I've been moodling about my new involvement with our church's Evangelism Committee as I've been following the lectionary, with its stirring Old Testament longings for restoration and messages of hope and assurance.
Juxtaposed against that, though, is something I read on the Journeys With Jesus lectionary website. (Hat tip to RevGalBlogPal Gord.) Here's just an excerpt, quoting theologian Marcus Borg:
"'When I ask [students] to write a short essay on their impression of Christianity," says Borg, "they consistently use five adjectives: Christians are literalistic, anti-intellectual, self-righteous, judgmental, and bigoted.'"
And here's more, citing the recent book UnChristian by Evangelical social researcher David Kinnaman:
"These broadly and deeply negative views of Christians aren't just superficial stereotypes with no basis in reality, says Kinnaman. Nor are the critics people who've had no contact with churches or Christians. It would be a tragic mistake, he argues, for believers to protest that outsider outrage at Christians is a misperception. Rather, it's based upon their real experiences with today's Christians.
"According to Kinnaman's Barna study, here are the percentages of people outside the church who think that the following words describe present-day Christianity:
* antihomosexual 91%
* judgmental 87%
* hypocritical 85%
* old-fashioned 78%
* too political 75%
* out of touch with reality 72%
* insensitive to others 70%
* boring 68%"
I have to say that I generally do not find Christians, or Christian worship in my tradition, old-fashioned or boring...but speaking as a Christian, I not only understand the rest of these statistics, I've lived them. And it's a constant source of irritation to me, particularly as I travel in gay and lesbian circles, that I have to battle such generalized perceptions.
Bottom line: Among the unchurched, the "good news," as folks outside the church door perceive it, is pretty damned bad news, or at very least irrelevant news.
Here's the challenge: How does a mainstream/mainline faith community -- a community whose words and actions in the greater community are the antithesis of the popular perception of Christians -- overcome these stereotypes? Because I feel that, no matter how "out there" our congregation and others are in terms of being inclusive and welcoming to all, of helping people, of operating from a missional frame of mind as individuals and as a parish -- we're not being heard and seen by people outside our "family circle" and denomination. What's up with that? What can we do about it?