Do you have any idea what people think about you when you tell them you’re a Christian? If you are walking closely with God and have already established some sort of foundational relationship with a friend, they probably have a pretty accurate assumption of what the Bible calls a Christian because you have lived it out well in front of them. However, if you say “Christian” and they really don’t know you, their idea of what you are like is most likely a very inaccurate picture of the truth…and things can get awkward.
This makes me sad for a number of reasons:
- I want people to know the real me.
- I want others to have a genuine picture of a follower of Christ.
- Stereotypes of the American Christian are (like other stereotypes) very negative.
- The stereotype of the American Christian usually comes from media.
- The people in the media are creating their stereotypes from a few idiots who have represented Christianity very poorly.
- Idiots are shaping the average American’s opinion of Christians.
- If the average American believes everything they see in the media, they are most likely idiots themselves.
I know this is a lot to be sad about, but I think you can follow my train of logic pretty well. The truth, of course, is the reality of who you are as an authentic follower of Jesus will probably never match up with what people think you are based on the aforementioned stereotype. To this day, I have never seen a good representation of what I consider to be a genuine Christian in modern American media (movies, television, books). Never.
Now, I know I haven’t seen every single movie or TV show out there, and I surely haven’t read every novel or piece of literature, but I’m still on the prowl for an accurate depiction that would make me say, “Yeah, that’s what a real Bible-believing Christian is like.”
Recently, I watched a teen comedy movie with a buddy of mine. Although we thought the movie was incredibly clever and smartly written, we both agreed that, for as smart as the writers were to create the kind of dialogue they did in the movie, they were completely off target in their depiction of a Christian high schooler (at least any of the Christian high-schoolers I’ve ever known). The Christians in the movie weren’t just hypocrites who loved reveling in their hypocrisy, they were the evil villains who enjoyed heaping judgment, grief, anger, and hate on anyone who wasn’t as morally “pure” as they were. And to add injury to insult, at the end of the film (spoiler alert) nearly everyone in the movie is redeemed in some way except for the judgmental Christians. When this funny film was over, I found myself sad because of the disgraceful representation of Christ followers.
In early movie history, over-exaggerated representations of people groups were commonplace…especially with ethnic minorities. Today, however, Hollywood is overly sensitive about accurately portraying the reality of people groups in a way that is not stereotypical or offensive—with the exception of Christians.
For some reason, it’s open season on Jesus Freaks, who are (in the minds of Hollywood writers) completely out of touch with reality, and harshly critical of all people. Does this upset you? Maybe it does, but it’s not really the reason I’m telling you all of this.
The reason I point out these stereotypes is to help you understand that many people you encounter will already have a preconceived notion about what you are like because of the groundwork laid by Hollywood and other culture-shapers. When you tell someone you are a Christian and you love Jesus, it’s very possible they will believe some things about you that aren’t altogether true or even close to reality.
Because of the stereotype, you aren’t just a Christian hypocrite anymore—you’re a hypocrite who always votes Republican, hates homosexuals, destroys abortion clinics, judges everyone who isn’t like you, protests immorality with obnoxious hate-filled handmade signs, and doesn’t really listen to anyone…ever. These are some very difficult hurdles to jump over before you can even get to the simple communication of who you really are and what you truly believe.
Christians now have to work very hard to erase the prejudices brought on by a few bad examples in the past. There’s a reason Jesus said, “Follow me” and not “Follow my followers.” Far too often, we set a very bad example for how a Christ-follower should live, but that in itself stands as a highlight of Jesus’ magnificent beauty and perfection, right? We are extremely flawed, but Christ chooses to accept and love us anyway.
Tim Keller once said most people in the world are probably our moral superiors, yet the only difference between them and us is that we live in grace as forgiven. We are not forgiven because of what we do, but because of what Jesus Christ has done for us.
The contrast between the truth of authentic Christianity and stereotyped Hollywood Christianity is drastically sharp, and the only way we can prove the world wrong is by showing people the difference, one by one.
I refuse to roll over and accept what the world dishes out about Christians, but the only way I can fight it is by communicating the truth via living my life in undisputed allegiance to Christ the King while fervently loving others. Yes, it’s an uphill battle, but that battle is always worth fighting when we know what’s at stake.