I’m frequently asked by prospective clients for my counseling practice if I am a Christian counselor. I’m sad to say that it’s not always easy to answer this simple question anymore. Not because my faith has changed, but because American culture has changed. Very often those who ask are looking for a very particular kind of Christian to be their therapist. And so, to answer their question, I often need to figure out just what kind of Christian therapy they think they want.
In the last generation or so, the conservative evangelical portion of the American Christianity has so frequently attached the term Christian to their political causes that for many outside the church, to be Christian is to be a conservative, rigid, regressive social thinker. I want nothing to do with any so-called Christian perspective that is anti-science, anti-woman, anti-education and anti-neighbor. I see nothing in that perspective that points me to Jesus.
When I read and think about Jesus, I see a young, brown-skinned Jewish rabbi who turned his world upside down. He didn’t seek the rich and powerful to be his disciples; he chose fishermen and tax collectors. He spent his time seeking the company of the least powerful in his culture: women, children, outsiders, the diseased and the poor. He preached a gospel of forgiveness, love and service. He healed the sick and raised the dead, pointing to a God already in the world in a new kind of kingdom. He knew his scriptures, he understood the power structures of Judaism, and pushing at those powers is what led to his crucifixion.
When I consider how Jesus has been chronically mis-characterized throughout the generations, I really shouldn’t be surprised that we still face this problem two centuries later. My own religious tradition is based on a struggle to reform Christianity. The German priest Martin Luther, whose name later became synonymous with the 16th century European Protestant Reformation, was a serious scholar of the Bible and critic of the church. His sermons, lectures and religious tracts helped to lift Christianity out of centuries of crushing political enmeshment in which kings and princes appointed the local bishops and priests, the people never heard the scriptures in their own language and were taught to obey every law of the church in order to please God. Luther’s movement broke that world into pieces.
With such a fragmented, decentralized and diverse Christian church around the world, it seems impossible to hope for a new wave of reformation to sweep across our continent. The rigid conservative edge of the Christian community has the ear and wallet of the current political establishment, more and more of our young people are rejecting institutional commitments like congregations and seeking spiritual support elsewhere. Churches are closing, seminaries downsizing and church publishing houses are collapsing.
And yet, those of us who remain, who joyfully call ourselves Jesus followers, are called to continue to be a light to the world. To know down in our bones the kind of gracious, liberating God we follow. When I despair that one person can’t be of much effect, I find great inspiration in the witness of Pope Francis, who walks the streets, visits the poor, speaks several languages, opens his treasury for audit, holds his priests accountable for crimes, believes science to be the way we can understand our world, and advocates for the distressed with every president, prime minister or dictator who would meet with him.
Perhaps we are just in the early stages of another reformation, when the old is collapsing and the new is coming. May we not lose heart, for the world still cries out for light and hope and peace. I am a Christian, but not like you may have come to expect reading the headlines from Washington D.C. I follow a Prince of Peace, a savior to the nations, a healer of the wounded, and one who welcomed the stranger. He calls us to bear witness to the light. His name is Jesus.
(Originally published Saturday, February 17, 2018, Savage Pacer )