By Joe LaGuardia
In a society where people seem so easily offended there is no surprise that few call themselves Christians. Christianity is an offensive faith, there is no way around it.
Unfortunately, for too many it has become offensive for the wrong reasons.
Several weeks ago, controversy surrounding a seasonal red coffee cup flooded social media with tirades against the “removal” of Christmas from the public sphere. This past week, an unusual nativity scene in Ohio that depicted the Holy Family, Jesus included, as zombies created a firestorm of protests.
Christians were ready to offend others and throw political correctness to the wind if there was so much as a threat to “take Christ out of Christmas” or mock the birth of Christ. Instead of fighting for the First Amendment right for free speech and championing religious liberty for all, Christians were ready to limit rights of others with whom they disagreed.
These instances only reveal the power of Christian imagination and the swiftness to which Christians play victim in an increasingly secular society.
These instances also reveal the great sensitivity that Christians feel towards notions of religious liberty, often applied with a double-standard in local legislation. We no longer fight legal battles over prayer in schools but over whether Christians should be forced to serve pizzas to same-sex couples or share church campuses with organizations that refuse to discriminate according to sexual orientation.
Christians have changed the nature of the debate from fighting to be included in the public square to fighting for the exclusion of others at the expense of the Bill of Rights.
Presidential GOP candidate Donald Trump’s call to ban Muslim immigrants from entering the country stands is only one example of exclusion by a person of faith (Trump is a Presbyterian) at the cost of fundamental rights that have sustained our nation since its founding.
Jerry Falwell Jr.’s recent encouragement to students at Liberty University to carry concealed weapons is yet another example in which a high-profile Christian leader chose to fester fear and exclusion.
That this comes off as offensive rather than noble is not beside the point; it is the point. It’s a “if we can’t beat them, we’ll offend them” (or, in Falwell’s words, “get them first”) type of campaign that has become none other than a religious badge of honor.
Many Christians find biblical support for this attitude towards secular society in a handful of New Testament scriptures, all too often taken out of context.
It was St. Paul, after all, who claimed that we are not to please people but serve God, all the while claiming that persecution results from the offensive cross of Christ (Gal. 1:10; 5:11). In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian churches, he writes that the message of the cross is but “foolishness to those who are perishing” (1:18).
Why would Christians not use the language of persecution and offense when describing these various interactions with a more inclusive, secular society?
A closer reading at the Bible, however, paints a very different picture when it comes to Christian persecution. St. Paul did not have the world in mind when he wrote about the “offense of the cross.” He targeted his message to the very religious leadership who excluded people based on ethnic, theological and ideological differences.
Later, when St. Paul carried this message into the Gentile church, he argued that people did not have to become Jewish in order to believe in Christ and be saved. Those offended by this radical message of liberation and inclusion were none other than Jewish Christians who placed misguided doctrine over the people whom God had called them to bless.
Paul’s message embodied a prophetic, offensive gospel precisely because it valued inclusion, avoided discrimination and hate-speech, and served all people regardless of the dangers and risk involved.
Paul learned this ethic from Jesus, who offended priests and Pharisees alike by eating with tax collectors and sinners, welcoming children, touching lepers and talking to women, and telling parables that shocked the imagination rather than affirmed the status quo or rallied the troops according to the politics of fear.
Christ affirmed each person as a child of God. His was a mission to build up and embrace, and in every instance he regarded his life and the lives of his followers as something to lose rather than defend (Luke 9:24).
In a world where people of faith are marginalized by radical extremists and sensational news pundits, some of the things that concern us within our homeland should not qualify as Christian persecution or inspire us to deny Constitutional rights of others.
We should be so adamant in our love for others that the only people we turn away are the very ones who have no room in their hearts for people different than they.