceptions about Christians Part II

As I mentioned in my previous post, here, I met with my Pastor (Tim Swanson from Shepherd of the Hills in Flagstaff, AZ; disclaimer this is from a Lutheran [ELCA] point of view) to discuss some misconceptions about Christians. Remember we each have our own theological lenses, and they may differ from your own. The following is a Q&A with him.

Misconception #1: All Christians are Conservative

This was one of my preconceived notions about Christians. Matt was the first Christian I [knowingly] met that was liberal. Before I met Matt, I was pretty convinced I could never even become a Christian if I wanted to because I was so liberal politically. 

Here is what my Pastor had to say about this (I have mostly paraphrased him here, adding quotations when exact statements are used): If people were to actually follow what Jesus taught, they would find themselves very liberal. Unfortunately, fundamentalists that are conservative often try to find places in the bible to back their political decisions. As a matter of fact, Jesus was very political-- but political in a very liberal, reaching out to everyone, sense. "The only people He condemns are those that are condemning others." 



Misconception #2: Christians [and the Bible] are Against Gay Marriage
Being liberal, and Christian, I believe that everyone deserves to be respected, loved, and to love whomever they choose. Before I came to the faith, I told myself I could never love a God that stipulated whom He loved based on who you were attracted to. Boy was I wrong. And sadly, I think many people hold this misconception because so many people try to use the bible to justify their hate. 

Now, this one is tricky because many Christians are against gay marriage, but the bible isn't.One can be homophobic, but one can't use the bible to justify that. The term "homosexuality" wasn't translated into this until the last century. In Corinthians, Paul condemns homosexuality using a word that is better translated into "pedophilia." Plato had taught that man-boy love was the greatest form of love, and that love of women was only good for children. He saw taking a young boy and having sex with him as a noble deed. Paul didn't think this was proper, and he saw it as taking advantage of a young boy, so when he condemns it in Corinthians, that is what he is referring to. Unfortunately, that gets translated into "homosexual." Another area of the bible that touches on this topic is in Leviticus, where there are two things going on. First, they are building a new nation and it is important for men to produce children so masturbation and sex with a man are discouraged because it is a waste of the man's seed. Second, when one went to war with another during this time, the winning nation would rape the opposing nation as a way of humiliating them, but this was also seen as a waste of the man's seed, so an end was put to this. There is nothing in the bible that condemns a loving relationship with people of the same sex. 

Misconception #3: To be Christian, you must only believe in Creationism. 
Again, being so scientifically minded, I just couldn't get on board with the creation story. To me, evolution was pretty solid evidence, and creationism was lacking that evidence. Now, it makes more sense and I feel there is room for both. 

Pastor Tim shared with me that creation is story, that's right--- a theological story. It is not scientific at all and is in no way meant to be. Therefore, to compare it with evolution or see it as an alternative is flawed in itself. Pastor Tim shocked me with this next one, "I would hate it if they allowed the teaching of creation as a science." Because again-- it is not intended to be. "It's like this... God creates the world in 7 days, 7 is the number representing the perfect amount of time, there are 7 paragraphs, it is a play on the number 7." It's a theological story. Therefore, if you think about it, science and creation are totally compatible, and it only tends to be the fundamentalists that push creationism. Sadly, justifications of this are made out of ignorance.

Part of my mistake was trying to find the PROOF. There simply is no proof, and that is why being a Christian takes so much faith. It goes against everything society teaches us about the ultimate truth and the scientific method, but that's OK. 

Misconception #4: Jesus wants Christians to follow the Old Testament
Some of you might recognize this quote from Part I, "In Matthew 5:17-18 it states that Jesus wants Christians to follow the old testament word for word. What’s the deal with this?"

So... what is the deal with this? Although this wasn't a misconception I had, I did read "A Year of Living Biblically," in which the author actually attempts to live by the Old Testament for a year. Now, the answer to this question is a tough one for me to understand, so I will try my best to get across what Pastor Tim shared with me. These verses are the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. He's taking the Old Testament laws and turning them inwards so it becomes you have to love your enemies. Jesus takes an eye for an eye away and says your relationship with God has to go above the scribes and Pharisees because they reject people that don't follow their rules (meaning the Old Testament). He wants us to look beyond that. He wants us to go past the words in the Old Testament and by doing that we skip over a lot of them.  

