Many in the popular media seem to relish exposing “skeletons in the closet” whenever an individual or a group that claims to be Christian does something bad. “Hypocrite!” they shout. “Why do you think you can judge others when you are doing worse things yourselves?” A recent media circus has made political fodder of a Christian family’s pain, and that’s wrong.
But even though the circus is wrong, it’s normal and understandable. This is only one of the more recent scandals involving those who claim the name of Christ. Those who would rather continue living without any restraint on their lifestyle love to demonize those who fail to live up to the standards they themselves portray as right. “Bad” people feel justified in their badness when good people do bad things too. And talk of “forgiveness” and “bad choices” doesn’t address the real issues.
The media will not be silenced when Christians engage in bad behavior involving sex, lies, or money. While such publicity may be personally excruciating and publically damaging to the name of Christ, I want to look deeper. While there are real benefits to adopting an openly Christian lifestyle, why are the lives of many who claim Christianity no better than others?
The data is not all negative, but there’s plenty of evidence to say that on many fronts Christians are behaving badly all too often:
- Young adults who regularly attend church are 50% more likely to become obese by middle-age than those who do not. (Northwestern University study)
- 77% of young Christian men admit to looking at pornography regularly. (2014 Pornography Survey of Christian Men)
- Those who pledge to remain sexually abstinent until marriage (often promoted by conservative Christians) are just as likely to become sexually active, but do not protect themselves from pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases as often. (National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health)
And we could talk about divorce, domestic violence, substance abuse, child abuse, marital infidelity, and much more.
Conservative Christianity may not predispose to bad behavior, but it certainly seems that it doesn’t prevent it either. The point is not whether this data is true or not; there are many alternative viewpoints. Indeed, those who are part of a community of faith generally engage in fewer harmful health behaviors and live longer. Rather, the point is that we’re not delivering on what many people believe we have promised. I can understand why unbelievers may look and mock.
Why Doesn’t Faith Prevent Bad Behavior?
The Bible graphically displays the bad behavior of even those who follow God, such as Moses (Exodus 2:11-12), David and Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:1-5), and Peter (Mark 14:66-72). God can and does forgive, but He does not excuse. There are often consequences of our behavior that we still experience.
There are 3 reasons why our Christian faith, as many people experience it, is not more effective at preventing bad behavior. And these are all things we can do something about.
- We deal with the head only instead of the heart. “Teaching what’s right” may not do anything to change behavior. Parents, teachers, and church leaders must become much more concerned with character development than intellectual knowledge. That doesn’t come by cramming more head knowledge into someone’s brain. It only comes through caring confrontation, living by example, brutal honesty, and focusing on internal spirituality first.
- We refuse to engage with real issues. Problems such as child abuse, addiction, violence, or inappropriate sexuality demand something more than “Just don’t do it!” What is a husband to do when his wife becomes addicted to prescription narcotics? How is a young person supposed to deal with their growing sexual urges? Keeping young people isolated in church groups or insular families will not keep popular media or their own sinful nature from providing multiple opportunities for bad behavior – in or outside of their comfortable environment. Struggling believers deserve better.
- We offer shame instead of transformation. Society provides plenty of shame for some behaviors and tries to avoid shame for others. Shame is only a nasty taskmaster; it doesn’t change anything. The gospel does not say, “Clean up first, and then you can be a part of us.” Neither does it say, “That’s OK. What you’ve done doesn’t matter.” Instead it says “Come on! Through God’s grace you don’t have to live that way any longer! You can have a new heart and become a new person!” (Hebrews 8:10)
What if our communities of faith, our churches, our homes, were places where addicts, child abusers, divorcees, or those struggling with gambling, pornography, anger, obesity, and destructive sexual behavior were both held accountable, and then truly helped to experience the transformation God offers – and requires? Yes, legal, health, and other consequences must be dealt with. But God’s people should be focused on transformation before, during, and after.
I don’t know what the media would say. But I know we’d have a bunch of Exhibit A’s who could stand up and say, “Once I was lost, but now I’m found.” And if their lives backed up that claim, some people would have to listen. We’d have a group of people who, like Moses, David, Peter, and others could say, “Yes, that was me. But by God’s grace that’s not me now.” We’d have people who overcame any and every sinful behavior and are now demonstrating what God can do when His Spirit truly changes a person. (2 Corinthians 3:18)
Rather than “good people” or “bad people,” we would have changed people. And we could say, “And such were some of you.” (1 Corinthians 6:11) But you’re not that way any longer.
Your Turn: Why do you think “good people” often struggle with doing bad things? Leave a comment below.
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