Are we turning Christianity into a joke?

The light turned yellow as he approached the traffic lights. He did the right thing and stopped at the light, even though he might have beaten the red light by accelerating through the intersection.

The tailgating woman behind him was furious and honked her horn, screaming in frustration, as she missed her chance to get through the intersection.

As she was still in mid-rant, she heard a tap on her window and looked up into the face of a very serious police officer.

The officer ordered her to exit her car with her hands up. He took her to the police station where she was searched, fingerprinted, photographed and placed in a holding cell. After a couple of hours, a policeman approached the cell and opened the door.

She was escorted back to the booking desk where the arresting officer was waiting with her personal effects.

He said, “I’m very sorry for this mistake. You see, I pulled up behind your car while you were blowing your horn, giving the guy in front of you the finger and swearing and cursing at him. I noticed the ‘What Would Jesus Do’ bumper sticker, the ‘Choose Life’ license plate, the ‘Follow Me to Sunday School’ bumper sticker, and the chrome-plated Christian fish emblem on the boot, so naturally…

I assumed you had stolen the car.”

This ‘joke of the week’ featured in my husband’s golf club newsletter last week. After a frustrated sigh because it is so easy for others to try and ‘catch us out’ in our behaviours in order to bring scorn and derision on the Christian faith, it did provoke my thinking in the following ways.

Firstly, it is a reasonable expectation that Christians try and live up to what the Bible call us to. It would be too easy to say that the behaviour of the woman in the joke could be justified and excused in some way. She was having a bad day, she normally wouldn’t behave in this way, she was in a hurry, one can’t be expected to be good all the time….

To call ourselves a Christian, let alone, emblazon it across our cars, means we do need to give attention to the way we behave. A simple reminder of the fruit of the Spirit as discussed in Galatians Chapter 5, reminds us that we need to act out of patience and self-control, not out of impatience. Our faith should make a difference to the way we drive and interact with other drivers because faith should impact all aspects of our lives, not just the overtly ‘religious bits’. The policeman was right to assume that there seemed to be some conflict between what was being professed and what he witnessed.

In the same way, we need to consider our behaviour when waiting on the frustratingly long checkout queue, when a decision goes against your team at a sporting event, when waiting your turn behind the indecisive customer, when on the receiving end of bad service, when held up by a delayed flight. It's so easy for us to respond in anger, frustration or annoyance. And yet... our ongoing transformation as the people of God calls for a different response. We don’t want to turn Christianity into a joke because of a poor choice of words and actions.

However, this sort of joke or critique also provides us with an insight into how many people ‘see’ Christians and Christianity. This joke, and much of the media commentary about Christians, shows us that many people have a very limited understanding of faith. They see it as adherence to some strict moral code and that’s about it. It’s all about what we do and what we don’t do. No wonder they see our human failings as hypocrisy.

The opportunity to engage more fully with our non-Christian friends and family members is one we must embrace. Not because we don’t want to be the butt of their jokes, but because we want them to understand the truth about the gospel. To be a Christian and to believe in the truth about the gospel is to be accepted and loved by a God who accepts us with all our faults and inconsistencies. To be a Christian is not about living a perfect life and being ‘good’ all the time. Somehow we need to get this message out there, otherwise Christians and the church will continue to be ridiculed for not ‘living up’ to society’s expectations.

As Christians, we are always going to disappoint those around us; that’s part of being human! But as we gather together in authentic Christian communities, it is our desire that the ‘heart’ of what we are on about will come through. It will provide grace and forgiveness when our actions don’t match our words, but it will also provide a welcoming space for others to see what the true story of the gospel is all about.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”  (Galatians 5:22-23)