Misconception #5: Christians are Judgmental
Although this was a misconception I found online, I totally would have held this belief two years ago-- easily. I had this idea in my head that Christians were "holier than thou," and that they weren't afraid to make that clear to you. As I have read more of the bible and learned more about God, those individuals who do behave in this way have some serious praying to do. The bible teaches us that we are sinners, that we will never be fully free from that sin, and that we shouldn't judge others because our sins are equal to theirs no matter what they are. If you look at the model Jesus gives us, as mentioned above, the only ones he judges are those that judge others. "Christians that are judgmental are being just like the Pharisees." We need to leave the judgment up to God. 


Misconception #6: There Can't be a God with all the Horrible Things that Happen in the World. 
So, why does God let bad things happen? The book of Job talks about this, and although it is not a true story it is a parable story. Job feels that he is unjustly treated, so he challenges God to go to court. God responds by asking him who he is to ask him about when bad things happen. This kind of conveys the point that God is so big and the mystery is so big that there really aren't any answers. That we shouldn't condemn God for these things, but instead trust in Him. The author of "Love, Power, and Justice," Paul Tillich, says although God has the power to not have anything bad happen, if nothing bad happened we wouldn't have any freedom. We can't experience life without getting hurt along the way. Since we have the freedom to make choices, there is a chance that accidents can happen. For example, think of all the bad things that happened to the disciples despite their faithfulness to Jesus throughout parts of the bible. 


Misconception #7: The Bible Can't be the "Word of God" because Man Edits and Translates it. 
Wrong. Since translations can mean so many different things, and it is especially hard to translate into the Western Language, many of the misconceptions we see come from incorrect or out of context translations. Martin Luther said we don't worship the bible, we worship Jesus who Himself is the Word of God, and that the bible reveals it. It is just a book. Although the different denominations see this differently (The Missouri Snyod would say it is the infallible Word of God while the ELCA would say it is the inspired Word of God), there are poor translations regardless. Take the example of Palm Sunday. Luke and Mark say Jesus rode in on one donkey, while in Matthew it says there were two donkeys. Since Matthew couldn't read the Hebrew text at the time, he quotes a Greek translation (Pastor Tim is well-versed in both languages so I'm not just spitting this out) and that is what he bases his story on (quoting Zacharia). If you feel the need to take the bible as the exact Word of God that has no discrepancies, you might have a difficult time explaining these errors away, because there are many versions of the same stories throughout. 

You might being to see a pattern here. Sadly, many people base their ideas about Christians on extreme fundamentalists that in no way, shape, or form represent Christians as a whole. I hope that this post was helpful to you, and that it works to counter your misconceptions, or that it is helpful when talking to someone who might still have them. I know this is some sensitive stuff, and you don't necessary have to agree with me on everything, but it is my hope that it will help someone maybe see past what they think they already know. If you disagree with any of these statements, I would really love to know your opinion! I'm not trying to create a hostile environment, and I really like to learn about what others think, so by all means, please share.


I also found a great website that aims to combat some of these issues we are struggling with, learn more here

I want to leave you with a quote that I was hoping to elaborate on, but I think it speaks bounds on its own. 



“I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”--Ghandi

I would like to thank Pastor Tim Swanson for taking the time to meet with me and talk about these issues.

2 comments :

  1. Oh Cassie. This is wonderful! How did you know what I've been struggling with??? I'm taking a History of Christianity class this session and learning who Jesus was historically is really eye opening. A main point our professor has made to us is that you can't fully understand the bible without looking at it from a Jewish perspective. It was written by Jews for the Jewish people. Things suddenly become totally different when you do this. Another point we must remember too, is that Jesus himself was an Orthodox Jew. The word Christianity/Christian didn't even exist until decades after Jesus left this earth.

    I'm so glad you touched on homosexuality. That is truly a huge misconception!

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  2. Thanks so much for taking the time to read it. I'm glad this spoke to you.

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